©Luojie/ China Daily/Cagle Cartoons
All Uphill
On January 1, the United Nations (U.N.) will undergo a significant change when the current secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, steps down. He will be succeeded by António Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal and currently U.N. high commissioner for refugees. Guterres will take the office at a time of great global conflict. Today, ISIS and other terrorist groups are intensifying regional wars, and more than 65 million people have been displaced from their homes. As The Economist magazine has written of Guterres: "He will have no time to catch his breath."

The role of secretary general has been called the world's most impossible job. As head of the U.N., a body of 193 member states, he is constantly trying to influence the conduct of rival nations like Russia and the U.S., who largely do what they want. Indeed, the secretary general has little real authority. In recent years, out-of-control conflicts in Syria, Libya, and South Sudan have eroded faith that the U.N. can make a serious difference for peace.

This cartoon examines the role of the U.N. and the secretary general. Study it, then answer the following questions.
  1. What symbol does Ban Ki-moon, the man at right, have in his hands, and what is he doing with it? What is António Guterres, at left, doing?
  2. Examine the body language of the two men. How does the way each is drawn comment on his situation?
  3. What is the overall message of the cartoon?
  4. The cartoon refers to the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods to have to repeatedly roll a stone up a mountain, only to have it fall back again as soon as he reached the top. How might the cartoonist be using that myth as part of his message?
  5. How do you think the cartoonist would react to the suggestion that being secretary general is an impossible job?