When Sen. Charles Mathias told 1,600 Model U.N. delegates the other night that his talk wouldn't last much longer, he got a salvo of hostile applause that made him blink.

Yet when he did finish, they gave him a standing ovation.

Partly it was role-playing of course: The Mao-capped Chinese delegation could hardly be expected to enjoy the Maryland Republican's warnings about Teng. But mostly it was a case of contradictions -- the classic contradictions of being older than 12 and younger then 20.

A lot of serious decisions were being made at this 16th annual North American Invitational Model United Nations, the largest of its kind, continuing at the Shoreham Americana through Sunday. And a lot of souvenir T-shirts were being sold.


At the opening Thursday, the lobby looked like a snowed-in airport: kids and suitcases as far as the eye could see. Down jackets, Yankee batting helmets, Menchville Monarchs letter shirts, cocktail gowns with pearls. Everybody was talking.

Elevator dialogue: "Hi! Where ya from?"


"Hey. I'm from Upper Volta."

Both delegates were freckled redheads.

At an International Court of Justice session, the question was the mandates system as applied to the Union of South Africa.

Advocate Don Mitchell, 21, a junior at sponsoring Georgetown University who plans to go into international law, was defending South Africa's position. He was surrounded by scrawledover yellow legal paper and law books. From time to time he asked for a deferment on a question, but mostly he pulled the answers right out of his head, quoting easily from international statute.

Some scientists also having a convention at the hotel: "They kept us up till 3 a.m.! It was clean, hygienic noise -- but it was noise."

At an inter-nation simulation meeting, where delegates are fed hypotheyical situations and must react as decision-makers for their respective nations, it is June 1979 and Marxists are fighting Khomeini people in the streets of Tehran. What to do?Time is running out, and the United States (in the form of 11 high school students) must take a stand....

Everyone carries a briefcase. Atlases and World Almanacs are everywhere. Someone is wearing a burnoose. The United Kingdom delegates sport berets and plaids and umbrellas. A girl floats past in a Moslem chaddar veil. Some groups have their own letterheads, and a sign printed on Federal Republic of Germany paper invites everybody to a toga party.

"We have 23 states and D.C. and Puerto Rico this year," said Secretary-General Richard D. Jacobs. "We send out about 3,000 invitations and get responses from 140 high schools. They each send two or three delegations to the General Assembly, the court, or the Security Council or Economic and Social Council. The high school in Oak Ridge sent five different delegations."

A teacher comes with each group, and there is a separate Secondary School Teachers Institute, directed by Eileen O'Hara, a Georgetown junior from Scranton.

"Some people have been coming here for years," she said. "I didn't in high school, but some of them start then and go right on through the G.U. International Relations Association and later come back as teachers. Many of these kids turn out to be leaders in school affairs, and a lot of them go into international work later. A school will build up its attendance over the years: Newport News school sent 57 students this year."

Who gets to be whom is decided by the GU sponsors on the basis of experience and the scope of a given school's courses and relevant activities. The U.S. this year is Brother Rice High School in Birmingham, Mich. U.S.S.R. is the Dalton School in New York. China is the Pine Crest School of Fort Lauderdale.

"What they learn," said sponsoring chairman Scott G. Michael, a senior at the G.U. Foreign Service School, "is the realities of getting things done, the compromising, the bargaining, the bloc system which is a major fact of life at the U.N."

Delegations submit resolutions which are screened by the sponsors and eventually debated and voted on. One perennial problem is that some leaders want to reproduce actual U.N. procedure to the letter while others want to let delegates have their heads a bit more.

Every year a crisis is engineered, and excited key delegates are routed from bed at 4 a.m. for emergency meetings to head off World War III.Clearly, it isn't just the high school students who get a kick out of this great big game.

Mike Fairbarns is from the Seychelles islands northeast of Madagascar, when he isn't being a 14-year-old freshman at Fairfax High. This is his first year at NAIMUN. His older brother did it before him.

"I just finished signing our resolution," he remarked casually. "Most of our bloc is backing it, so it should go through. We're demanding that the Gaza Strip be given back to the Palestinians and urging that the Golan Heights be returned to Syria. I can't go into all the details right now."

He is going to be a stockbroker, he says. But meanwhile, running the world is kind of fun.