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On Task

The Fletcher School's 75th anniversarySeventy-five years after its founding, The Fletcher School continues to prepare students to lead in a changing world.


On Oct. 27, 1933, Professor James T. Shotwell of Columbia University delivered an address at the formal opening of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In that address, entitled "The Task of Diplomacy Today," Shotwell called The Fletcher School "a symbol of the newer outlook upon international affairs."

That "newer outlook" was forged in the wake of World War I, as the European network of states was in tatters, the fate of the global economy was dire and dangerous regimes were on the rise. Despite all of this, even if the more isolationist populations did not acknowledge the fact, the world was becoming increasingly globalized and interconnected. Indeed, The Fletcher School was founded in what Shotwell called "the midst of one of the greatest crises of the history of diplomacy," with the task of preparing its students to face these crises and the others that would undoubtedly follow in an increasingly globalized world. He believed the school to be well equipped to face such challenges.

"A school which joins the study of diplomacy with that of law is therefore building on strong foundations, if the study of diplomacy is conceived in the spirit of justice and the study of law in that for those ideals which make for the welfare of the whole community it serves."

— From "The Task of Diplomacy Today"

"A school which joins the study of diplomacy with that of law is therefore building on strong foundations, if the study of diplomacy is conceived in the spirit of justice and the study of law in that for those ideals which make for the welfare of the whole community it serves," said Shotwell.

As The Fletcher School marks its 75th anniversary, looking back at this address yields key insights on how the school's charge at its founding remains its mission today. Though the context has changed, the tasks at hand have remains constant.

In his address, Shotwell emphasized the need for international organizationsólike the League of Nations, formed following World War Ióto help negotiate political conflict and for nations to not insist upon "the full measure of [their] own sovereignty, for that, in the last report, is the negation of justice itself." Realizing our interdependence, Shotwell said, was the greatest lesson from World War I, and community can even be found in "the data of disaster."

Fletcher 75


Shotwell also noted the large role of science on the geopolitical stage. The interdependence of nations "has been chiefly brought about through the inventions and discoveries of science," he said. "The applied science of today has radically changed not only the substance of political debate but the very structure of government itself."

With regard to communications, Shotwell referenced the Roman roads weaving together the "unity and peace" of the Roman Empire, much as railroads did in the United States.

He also noted the current events of his day, such as Japan's incursion into Manchuria, that "stirred an interest in wide reaches of public opinion which were formerly untouched by movements in international affairs."

Shotwell also raised the issue of the spread of arms across the world and the issue of neutrality. "Are we ready to accept the principle of an arms embargo so as not to become the accomplice of the aggressor?" he asked in his address. "Surely if international law could deal with contraband, it can deal with this problem in such a way as to lessen instead of spread the entanglements of war."

Fletcher 75


Today, it is not the League of Nations but the United Nations that establishes a global community and an international rule of law. Concerns about arms embargos have evolved to encompass the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, as well as other significant changes in warfare over the past 75 years.

It is not railroads that connect our communities today but streams of data, as advances in telecommunications have, in a sense, made the world smaller. And one of the largest scientific challenges of our day is the environment, with the issues of climate change and energy policy a top concern for citizens and leaders alike.

Shotwell noted that the founding of The Fletcher School aimed to "point the way to the wider setting of national life in relation to the world outside." While he acknowledged it would be a rocky road, he believed the struggle would ultimately pave the way toward this new understanding.

"The process that makes each nation one is, in our day, building a world community."

— From "The Task of Diplomacy Today"

"The process that makes each nation one is, in our day, building a world community. It is a process, however, which has only just begun, and therefore is bound to have a record of mistakes in planning and inadequacy in execution," said Shotwell. "The creative movements of history do not run smoothly toward their goal; failure and frustration accompany them at almost every turn. The institutions which embody justice have often been perverted to the cause of tyranny. But the very obstacles to progress have proved the best of stepping-stones."

We spoke to students and graduates of The Fletcher School involved in the key areas emphasized in this address to see how they believe their education enables them to take on these evolving global challenges.


Profiles written by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications

Archival photos courtesy of Tufts Digital Collections and Archives

This story originally ran on Oct. 20, 2008.