Why are we at Georgia Law celebrating the UN’s birthday? Because its 70-year tradition is our own.
Our global tradition dates back at least 75 years, in fact. That’s when noted German-Jewish judge Sigmund Cohn, a refugee from Hitler’s Berlin and Mussolini’s Genoa, arrived at the University of Georgia and began teaching courses in international and comparative law.
Reinforcing the tradition Cohn established was the arrival of Dean Rusk, who returned to his native state of Georgia after serving as Secretary of State to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Rusk had begun his diplomatic career as Assistant Secretary of State for Special Political Affairs (SPA), at age 38, right after the United Nations was established. In his autobiography, Rusk wrote:
Around Washington, SPA personnel were called those UN boys with some derision, but this only inspired us to work harder. In the aftermath of global war a special atmosphere surrounded the United Nations. The human race had paid fifty million lives to draft that Charter. Our minds and hearts had been purged in the fires of a great war, and the UN Charter represented the best that was in us at the time. We had a talented group, bound together by a sense of commitment, an exhilaration rare in government, a feeling that somehow the human race was off to a fresh start.
Eventually joining Rusk at Georgia Law was Louis B. Sohn, who came to Athens following mandatory retirement from Harvard Law. Like Cohn someone who suffered personally from the ravages of World War II, Sohn helped to draft the Charter of the United Nations. It was his effort in a lifelong career of working with the United Nations. Among many other roles, he served as chair of the conference that led to adoption of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Our tradition is even richer, extending from these 3 to professors like Gabriel Wilner, himself a UN adviser, and including the international law service of my colleagues and me to this day. And so we will mark the UN’s 70th birthday this Monday, Oct. 26, by rededicating our Louis B. Sohn Library on International Relations and by celebrating the 38th birthday of our own Dean Rusk International Law Center.
(September 25, 1961, photo by Cecil W. Stoughton of US delegation–including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, US Ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson, U.S. Rep. Marguerite Stitt Church (R-Ill.), and Arthur Dean, Chair, US delegation to Geneva Conference on Disarmament–listening to speech at UN General Assembly of the United Nations. Courtest of JFK Presidential Library)