United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO):

"Since wars begin in the minds of men,
it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed"


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UNESCO is the successor organization to the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation that was created under the League of Nations agreement in 1924.1 

According a paper on the history of UNESCO at the 60th Anniversary written by Raymond E. Wanner, titled The United States and UNESCO: Beginnings (1945) and New Beginnings (2005), the planning for post war reconstruction of the education system began as early as 1941 and resulted in UNESCO. If you consider the efforts to create an international system of education by some groups, the efforts were actually underway even before the war. Excerpts from Wanner's paper (emphasis added):



The United States and UNESCO: Beginnings (1945) and New Beginnings (2005)2


The London Conference and, ultimately UNESCO itself, evolved from sessions of the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education (CAME). As early as 1941 the so-called London International Assembly had provided a forum for displaced representatives of like-minded nations to discuss common problems informally. R. A. Butler, President of the British Board of Education, who was greatly concerned with postwar reconstruction on the continent, formalized this gathering into the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education in November 1942.

Washington saw the elements of a future UNESCO in a resolution adopted in January 1943 that called for a "United Nations Bureau for Educational Reconstruction" whose purpose would be to meet urgent needs…in the enemy-occupied countries.9

Washington’s priority at the time was postwar security and the urgent creation of the United Nations as a multilateral security agency. President Roosevelt believed that to delay adoption of the UN Charter until peace was established ran the risk of nations perceiving international cooperation as less urgent and the United Nations creation as less certain.11 CAME, consequently, was of considerably lower priority, and the United States maintained only an observer presence in the person of Richard A. Johnson a young, London-based diplomat. 12


Great power politics ultimately drew Washington into the CAME process....

Washington grew uncomfortable also with what it considered overly aggressive British leadership in the creation of the new educational and cultural organization. 13 It was time for Washington to take CAME seriously; it did so with vigor.

In April 1944, with President Roosevelt’s personal endorsement, it sent a delegation led by then Congressman J. William Fullbright that included Assistant Secretary of State MacLeish, Commissioner of Education John Studebaker, Stanford University Dean, Grayson Kefauver, Vassar College Dean Mildred Thompson and Ralph Turner with instructions to participate fully in CAME’s efforts to sketch out a constitution for the new organization.

The delegation had enormous influence on the shape of the future UNESCO. Elected Conference Chair, Fulbright immediately enlarged the CAME drafting committee, had it meet in open sessions and ruled that each country represented have one vote regardless of its size or number of representatives. He then seized the initiative by having his own delegation draft a parallel conference working paper. Kefauver, Studebaker and others worked until midnight over a weekend and, drawing on the existing United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) constitutions, produced a new document, "Suggestions for the Development of the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education into the United Nations Organization for Educational and Cultural Reconstruction." 15 Their text soon became the meeting’s working text.

The political insights of the American delegation were significant in that they shifted the conceptual base of UNESCO from postwar reconstruction of schools and protection of physical cultural heritage to peace and security. Fulbright, for example, remarked that international efforts in education could "do more in the long run for peace than any number of trade treaties." And again: "Let there be understanding between the nations of each other and each other’s problems, and the causes of quarrel disappear."16 MacLeish, the poet, later articulated the new reality concisely. UNESCO’s role would be "to construct the defenses of peace in the minds of men." It was to be a security agency; its weapon, intercultural dialogue.

With war still waging, it would take months and a change of leadership at the Department of State -- Edward R. Stettinius Jr. replacing Cordell Hull as Secretary –- for the momentum toward the creation of UNESCO to be tapped.18 Through late 1944 and early 1945 Washington’s multilateral priority remained the creation of the United Nations.


On April 11, 1945, the very day CAME released its revision of the April 1944 draft constitution, Washington unilaterally submitted a parallel revised draft to the British, French, Soviet and Chinese governments for comment. Both the CAME and the Washington texts foresaw the creation of a permanent United Nations Organization for Educational and Cultural Cooperation.

Like J. William Fulbright’s delegation eighteen months earlier, MacLeish’s was to make a lasting contribution to the future UNESCO. At its morning meeting November 3, the delegation agreed to recommend that ""United Nations" should be part of the title, that "Scientific" be added… and that the full name which abbreviates as UNESCO be adopted."21

[Wilkinson] "In these days, when we are all wondering, perhaps apprehensively, what the scientists will do to us next, it is important that they should be linked closely with the humanities and should feel they have a responsibility to mankind for the result of their labours." The Conference agreed the following day to include science in UNESCO’s mandate.22  The United States then urged close collaboration with the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), a collaboration that continues to this day.23.

...there was fundamental philosophical and political agreement that the new organization should be a forum where the peoples of the world, themselves, and not just their governments or the elite could interact. Thus, the high importance given by both countries to National Commissions for UNESCO as essential bridges between governments and civil society.


MacLeish returned often to the theme of using the new tools of mass communication, film, radio, telegraph, and the press, "to enlighten the peoples of the world in a spirit of truth, justice and mutual understanding." It was to be the first and most important program priority.43 Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, William Benton, urged UNESCO to study how fundamental education could be provided by radio and films. Later, in the U.S. Senate, he would propose a "Marshall Plan for Ideas.44

The second program priority was to promote international cooperation in science, in particular by having the new organization establish close ties with the International Council of Scientific Unions to permit scientists from every country to exchange information and to work together.  Again, the fundamental issue of free flow of ideas was at play as well as the veiled affirmation that a way needed to be found to use the breakthrough scientific knowledge behind the destruction at Hiroshima to serve humanity.

The third program priority was to promote "Basic Education," with an emphasis on adult education through close cooperation with existing public and private programs. The goal was less to address illiteracy, as such, than to prepare the public for its responsibilities for active life in democratic societies and to arm it against ideologies that could lead to war. The American program proposals were adopted by acclamation.45


A number of delegates, with the Chinese, Greek, Yugoslav and Polish delegates the most outspoken, asked how UNESCO could construct the defenses of peace in the minds of men without first meeting basic human needs of food and shelter and the physical infrastructure of civilized life....  Constructing the defenses of peace would require a worldwide, coordinated, and mutually dependent effort to address fundamental human needs as well as the aspirations of the human spirit. To succeed, UNESCO, other agencies, the international banks and governments would need to work in consort.


Initially, the plan for Economic and Social Councils of the United Nations were to include only Education and Culture.  A paper by Gail Archibald describes how the 'S' for Science was included as a result of the efforts of Joseph Needham.  Excerpts:



How the 'S' Came to be in UNESCO
Gail Archibald

"During the 1920s, international scientific cooperation had been rekindled with the restoration of peace after the First World War. The League of Nations’ International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, founded in Paris in 1926, included a section devoted to Scientific Information and Scientific Relations. Among the activities of the International Bureau of Education, established in Geneva (Switzerland) the previous year, was scientific research. In the nongovernmental sector, the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) would be founded in Brussels (Belgium) in 1931.

Then the Second World War broke out. By 1943, however, Allied victories encouraged politicians to turn their attention to post-war planning. On both sides of the Atlantic, non-governmental projects proposed the creation of an international organization for education.

The British Government sent Needham to China in February 1943 as a representative of the Royal Society to consolidate Anglo–Chinese cultural and scientific relations. In December of the same year, Needham wrote to China’s Foreign Minister elaborating his idea of international scientific cooperation: ‘The time has gone by when enough can be done by scientists working as individuals or even in groups organized as universities, within individual countriesScience and technology are now playing, and will increasingly play, so predominant a part in human civilization that some means whereby science can effectively transcend national boundaries is urgently necessary’. Needham’s immediate goal was the transfer of advanced basic and applied science from highly industrialized Western countries to the less industrialized ones, ‘but’, he assured, ‘there would be plenty of scope for traffic in the opposite direction too’.


Invitations were sent out during the first week of August 1945 to attend the United Nations Conference for the Establishment of an Educational and Cultural Organization to be held in London November 1-16, 1945. Atomic bombs dropped on Japan, the 6th and 9th of the same month ended the 2nd world war...

On 5 November, the Conference divided itself into Commissions. The First Commission was charged with drafting the Title, Preamble and Aims and Functions of the new organization. It was the American delegate who proposed that it be called the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. After hesitating for twenty-four hours, the commission decided in favour of the UNESCO title, which simultaneously served as an instruction to insert the word ‘science’ in the text of the Constitution wherever indicated. For example, ‘The purpose of the Organization is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture’.


The Constitution for UNESCO was signed on November 16, 1945.  The purpose of the organization is defined in Article I and the relationship between the United Nations and UNESCO is defined in Article X of the Constitution4:



Article I.

Purposes and Functions

1. The purpose of this organization is to contribute to peace and security by collaboration among nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations.

2. To realize this purpose the Organization will:

(a) collaborate in the work of advancing mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples, through all means of mass communication and to that and recommend such international agreements as may be necessary to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image;

(b) give fresh impulse to popular education and to the spread of culture;

by collaborating with Members, at their request, in the development of educational activities;

by instituting collaboration among the nations to advance the ideal of equality of educational opportunity without regard to race, sex, or any distinctions, economic or social;

by suggesting educational methods best suited to prepare the children of the world for the responsibilities of freedom;



Relations with the United Nations Organization

This organisation shall be brought into relation with the United Nations Organization, as soon as practicable, as one of the specialized agencies referred to in Article 57 of the Charter of the United Nations.  This relationship shall be effected through an agreement with the United Nations Organization under Article 63 of the Charter, which agreement shall be subject to the approval of the General Conference of this Organisation.  The agreement shall provide for effective co-operation between the two Organizations in the pursuit of their common purposes, and at the same time shall recognize the autonomy of this Organization within the fields of its competence as defined in this Constitution.  Such agreement may, among other matters provide for the approval and financing of the budget of the Organization by the General Assembly of the United Nations.



Additional Reading:

UNESCO - Its Purpose and its Philosophy by Julian Huxley

Conference of the Allied Ministers of Education (CAME), Mr. R. A. Butler, May 27, 1943

UNESCO - 1945, Birth of an ideal

UNESCO by Lao Xu Jin, Newsfinder, May 24, 2007

The Road to 1945 by Chikh Bekri

UNESCO - What it is and What it Does

UNESCO website



1 UNESCO Archive Group 1 - AG-1 International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation,
2 Americans for UNESCO website, developed for the 60th Anniversary of UNESCO.  The website is only available through the Internet archives now.  Raymond Wanner, The United States and UNESCO Beginnings (1945) and New Beginnings (2005), Original link (no longer working)  http://www.americansforunesco.org/index.php?intIdCat=17&blnIsCat=1&intIdLang=1    captured PDF stored on local machine, http://www.thetechnocratictyranny.com/documents/UN_UNESCO/UNESCO_pre_founding_history.pdf
3 How the 'S' came to be in UNESCO, Gail Archibald, http://www.thetechnocratictyranny.com/Documents/UN_UNESCO/S_In_UNESCO_History.pdf
4 Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, London, 16 November 1945, http://www.channelingreality.com/UN/UNESCO/UNESCO_Constitution_1945.pdf