As Paul Henry Nitze puts it, the School of Advanced International Studies began with two men discussing the fate of the world over breakfast.
It was the summer of 1943, the world embroiled in war. Nitze, then director of the State Department's Office of Inter-American Affairs, and Christian Herter, a congressman from Massachusetts, were sharing a Georgetown residence while their wives, first cousins, vacationed on Long Island.
During one of their early morning talks, Herter brought up the need for the creation of a school of international studies in the nation's capital. The two men, both cum laude graduates of Harvard University, agreed that in a world undergoing profound changes, such a school would be needed to train men and women in international affairs during the post-war era.
Clearly men of action, in a matter of months‹backed by a high-powered ensemble of millionaires, politicos and academics‹they had turned their idea into a school with a name and a charter. By October 1944, only a year after the concept had emerged, the first classes were scheduled in SAIS's first home, the former Gunston Hall School for Girls on Florida Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Some 60 years later, the school these two men helped found is considered one of the nation's leading graduate schools of international studies, has more than 10,000 alumni working in the public and private sectors around the world and, in addition to its main D.C. campus, jointly manages the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in China and the Bologna Center in Italy. SAIS became part of Hopkins in 1950.
Days before his 95th birthday on Jan. 16, Nitze allowed himself some modest acknowledgment concerning the school that now bears his name.
"I have a sense that the school, and to some extent I, did well‹that we created an institution that added to the strength of the Washington intellectual establishment," says Nitze, who, in addition to being one of its founders, taught at SAIS and has been its major benefactor.
In celebration of his birthday, and in recognition of all he has done for the school, Nitze will be honored with a portrait to be unveiled on Wednesday in SAIS's Herter Room. The painting, by Tennessee artist Shane Neal, will soon be joined by another Neal work, a portrait of fellow SAIS founder Christian Herter.
Nitze says that SAIS as it exists today owes a great deal to former Dean Paul Wolfowitz, who left SAIS in February 2001 to become deputy secretary of defense.
"I believe he did well with it," Nitze says of Wolfowitz. "It became stronger, more relevant. He also raised a lot of money and made it a more vital institution."
Christian Herter Jr., the co-founder's son, says that while his father might have been the man with plans, Nitze was SAIS's consummate salesman.
"It came easily to Paul to talk to key individuals to act as the founders and trustees; he got them very excited about the idea," Herter says. "That is what Paul was very good at."
Among other things.
Nitze has given more than 50 years of his life to government service, his deeds intertwined with seemingly every significant modern event in American foreign affairs.
An adviser of presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan, Nitze was secretary of the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, represented the United States during the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, co-authored the cornerstone document of the U.S. Cold War containment policy and was head of the U.S. delegation to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces negotiations with the Soviet Union.
Says the man whose advice is always in demand, his philosophy has been a simple one. "I am a speculator," he says. "That is, you can't decide on what action to take until you think it through first, see what your options are, what is up and what is down. Only then can you decide on what to do."
It can be said then, that SAIS is fortunate it had this speculator and salesman on its side.