Cecil Rhodes's aspiration that the Rhodes Scholarships should help 'render war impossible' was tonight highlighted by the Warden of Rhodes House, Dr Donald Markwell, at the 'Sailing Dinner' of the Canadian Association of Rhodes Scholars in Ottawa.

The Warden said that, as well as wanting the Scholarships to encourage exceptional young people to 'esteem the performance of public duties as [their] highest aim', Cecil Rhodes wanted to encourage international understanding and peace.

Dr Markwell said that the phrase 'render war impossible', and similar statements such as Rhodes's hope for 'the end of all wars', was echoed repeatedly in his thoughts about his legacy - from his first will in 1877 ('render wars impossible') to a 1901 codicil to his last will just a year before his death.

The 1901 codicil provided for the creation of Rhodes Scholarships from Germany to go with those provided for the US and much of what was then the British Empire (now the Commonwealth). In it, Cecil Rhodes wrote: 'The object is that an understanding between the three great powers will render war impossible and educational relations make the strongest tie.'

The Warden illustrated how this 'peace purpose' of the Rhodes Scholarships was prominent in discussion of the Scholarships in the first half of the 20th century. He quoted original Rhodes Trustees Lords Rosebery and Grey; the first 'Organizing Secretary' of the Scholarships, George Parkin; and the first American Secretary to the Rhodes Trust, Frank Aydelotte. 

Dr Markwell referred to Rhodes Scholars who had acted to promote international understanding and peace, including Canadian diplomats such as George Ignatieff and Arnold Smith, and others from the German Rhodes Scholar Adam von Trott (executed in 1944 for his role in the July 20 plot against Hitler) to Senator J. William Fulbright, whose leadership in creation of the Fulbright awards arose directly from his experience as a Rhodes Scholar.

Dr Markwell said that he knew that many Rhodes Scholars today are also contributing in diverse ways, direct and indirect, to international understanding and increasing the prospects for peace, and he was confident that many would in future.

The Warden drew attention to three major implications of clear focus on the peace purpose of the Rhodes Scholarships:

First, for current Scholars - the need to encourage Scholars of different countries to engage with fellow Scholars and other students of other countries, and to encourage their interest in international issues;

Secondly, for alumni - the importance of increasingly giving reality to the global community of Rhodes Scholars; and

Thirdly, as part of the current strategic dialogue about how to give best effect in the 21st century to the ideals on which the Scholarships are founded - the need to take thoughtful account of Cecil Rhodes's aspiration to contribute to peace in current thinking about what countries Rhodes Scholars should come from in the 21st century.

The Warden was speaking at the 'Sailing Dinner' held by the Canadian Association of Rhodes Scholars to farewell the new Canadian Rhodes Scholars joining the Rhodes class of 2011 in Oxford in coming days. 

For the text of Dr Markwell's speech, click here

For the 1899 will of Cecil Rhodes and codicils to it (such as the 1901 codicil quoted by the Warden), click here.