Dag Hammarskjöld

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Person.png Dag Hammarskjöld   ISGP SourcewatchRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(diplomat, economist, author)
Dag Hammarskjold.jpg
BornDag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld
29 July 1905
Jönköping, Sweden
Died18 September 1961 (Age 56)
Ndola, Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Now Zambia)
Alma materUppsala University, Stockholm University
Victim ofpremature death
Interest ofHammarskjöld Commission, Susan Williams
SubpageDag Hammarskjöld/Premature death
The 2nd Secretary-General of the United Nations who died in highly suspicious circumstances while trying to make peace in the Congo.

Employment.png Secretary-General of the United Nations

In office
10 April 1953 - 18 September 1961
Preceded byTrygve Lie
Succeeded byU Thant
John F Kennedy called Dag Hammarskjöld "the greatest statesman of the 20th century"

Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961. On the night of 17-18 September 1961, in the course of a UN mission to try to bring peace to the former Belgian Congo, Dag Hammarskjöld’s Swedish-owned and crewed plane crashed near Ndola airport in the British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). All the passengers and crew died.[1] The open verdict reached by a UN Commission of Inquiry in 1961-62 led to UN General Assembly Resolution 1759 (XVII) of 26 October 1962, which requests the Secretary-General to inform UNGA of "any new evidence which may come to his attention".

In 1953 Dag Hammarskjöld's Norwegian predecessor, Trygve Lie, told him: "You are about to take over the most impossible job on earth." During the McCarthy witch-hunts he threw J Edgar Hoover's FBI out of the UN building. He created the UN Emergency Force during the Suez crisis and secured a temporary resolution of the conflict: both the Egyptian President Nasser and Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion trusted him. Significant to this day, he insisted on UN linkage and oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Dag Hammarskjöld who was described by John F Kennedy as "the greatest statesman of the 20th century" was a master of sentences as well as situations, and composed an even better epitaph for himself: "We are not permitted," Hammarskjöld wrote prophetically, "to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it – according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed – according to the measure of his purity of heart."[2]

Early life

Dag Hammarskjöld was born in Jönköping, Sweden, but spent most of his childhood in Uppsala. The fourth and youngest son of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, Prime Minister of Sweden from 1914 to 1917, and Agnes Hammarskjöld (née Almquist), Hammarskjöld's ancestors served the Monarchy of Sweden since the 17th century. He studied first at Katedralskolan, Uppsala and then at Uppsala University. By 1930, he had obtained Licentiate of Philosophy and Master of Laws degrees. Even before he was finished with his law degree he got a job as assistant secretary of the unemployment committee.[3]

From 1930 to 1934, Hammarskjöld was Secretary on a governmental committee on unemployment. During this time he wrote his economics thesis, "Konjunkturspridningen" ("The Spread of the Business Cycle"), and received a doctorate from Stockholm University. In 1936, he became a Secretary at the Sveriges Riksbank and was soon promoted. From 1941 to 1948, he was Chairman of the bank.

Dag Hammarskjöld quickly developed a successful career as a public servant in Sweden. He was secretary of the Riksbank (the central bank of Sweden) 1935–1941, State Secretary in the Ministry of Finance 1936–1945, Governor of the Riksbank 1941–1948, Swedish delegate in the OEEC (Organisation for European Economic Cooperation) 1947–1953, Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1949–1951 and minister without portfolio in Tage Erlander's government 1951–1953. He helped coordinate government plans to alleviate the economic problems of the post-war period. He was a delegate to the Paris conference that established the Marshall Plan. In 1950, he became head of the Swedish delegation to UNISCAN. Although Hammarskjöld served in a cabinet dominated by the Swedish Social Democratic Party, he never officially joined any political party. In 1951, Hammarskjöld became Vice Chairman of the Swedish delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in Paris. He became the Chairman of the Swedish delegation to the General Assembly in New York in 1952. On 20 December 1954, he was elected to take his father's vacated seat in the Swedish Academy.

UN Secretary-General

When Trygve Lie resigned from his post as UN Secretary-General in 1953, the United Nations Security Council recommended Hammarskjöld for the post. It came as a surprise to him.[4] Seen as a competent technocrat without political views, he was selected on 31 March by a majority of 10 out of eleven Security Council members. The UN General Assembly elected him in the 7–10 April session by 57 votes out of 60. In 1957, he was re-elected.

Hammarskjöld began his term by establishing his own secretariat of 4,000 administrators and setting up regulations that defined their responsibilities. He was also actively engaged in smaller projects relating to the UN working environment. For example, he planned and supervised in every detail the creation of a "meditation room" in the UN headquarters. This is a place dedicated to silence where people can withdraw into themselves, regardless of their faith, creed, or religion.[5]

During his term, Hammarskjöld tried to smooth relations between Israel and the Arab states. Other highlights include a 1955 visit to People's Republic of China to negotiate release of 15 captured US pilots who had served in the Korean War, the 1956 establishment of the United Nations Emergency Force, and his intervention in the 1956 Suez Crisis. He is given credit by some historians for allowing participation of the Holy See within the United Nations that year.[6]

In 1960, the former Belgian Congo and then newly independent Democratic Republic of the Congo asked for UN aid in defusing the Congo Crisis. Hammarskjöld made four trips to the Congo. His efforts towards the decolonisation of Africa were considered insufficient by the Soviet Union; in September 1960, the Soviet government denounced his decision to send a UN emergency force to keep the peace. They demanded his resignation and the replacement of the office of Secretary-General by a three-man directorate with a built-in veto, the "troika". The objective was, citing the memoirs of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, to "equally represent interests of three groups of countries: capitalist, socialist and recently independent."[7][8]


Full article: Dag Hammarskjöld/Death

In September 1961, Hammarskjöld learned about fighting between "non-combatant" UN forces and Katangese troops of Moise Tshombe. He was en route to negotiate a cease-fire on 18 September when his Douglas DC-6 airliner SE-BDY crashed near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Hammarskjöld and fifteen others perished in the crash. A special report issued by the United Nations following the crash stated that a bright flash in the sky was seen at approximately 1:00.[9] According to the UN special report, it was this information that resulted in the initiation of search and rescue operations. Initial indications that the crash might not have been an accident led to multiple official inquiries and persistent speculation that the Secretary-General was assassinated. Recent researchers have increasingly suggested that he was murdered.

Hammarskjöld Commission

Full article: Hammarskjöld Commission
Dr Susan Williams' 2011 book "Who Killed Hammarskjöld?"

In 2011, Dr Susan Williams’ book "Who Killed Hammarskjöld?" was published.[10] It offered no definite answer to its own question, but it marshalled a striking quantity of evidential material which had come to light in the intervening years. In response to Dr Williams’ book, Lord Lea of Crondall assembled an international Enabling Committee and invited Sir Stephen Sedley, a recently retired Lord Justice of Appeal for England and Wales, to chair a Commission of Jurists to inquire into the disaster. Justice Wilhelmina Thomassen of the Netherlands, Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa and Ambassador Hans Corell of Sweden agreed to serve with Sir Stephen as Commissioners.[11]

On 9 September 2013, the Hammarskjöld Commission report was published.[12] It recommended reopening the adjourned 1962 United Nations inquiry into the UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld's death on the basis of 'significant new evidence'. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon thanked the Commission of Jurists for their work and the Enabling Committee for its initiative in setting up the Commission. He said the UN Secretariat will closely study the findings of the Commission's report.[13]

The Commission report resurrected a telling comment by former President Harry Truman to a New York Times reporter a day after the plane crash:

"Dag Hammarskjöld was on the point of getting something done when they killed him," Truman was quoted as saying. When pressed to say to whom "they" referred, Truman replied: "That's all I've got to say on the matter. Draw your own conclusions."[14]


  • Hammarskjöld posthumously received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961, having been nominated before his death.[15]
  • Honorary degrees: The Carleton University in Ottawa (then called Carleton College)[16] awarded its first-ever honorary degree to Hammarskjöld in 1954 when it presented him with a Legum Doctor, honoris causa. The University has continued this tradition by conferring an honorary doctorate upon every subsequent Secretary-General of the United Nations. He also held honorary degrees from Oxford University, England; in the United States from Harvard, Yale, Princeton University, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Amherst College, Johns Hopkins, the University of California, and Ohio University; in Sweden, Uppsala University; and in Canada from McGill University as well as Carleton.[17]
  • On 6 April 2011, the Bank of Sweden announced that Hammarskjöld's image will be used on the 1000 Swedish krona banknote, the highest-denomination banknote in Sweden.[18]
  • After Hammarskjöld's death, US President John F Kennedy regretted that he opposed the UN policy in the Congo and said: "I realise now that in comparison to him, I am a small man. He was the greatest statesman of our century."[19]
  • Refusal to resign: One of Hammarskjöld's greatest moments was refusing to give in to Soviet pressure to resign. Dag Hammarskjöld: "It is very easy to bow to the wish of a big power. It is another matter to resist it. If it is the wish of those nations who see the organisation their best protection in the present world, I shall do so again."[20]
  • In 2011 The Financial Times reported that Hammarskjöld has remained the benchmark against which later UN Secretary-Generals have been judged.[21]
  • In an editorial in The Guardian of 31 December 2014 Dag Hammarskjöld was reported to have said: “Everything will be all right when people, just people, stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction and see it as a drawing they made themselves.”[22]

Spirituality and Markings

In 1953, soon after his appointment as United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld was interviewed on radio by Edward R Murrow. In this talk he declared: "But the explanation of how man should live a life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of spirit, I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics Meister Eckhart and Jan van Ruysbroek for whom 'self-surrender' had been the way to self-realisation, and who in 'singleness of mind' and 'inwardness' had found strength to say yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbours made them face, and to say yes also to every fate life had in store for them when they followed the call of duty as they understood it."

His only book, Vägmärken (Markings), was published in 1963. A collection of his diary reflections, the book starts in 1925, when he was 20 years old, and ends at his death in 1961.[23] This diary was found in his New York house, after his death, along with an undated letter addressed to then Swedish Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Leif Belfrage. In this letter, Dag writes, "These entries provide the only true 'profile' that can be drawn ... If you find them worth publishing, you have my permission to do so". Markings was described by a theologian, the late Henry P Van Dusen, as "the noblest self-disclosure of spiritual struggle and triumph, perhaps the greatest testament of personal faith written ... in the heat of professional life and amidst the most exacting responsibilities for world peace and order."[24] Hammarskjöld writes, for example, "We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it – according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed – according to the measure of his purity of heart." Markings is characterised by Hammarskjöld's intermingling of prose and haiku poetry in a manner exemplified by the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō in his Narrow Roads to the Deep North. In his foreword to Markings, the English poet W H Auden quotes Hammarskjöld as stating "In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action."[25]


Related Quotation

Encyclopedia of Domestic Assassinations<nowiki>“[[[Secretary-General of the United Nations]] Dag Hammarskjöld] was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said "when they killed him."”</nowiki>Harry S. Truman1961


Related Documents

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Dag Hammarskjöld - US, UK and South Africa still withholding crucial informationArticle10 October 2019Ludwig De Braeckeleer“Communications sent from the CX-52 cryptographic machine used by Dag Hammarskjöld appear to have been intercepted by British and United States signals and intelligence agencies as a result of a secret interception and decryption setting that those agencies held that enabled them to intercept surreptitiously.”
Document:Dag Hammarskjöld's plane may have been shot down, ambassador warnedarticle4 April 2014Julian BorgerBorger describes a recently released diplomatic cable which casts fresh doubts on the theory that Dag Hammarskjöld died an accidental death.
Document:Hammarskjold and Kennedy vs. The Power EliteArticle7 August 2016James DiEugenioPresident John F. Kennedy hears of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba's murder from UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. Perhaps no photo from the Kennedy presidency summarises who Kennedy was, and how he differed from what preceded him and what came after him, than this picture.
Document:Pan Am Flight 103: It was the Uraniumarticle6 January 2014Patrick HaseldineFollowing Bernt Carlsson's untimely death in the Lockerbie bombing, the UN Council for Namibia inexplicably dropped the case against Britain's URENCO for illegally importing yellowcake from the Rössing Uranium Mine in Namibia.
Document:UN Wants to Know If Spy Agencies Hold Answer to Dag Hammarskjöld’s DeathArticle15 July 2017Alan Cowell
Rick Gladstone
After 56 years and many investigations, there is new hope that secrets lurking in Western intelligence archives could solve "the biggest whodunnit" in United Nations history: the mysterious death of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld...
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  1. "19 September 1961: UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold dies in plane crash" from The Guardian archive
  2. "My hero: Dag Hammarskjöld" by Timothy Mo
  3. "Biography, at Dag Hammerskjoldse"
  4. "Hammarskjöld" by Richard Sheldon, page 28, Chelsea House Publishers, New York ISBN 0-87754-529-4
  5. "The Meditation Room in UN Headquarters"
  6. "Holy See's Presence in the International Organisations
  7. "Replacing the UN Secretary-General by a 'troika'" (in Russian)
  8. "Dag Hammarskjøld Foundation"
  9. "Special Report on the Fatal Flight of the Secretary-General's Aircraft"
  10. "Who Killed Hammarskjöld?: the UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa"
  11. "Hammarskjöld Commission of Jurists"
  12. "The Dag Hammarskjöld Commission report"
  13. "Ban Ki-moon to study findings of Commission linked to death of former UN chief Hammarskjöld"
  14. "'Significant new evidence' cited in 1961 death of U.N.'s Hammarskjöld"
  15. "Posthumous Nobel Peace Prize"
  16. "Carleton Through the Years"
  17. "Dag Hammarskjöld: The UN Years"
  18. "Sweden's new banknotes and coins"
  19. "Dag Hammarskjöld and the Congo crisis, 1960–61"
  20. "UPI Audio: Year (1961) in Review"
  21. "The road to redemption"
  22. "The Guardian view on the next UN secretary general: let’s appoint only on talent"
  23. "Dag Hammarskjöld's Diary"
  24. Henry P Van Dusen. Dag Hammarskjold. A Biographical Interpretation of Markings Faber and Faber London 1967 p 5
  25. W H Auden Foreword to Dag Hammarskjöld's Markings Leif Sjoberg and WH Auden (trans) Faber and Faber London 1964 p 23.


  • Durel, Bernard, op, (2002), «Au jardin secret d’un diplomate suédois: Jalons de Dag Hammarskjöld, un itinéraire spirituel», La Vie Spirituelle (Paris). T. 82, pp. 901–922.
  • Lipsey, Roger Hammarskjold: A Life (University of Michigan Press; 2013) 670 pages; scholarly biography
  • Urquhart, Brian, (1972), Hammarskjold. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
  • Velocci, Giovanni, cssr, (1998), «Hammarskjold Dag», in Luigi Borriello, ocd – Edmondo Caruana, ocarm – Maria Rosaria Del Genio – N. Suffi (dirs.), Dizionario di mistica. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, pp. 624–626.

External links

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