Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld (July 29, 1905-September 18, 1961) was the youngest of four sons of Agnes (Almquist) Hammarskjöld and Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, prime minister of Sweden, member of the Hague Tribunal, governor of Uppland, chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation. In a brief piece written for a radio program in 1953, Dag Hammarskjöld spoke of the influence of his parents: “From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father’s side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country – or humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions. From scholars and clergymen on my mother’s side, I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God.”
Dag Hammarskjöld was, by common consent, the outstanding student of his day at Uppsala University where he took his degree in 1925 in the humanities, with emphasis on linguistics, literature, and history. During these years he laid the basis for his command of English, French, and German and for his stylistic mastery of his native language in which he developed something of the artist’s touch. He was capable of understanding the poetry of the German Hermann Hesse and of the American Emily Dickinson; of taking delight in painting, especially in the work of the French Impressionists; of discoursing on music, particularly on the compositions of Beethoven; and in later years, of participating in sophisticated dialogue on Christian theology. In athletics he was a competent performer in gymnastics, a strong skier, a mountaineer who served for some years as the president of the Swedish Alpinist club. In short, Hammarskjöld was a Renaissance man.
His main intellectual and professional interest for some years, however, was political economy. He took a second degree at Uppsala in economics, in 1928, a law degree in 1930, and a doctoral degree in economics in 1934. For one year, 1933, Hammarskjöld taught economics at the University of Stockholm. But both his own desire and his heritage led him to enter public service to which he devoted thirty-one years in Swedish financial affairs, Swedish foreign relations, and global international affairs. His success in his first position, that of secretary from 1930 to 1934 to a governmental commission on unemployment, brought him to the attention of the directors of the Bank of Sweden who made him the Bank’s secretary in 1935. From 1936 to 1945, he held the post of undersecretary in the Ministry of Finance. From 1941 to 1948, thus overlapping the undersecretaryship by four years, he was placed at the head of the Bank of Sweden, the most influential financial structure in the country.
Hammarskjöld has been credited with having coined the term “planned economy”. Along with his eldest brother, Bo, who was then undersecretary in the Ministry of Social Welfare, he drafted the legislation which opened the way to the creation of the present, so-called “welfare state. ” In the latter part of this period, he drew attention as an international financial negotiator for his part in the discussions with Great Britain on the postwar economic reconstruction of Europe, in his reshaping of the twelve-year-old United States-Swedish trade agreement, in his participation in the talks which organized the Marshall Plan, and in his leadership on the Executive Committee of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation.
Hammarskjöld’s connection with the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs began in 1946 when he became its financial adviser. In 1949 he was named to an official post in the Foreign Ministry and in 1951 became the deputy foreign minister, with cabinet rank, although he continued to remain aloof from membership in any political party. In foreign affairs he continued a policy of international economic cooperation. A diplomatic feat of this period was the avoiding of Swedish commitment to the cooperative military venture of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization while collaborating on the political level in the Council of Europe and on the economic level in the Organization of European Economic Cooperation.
Hammarskjöld represented Sweden as a delegate to the United Nations in 1949 and again from 1951 to 1953. Receiving fifty-seven votes out of sixty, Hammarskjöld was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1953 for a five-year term and reelected in 1957. Before turning to the world problems awaiting him, he established a firm base of operations. For his Secretariat of 4,000 people, he drew up a set of regulations defining their responsibilities to the international organization of which they were a part and affirming their independence from narrowly conceived national interests.
In the six years after his first major victory of 1954-1955, when he personally negotiated the release of American soldiers captured by the Chinese in the Korean War, he was involved in struggles on three of the world’s continents. He approached them through what he liked to call “preventive diplomacy” and while doing so sought to establish more independence and effectiveness in the post of Secretary-General itself.
In the Middle East his efforts to ease the situation in Palestine and to resolve its problems continued throughout his stay in office. During the Suez Canal crisis of 1956, he exercised his own personal diplomacy with the nations involved; worked with many others in the UN to get the UN to nullify the use of force by Israel, France, and Great Britain following Nasser’s commandeering of the Canal; and under the UN’s mandate, commissioned the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) – the first ever mobilized by an international organization. In 1958 he suggested to the Assembly a solution to the crises in Lebanon and Jordan and subsequently directed the establishment of the UN Observation Group in Lebanon and the UN Office in Jordan, bringing about the withdrawal of the American and British troops which had been sent there. In 1959 he sent a personal representative to Southeast Asia when Cambodia and Thailand broke off diplomatic relations, and another to Laos when problems arose there.
Out of these crises came procedures and tactics new to the UN – the use of the UNEF, employment of a UN “presence” in world trouble spots and a steadily growing tendency to make the Secretary-General the executive for operations for peace.
It was with these precedents established that the United Nations and Hammarskjöld took up the problems stemming from the new independence of various developing countries. The most dangerous of these, that of the newly liberated Congo, arose in July, 1960, when the new government there, faced with mutiny in its army, secession of its province of Katanga, and intervention of Belgian troops, asked the UN for help. The UN responded by sending a peace-keeping force, with Hammarskjöld in charge of operations.
When the situation deteriorated during the year that followed, Hammarskjöld had to deal with almost insuperable difficulties in the Congo and with criticism in the UN. A last crisis for him came in September, 1961, when, arriving in Leopoldville to discuss details of UN aid with the Congolese government, he learned that fighting had erupted between Katanga troops and the noncombatant forces of the UN. A few days later, in an effort to secure a cease-fire, he left by air for a personal conference with President Tshombe of Katanga. Sometime in the night of September 17-18, he and fifteen others aboard perished when their plane crashed near the border between Katanga and North Rhodesia.
After his death, the publication in 1963 of his “journal” entitled Markings revealed the inner man as few documents ever have. The entries in this manuscript, Hammarskjöld wrote in a covering letter to his literary executor, constitute ” a sort of White Book concerning my negotiations with myself – and with God.” There is a delicate irony in this use of the language of the diplomat. The entries themselves are spiritual truths given artistic form.
“The pursuit of peace and progress cannot end in a few years in either victory or defeat. The pursuit of peace and progress, with its trials and its errors, its successes and its setbacks, can never be relaxed and never abandoned.” – Dag Hammarskjöld
NOTE: The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in December 2016 to initiate an inquiry into Hammarskjöld’s death. See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/03/un-to-pursue-further-inquiry-into-death-of-dag-hammarskjold