Dag Hammarskjold was such a wonderful model of what the U.N. can be and do. As Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961, Hammarskjold was known for his unrelenting energy in striving to create fairness, harmony, peace and collaboration in many corners of our world. He represented hope and reconciliation for so many.
Hammarskjold flew around the world to try to help so many countries needing support–and independent of whether there was an economic interest there, as it should be. He acted as a force for the U.N., representing fair involvement for all countries: for example, during one Arab crisis in 1958, the U.S. and Britain sent troops to help Lebanon and Jordan. But Hammarskjold was able to get removal of these troops, and one-sided involvement in the crisis, to stop. He then brokered Egypt lifting its blockade of Syria (which would not join the Arab League.)
In the 1950s he helped obtain the release of U.S. airmen held captive in China. In approaching the Suez Crisis, when Egypt nationalized the canal, Hammarskjold was able to broker French, British and Egyptian collaboration to keep it open. Meanwhile, Israel attacked Egypt and the peace process was upset. With Mr. Hammarskjold’s leadership, U.N. Forces were able to maintain a peaceful solution until a longer term solution was reached. Laos faced extreme danger and he was able to place UN representatives there, which provided watchful protection. He became part of a very longterm process against apartheid, meeting several times with the Union of South Africa and striving to open up attitudes of equality and fairness regarding race.
Hammarskjold’s last challenge was the crisis in the Congo where violent civil war was ensuing. Here he had brokered leaders to meet in neutral territory to resolve the conflict. Unfortunately, his plane was shot down and he did not survive.
Dag Hammarskjold was mourned by the world. He was seen as an extremely strong leader led by principles; absolutely tireless and needing little sleep. It was as if he were “on call” for the world.
“The world in which I grew up in was dominated by principles and ideals…I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country or humanity. This sacrifice required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions.”
Hammarskjold also created a meditation room or peace room in the U.N. It is a place only for thoughts, no words, and embraces all types of prayers. There is a stone in the middle of the room with nothing on it, and yet a shaft of light shines directly there. It is dedicated as an altar to harmony and freedom that is worshipped in many forms, by different countries and peoples, in many varied ways all over the world.