Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld ( 29 July 1905 – 18 September 1961) was a Swedish diplomat, economist, author, and mystic. The second Secretary-General of the United Nations, he served from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in September 1961. At the age of 47 years, 255 days, Hammarskjöld is the youngest to have held the post. He is one of only three people to be awarded a posthumous Nobel Prize. Hammarskjöld is the only UN Secretary-General to die in office; his death occurred en route to cease-fire negotiations. US President John F. Kennedy called Hammarskjöld “the greatest statesman of our century.”
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. 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.
During his term, Hammarskjöld tried to smooth relations between Israel and the Arab states. Other highlights include a 1955 visit to China to negotiate release of 11 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.
In 1960, the former Belgian Congo and then newly independent 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.”
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. The circumstances of the incident are still not clear. There is some recent evidence that suggest the plane was shot down. Göran Björkdahl (a Swedish aid worker) wrote in 2011 that he believed Dag Hammarskjöld’s 1961 death was a murder committed in part to benefit mining companies like Union Minière, after Hammarsköld had made the UN intervene in the Katanga crisis. Björkdahl based his assertion on interviews with witnesses of the plane crash near the border of the DRC with Zambia, and on archival documents. Former U. S. President Harry Truman commented that Hammarskjöld “was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said ‘when they killed him’.”
In 1953, soon after his appointment as United Nations secretary general, 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-realization, 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. 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”.
The foreword is written by W.H. Auden, a friend of Dag’s. 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.”
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 Basho 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.”
Excerpts from his book “Markings”:
“In a dream I walked with God through the deep places of creation; past walls that receded and gates that opened through hall after hall of silence, darkness and refreshment–the dwelling place of souls acquainted with light and warmth–until, around me, was an infinity into which we all flowed together and lived anew, like the rings made by raindrops falling upon wide expanses of calm dark waters.”
“When you have reached the point where you no longer expect a response, you will at last be able to give in such a way that the other is able to receive, and be grateful. When Love has matured and, through a dissolution of the self into light, become a radiance, then shall the Lover be liberated from dependence upon the Beloved, and the Beloved also be made perfect by being liberated from the Lover.”
“You wake from dreams of doom and–for a moment–you know: beyond all the noise and the gestures, the only real thing, love’s calm unwavering flame in the half-light of an early dawn.”
“Never, for the sake of peace and quiet, deny your own experience or convictions.”
“Your cravings as a human animal do not become a prayer just because it is God whom you ask to attend to them.”
“Friendship needs no words – it is solitude delivered from the anguish of loneliness.”
“I would rather live my life as though there is a God and die to find out that there isn’t, than to live my life as though there is no God and die to find out there is.”
“To have humility is to experience reality, not in relation to ourselves, but in its sacred independence. It is to see, judge, and act from the point of rest in ourselves. Then, how much disappears, and all that remains falls into place.
In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way. Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses. The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable.”
“For all that has been,
For all that is to come,
“Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who ‘forgives’ you–out of love–takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.
The price you must pay for your own liberation through another’s sacrifice is that you in turn must be willing to liberate in the same way, irrespective of the consequences to yourself.”
“This accidental meeting of possibilities calls itself ‘I.’
I ask: what am I doing here?
And, at once, this ‘I’ becomes unreal.”
“The longest journey Is the journey inwards. Of him who has chosen his destiny, Who has started upon his quest For the source of his being.”
“To preserve the silence within–amid all the noise. To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness where the rain falls and the grain ripens–no matter how many tramp across the parade ground in whirling dust under an arid sky.”
“Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.”
“He is one of those who has had the wilderness for a pillow, and called a star his brother. Alone. But loneliness can be a communion.”
“Life only demands from you the strength you possess.”
“Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exaltation. To be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger nor smaller, than anything else in the universe. It *is*–is nothing, yet at the same time one with everything. It is in this sense that humility is absolute self-effacement.
To be nothing in the self-effacement of humility, yet, for the sake of the task, to embody its whole weight and importance in your earing, as the one who has been called to undertake it. To give to people, works, poetry, art, what the self can contribute, and to take, simply and freely, what belongs to it by reason of its identity. Praise and blame, the winds of success and adversity, blow over such a life without leaving a trace or upsetting its balance.”
“Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.”
“If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, — quieter, warmer.”
“The light died in the low clouds. Falling snow drank in the dusk. Shrouded in silence, the branches wrapped me in their peace. When the boundaries were erased, once again the wonder: that *I* exist.”
“You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy does not reserve a plot for weeds.”
“It is when we all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity.”
“Is life so wretched? Isn’t it rather your hands which are too small, your vision which is muddled? You are the one who must grow up.”
“At every moment you choose yourself. But do you choose *your* self? Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out of which you can build many I’s. But in one of them is there a congruence of the elector and the elected. Only one–which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy, out of curiosity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the experience of the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your *I*.”
“Doffing the ego’s safe glory, he finds his naked reality.”
“Never measure the height of a mountain, until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.”
“Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again.”
“It is not we who seek the Way, but the Way which seeks us. That is why you are faithful to it, even while you stand waiting, so long as you are prepared, and act the moment you are confronted by its demands.”
“God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder the source of which is beyond all reason.”
“Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road. ”
“Acts of violence– Whether on a large or a small scale, the bitter paradox: the meaningfulness of death–and the meaninglessness of killing.”
“The present moment is significant, not as the bridge between past and future, but by reason of its contents, contents which can fill our emptiness and become ours, if we are capable of receiving them.”
“The more faithfully you listen to the voices within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside.”
“It is not the repeated mistakes, the long succession of petty betrayals–though, God knows, they would give cause enough for anxiety and self-contempt–but the huge elementary mistake, the betrayal of that within me which is greater than I–in complacent adjustment to alien demands.”
“When the sense of the earth unites with the sense of one’s body, one becomes earth of the earth, a plant among plants, an animal born from the soil and fertilizing it. In this union, the body is confirmed in its pantheism.”
“We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny, but what we put into it is ours.”
“It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.”
“Like wind– In it, with it, of it. Of it just like a sail, so light and strong that, even when it is bent flat, it gathers all the power of the wind without hampering its course.
Like light– In light, lit through by light, transformed into light. Like the lens which disappears in the light it focuses.
Like wind. Like light.
Just this–on these expanses, on these heights.”
“Jesus’ ‘lack of moral principles.’ He sat at meat with publicans and sinners, he consorted with harlots. Did he do this to obtain their votes? Or did he think that, perhaps, he could convert them by such ‘appeasement’? Or was his humanity rich and deep enough to make contact, even in them, with that in human nature which is common to all men, indestructible, and upon which the future is built?”
“Beneath the hush a whisper from long ago, promising peace of mind and a burden shared. No peace which is not peace for all, no rest until all has been fulfilled.”
“The ‘mystical experience’. Always here and now – in that freedom which is one with distance in that stillness which is born of silence. But – this is a freedom in the midst of action, a stillness in the midst of other human beings. The mystery is a constant reality to him who, in this world, is free from self-concern, a reality that grows peaceful and mature before the receptive attention of assent. ”
“I am the vessel. The draft is God’s. And God is the thirsty one.”
“That our pains and longings are thousandfold and can be anesthetized in a thousand different ways is as commonplace a truth as that, in the end, they are all one, and can only be overcome in one way. What you most need is to feel…”
“A heart pulsating in harmony with the circulation of sap and the flow of rivers? A body with the rhythms of the earth in its movements? No. Instead: a mind, shut off from the oxygen of alert senses, that has wasted itself on ‘treasons, stratagems and spoils’–of importance only within four walls. A tame animal–in whom the strength of the species has outspent itself, to no purpose.”
“I don’t know Who — or what — put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone — or Something — and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
“Is my contact with others anything more than a contact with reflections? Who or what can give me the power to transform the mirror into a doorway?”
“Somebody placed the shuttle in your hand: somebody who had already arranged the threads.”
“Didst thou give me this inescapable loneliness so that it would be easier for me to give thee all?”
“You are your own god – and are surprised when you find that the wolf pack is hunting you across the desolate ice fields of winter.”
“Do not look back. And do not dream about the future, either. It will neither give you back the past, nor satisfy your other daydreams. Your duty, your reward—your destiny—are here and now.”
“In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way.”