Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Looking for Dag Hammarskjöld

With my marking for the semester all done, I have a chance to get underway on my next major project, on the life of Dag Hammarskjöld, a hero to me and many others. I will be travelling through his upbringing in Uppsala, his career as a diplomat and the second UN Secretary General (from 1953-61), and his thoughts as we find them in essays, speeches, and the deeply personal reflections of Markings, a book of aphorisms published after his death, and later translated into English by Leif Sjoberg and W H Auden.

Hammarskjöld died, aged 56, in a plane crash in northern Rhodesia on 17th September 1961. This project will eventually take me to the site of the crash in Zambia, and to the Congo Republic, where he was heavily involved in the months leading to his death. There is a memorial marking the site of the crash - it lies 10km from Ndola in the Ndola West Forest Reserve, and has UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Other important compass points in his life include New York, which he saw as a second home; Geneva, the second home of the UN; Korea and China, which were at the centre of his early successes in the UN; Egypt and Israel, which clashed during the 1956 Suez Crisis; and Lebanon, which sought UN assistance in 1958. I will begin, though, in July with his birthplace and final resting place, Uppsala.

For the life of the project, I will be posting about Hammarskjöld, his career, and his writing. For anyone interested in following my progress, there is now a Dag Hammarskjöld label in the right-hand navigation bar of this blog.

For an opening quote, here some remarks he made 55 years ago, in June 1955, on the tenth anniversary of the UN:

Politics and diplomacy are no play of will and skill where results are independent of the character of those engaging in the game. Results are determined not by superficial ability but by the consistency of the actors in their efforts and by the validity of their ideals. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief there is no intellectual activity which more ruthlessly tests the solidity of a man than politics. Apparently easy successes with the public are possible for a juggler, but lasting results are achieved only by the patient builder……Those who are called to be teachers or leaders may profit from intelligence but can only justify their position by integrity.

(Source of the quote can be reached here.)