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Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld ( ) (29 July 1905 – 18 September 1961) was a Swedish diplomat and author and was the second Secretary-General of the United Nations. He served from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in September 1961. He is the only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously. Hammarskjöld remains the only U.N. Secretary-General to die in office.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy called Hammarskjöld “the greatest statesman of our century.”

Early life

Dag Hammarskjöld was born in Jönköpingmarker, Sweden, but he lived most of his childhood in Uppsalamarker. He was the fourth and youngest son of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, prime minister of Sweden from 1914 to 1917, and Agnes Hammarskjöld (nee Almquist). His ancestors had served the Swedish Crown since the 17th century. He studied first at Katedralskolan and then at Uppsala Universitymarker where he graduated with a Master's degree in Political Economy and a Bachelor of Law degree. He then moved to Stockholmmarker.

From 1930 to 1934, he was a secretary of a governmental committee on unemployment. He also wrote his economics thesis, Konjunkturspridningen (The Spread of the Business Cycle), and received his doctorate from Stockholm Universitymarker in 1933. In 1936, Hammarskjöld became a secretary at the Bank of Swedenmarker, and soon he was an undersecretary of finance. From 1941 to 1948, he served as chairman of the Bank of Sweden.

Hammarskjöld's birth house

Early in 1945, he was appointed as adviser to the cabinet on financial and economic problems, and he coordinated government plans to alleviate the economic problems of the post-war period.

In 1947, Hammarskjöld was appointed to Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and in 1949 he became the state secretary for foreign affairs. He was a delegate to the Paris conference that established the Marshall Plan. In 1948, he was again in Paris to attend a conference for the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. In 1950, he became head of the Swedish delegation to UNISCAN. In 1951, he became a cabinet minister without portfolio and in effect deputy foreign minister. Although Hammarskjöld served in a cabinet dominated by the Social Democrats, 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 Academymarker.

UN Secretary-General

When Trygve Lie resigned from his post as UN Secretary-General in 1953, the Security Council decided to recommend Hammarskjöld for the post. It came as a surprise to him. He was selected on 31 March by a majority of 10 out of eleven states. 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. He set 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 headquartersmarker, a place dedicated to silence, where people could withdraw into themselves, regardless of their faith, creed or religion.

During his term, Hammarskjöld tried to smooth relations between Israelmarker and the Arab states. In 1955, he went to Chinamarker to negotiate the release of 15 US pilots who had served in the Korean War and had been captured by the Chinese. In 1956, following a proposal by Canada's Lester B. Pearson, the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was established, which allowed the Secretary-General to take emergency action without the prior approval of either the Security Council or General Assembly.

In 1957, Hammarskjöld intervened in the Suez Crisis. He is given credit by some historians for allowing the participation of the Holy See within the United Nations that year. He was nicknamed the secular pope by some authors.

In 1960, the former Belgian colony and now newly independent Congomarker asked for UN aid in defusing escalating civil strife. Hammarskjöld made four trips to the Congo. His efforts towards the decolonisation of Africa were considered insufficient by the Soviet Unionmarker; in September 1960, they 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 the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, to “equally represent interests of three groups of countries: capitalist, socialist and recently independent.”Hammarskjöld denied Patrice Lumumba's request to help force Katanga Provincemarker to rejoin the Congo, causing Lumumba to turn to the Sovietsmarker for help.


Flight path of Hammarskjöld's aircraft (pink line) and the decoy (black line), September 1961
Hammarskjöld's grave in Uppsala
In September 1961, Hammarskjöld found out about the fighting between non-combatant UN forces and Katangese troops of Moise Tshombe. He was en route to negotiate a cease-fire on the night of 17–18 September when his DC-6B airliner (SE-BDY) crashed near Ndolamarker, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambiamarker). The crew had filed no flight plan, for security reasons, and a decoy aircraft (OO-RIC) went via a different route ahead of Hammarskjöld's aircraft. Hammarskjöld and fifteen others perished in the crash. The chief of security on the flight, American Sgt. Harold Julian, was thrown clear of the burnt area, but died five days later. A memorial was created at the crash site, which is under consideration for inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (see Dag Hammarskjöld Crash Site Memorialmarker).

A special report issued by the United Nations following the crash stated that the United Nations base operations at the Ndjili Airport reported that an unidentified aircraft had been overflying the Ndola Airport late the previous night, but that no communication was made. The message also indicated that a report had reached the police station to the effect of a bright flash in the sky at approximately 1 am the previous night. According to the UN special report, it was this information that resulted in the initiation of search and rescue operations.

A press release issued by the Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, attached to the UN report, stated that "... in order to pay a tribute to this great man [Hammarskjöld], now vanished from the scene, and to his colleagues, all of whom have fallen victim to the shameless intrigues of the great financial Powers of the West, and in order to demonstrate publicly our indignation at the scandalous interference in our affairs by certain foreign countries, the Government has decided to proclaim Tuesday, 19 September 1961, a day of national mourning." These initial indications that the crash may have been deliberate led to multiple official inquiries and persistent speculation that the Secretary-General was assassinated.

Official inquiry

Following the death of Hammarskjöld, there were three inquiries into the circumstances that led to the crash: the Rhodesian Board of Investigation, the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry, and the United Nations Commission of Investigation.

The Rhodesian Board of Investigation looked into the matter between 19 September 1961 and 2 November 1961 under the command of British Lt. Colonel M.C.B. Barber. The Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry held hearings from 16–29 January 1962 without United Nations oversight. The subsequent United Nations Commission of Investigation held a series of hearings in 1962 and in part depended upon the testimony from the previous Rhodesian inquiries. Five "eminent persons" were assigned by the new Secretary-General to the UN Commission. The members of the commission unanimously elected Nepalesemarker diplomat Rishikesh Shaha to head up an inquiry.

The three official inquiries failed to conclusively determine the cause of the crash that led to the death of Hammarskjöld.The Rhodesian Board of Investigation sent 180 men to search a six-square-kilometer area of the last sector of the aircraft's flight-path, looking for evidence as to the cause of the crash. No evidence of a bomb, surface-to-air missile, or hijacking was found. The official report stated that two of the dead Swedish bodyguards had suffered multiple bullet wounds. Medical examination, performed by the initial Rhodesian Board of Investigation and reported in the UN official report, indicated that the wounds were superficial, and that the bullets showed no signs of rifling. They concluded that the bullets exploded in the fire in close proximity to the bodyguards. No other evidence of foul play was found in the wreckage of the aircraft.

Previous accounts of a bright flash in the sky were dismissed as occurring too late in the evening to have caused the crash. The official UN report speculated that these flashes may have been caused by secondary explosions after the crash. The sole survivor, Sergeant Harold Julian, indicated that there was a series of explosions that preceded the crash. The official inquiry found, however, that the statements of witnesses who talked with Julian were inconsistent. It was concluded that this testimony could not establish that the explosions did not occur after the crash.

The report does state that there were numerous delays which violated the established search and rescue procedures. There were three separate delays: the first delayed the initial alarm of a possible plane in trouble; the second delayed the "distress" alarm, which indicates that communications with surrounding airports indicate that a missing plane has not landed elsewhere; the third delayed the eventual search and rescue operation and the discovery of the plane wreckage, just miles away. The medical examiners report was inconclusive; one report said that Hammarskjöld had died on impact; another stated that Hammarskjöld might have survived had rescue operations not been delayed. The report also said that the chances of Sgt. Julian surviving the crash would have been "infinitely" better if the rescue operations were hastened.

Alternative theories

Despite the multiple official inquiries that failed to find evidence of assassination, some continue to believe that the death of Hammarskjöld was not an accident.

Harry Truman is reported to have said that "Dag Hammarskjöld was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said, 'when they killed him'."

At the time of Hammarskjöld's death, western intelligence agencies were actively interfering in the political situation in the Congo, which culminated in Belgian support for the secession of Katanga and the assassination of former prime minister Patrice Lumumba. Belgium and the United Kingdom had a vested interest in maintaining their control over much of the country's copper industry during the Congolese transition to an independent state. Concerns about the nationalization of the copper industry could have provided a financial incentive to remove either Lumumba or Hammarskjöld. Belgium has since publicly acknowledged and apologized for its negligence in the death of Lumumba.

The involvement of British officers in commanding the initial inquiries, which provided much of the information about the condition of the plane and the examination of the bodies, have led some to suggest a conflict of interest. The official report dismissed a number of pieces of evidence that would have supported the view that Hammarskjöld was assassinated. Some of these dismissals have been controversial, such as the conclusion that bullet wounds could have been caused by bullets exploding in a fire. Expert tests have questioned this conclusion, arguing that exploding bullets could not break the surface of the skin
Major C. F. Westell, a ballistics authority, said, "I can certainly describe as sheer nonsense the statement that cartridges of machine guns or pistols detonated in a fire can penetrate a human body." He based his statement on a large scale experiment that had been done to determine if military fire brigades would be in danger working near munitions depots. Other Swedish experts conducted and filmed tests showing that bullets heated to the point of explosion nonetheless did not achieve sufficient velocity to penetrate their box container.

Although there is some skepticism as to whether the official reports accurately assess the possibility of foul play, a number of alternative theories have been proposed, many of which are largely inconsistent.

On 19 August 1998, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), stated that recently uncovered letters had implicated the British MI5marker, the American CIA, and then South African intelligence services in the crash. One TRC letter said that a bomb in the airplane's wheel bay was set to detonate when the wheels came down for a landing. Tutu said that they were unable to investigate the truth of the letters or the allegations that South Africa or Western intelligence agencies played a role in the crash. The British Foreign Office suggested that they may have been created as Sovietmarker misinformation or disinformation.

On 29 July 2005, the Norwegian Major General, Bjørn Egge, gave an interview to the newspaper Aftenposten on the events surrounding Hammarskjöld's death. According to General Egge, who had been the first UN officer to see the body, Hammarskjöld had a hole in his forehead, and this hole was subsequently airbrushed from photos taken of the body. It appeared to Egge that Hammarskjöld had been thrown from the plane, and grass and leaves in his hands might indicate that he survived the crash – and that he had tried to scramble away from the wreckage. Egge does not claim directly that the wound was a gunshot wound, and his statement does not conform with Archbishop Tutu's information, or with the findings of the official inquiry.

In an interview on 24 March 2007, on the Norwegian TV channel NRKmarker, an anonymous retired mercenary claimed that he had shared a room with an unnamed South African mercenary who claimed to have shot Hammarskjöld. The alleged killer was claimed to have died in the late 1990s.

In his speech to the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September 2009, Colonel Gaddafi called upon the Libyan president of UNGA, Ali Treki, to institute a UN investigation into the assassinations of Congolese prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, who was overthrown in 1960 and murdered the following year, and of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961.


Hammarskjöld received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961, having been nominated before his death.

After Hammarskjöld’s death, 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.”

Historian Paul Kennedy hailed Hammarskjöld in his book The Parliament of Man as perhaps the greatest Secretary-General because of his ability to shape events, in contrast with his successors. In contrast, Paul Johnson in A History of the Modern World from 1917 to the 1980s (1983) was highly critical of his judgment.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Library, a part of the United Nations headquartersmarker, was dedicated on 16 November 1961 in honour of the late Secretary-General.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Library in Uppsala
There is also a Dag Hammarskjöld Library at his alma mater, Uppsala Universitymarker.

The School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York has a Dag Hammarskjöld Lounge. The graduate school is dedicated to the principles of international peace and cooperation that Hammarskjöld embodied.

Dag Hammarskjöld House on the Stanford Universitymarker campus is a residence cooperative for undergraduate and graduate students with international backgrounds and interests at Stanford.

Dag Hammarskjöld's Allé is a street in both Copenhagenmarker and Aalborgmarker, Denmark.

A Manhattanmarker park near the United Nations headquarters is called the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, as are several of the surrounding office buildings. He is also commemorated as a peacemaker in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on 18 September of each year.

Dag Hammarskjöld Stadium is the main football stadium of Ndolamarker, Zambiamarker. Hammarskjold's ill-fated flight in 1961 crashed in the outskirts of Ndola.

A number of schools have been named after Hammarskjöld, including Hammarskjold Middle School in East Brunswick Township, New Jerseymarker; Dag Hammarskjold Middle School in Wallingford, Connecticutmarker; Dag Hammarskjold Elementary School in Parma, Ohiomarker; and Hammarskjold High Schoolmarker in Thunder Baymarker, Ontariomarker.

The Dag Hammarskjöld centre in Uppsala (housing the secretariat of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation)
In 1962, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation was created as Sweden's national memorial to Dag Hammarskjöld.

The Carleton Universitymarker in Ottawamarker 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, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Amherst, John Hopkins, the University of California, Uppsala College, and Ohio University; and in Canada from Carleton College and McGill University.

On 22 July 1997, the U.N. Security Council in resolution 1121(1997) established the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal in recognition and commemoration of those who have lost their lives as a result of UN peacekeeping operations.

Colgate Universitymarker annually awards a student the Dag Hammarskjöld Prize in Peace and Conflict Studies based on outstanding work in the program.

Spirituality and Markings

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. Markings was described by a theologist, 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 chose 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."

See also


  1. The Meditation Room in the UN Headquarters
  2. Holy See's Presence in the International Organizations
  3. Books: Secular Pope
  4. (in Russian)
  5. (direct link:
  6. Macarthur Job, Air Disaster Volume 4, Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd, 2001 ISBN 187567148X, p 142
  9. "UN assassination plot denied," BBC World, 19 August 1998. Retrieved 13 October 2007.
  12. [1]
  16. Henry P Van Dusen. Dag Hammarskjold. A Biographical Interpretation of Markings Faber and Faber London 1967 p 47.
  18. Henry P Van Dusen. Dag Hammarskjold. A Biographical Interpretation of Markings Faber and Faber London 1967 p 5
  19. Dag Hammarskjold. Markings Leif Sjoberg and WH Auden (trans) Faber and Faber London 1964 p 63.
  20. Dag Hammarskjold. Markings Leif Sjoberg and WH Auden (trans) Faber and Faber London 1964 p149
  21. WH Auden Foreword to Dag Hammarskjold. Markings Leif Sjoberg and WH Auden (trans) Faber and Faber London 1964 p 23.

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