Saturday, 22 September 2018

Dag Hammarskjöld

Dag Hammarskjöld was born in 1905. He was the youngest son of the Swedish Prime Minister; his mother was a woman of great spirituality. Both parents came from old, noble families, so he spent most of his childhood within the ancient walls of Uppsala Castle.
     Dag attended Uppsala University (Sweden’s finest). He was a brilliant scholar so the University proclaimed him its outstanding student of his year. He read the humanities, with emphases on linguistics, literature, and history.
      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 doctorate in economics in 1934.
     In all, Dag served Swedish national affairs and international relations for 31 years in roles that included being secretary of a governmental committee on unemployment, under-secretary in the Swedish Ministry of Finance, and head of the Bank of Sweden.
      Dag played a pivotal role in giving Sweden a key voice in reshaping the world order after World War II. His steady diplomacy during the Cold War helped shape global politics; he personally prevented many armed conflicts.
      Dag became the third Secretary General of the United Nations (1953–61), and the first to be elected unanimously. He enhanced the effectiveness and prestige of the UN. To many, he was the UN’s best ever leader and his appointment was said to be the most notable success for the UN at that time. John F. Kennedy described him as ‘the greatest statesman of our century.’
      He died in controversial circumstances in September 1961 when his plane crashed on a peace mission in Africa. The same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, posthumously, which is vanishingly rare.
      His extraordinary moral integrity was a direct result of his deep Christian faith. In a brief piece written for a radio program in 1953, he spoke of the influence on his life: ‘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.’
       He never married, so chose to redirect his astonishing gifts to the service of God and humanity. ‘I am the vessel. The draft is God’s. And God is the thirsty one.’ He often compared his life of service to that of a religious vocation. Indeed, his life was almost monastic in the way he dedicated everything he did to God. And he corresponded widely with Christian activists, writers and people like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
      After his death, in 1963 his estate published his ‘journal’, which they entitled Markings. It reveals the inner man. He himself described it as ‘A book concerning my negotiations with myself – and with God.’ Most of its entries are spiritual truths given artistic form. The book contains a great many references to death, such as ‘Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfilment’.
      Although dated in parts, the book soon had an enormous following.

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