The Jacana

 Great Lives Site


Back to Jacana

Great Lives index


Dag Hammarskj÷ld
July 29, 1905-September 18, 1961

U.N. secretary General

Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskj÷ld was the youngest of four sons of Agnes (Almquist) Hammarskj÷ld and Hjalmar Hammarskj÷ld, prime minister of Sweden, member of the Hague Tribunal, governor of Uppland, chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation. In a brief piece written for a radio program in 1953, Dag Hammarskj÷ld spoke of the influence of his parents: "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."1

Dag Hammarskj÷ld was, by common consent, the outstanding student of his day at Uppsala University where he took his degree in 1925 in the humanities, with emphasis on linguistics, literature, and history. During these years he laid the basis for his command of English, French, and German and for his stylistic mastery of his native language in which he developed something of the artist's touch. He was capable of understanding the poetry of the German Hermann Hesse and of the American Emily Dickinson; of taking delight in painting, especially in the work of the French Impressionists; of discoursing on music, particularly on the compositions of Beethoven; and in later years, of participating in sophisticated dialogue on Christian theology. In athletics he was a competent performer in gymnastics, a strong skier, a mountaineer who served for some years as the president of the Swedish Alpinist club. In short, Hammarskj÷ld was a Renaissance man.

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 doctoral degree in economics in 1934. For one year, 1933, Hammarskj÷ld taught economics at the University of Stockholm. But both his own desire and his heritage led him to enter public service to which he devoted thirty-one years in Swedish financial affairs, Swedish foreign relations, and global international affairs. His success in his first position, that of secretary from 1930 to 1934 to a governmental commission on unemployment, brought him to the attention of the directors of the Bank of Sweden who made him the Bank's secretary in 1935. From 1936 to 1945, he held the post of undersecretary in the Ministry of Finance. From 1941 to 1948, thus overlapping the undersecretaryship by four years, he was placed at the head of the Bank of Sweden, the most influential financial structure in the country.

Hammarskj÷ld has been credited with having coined the term "planned economy". Along with his eldest brother, Bo, who was then undersecretary in the Ministry of Social Welfare, he drafted the legislation which opened the way to the creation of the present, so-called "welfare state. " In the latter part of this period, he drew attention as an international financial negotiator for his part in the discussions with Great Britain on the postwar economic reconstruction of Europe, in his reshaping of the twelve-year-old United States-Swedish trade agreement, in his participation in the talks which organized the Marshall Plan, and in his leadership on the Executive Committee of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation.

Hammarskj÷ld's connection with the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs began in 1946 when he became its financial adviser. In 1949 he was named to an official post in the Foreign Ministry and in 1951 became the deputy foreign minister, with cabinet rank, although he continued to remain aloof from membership in any political party. In foreign affairs he continued a policy of international economic cooperation. A diplomatic feat of this period was the avoiding of Swedish commitment to the cooperative military venture of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization while collaborating on the political level in the Council of Europe and on the economic level in the Organization of European Economic Cooperation.

Hammarskj÷ld represented Sweden as a delegate to the United Nations in 1949 and again from 1951 to 1953. Receiving fifty-seven votes out of sixty, Hammarskj÷ld was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1953 for a five-year term and reelected in 1957. Before turning to the world problems awaiting him, he established a firm base of operations. For his Secretariat of 4,000 people, he drew up a set of regulations defining their responsibilities to the international organization of which they were a part and affirming their independence from narrowly conceived national interests.

In the six years after his first major victory of 1954-1955, when he personally negotiated the release of American soldiers captured by the Chinese in the Korean War, he was involved in struggles on three of the world's continents. He approached them through what he liked to call "preventive diplomacy" and while doing so sought to establish more independence and effectiveness in the post of Secretary-General itself.

In the Middle East his efforts to ease the situation in Palestine and to resolve its problems continued throughout his stay in office. During the Suez Canal crisis of 1956, he exercised his own personal diplomacy with the nations involved; worked with many others in the UN to get the UN to nullify the use of force by Israel, France, and Great Britain following Nasser's commandeering of the Canal; and under the UN's mandate, commissioned the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) - the first ever mobilized by an international organization. In 1958 he suggested to the Assembly a solution to the crises in Lebanon and Jordan and subsequently directed the establishment of the UN Observation Group in Lebanon and the UN Office in Jordan, bringing about the withdrawal of the American and British troops which had been sent there. In 1959 he sent a personal representative to Southeast Asia when Cambodia and Thailand broke off diplomatic relations, and another to Laos when problems arose there.

Out of these crises came procedures and tactics new to the UN - the use of the UNEF, employment of a UN "presence" in world trouble spots and a steadily growing tendency to make the Secretary-General the executive for operations for peace.

It was with these precedents established that the United Nations and Hammarskj÷ld took up the problems stemming from the new independence of various developing countries. The most dangerous of these, that of the newly liberated Congo, arose in July, 1960, when the new government there, faced with mutiny in its army, secession of its province of Katanga, and intervention of Belgian troops, asked the UN for help. The UN responded by sending a peace-keeping force, with Hammarskj÷ld in charge of operations.

When the situation deteriorated during the year that followed, Hammarskj÷ld had to deal with almost insuperable difficulties in the Congo and with criticism in the UN. A last crisis for him came in September, 1961, when, arriving in Leopoldville to discuss details of UN aid with the Congolese government, he learned that fighting had erupted between Katanga troops and the noncombatant forces of the UN. A few days later, in an effort to secure a cease-fire, he left by air for a personal conference with President Tshombe of Katanga. Sometime in the night of September 17-18, he and fifteen others aboard perished when their plane crashed near the border between Katanga and North Rhodesia.2


Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 10 April 1953 until 18 September 1961 when he met his death in a plane accident while on a peace mission in the Congo. He was born on 29 July 1905 in Jonkoping in south-central Sweden. The fourth son of Hjalmar Hammarskjold, Prime Minister of Sweden during the years of World War I, and his wife Agnes, M.C. (b. Almquist), he was brought up in the university town of Uppsala where his father resided as Governor of the county of Uppland.

At 18, he was graduated from college and enrolled in Uppsala University. Majoring in French history of literature, social philosophy and political economy, Mr. Hammarskjold received, with honors, his Bachelor of Arts degree two years later. The next three years he studied economics, at the same university, where he received a "filosofic licenciat" degree in economics at the age of 23. He continued his studies for two more years to become a Bachelor of Laws in 1930.

Mr. Hammarskjold then moved to Stockholm, where he became a secretary of a governmental committee on unemployment (1930-1934). At the same time he wrote his doctor's thesis in economics, entitled, "Konjunkturspridningen" (The Spread of the Business Cycle). In 1933 he received his doctor's degree from the University of Stockholm, where he was made assistant professor in political economy.

At the age of 31 and after having served one year as secretary in the National Bank of Sweden, Mr. Hammarskjold was appointed to the post of Permanent Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Finance. He concurrently served as Chairman of the National Bank's Board, from 1941 to 1948. Six of the Board's members are appointed by Parliament and the Chairman by the Government. This was the first time that one man had held both posts, the Chairmanship of the Bank's Board and that of Under-Secretary of the Finance Ministry.

Early in 1945, he was appointed an adviser to the Cabinet on financial and economic problems, organizing and coordinating, among other things, different governmental planning for the various economic problems that arose as a result of the war and the postwar period. During these years, Mr. Hammarskjold played an important part in shaping Sweden's financial policy. He led a series of trade and financial negotiations with other countries, among them the United States and the United Kingdom.

In 1947 he was appointed to the Foreign Office, where he was responsible for all economic questions with rank of Under-Secretary. In 1949, he was appointed Secretary-General of the Foreign Office and in 1951, he joined the Cabinet as Minister without portfolio. He became, in effect, Deputy Foreign Minister, dealing especially with economic problems and various plans for close economic cooperation.

He was a delegate to the Paris Conference in 1947, when the Marshall Plan machinery was established. He was his country's chief delegate to the 1948 Paris Conference of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC). For some years he served as Vice-Chairman of the OEEC Executive Committee. In 1950, he became Chairman of the Swedish Delegation to UNISCAN, established to promote economic cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries. He was also a member (1937-1948) of the advisory board of the government-sponsored Economic Research Institute.

He was Vice-Chairman of the Swedish Delegation to the Sixth Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly in Paris 1951-1952, and acting Chairman of his country's delegation to the Seventh General Assembly in New York in 1952-1953.

Although he served with the Social-Democratic cabinet, Mr. Hammarskjold never Joined any political party, regarding himself as an independent, politically.

On 20 December 1954, he became a member of the Swedish Academy. He was elected to take the seat in the Academy previously held by his father.

Elected to two terms as Secretary-General
Mr. Hammarskjold was unanimously appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations by the General Assembly on 7 April 1953 on the recommendation of the Security Council. He was reelected unanimously for another term of five years in September 1957.

During his terms as Secretary-General, Mr. Hammarskjold carried out many responsibilities for the United Nations in the course of its efforts to prevent war and serve the other aims of the Charter.

In the Middle East these included: continuing diplomatic activity in support of the Armistice Agreements between Israel and the Arab States and to promote progress toward better and more peaceful conditions in the area; organization in 1956 of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) and its administration since then; clearance of the Suez Canal in 1957 and assistance in the peaceful solution of the Suez Canal dispute; organization and administration of the United Nations Observation Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL) and establishment of an office of the special representative of the Secretary-General in Jordan in 1958.

In 1955, following his visit to Peking, 30 December 1954 - 13 January 1955, 15 detained American fliers who had served under the United Nations Command in Korea were released by the Chinese People's Republic. Mr. Hammarskjold also traveled to many countries of Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas and the Middle East, either on specific assignments or to further his acquaintance with officials of member governments and the problems of various areas.

On one of these trips, from 18 December 1959 to 31 January 1960, the Secretary-General visited 21 countries and territories in Africa -- a trip he described later as "a strictly professional trip for study, for information", in which he said he had gained a "kind of cross-section of every sort of politically responsible opinion in the Africa of today".

Later in 1960, when President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba of the Republic of the Congo sent a cable on 12 July asking "urgent dispatch" of United Nations military assistance to the Congo, the Secretary-General addressed the Security Council at a night meeting on 13 July and asked the Council to act "with utmost speed" on the request. Following Security Council actions the United Nations Force in the Congo was established and the Secretary-General himself made four trips to the Congo in connection with the United Nations operations there. The first two trips to the Congo were made in July and August 1960. Then, in January of that year, the Secretary-General stopped in the Congo while en route to the Union of South Africa on another mission in connection with the racial problems of that country. The fourth trip to the Congo began on 12 September and terminated with the fatal plane accident.

In other fields of work, Mr. Hammarskjold was responsible for the organization in 1955 and 1958 of the first and second UN international conference on the peaceful uses of atomic energy in Geneva, and for planning a UN conference on the application of science and technology for the benefit of the less developed areas of the world held in 1962.

He held honorary degrees from Oxford University, England; in the United States from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Amherst, John Hopkins, the University of California, Uppsala College, and Ohio University; and in Canada from Carleton College and from McGill University.











This web page was last updated on: 10 December, 2008