By Austin Seck
Amidst all the current chaos, do you ever think about world peace? Let me introduce Dag.
Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld was a legendary visionary and peacemaker of our time. Named the best UN Secretary-General of all time by the Japan Times alongside Kofi Annan (which I highly dispute, Dag is uncontested), this man abandoned his noble heritage living in a castle to travel across the world in the noble pursuit of peace, eventually winning the Nobel Prize posthumously when he tragically died in a plane crash. While there has been recent uncovering and lots of development regarding the cause of his death and the foul play involved, today I will be focusing on what could have been, if this man was not murdered.
The UN, like most international organizations today is largely seen as inefficient, being the subject of scorn for politics students, treated with contempt and an utter lack of respect by both leaders in the West and East from different sides of the spectrum. Sure, the UN can come together and pass some hefty sanctions on North Korea – but do you really think Kim cares about some slips of paper? The UN have had well-known issues with independence and its complete inability to stand up to larger member states; it refuses to acknowledge Taiwan having turned its back on the state since China joined the UN as one of the big 5 powers, it refuses to acknowledge Kosovo, and allows Palestine in only as a spectator.
Believe it or not, under the leadership of Dag (the man himself), the UN was nothing like the one we know of today. He had a massive commitment to keeping peace worldwide and truly had global interests at heart, unlike many nations which only cared about their own interests, and his predecessors and successors who caved on these whims.
Even his appointment as Secretary-General in 1953 was unchallenged by both the US and USSR, who at this point were simply vetoing each other for anything and everything. With each Security Council member looking out for their own interests and recommending candidates whom at least one of them would veto, Hammarskjöld was the most “harmless” (Soviet UNSC Representative) and natural choice, although this would ultimately lead to his demise, as his refusal to put superpowers’ interests over the peace and stability of the Congo region made him an enemy of powerful nations. He was told of the nomination by the Security Council on the 1st of April, leading him to think that it was an April Fool’s joke.
Luckily for the world, it was not. Not only did Hammarskjöld successfully intervene in the Suez Crisis with the United Nations Emergency Forces in 1956, he negotiated the release of 11 American prisoners of the Korean War with China and was deeply committed to stabilising peace in areas of conflict such as the Arab-Israeli situation and Congo. He was so committed to de-escalating the Congo Crisis that he flew to Congo multiple times to assist with the decolonisation process and attempted to negotiate a ceasefire between the conflicting parties. I think it speaks volumes that he died literally fighting for peace, in a conflict that he wasn’t involved nor invested in.
Had he not been murdered, the Republic of Congo may have made significant steps to recovery under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba who was subsequently himself assassinated; we might see a very different Africa today, a continent which has made much more significant progress from the horrors of colonialism that is still reeking today.
R.I.P. Dag Hammarskjöld.
Image: eimoberg via Creative Commons