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Dag Hammarskjöld, seer and explorer

Hammarskjold. A Life
The official and the spirit man Dag Hammarskjöld were not opposites but enriched each other mutually, according to his biographer Roger Lipsey.


Whoever wants to survive must be both "seer" and "explorer," declared UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. Without losing respect for science and the quest for truth, one must also look for the "invisible values" – for the arts and the spiritual life, Roger Lipsey summarizes in his Hammarskjöld biography Hammarskjold. A Life. The book is about Hammarskjöld's struggle to survive as a true human being, as an individual and as a state leader. This makes the book, which was published in 2013, important today.

When the New York symphonics played Beethoven's ninth symphony at the UN, Lie objected to "Holy Bread!" "In that case, we need more Holy Bread," replied Hammarskjöld.

Official and Estet. It has been over 60 years since Dag Hammarskjöld was found dead by a wreck on the border between today's Zambia and Southern Congo. Undoubtedly, the spectacular death and his surprising diary notes – way points – made Hammarskjöld more than a bureaucrat who fell in service.

Here in the country one would think that the UN is first and foremost linked to the UN's first leader Trygve Lie. But it is not sought to claim that Hammarskjöld and the UN are more closely connected in Norwegians' consciousness.

Lipsey emphasizes the connection between the factual and effective official and the politician on the one hand, and the value- and spirit-oriented cultural man on the other. Lie-biographer Guri Hjeltnes hits precisely when she calls Hammarskjöld a "spirit of beauty" – he who sits and translates philosopher Martin Buber at his tidy desk where a miniature sculpture by sculptor friend Barbara Hepworth is placed (later erected outside the large-scale UN building) or engaging himself in the fate of the imprisoned poet Ezra Pound, in late night hours after long days of UN work. The official and spirit man Hammarskjöld were not opposites, Lipsey believes, but a unified expression of the unparalleled and diverse human being Hammarskjöld was. One enriched and was a product of the other.

Opposites. The relationship between Lie and Hammarskjöld was to be anything but cordial. Lipsey portrays the former's attempt to put the gay stamp on his rival to the leadership position in 1950, so that he himself would be assured of returning to the job he had been ashamed to leave. Hammarskjöld was too delicate to dismiss the rumors, which would have made life even more difficult for gays, including several of his close friends. Rumors have a hard time finding that a "unicorn" can't find its mate, Hammarskjöld writes in her diary. From friend Sture Linnér, Lipsey learns about Hammarskjöld's unhappy love, an experience that later made him not look elsewhere. Loneliness became a burden for Hammarskjöld throughout his life, but a burden he himself chose.

The difference between the first two UN leaders became evident when the New York symphonics played Beethoven's ninth symphony at the UN. "Sacrilege!" protested Lie. "In that case, we need more holy bread," replied Hammarskjöld, who in all the years thereafter invited great art into the UN Day: "All the Menschen werden Brüder, Wo dein sanfer Flügel weilt" – "All people become brothers, where your gentle wings resting". Art and brotherhood belong together.

Friendship, warmth and respect. Hammarskjöld's experience of loneliness did not mean that he lacked friendship. To Bo Beskow, who adorned The Quiet Room of the UN building, he thanks for "a kind of camaraderie under the same stars, where you demand nothing but get so much". In photographer Hammarskjöld's portraits – he owned an exclusive Hasselblad camera and had a rich production of natural and human subjects – Lipsey sees an appreciation of female beauty, including in the portrait of Greta Beskow. Hammarskjöld could also thank the married couple Beskow for their friendship and warmth to a man who had "chosen to go another way".

Better knowledge of Hammarskjöld's view of life and deep understanding of the value of other religions and cultures is perhaps the most important Lipsey's meticulous dig work. Hammarskjöld is ashamed of the West's ethnocentrism and inability to self-reflect – "their unthinking". Unusually tough words to come from a Swedish official. "I'm most surprised at what they haven't seen and understood," he says of Western observers in Asia and Africa. It is enriching to really be able to "see the other", he expresses – it should make us "grateful that we are allowed to listen, observe and understand".

The author emphasizes that what occupied Hammarskjöld until the very last was precisely "the relationship between the West and the newly liberated nations of Asia and Africa, not only as political entities, but as homelands and rich cultures".

Hammarskjöld is ashamed of the West's ethnocentrism and inability to self-reflect – "their unthinking".

Created trust. Lipsey's method is exemplary: He not only digs up hitherto unknown texts, letters and archives, but provides insight into broad historical and personal contexts so that the reader can draw independent conclusions. Congo and Suez crises, relations with the Soviet Union and the United States are topics being discussed. During the discussion of Hammarskjöld's sexual orientation, the friend and the author are given way points, TH Auden, great space. Auden, himself openly gay, could turn the language there to reinforce the idea of ​​Hammarskjöld's homosexuality, so that, for example, "friendship" could turn into "love". Lipsey also goes into Auden's description of her own sexuality and what shaped it. He does not just discuss this how og what, but also why.

It is in the search for this why cinema is at its best, where it fundamentally brings together Hammarskjöld's inner values ​​and outer work. Hammarskjöld made people open up, like China's Zhou Enlai after his meeting with him, against all odds, freeing American prisoners of war. Americans' threats and boycott proposals appeared as vulgar as futile.

Lipsley never calls for a Hammarskjöld for our time – one who believes in the "UN project" and peace work, and who, if necessary, sacrifices "for the cause", as Hammarskjöld did. But as readers, we are forced to ask ourselves: Where is the head of state we so badly need in our time? Instead, we have "realists" who count rockets and weapons investments, a NATO leader who calls for Western armor for peace, and troop provocations around North Korea as "the solution to the Korea conflict". A UN marginalized by the G-20 and Davos summits. The problems go much deeper than Trump – but a new Hammarskjöld seems more distant than ever.

First and foremost votes. Dag Hammarskjöld would not be seen as any religious fanatic, says Lipsey: He wanted to be measured by the fruits of what he created. Posthumously, it became too much for many, then way points also pointed to a spiritual dimension of the UN leader's personality. Today's News Olof Lagerkrantz scornfully wrote about "Hammarskjöld, Jesus and Truth" – about a man who seeks to "suffer for his dream" but who "lost touch with reality and could no longer be saved". Norway's ambassador to France, Eivind Bertels, called Hammarskjöld a "poor and tragic aesthetic, a desperate man". American John Lindberg mockingly stated that Hammarskjöld "thought he was Christ".

But the supporting voices were multiple: John Steinbeck wrote that Hammarskjöld "wrote poetry with his life", and Swedish Kerstin Anér thought it must be bitter to the critics that they could not take Hammarskjöld on anything else: "They can not say that he was immoral. They cannot say that he was a village provincial with narrow-minded values. Instead, they chose to say that his inner life had nothing to do with his life's work. ”

Poetic documentation. Roger Lipsey has given us 738 often poetic, but always well-documented and inspirational pages – by extension Steinbeck and Anér – about Hammarskjöld's inner life and extensive life work, and about a viewer constantly looking for something new to discover. He draws the image of a living and single-minded, and perhaps precisely because of this, a vulnerable and lonely man. A man who many dream of resembling, but whose destiny few will be willing to share.

See also: The Guardian: Air strikes may have taken the life of former UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld

John Y. Jones
John Y. Jones
Cand. Philol, freelance journalist affiliated with MODERN TIMES

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