Death of Dag Hammarskj

Published: 1961
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI

Announcer: 1961 was also the year of emerging new nations, not the least of these the turbulent Congo. After a year of independence, blood still flowed in the streets, and at the United Nations Ambassador Stevenson spoke the sentiments of many.

Adlai Stevenson: "And now comes confirmation of the latest revolting acts, the massacre of 13 Italian airmen serving the United Nations, presumably by soldiers from Stanleyville. We are profoundly shocked by these actions, and our heartfelt sympathies go to their relatives, as well as to the Government of Italy. Their names are added to the long list of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace in the service of the United Nations."

Announcer: The fighting continued with casualties heavy on all sides. Finally, the UN commander in secessionist Katanga Province, Conor Cruise O'Brien, resigned. He charged flagrant obstruction by Britain and Rhodesia.

Conor Cruise O'Brien: "We have quite definitely experienced British and Rhodesian obstruction of the United Nations' purposes in the Katanga."

Announcer: But the small and bitter war raged on.

The great tragedy of 1961 occurred when United Nations Secretary-General Hammarskj?ld was killed in a plane crash while on another of his Congo peace missions. His death stunned the world.

One of the high points of his career had come when he adamantly refused to resign under Russian pressure.

Dag Hammarskj?ld: "It is very easy to bow to the wish of a big power. It is another matter to resist it. If it is the wish of those nations who see the organization their best protection in the present world, I shall do so again."

Announcer: True to his promise, Dag Hammarskj?ld had worked round the clock to preserve peace. Then, the world gasped as the BBC told the story.

Unknown Speaker: "It's now been confirmed that the United Nations' Secretary-General, Mr. Hammarskj?ld, has been killed in a plane crash. His body was found this afternoon about seven miles from Ndola in Northern Rhodesia, where he was to have met President Tshombe of Katanga."

Announcer: The United Nations was deeply affected by the loss, and for a time its very existence as an effective force for peace seemed to be at stake. The Assembly convened to pay its last respects and, hear Adlai Stevenson's eloquent and pointed eulogy.

Adlai Stevenson: "Dag Hammarskj?ld once said at a moment of crisis in his life and in the life of this organization that the man does not count; the institution does. Yet institutions are made to serve men, and it is from the greatest men that they derive their character and their strength. The memory of this one man -- humane, cultured, judicious, possessed of a poetic and philosophic vision, free of passion other than a passion for the rule of reason and of decency, modest and brave -- this memory will always be with us as a reminder of the best that the United Nations can be."

Announcer: Hammarskj?ld's body was flown from Rhodesia to his home in Sweden. The funeral services were eloquent in their very simplicity.

Unknown Speaker: "The coffin, draped in the Swedish flag with one single wreath, and are bearing it very slowly down the center aisle, followed immediately by the members of the immediate Hammarskj?ld family, King Gustaf Adolf, Queen Louise, then bow to Mr. Mongi Slim, the President of the General Assembly, and Mr. Barnes, the President of the Security Council, and take their places behind the coffin. From one side of the chancel come the personalities, the national personalities, from many countries. The coffin is now nearing the great west door."

Announcer: The United Nations now faced its toughest time, the replacing of the Secretary-General. The Russians proposed da troika, or the three-man ruling body, then a four-power group and finally five men to head the United Nations. After much debate, one man was finally picked to fill that tremendous gap left by the passing of Hammarskj?ld, a quiet man from Burma, U Thant.

U Thant: "My country has steadfastly pursued over the years a policy of nonalignment and friendship for all other nations, whatever their ideologies. In my new role, I shall continue to maintain this attitude of objectivity and to pursue the ideal of universal friendship."

Announcer: Perhaps the United Nations would weather the crisis. The world still waits to see.