“With strong feeling personal insufficiency I hesitate to accept candidature but I do not feel I could refuse to assume the task imposed on me should the [UN General] Assembly follow the recommendation of the Security Council by which I feel deeply honoured.”
Dag Hammarskjöld (April 1, 1953)
“It will be necessary to find some way of pulling Hammarskjold up short.”
UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan (September 13 1961)
“Hammarskjöld was at the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said ‘when they killed him’.”
US President Harry Truman (September 19 1961)
On 31 March 1953, the Security Council voted 10-0-1 to recommend Hammarskjöld to the General Assembly, with an abstention from Nationalist China. Shortly after midnight on 1 April 1953, Hammarskjöld was awakened by a telephone call from a Stockholm journalist with the news, which he dismissed as an April Fool’s Day joke. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
The exchange between the journalist and Hammarskjöld was rather comical…
Journalist: “We understand you’ve been designated Secretary-General of the United Nations.”
Hammarskjöld: “This April Fool’s Day joke is in extremely bad taste: it’s nonsense!”
Dag Hammarskjöld finally believed the news after the third phone call. The Swedish mission in New York confirmed the nomination at 03:00 and a communique from the Security Council was soon thereafter delivered to him.
After consulting with the Swedish cabinet and his father, Hammarskjöld decided to accept the nomination.
Hammarskjöld was sworn in as Secretary-General on 10 April 1953. He was unanimously reelected on 26 September 1957 for another term, taking effect on 10 April 1958.
On 10 November 1952 Trygve Lie announced his resignation as Secretary-General of the United Nations. Several months of negotiations ensued between the Western powers and the Soviet Union, without reaching an agreement on his successor.
On 13 and 19 March 1953, the Security Council voted on four candidates. Lester B. Pearson of Canada was the only candidate to receive the required majority, but he was vetoed by the Soviet Union.
At a consultation of the permanent members on 30 March 1953, French ambassador Henri Hoppenot suggested four candidates, including Hammarskjöld, whom he had met at the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation.
The superpowers hoped to seat a Secretary-General who would focus on administrative issues and refrain from participating in political discussion.
Hammarskjöld’s reputation at the time was, in the words of biographer Emery Kelèn, “that of a brilliant economist, an unobtrusive technician, and an aristo-bureaucrat”.
As a result, there was little to no controversy in his selection. The Soviet permanent representative, Valerian Zorin, found Hammarskjöld “harmless”. Zorin declared that he would be voting for Hammarskjöld, surprising the Western powers.
The announcement set off a flurry of diplomatic activity. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden was strongly in favor of Hammarskjöld and asked the United States to “take any appropriate action to induce the [Nationalist] Chinese to abstain.” (Sweden recognized the People’s Republic of China and faced a potential veto from the Republic of China.)
At the U.S. State Department, the nomination “came as a complete surprise to everyone here and we started scrambling around to find out who Mr. Hammarskjold was and what his qualifications were.”
The State Department authorized Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the US Ambassador, to vote in favor after he told them that Hammarskjöld “may be as good as we can get.
On September 18 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, killing Hammarskjöld and the 15 people on board.
It’s understood that because Hammarskjöld was, at the time, advocating for Congo’s independence (against the wishes of European mining companies and other powerful entities), the “crash” was an assassination.
In 2019 the documentary film Cold Case Hammarskjöld alleged that a Belgian pilot, Jan Van Risseghem, has been named as a possible attacker.
Van Risseghem had extensive ties to Britain, including a British mother and wife, trained with the RAF and was decorated by Britain for his service in the Second World War.
The Film-makers investigating the 1961 crash found a friend of Van Risseghem who claimed the pilot confessed to shooting down the UN plane.
Dag Hammarskjöld’s inaugural speech on 10 April 1953
United Nations, New York – A short video piece of inaugural speech of H.E. Mr. Dag Hammarskjöld took oath of office as Secretary-General on 10 April 1953.
On This Day — UN Security Council nominates Dag Hammarskjöld for Secretary-General (March 31 1953)