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Dag Hammarskjold: Statesman

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Dag Hammarskjold-Swedish diplomat, United Nations leader, statesman-was in his lifetime a well-known and admired public servant. And yet, as it was discovered after his accidental death in 1961, he was also a remarkably private man. Throughout his life he had kept a series of secret diaries which revealed him to be a man concerned not only with the outer events of the world around him but with the inner workings of the spiritual side of human beings. He was a man of action and a man of contemplation, and his life was an integral blending of these two seemingly opposite ways of being.

He was the youngest of four brothers, born on July 29, 1905. The Hammarskjold family was one of the oldest families in Sweden. Traditionally, the family worked in public service, and Dag's father and his two brothers all went into some sort of government work. Dag's father had been a professor of law and a scholar but, due to financial difficulties, was forced to go into government work in order to raise a family. He took this step with sacrifice and yet perfected his work, eventually becoming Prime Minister of Sweden. His main work was in the area of mediation. Sweden has always been a neutral country and has a tradition of interceding between countries that are in conflict with one another. This time-the turn of the century-was a time of great controversy throughout the world. World War I was approaching, Norway split off from Sweden, and conflict was brewing everywhere. In fact, Dag's father became very unpopular in his country. There was a food shortage in Sweden during the war, and the elder Hammarskjold was blamed for it. He ended up being forced to resign as prime minister and returned to a previous position he had as governor of Uppland at Uppsala.

It is interesting to follow the career of the older Hammarskjold because there is a significant parallel with his life and that of his son. Dag went into public service, reached a high position in Sweden, and went on to become Secretary General of the United Nations. Dag had a great deal of respect for his father; he admired the work that he had done. But this respect was also tempered by a resentment because his father tended to be very hard with his four sons and pushed them into public service. Dag held this resentment in his heart for a long time. Dag's father was rather aloof, and Dag was a very sensitive person. This sensitivity he inherited from his mother, and he retained with her a long and fine friendship throughout his adult years.

Dag did his undergraduate work at the University of Solna and studied literature, philosophy, French, and economics. At this time, he discovered the writing of the Christian mystics from the Middle Ages. He developed a real love for them and later accredited them for his inner development. Dag went on to pursue graduate work in economics and had a difficult time with it because of a conflict he had with one of his professors. The professor would not accept his thesis, and Dag was forced to switch to another department because he found this conflict to be unresolvable in any other way. He was very disappointed and upset about this turn of events, and it caused him a great deal of inner turmoil. He ended up getting a bachelor's degree in law before transferring to another school of economics in Stockholm.