Markings and Dag Hammarskjöld: A Secretary-General and the Path of Peace

“In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.”
Dag Hammarskjöld

Dag Hammarskjöld, secretary-general of the United Nations (1959). Location: United Nations, New York.
Wikimedia Commons

(Introduction written by Kathy Dunn)

We live in a world that is plagued by duality.  We can see signs of the beautiful and magnificent, the wonder of God’s beauty and intention in His created world.  Sometimes, this encompasses slight resemblances of the Shalom He intended, of peace and harmony. Yet less and less can we find this gentle life-giving ambiance.  Next door, we see the age in which we live whereby the natural world and workmanship of the Father’s hand is encroached upon, palpable by modern human dominion, squelched by human civilization that characterizes a world in which man is king.

All of us at some level deep inside our being long for meaning, something greater than us, a scope far beyond what we are capable to live for and contribute to.  Something that makes sense of this duality; that reverses the seemingly irreparable damage that man is capable of – not only toward the earth and its non-human inhabitants, but towards one another also.  Our modern world is plagued by war and unrest.  Nations rise against nations – another sign of human kingmanship; of a dominion in its noblest state that would reflect the goodness of the Creator and the beauty of His creation, now marked by domination and tyranny over the entire created order.

Marcello Newall is sharing with the SAGC audience a remarkable piece he wrote about Dag Hammarskjöld, a Secretary-General who through his book Markings, chronicles his struggles to find meaning in life which no matter the generation, is plagued by duality.  Dag ultimately found meaning and purpose in his faith.  This article is Marcello’s book review of Markings.

We hope you will go on to read Marcello’s college paper (link below).  We learn from the journeys of those before us.  In their struggles, we not only learn more about the duality of the world, the cultural norms of societies gone before us, but can find purpose and meaning to live and even die for in our lives. We pray to make a difference and in some way, that our efforts will help return us to God’s original purposes for the entire creation – Peace.


Book Review of “Markings” by Marcello Newall

Dag Hammarskjöld, the son of a former Swedish prime minister, was a talented and
private man who mixed fierce determination and hard work with bouts of deep
depression and existential despair. Hammarskjöld quickly rose to the higher echelons of
Swedish society and international diplomacy, but his achievements couldn’t assuage his
own deep sense of meaninglessness. He longed for something to live, and even die for,
and found it when he experienced a personal conversion to Christ, which he would
allude to in his diary:

I don’t know Who – or what – put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I
don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone
– or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and
that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.

Published posthumously in 1963, Markings chronicles the struggles of a man who
found ultimate meaning and purpose in his faith and later went on to be SecretaryGeneral
of the United Nations. Markings represents a sort of diary in which
Hammarskjöld sought to record his thoughts and memories over the period of many
years and which was found and published posthumously; many of the entries are
profound spiritual reflections on life and his own experiences.

Through a series of providential events Dag would be elected Secretary-General of the
United Nations in 1953. What follows in his writings is an ever-increasing sense of selfsacrifice, and what appears to be a growing fellowship with Christ and his sufferings; in
1952, for example, he writes: ‘Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding
something to live for, great enough to die for’. Many of Hammarskjöld’s ‘markings’ are
somewhat mysterious and can only be understood in the light of his own sense of calling
and duty; for certain Dag often manages to convey deep spiritual truths in his distilled
notes and memories. At the same time the book exudes a deep sense of nobility both of
heart and spirit; one gets the impression of having before them a human being who
chose the narrow way in one of its purest forms.

As Secretary-General Hammarskjöld would seek to protect the smaller nations from
the Great Powers, and was a pioneer in the promotion of international peacekeeping and diplomacy in order to avoid conflict. But more generally Hammarskjöld’s time at the UN was infused with a deep sense of purpose, and the mission of bringing peace wherever
possible within the volatile network of world politics. As mentioned earlier the book can
at times be difficult to understand and can descend into the enigmatic thought-world of
Hammarskjöld; but Markings also contains gems of rare poetic beauty and spiritual depth
that the reader will surely treasure. Markings must, in the same way, be understood
alongside Dag’s public persona and achievements in order to be grasped in any depth.
These include his historic trip to China, his conflict with the USSR and the Big Powers,
his mission in the Middle East, and his deeply innovative work within the UN more
generally. We can sense the escalating conflict Hammarskjöld is subjected to in his diary,
but it is only through comprehending the historical events around it that we can begin to
really decode his entries. Shortly before his death, in probably one of the greatest
speeches of the 20th century – of which here I provide only a short extract –
Hammarskjöld defended his secretariat and underlined the idealism that characterized his
life:

However facts are facts and the true facts are there for whomsoever cares for truth.
Those who invoke history will certainly be heard by history. And they will have to
accept its verdict on the basis of the facts by men free of mind and firm in their
conviction that only on a scrutiny of truth can a future of peace be built.[1]

Tragically Hammarskjöld’s story ends in 1961 with his personal self-sacrifice in the
Congo. In a last attempt to bring peace to the war torn region Hammarskjöld decided to
intervene personally in the country. Deep mystery surrounds the plane crash that took
his life – with the concrete possibility that Hammarskjöld was assassinated – and he
remains to this day the only Secretary-General to have died in office. I was personally
inspired by Markings and believe anyone willing to take the time to read the book and
study the life of Hammarskjöld will be both enriched and ennobled.

Life only demands from you the strength that you possess.
Only one feat is possible; not to run 
away.
― Dag Hammarskjöld

___________
[1]  General assembly, 15th session plenary session, 883rd plenary meeting, 3 October 1960, 331.

Atoms for Peace (Historical) “Opening of the Atoms for Peace Conference” – Wikimedia Commons


University paper: Did Dag Hammarskjöld radically transform the United Nations- 2017
By Marcello Newall


Thank you for reading and following our blog.  We pray you are blessed by it and will share it widely with others, thank you! ~Marcello

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2 Responses to Markings and Dag Hammarskjöld: A Secretary-General and the Path of Peace

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