Dag Hammarskjöld

Acceptance Speech

Acceptance by Rolf Edberg*, Swedish Ambassador to Norway, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1961

It is with infinite sadness that I have received, at the request of the administrators of the estate of Dag Hammarskjöld, the prize for the year 1961 awarded posthumously to a friend and fellow countryman.

How thankful I should be if I could present to you what he himself would have thought and said, were he standing here today.

Surely he would have seen it as symbolic to be called to this stage – where so much human goodwill has been honoured – along with the South African advocate of nonviolent liberation: two men of different origin and with different starting points, but both striving toward the same goal.

My compatriot was much concerned with the awakening and fermenting continent which was to become his destiny. He once said that the next decade must belong to Africa or to the atom bomb. He firmly believed that the new countries have an important mission to fulfill in the community of nations. He therefore invested all his strength of will, and at the end more than that, to smooth their road toward the future.

Africa was to be the great test for the philosophy he wished to see brought to life through the United Nations.

Time and again he recurred to the indissoluble connection between peace and human rights. Tolerance, protection by law, equal political rights, and equal economic opportunities for all citizens – were prerequisites for a harmonious life within a nation. They also became requirements for such a life among nations.

He would remind us how man once organized himself in families, how families joined together in tribes and villages, and how tribes and villages developed into peoples and nations. But the nation could not be the end of such development. In the Charter of the United Nations he saw a guide to what he called an organized international community.

With an intensity that grew stronger each year, he stressed in his annual reports to the General Assembly that the United Nations had to be shaped into a dynamic instrument in the service of development. In his last report, in a tone of voice penetrating because of its very restraint, he confronted those member states which were clinging to “the time-honored philosophy of sovereign national states in armed competition, of which the most that may be expected is that they achieve a peaceful coexistence”1. This philosophy did not meet the needs of a world of ever increasing interdependence, where nations have at their disposal armaments of hitherto unknown destructive strength. The United Nations must open up ways to more developed forms of international cooperation.

He dated this report August 17 of this year. It now stands as a last testament.

He found the words of the Charter concerning equal rights for all nations, large and small, filled with life and significance. Above all, it was the small nations, and especially the developing countries, which needed the United Nations for their protection and their future. This was why he refused to step down and to throw the organization to the winds when one of the large nations demanded his resignation2.

It was impossible to witness that scene at the stormy session of last year’s General Assembly without recalling some words that he once wrote about his own father. “A man of firm convictions does not ask, and does not receive, understanding from those with whom he comes into conflict”3, he wrote about Hjalmar Hammarskjöld. “A mature man is his own judge. In the end, his only firm support is being faithful to his own convictions.”4 How aptly these words applied to himself when he rose unhesitatingly to defend the idea of a truly international body of civil servants or to uphold the principles of the Charter in the Congo operation!

If he felt any uneasiness, then it was because questions dealing with the peace and welfare of peoples were being treated in an overheated atmosphere. And an eyewitness, looking at him sitting there, deeply serious, with the fingers of his right hand against his cheek, as they always were when he was listening intently, might find himself asking this question: What does he represent, that slender man up there behind the green marble desk? A tradition of polished quiet diplomacy doomed to drown in the rising tide of new clamor? Or is he, with his visions of a world community, a herald of the future?

The latter is what we would like to believe. He himself had no doubt about the convincing force of his ideals. He expressed it thus in the last article that he wrote: “… set-backs in efforts to implement an ideal do not prove that the ideal is wrong …”.**

Such a conviction must be based on a determined philosophy of life. No one who met him could help noticing that he had a room of quiet within himself5. Probably no one was ever able really to reach into that room.

But perhaps we can think that he found something that was essential to himself in the last book that he was engaged in translating, the powerful work Ich und Du [I and Thou], in which the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber6 sets forth his belief that all real living is meeting. He himself believed that there were invisible bridges on which people could meet as human beings above the confines of ideologies, races, and nations.

And perhaps we may dare to see something significant in the obscurity and seeming futility of what happened on that African September night. Scattered about in the debris of the airplane were some books. Among them was Ich und Du, with some pages just translated into Swedish. Just before the plane took off on its nocturnal flight, he had left behind with a friend Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ7. Tucked in the pages was the oath of office of the Secretary-General:

“I, Dag Hammarskjöld, solemnly swear to exercise in all loyalty, discretion and conscience the functions entrusted to me as Secretary-General of the United Nations, to discharge these functions and regulate my conduct with the interest of the United Nations only in view …”.

Had he stood here today, he would, I believe, have had something to say about service as a self-evident duty.

My fellow countryman became a citizen of the world. He was regarded as such by the people from whom he came. But on that cool autumn day of falling leaves when he was brought back to the Uppsala of his youth, he was ours again, he was back home. Shyly he had guarded his inner world, but at that moment the distance disappeared and we felt that he came very close to us.

Therefore, I can speak on behalf of an entire people when I submit our respectful thanks for the honor that has been bestowed today upon our fellow citizen, the greatest honor a man can have. The Peace Prize awarded to Dag Hammarskjöld will constitute a fund which will bear his name and which will be used for a purpose that was close to his heart.

* At the award ceremony on December 10, 1961, after Mr. Lutuli had accepted his Peace Prize, Swedish Ambassador to Norway Rolf Edberg, representing the Hammarskjöld family, accepted the Peace Prize for 1961 awarded posthumously to Dag Hammarskjöld. The English translation of his speech is, with some editorial emendations, basically that appearing in Les Prix Nobel en 1961, which also carries the original Swedish text.

** Quote from Dag Hammarskjöld at the 15th Anniversary Dinner of the American Jewish Committee, 10 April 1957. Source: Foote, Wilder, ed., Servant of Peace: A Selection of the Speeches and Statements of Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations 1953-1961, p. 128.

1. Introduction to the Annual Report 1960-1961 in Foote, Servant of Peace, p. 355.

2. The Soviet Union, criticizing Hammarskjöld’s actions in the Congo and charging him with bias, suggested in the UN General Assembly on September 23, 1960, that the office of secretary-general be replaced by a Committee of three, and on October 3, 1960, repeating the charges, called for Hammarskjöld’s resignation. For Hammarskjöld’s replies, including his refusal to resign, see Foote, op. cit., pp. 314-319.

3. From his inaugural address to the Swedish Academy, December 20, 1954, when he took the seat left vacant by his father’s death. Foote, op. cit., p. 64.

4. Ibid., p. 76.

5. Probably a reference to the UN Meditation Room (located off the public lobby of the General Assembly Hall), which the laureate designed, and to the inscription on its black marble plaque, which he wrote: This Is A Room Devoted To Peace And Those Who Are Giving Their Lives For Peace. It Is A Room Of Quiet Where Only Thoughts Should Speak. Hammarskjöld also wrote the text of the leaflet given to visitors. Its first sentence reads: “We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence.”

6. Martin Buber (1878-1965), Austrian-born philosopher, writer, and Judaic scholar; after exile from Germany (1938), a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

7. Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471), German Augustinian canon and writer.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1961

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