“Reading the news and it’s all bad,” mused Joni in a different context.
Perhaps paralyzed by the cornucopia of awful things to comment upon, I’ve been fixated on some old news the past couple days.
From the Guardian: Dag Hammarskjöld: evidence suggests UN chief’s plane was shot down.
Chalk another one up for the conspiracy theorists. In fifty years will conclusive proof finally emerge that Paul Wellstone was offed? That seems to be how it works.
Pretty much completely ignorant of the context and controversy surrounding Hammarskjöld’s crash, I’ve gone to Wikipedia U to get modestly up to speed. So, the Dagster. Congo. Belgium. Lumumba. Mobutu.
Operation Morthor is a name right out of Tolkein. And, to borrow another fantastic reference from pop culture, the Kantangan secessionist rebels, who sound ever so Star Wars.
So there must be an Evil Empire. But there it breaks down a bit. Was it the Belgians? Plenty evil, but facing the twilight of their long, brutal colonial reign in 1961. Or was it the rising empire, just coming into its Don Draper heyday, whose tension with its other imperial rival gave birth, passively, and actively, to the tragedy of the Congo.
In some respects, Hammarskjöld’s death was just a footnote in the history of the Congo and the entire continent. A white man dies, and gets all the ink. Tempting to think that. But just this small glimpse of the force of Hammarskjöld’s personality leads me to think about what was lost when his plane went down.
To today’s eyes, such idealism in the UN’s secretary general seems to come from another world entirely–from, yes, a galaxy far far away. (See what I did there?!)
Hammarskjöld thought that this was a problem the UN should, and could, solve. He was convinced that this was his job. He thought he could fly in and sort it all out by himself, being fully aware of the Belgian, British and Yankee feathers he was ruffling in the process (and the Russians were no fans either, for different reasons). In 1961 the secretary general took the UN charter seriously. He actually took the side of the developing nations against the might of the Security Council. This stands in stark contrast to the current state of affairs, when the UN’s function is to lend grudging legitimacy to whatever questionable military operation the US has in mind.
From that Guardian article:
Hammarskjöld was flying to Ndola for peace talks with the Katanga leadership at a meeting that the British helped arrange. The fiercely independent Swedish diplomat had, by then, enraged almost all the major powers on the security council with his support for decolonisation, but support from developing countries meant his re-election as secretary general would have been virtually guaranteed at the general assembly vote due the following year.
Can you imagine? How far have we come from this time, entirely in the wrong direction?