Courage in action
We have been exploring Dag Hammarskjöld’s understanding of courage by looking in turn at his insights into physical courage, the courage of one’s convictions, and the link between courage and faith. It all comes together in actual political processes. The texts below, ranging from fiercely felt words in trying circumstances to quiet reflection, have this in common: they are calls for courage.
There is again no commentary apart from brief contextual notes.
Once you go head first into it, even the most impossible task may show unexpected opportunities.
(DH letter to Andrew Cordier, 21 April 1956, Cordier papers, Columbia University)
Even with the best of men, half-hearted and timid measures will lead nowhere. The dynamic forces of history will overtake us unless we are willing to think in categories on a level with the problem. (Public Papers 3, 157)
Using a phrase from Ezra Pound’s Cantos, Hammarskjöld issued a timelessly urgent warning in the course of efforts toward peace in the Middle East:
It is when we all play safe that we create a world of the utmost insecurity. It is when we all play safe that fatality will lead us to our doom. It is "in the dark shade of courage" alone, that the spell can be broken. (Public Papers 3, 142)
Speaking in New Delhi earlier in 1956, Hammarskjöld again drew from literature to make a point about courage—this time from Rabindranath Tagore:
We may listen to the rumbling of the clouds, but we can never afford to lose that kind of confidence in ourselves and in the wisdom of man which makes us brave enough to break through and leave—always leave—for the unknown assignation.
(Public Papers 2, 673)
In a statement to the UN Security Council in September 1960, when the Congo Crisis was in full flood, Hammarskjöld describes the current state of affairs as
…a situation which it is easy to sit in New York and discuss in terms of protocol, but which it requires wisdom and courage to handle when you are at the front. (Public Papers 5, 165)
Late in 1955, after strenuous negotiation, sixteen new member nations were admitted to the United Nations. A question at a press conference prompted Hammarskjöld to speak again about the need for the courage of one’s convictions:
I think we really have to go back to San Francisco in order to see history in a clear light. It was there, as you will remember, that [Canadian statesman] Lester Pearson came out with his strong appeal for a wider membership on the basis of universality, as he defined it: "All countries not divided". He crystallized in that statement what was very much in the air at San Francisco. So there was a solid build-up of an atmosphere where something could be done if some governments or some men had the wisdom to find the right formulas and the courage and the guts to carry them out. (Public Papers 2, 635)