The new decade was well underway.
1960 had frightened us all with the release of the shocking psychological, thriller-horror film “Psycho”, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, alarmed us by placing over 900 “military advisors” in South Vietnam and had given us a new President after eight years of the Eisenhower administration. The times, they were a-changin’
The 1960 Presidential election was the closest election since 1916. Democrat John Fitzgerald Kennedy narrowly defeated Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon to become the 35th President. In doing so, Kennedy became the first Catholic and at 43, the youngest person ever elected President. Kennedy won by a mere 113,000 votes. Almost 69 million people voted.
When Kennedy came to power, he became the next man up in the juggling act of Middle Eastern politics. He made a remarkably serious effort to reach an accommodation with the forces of indigenous Arab nationalism. He believed that the best way to deal with Arab nationalists was to treat them with respect, allow them to make their own foreign policy decisions, and offer them generous assistance in developing their countries internally. He also downplayed Cold War themes, stressing local concerns instead.
Concerning Israel, Kennedy also tried to strike a balance between ensuring Israel’s security and pressuring Israel to make concessions to its Arab neighbors. Whereas Eisenhower had kept Israel at arm’s length, Kennedy established much friendlier relations with Israel.
Before becoming President, John Kennedy had made two visits to Israel. He had these observations regarding his trips: “In 1939 I first saw Palestine, then a barren and unhappy land under alien rule. In 1951, I traveled again to the land of the River Jordan, to see first-hand, the new State of Israel. The transformation that had taken place was hard to believe. For in these twelve years a land had been born, a desert had been reclaimed, and the most tragic victims of World War II had found a home.”
In the words of British author Israel Zangwill: “The land without a people waited for the people without a land.”
Following the 18th Annual Meeting of United Israel World Union on April 2, 1961, it was announced that Harry Leventhal, noted philanthropist and co-publisher of the United Israel Bulletin had been named a vice-chairman for the committee supporting the “Salute to General Omar N. Bradley Dinner.” It was announced that the dinner affair, sponsored by the Eleanor Roosevelt Cancer Foundation, would be held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on the evening of May 30. President John F. Kennedy would attend as the main speaker and Bob Hope would serve as Master of Ceremonies.
On April 11th, the trial of Adolf Eichmann as a World War II war criminal began in Jerusalem, Israel.
In early July, Dr. Rene Shapshak, noted sculptor and United Israel Bulletin Art Editor was back in the news. It was announced that Shapshak, whose works of art are exhibited in some of the world’s most famous museums, had been commissioned by the Eliezer Ben Yehudah Museum authorities to execute a large scale monument dedicated to the renaissance of the Hebrew language as inspired by the late Ben Yehudah. The monument was to be erected in the museum in Jerusalem.
It was Dr. Rene Shapshak who designed the special seal of United Israel World Union as covered in a previous installment of this series.
On September 18, 1961 tragedy struck. A Douglas DC-6 airliner crashed near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold and fifteen others perished in the crash. Hammarskjold was en route to Ndola to negotiate a cease-fire between “non-combatant” UN forces and troops of President Moise Tshombe of Katanga.
The circumstances of the incident were never clear. A British-run commission of inquiry blamed the crash on pilot error and a later UN investigation largely rubber-stamped its findings. Later evidence would suggest otherwise.
David Horowitz and Dag Hammarskjold first met in 1953 when Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat and economist, was elected the new Secretary-General of the UN after Trygve Lie’s resignation. Horowitz and Hammarskjold were both Swedes. They became good friends and the fact that they shared the same birthplace gave them great chemistry.
One of the first acts by Horowitz was to present a gift to the new Secretary-General. It was an Aztec stone head that Horowitz himself had brought back from Mexico some years ago. It would make a colorful and unique paperweight for the new desk.
Dag Hammarskjold was a true statesman and diplomat in every respect and became personally and actively engaged in the world problems facing the United Nations. In a 1955 visit to China, Hammarskjold negotiated the release of 11 captured U.S. pilots who had served in the Korean War. He was involved in struggles on three of the world’s continents and approached them through what he liked to call “preventive diplomacy.”
Horowitz would often communicate with Hammarskjold before he would leave on diplomatic missions. One such case was the intervention in the 1956 Suez Crisis.
Horowitz made a personal written appeal to the Secretary-General before he left to meet with Egyptian President Nasser in Cairo and Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv. The content of the appeal and exchange between the two appeared in a previous episode entitled: “Back to the Desert-The War over Suez.”
The friendship and respectful working relationship would continue up until Hammarskjold’s tragic death. Horowitz remarked, “that Hammarskjold was able to understand people, psychologically. He could almost read their minds. He was very, very clever. He had an intuitive quality that is rare in individuals.”
In 1960 when Hammarskjold was working to defuse the Congo Crisis, he came under intense pressure to resign from elements within the United Nations, led by the Soviet Union. They demanded his resignation and the replacement of the office of Secretary-General by a three-man directorate with a built-in veto, known as the “troika.” Horowitz, knowing Hammarskjold’s sensitivities well, sent the Secretary-General a letter to his apartment in New York, to comfort him. In the letter, he cited a quotation from the Bible. He recalls that Hammarskjold responded immediately to the letter, with “a beautiful note.”
For more than half a century, three separate inquiries have been unable to come to a definitive conclusion about what happened on that fateful night. Conspiracy theorists have remained in overdrive, possibly with good cause.
As recent as March 16, 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed members to an Independent Panel of Experts, which would examine new information relating to the tragic event. The panel’s 99-page report, released on July 6, 2015, assigned “moderate” value to nine new eyewitness accounts and transcripts of radio transmissions. Those accounts suggested that Hammarskjold’s plane was already on fire as it went down and that other jet aircraft and intelligence agents were nearby. Additional new evidence may exist which, for national security reasons, was and remains classified by several governments more than 50 years after the fact.
The circumstances of the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjold remain shrouded in mystery.
Four years after the tragic plane crash, David Horowitz visited Sweden, returning home to see his own birthplace, and to see Uppsala, where Hammarskjold had grown up. He decided to visit Backakra, the farm Hammarskjold had bought with the hope that it would one day be his retirement home.
When Horowitz entered the farmhouse, he saw books, paintings, and sculptures, either collected by Hammarskjold, or gifts he had received. What Horowitz saw next caught his attention. On the desk in the library, which was a replica of Mr. Hammarskjold’s Park Avenue study, there was a family crest he used as his seal. Mounted above it was an Aztec stone head-the one given to the Secretary-General by Horowitz shortly after they met in 1953. David Horowitz remarked that he left Backakra that day “with a heavy heart and a mood of sadness.”
Dag Hammarskjold was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously in 1961, having been nominated before his death.
In 2011, The Financial Times wrote that Hammarskjold “has remained the benchmark against which later UN Secretaries-General have been judged.” Historian Paul Kennedy hailed Hammarskjold as “perhaps the greatest UN Secretary-General we’ve ever had.”
U.S. President John F. Kennedy regretted that he opposed the UN policy in the Congo and speaking of Hammarskjold, said: “I realize now that in comparison to him, I am a small man. He was the greatest statesman of our century.”
The turbulent year had ended. The US and the UN would continue to face complex and difficult world issues, but would now, however, face those uncertainties under the guidance of new leadership
Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.
This post is the fifteenth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.