Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War, and White Supremacy in Africa, by Susan Williams, Columbia University Press, $37.50.
Heralded by John F. Kennedy as “the greatest statesman of our century,” the second UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, was killed in a plane crash on 17 September 1961 when he was en route to negotiate a ceasefire with Moïse Tshombe in Zambia. Now, 51 years later, Susan Williams, a historical researcher from London University, seeks to unravel the bizarre circumstances surrounding the plane crash. Why was the missing plane not found for 15 hours despite the fact it was only 13 kilometers away from the airport? Why did the only survivor talk about an explosion before the crash? And why did the Secretary- General have no burns when the other victims’ bodies were completely charred? The book is as captivating as a thriller. It follows Williams’ research back to the Cold War era, to a decolonizing Africa, filled with mercenaries, secret agents, and white settlers who wished to hold onto minority rule at any cost. Williams uncovers new documentary and photographic evidence, and interviews people whose testimony was disregarded in the first investigations due to the witnesses’ skin color. But those looking for a final answer as to what happened that night in 1961 will be disappointed. Although, based on the new evidence, Williams believes that Hammarskjöld was killed, she does not solve the puzzle. There is no “smoking gun or killer evidence...” We may never know exactly what happened that night and we are forever left to wonder what the Congo might be like today, had Hammarskjöld been able to reach a peace agreement with Tshombe, thereby perhaps ending his rebellion and control over Katanga.