U Thant, former United Nations Secretary-General is reported seriously ill in New York. Now aged?
U Thant, former United Nations Secretary-General is reported seriously ill in New York. Now aged 65, U Thant retired from his job as the UN's chief executive at the end of 1971.
U Thant was the United Nations' third Secretary-General. When he was elected to the position in 1961, to succeed Dag Hammarskjoeld, few people outside the corridors of the UN had ever heard of him.
But the United Nations was looking for a neutral and unaligned Secretary-General and U Thant fitted the bill exactly.
He began his career in his native Burma as a schoolmaster and later switched to journalism before going into government service in Rangoon. In 1957, he was appointed Burma's permanent representative at the United Nations.
Unlike the two previous holders of his office, Trigve Lie and Dag Hammarskjoeld, U Thant never attempted to impose his own personal solutions on the United Nations' problems. Rather, he acted as conciliator, working carefully to analyse the problem and seeking to find solutions through backstage contact.
He was well suited for this role. His quiet stare through his round glasses inspired confidence and his manner was warm and friendly. Although a devout Buddhist who practised meditation each day, he was no ascetic. He read voraciously, enjoyed cocktail parties and was addicted to smoking small black cheroots. In public, he wore impeccable Western clothes, but discarded them in private, in favour of the traditional Burmese kilt, or 'longyi'.
His clam demeanour disguised his duties as United Nations' Secretary General. In public, be maintained all the diplomatic niceties, but in private he was never slow to condemn nations and their leaders if he disapproved of their actions.
And there was plenty for him to disapprove during his ten-year term. The Cuba missile crisis, the Indo-Pakistan conflict, civil war in Nigeria, the Vietnam war and the Middle East all erupted during those ten years, along with the host of such other events, such as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the perennial problem of Berlin.
He travelled widely to meet the world's politicians and earned the respect of them all. One of the main strengths he brought to his office was the trust he engendered among the smaller nations who, with independence, sent their ambassadors to New York.
U Thant did his work well. When he was first elected, few thought he would do more than fill the gap between the fiery Hammarskjoeld and another powerful personality. But in the end, U Thant was precisely the man the United Nations needed in its top job.
A quiet man, but an effective one.
SYNOPSIS: In 1961, the United Nations voted a new Secretary-General into office. His name was U Thant. Nobody outside the corridors of the United Nations had ever heard of him and few thought he would last. But this unknown Burmese diplomat was precisely what the big powers wanted in the office of the United Nations' chief executive. A neutral man, ready with a few words for every occasion.
At first, it appeared U Thant was no more than an amiable cypher. But behind a bland exterior, U Thant was to prove unexpectedly forthright. World leaders learned that U Thant was not slow to condemn them and their nations when he disapproved of their actions. And there was plenty for him to disprove during his ten years in office. The Cuba missile crisis, the Middle East conflict, civil war in Nigeria, the Indo-Pakistan confrontation, the Vietnam war....all these and many other global problems brought U Thant into the international arena as mediator and diplomat. When he gained the world's respect, he earned it.
U Thant was born and brought up in provincial Burma. He began life as a schoolteacher, switched to journalism and then entered government service before being sent to the United Nations as Burma's permanent representative in 1957. A devout Buddhist, he liked to wear traditional Burmese dress when off duty, but was far from being ascetic. He was a family man who loved books, enjoyed parties and was addicted to smoking strong black cheroots. Above all, U Thant retained the simplicity which made him a figure of trust among the United Nations.
It was in 1966 that the pressures of the job began to tell. He attempted to resign, but was prevailed upon to continue in what has been called the world's most impossible job -- and he was still in office when the United Nations celebrated twenty-five years of existence in 1970.
But his ten years in office did end, in 1971, and he was honoured by the organisation he served. When he began, few thought he would endure. When he had finished, few doubted his capabilities.
In the end, this simple Burmese did his job well. A quiet man -- but a surprisingly effective one.