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Carlson: A bygone hero

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The weekend of September 17-18 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of one of my youthful non-baseball heroes—-Dag Hammarskjold. Most Idahoans and many readers will ask who?

He was the seemingly faceless Swedish bureaucrat selected as a compromise candidate by the five-member United Nations Security Council in 1953 to be the second Secretary-General of the world organization set up after World War II to promote peaceful resolution of the world’s conflicts and prevent nuclear conflagration.

Almost single-handedly he willed the UN into a major force in world affairs. He died at the age of 56, fittingly, in September of 1961 when his plane crashed while on a mission to Africa to try to resolve tribal conflicts with UN peacekeeping troops stationed in what was then Rhodesia.

I was 15 at the time of Hammarskjold’s passing, and like most teenagers, while I may have noted his death, it mattered little to me. He became a hero three years later with the posthumous publication of a book containing his private musings called “Markings.”

Something about that book moved me beyond a teen-age fixation just on girls, baseball, and the latest hit songs. So, I pulled out my hard-back copy of Markings the other day and reread the numerous short thoughts Hammarskjold jotted down during his life.

I was surprised at how marked up my copy of Markings was. While some notations could be ascribed to youthful intellectual pretensions, other reactions reflected a growing interest in religious mysticism.

Hammarskjold was my first encounter with a mystic and directly led to a minor in comparative religions while a Columbia undergraduate as well as more readings of the mystic poets and philosophers throughout history.

Essentially a mystic is someone who comes to understand that not only is life itself at heart a mystery which we all have to feel our way through, but that the Almighty creative power we call God is also ineffably indescribable and intellectually unknowable. Our soul, our spirit, however, can feel the Almighty’s presence, and through the power of Divine Love can find a relationship or union with the mysterious force that saw our being born and to whom we return at journey’s end.

Hammarskjold’s Markings rightly has taken its place next to similar works like Blas� Pascal’s Pensee’s and St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul.

Paradoxically, there is also one of Hammarskjold’s thoughts referring to a person’s character that he pondered in several of his entries, and I synthesized these four “markings” into a quote I sometimes use:

Show me a man with no enemies and I’ll show you a man with no character. If one stands for anything in this world, one makes enemies.

This is so true. We encounter so many during the course of life who avoid conflict at all cost, who constantly try to please by appeasing, who in the face of not pure evil but the more insidious ambiguous and questionable conduct, look the other way.

The few in politics who have character and moral rectitude easily stand out—the Cecil Andrus’, the Mark Hatfields, the Jay Hammonds, the Mike O’Callaghan’s, the Scott Mathesons, the Marc Racicot’s—because they are so rare.

Neither is it cynical to pick out the right kind of enemy to take advantage of the contrast in character to help the public understand and differentiate one from the herd of mediocre politicians.

When I was a press secretary I sometime winced at Governor Andrus’ proclivity to take a shot at a former gubernatorial competitor, former State Representative Vernon Ravenscroft, from Tuttle. One day I asked why he nailed Vern at every turn.

He explained to me why. Vern had run against Andrus as a Democrat in 1970. After losing that race Vern switched parties and in the process left a good mutual friend, Joe McCarter, from Corral, his campaign chairman (who Andrus quickly drew into his campaign) holding the bag on some campaign debt. Andrus believes the public is always innately suspicious of party-switchers believing they are seeing crass opportunism at work, not principle.

Secondly, Vern became a shill for every corporate interest around including Idaho Power and its desire to build the ill-considered Pioneer Power Plant. Vernon also went on to run as a Republican for Lieutenant Governor against John Evans in 1974.

Andrus, knowing he could never consider becoming a cabinet officer in 1977 if the Democrats won the White House if it meant turning the state over to Ravenscroft, poured thousands of dollars worth of tv advertising into Evans’ race to ensure the Malad senator would be his Lt. Governor.

Ravenscroft of course bore much malice towards Andrus for all of this, but as far as Andrus was concerned, Vernon was “the right kind of enemy.” And, as Dag Hammarskjold would point out, such an enemy underscored that Andrus was a man of character.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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