On 28 January 1977, Sri Chinmoy composed a song in honour of the late Trygve Lie, first Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Lie, Trygve Lie!
O U.N.-Boat’s first Pilot high,
Dauntless you fought for your ideal-sky.
Lie, Trygve Lie!
O Oslo, Norway’s peace mission-son,
The world salutes your spirit’s run.
Blue Waves of the Ocean-Source
Third Oral History Interview with John D. Hickerson,
Washington, D.C., June 5, 1973, by Richard D.
McKinzie, Harry S. Truman Library.
MCKINZIE: Do you recall where you were when you received notification of the intervention in Korea?
HICKERSON: Yes, I was at home. My wife and I owned, for many years, a nice little house with a lovely garden in Cleveland Park. It was Saturday night, I guess about 10 o’clock. In those days night calls weren’t unusual. Some problems one could deal with over the telephone, others you couldn’t. I had by that time fallen into a habit that was somewhat descriptive of the hectic life we led. If the telephone rang after 9 o’clock as I started to the telephone I involuntarily picked up my car keys, just in case.
In those days, the regional bureau had what they called a watch officer. They rotated the duty so that no one worked every night. This call was from the watch officer of the Far Eastern Bureau, and said, “There’s a development and I think that you would want to come in right away. I can’t discuss it on the telephone.”
I got my car and drove down through Rock Creek Park. We were then in what was called “new State”–that was a building we took over from the War Department on 21st and Virginia. It’s now part of what they call “New, New State,” I guess.
Driving through the park I passed in review in my mind what it might be. I was then Assistant Secretary for UN Affairs, after a long service in the European Bureau. I thought it obviously was a Far Eastern development, because it was their watch officer who called. Interestingly enough, the thing I thought likeliest was that the Chinese Communists had attempted an invasion of Taiwan.
MCKINZIE: He had sounded so urgent on the phone to make you think it was something of that magnitude?
HICKERSON: That’s right. It was pretty clear. I judged that it involved some military action, and I thought that that was the likeliest one. Chiang Kai-shek’s forces had been expelled in late 1949, And this was 1950 and the Chinese Communists had been making noise about that in spite of what we had said about protecting Taiwan with our seventh fleet, When I got down to the office we had just one telegram from Ambassador [John J.] Muccio saying that a “massive invasion has occurred.” North Koreans. He said it was unexpected and “the South Koreans are not prepared, and they are pretty demoralized.” And then we got a steady stream of telegrams.
MCKINZIE: What did you find when you got to the State Department that night? Had a lot of people been called in besides yourself?
HICKERSON: No. I called in one or two of my boys after that, because I knew that we had a night’s work cut out for us. Actually Dean Rusk and one or two of his boys and I were the only ones at the time. We lived right close and dashed right in. Then the number improved somewhat, but Dean and I talked it over. He had talked to the Secretary, I think the Secretary had a secure line with the State Department that couldn’t be tapped–what we called a scrambler or something-and I also talked to the Secretary several times. Rusk and I talked it over and decided that obviously the first thing we’d do, while trying to find out what was possible, would be to raise the question in the UN. We put that up to Dean Acheson, and he said it sounded fine, but he wanted to check with the President, who was in Independence, and he did check.
MCKINZIE: In this discussion with Dean Rusk, did you go through what they call now “policy alternatives? ”
HICKERSON: We did that later on in the evening. The first thing, the UN, was just automatic. I mean it was aggression, and that we knew we were going to do. Naturally the President would have to approve.
Of course, the President had secure telephone lines. He wanted to hop in the plane and come right back that night, and Acheson talked him out of it: “There’s not a thing to do, you stay there until at least tomorrow, and we’ll be in touch, but you can’t do a thing tonight.” And the President approved taking it up with the United Nations.
By that time Frank Pace, who was Secretary of the Army, and one or two others, came in, Right after the President’s approval of taking it to the UN, which we knew held do, I put in a call for our office at the UN. Senator [Warren Robinson] Austin, was our permanent representative to the UN. I knew that the Senator was out of town, he had gone up to Vermont for the weekend. I knew there was no point in trying to get him and Ernest Gross was his deputy. I had a call put in for Gross’ house. He was out for the evening. I left urgent word with one of his daughters to trace him if she knew where he was and have him call immediately. It took a little while. I don’t know the age of this girl, and we just couldn’t wait. Around midnight I decided that we just couldn’t wait and I called Trygve Lie, Secretary General at his home, on the telephone, and told him what had happened. I told him that Gross would be in touch with him as soon as I could reach Gross, but I wanted to alert him, let him know what had happened.
He hadn’t heard it, but by that time it was on the radio. He turned on his radio and yes, there it was. I never shall forget, Lie was quite the fellow. I liked him. He, of course, was Norwegian, spoke English very well, but with a pronounced accent. I told him what had happened and his first words were, “My God, Jack, that’s against the Charter of the United Nations!” (in a strong Norwegian accent). I couldn’t think of anything more original to say than, “You’re telling me, Trygve, of course it is!”