Dag Hammarskjöld and Martin Buber met three times between 1958 and 1961. They conferred about the possibilities of true dialogue in the political and cultural setting of a United Nations confronted by the Cold War and an atmosphere of general mistrust. Hammarskjöld observed ‘Walls of Distrust’ between the superpowers’ representatives at the United Nations and in their propaganda-filled speeches. Buber described the social atmosphere created by nuclear threat, the Palestinian question and the Cold War as an ‘Age of Mistrust’. Both were in search of a common understanding of the political blockages of the time, while their perspectives on re-structuring society differed.
What significance does their exchange have for today’s problems? The Cold War has ended, but the atmosphere of mistrust prevails. The crucial questions of the Middle East remain unsolved. Only the concept of what constitutes the enemy has changed: fundamentalist terrorism has replaced the Soviet Union as a challenge for the West, while the West’s answer to all challenges remains war – the opposite of the word, as both Buber and Hammarskjöld affirmed. True dialogue seems to be as impossible as it was in Buber’s and Hammarskjöld’s times. However, remembering their discussions about the chances of true dialogue is simultaneously an inspiration for the quest for solutions in our times.