U Thant

U Thant

Infobox Secretary-General | name=U Thant

order=3rd Secretary-General of the United Nations
term_start=November 30, 1961
term_end=January 1, 1972
predecessor=Dag Hammarskjöld
successor=Kurt Waldheim
birth_date=birth date|1909|1|22|mf=y
birth_place=Pantanaw, Burma, British India
death_date=death date and age |1974|11|25|1909|1|22
death_place=New York City, USA
spouse=Daw Thein Tin

U Thant ( _my. ဦးသန့်; 22 January 1909 – 25 November 1974) was a Burmese diplomat and the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, from 1961 to 1971. He was chosen for the post when his predecessor Dag Hammarskjöld was killed in a plane crash in September 1961.

"U" is an honorific in Burmese, roughly equal to "Mister." "Thant" was his only name. In Burmese he was known as Pantanaw U Thant, a reference to his home town of Pantanaw.
U Thant is also mentioned in a line from the movie "That Thing You Do" when the drummer, Guy Patterson (played by Tom Everett Scott) says "If Jimmy's a genius... I'm U Thant."

Early days

Thant was born at Pantanaw, Lower Burma and was educated at the National High School in Pantanaw and at University College, Rangoon, where he studied history. He was the eldest of four sons and was born into a family of well-to-do landowners and rice merchants. His father U Po Hnit, who came "from a mixed background, with both Muslim and Buddhist forebears," had helped establish "The Sun" ("Thuriya") newspaper in Rangoon. [cite book |name=Thant Myint-U |authorlink=Thant Myint-U |title=The River of Lost Footsteps |year=2006 |publisher=Farrar, Straus and Giroux |isbn=0374163421 ] He was also a founding member of the Burma Research Society. His father died when Thant was 14 and a series of inheritance disputes forced Thant's mother Nan Thaung and her four children into difficult financial times.

After university he returned to Pantanaw to teach at the National School and became its headmaster by the age of 25. During this time he became close friends with future Prime Minister U Nu, who was from neighbouring Maubin and the local superintendent of schools. Thant regularly contributed to several newspapers and magazines, under the pen name 'Thilawa', and translated a number of books including one on the League of Nations.

Civil servant

When U Nu became the Prime Minister of the newly independent Burma, he asked Thant to join him in Rangoon and appointed him as Director of Broadcasting in 1948. In the following year he was appointed Secretary to the Government of Burma in the Ministry of Information. From 1951 to 1957, Thant was Secretary to the Prime Minister, writing speeches for U Nu, arranging his foreign travel, and meeting foreign visitors. During this entire period, he was U Nu's closest confidant and advisor.

He also took part in a number of international conferences and was the secretary of the first Asian-African summit in 1955 at Bandung, Indonesia which gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement. From 1957 to 1961, he was Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and became actively involved in negotiations over Algerian independence. In 1960 the Burmese government awarded him the title "Maha Thray Sithu" as a commander in the order of Pyidaungsu Sithu.

UN Secretary-General

Thant began serving as Acting Secretary-General from November 3 1961, when he was unanimously appointed by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council, to fill the unexpired term of Dag Hammarskjöld. He was then unanimously appointed Secretary-General by the General Assembly on November 30 1962 for a term of office ending on November 3 1966. During this first term he was widely credited for his role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis and for ending the civil war in the Congo.

U Thant was re-appointed for a second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations by the General Assembly on December 2 1966 on the unanimous recommendation of the Security Council. His term of office continued until December 31 1971, when he retired. During his time in office, he oversaw the entry into the UN of dozens of new Asian and African states and was a firm opponent of apartheid in South Africa. He also established many of the UN's development and environmental agencies, funds and programmes, including the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN University, UNCTAD, UNITAR and the UN Environmental Programme.

He had also led many successful though now largely forgotten mediation efforts, for example in Yemen in 1962 and Bahrain in 1968. In each case, war would have provoked a wider regional conflict, and it was Thant's quiet mediation which prevented war.

Unlike his two predecessors, Thant retired after ten years on speaking terms with all the big powers. In 1961 when he was first appointed, the Soviet Union had tried to insist on a "troika" formula of three Secretaries-General, one representing each Cold War bloc, something which would have maintained equality in the United Nations between the superpowers. By 1966, when Thant was reappointed, all the big powers, in a unanimous vote of the Security Council, affirmed the importance of the Secretary-Generalship and his good offices, a clear tribute to Thant's work.

The Six Day War between Arab countries and Israel, the Prague Spring and subsequent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 leading to the birth of Bangladesh all took place during his tenure as Secretary-General.

He was widely criticized in the US and Israel for agreeing to pull UN troops out of the Sinai in 1967 in response to a request from Egyptian President Nasser. U Thant tried to persuade Nasser not to go to war with Israel by flying to Cairo in a last minute peace effort.

His once good relationship with the US government deteriorated rapidly when he publicly criticized American conduct of the Vietnam War. His secret attempts at direct peace talks between Washington and Hanoi were eventually rejected by the Johnson Administration.

Thant followed unidentified flying object reports with some interest; in 1967, he arranged for American atmospheric physicist Dr. James E. McDonald to speak before the UN's Outer Space Affairs Group regarding UFOs. [Letter to U Thant / James E. McDonald. - Tucson, Ariz. : J.E. McDonald, 1967. - 2 s;Druffel, Ann; "Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald's Fight for UFO Science"; 2003, Wild Flower Press; ISBN 0-926524-58-5]

On January 23 1971 U Thant categorically announced that he would "under no circumstances" be available for a third term as Secretary-General. For many weeks, the UN Security Council was deadlocked over the search for a successor before finally settling on Kurt Waldheim to succeed U Thant as Secretary-General on December 21, 1971—Waldheim's 53rd birthday—and just ten days before U Thant's second term was to have ended.

In his farewell address to the United Nations General Assembly Secretary-General U Thant stated that he felt a 'great sense of relief bordering on liberation' on relinquishing the 'burdens of office'. In an editorial published around December 27, 1971 praising U Thant, "The New York Times" stated that "the wise counsel of this dedicated man of peace will still be needed after his retirement". The editorial was entitled "The Liberation of U Thant".

While serving as Secretary-General, U Thant lived in Riverdale, Bronx on a 4¾-acre estate near 232nd Street, between Palisade and Douglas Avenues. [Dunlap, David W. [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DE5D81731F935A25752C1A961948260 "Bronx Residents Fighting Plans Of a Developer"] , "The New York Times", November 16, 1987. Accessed May 4, 2008. "A battle has broken out in the Bronx over the future of the peaceful acreage where U Thant lived when he headed the United Nations. A group of neighbors from Riverdale and Spuyten Duyvil has demanded that the city acquire as a public park the convert|4.75|acre|m2|sing=on parcel known as the Douglas-U Thant estate, north of 232d Street, between Palisade and Douglas Avenues."]


U Thant died of lung cancer in New York on November 25 1974. By this time Burma was ruled by a military junta which refused him any honors. The then Burmese President Ne Win was envious of U Thant's international stature and the respect that was accorded him by the Burmese populace. Ne Win also resented U Thant's close links with the democratic government of U Nu which Ne Win had overthrown in a coup d'etat on March 2 1962. Ne Win ordered that U Thant be buried without any official involvement or ceremony.

From the United Nations headquarters in New York, U Thant's body was flown back to Rangoon but no guard of honour or high ranking officials were on hand at the airport when the coffin arrived.

On the day of U Thant's funeral on December 5 1974, tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Rangoon to pay their last respects to their distinguished countryman whose coffin was displayed at Rangoon's Kyaikasan race course for a few hours before the scheduled burial.

The coffin of U Thant was then snatched by a group of students just before it was scheduled to leave for burial in an ordinary Rangoon cemetery. The student demonstrators buried U Thant on the former grounds of the Rangoon University Students Union (RUSU), which Ne Win had dynamited and destroyed on July 8 1962.

During the period of December 5 through December 11 1974, the student demonstrators also built a temporary mausoleum for U Thant on the grounds of the RUSU and gave anti-government speeches. In the early morning hours of December 11, 1974, government troops stormed the campus, killed some of the students guarding the make-shift mausoleum, removed U Thant's coffin, and reburied it at the foot of the Shwedagon Pagoda, where it has continued to lie.

Upon hearing of the storming of the Rangoon University campus and the forcible removal of U Thant's coffin, many people rioted in the streets of Rangoon. Martial law was declared in Rangoon and the surrounding metropolitan areas. What has come to be known as the U Thant crisis — the student-led protests over the shabby treatment by the Ne Win government of U Thant — was crushed by the Burmese government.

In 1978, U Thant's memoirs "View from the UN" was posthumously published, initially by the American publishing house Doubleday.

Belmont Island, in New York City waters across from United Nations headquarters, has been unofficially renamed U Thant Island and dedicated to the late Secretary-General's legacy.


U Thant was married to Daw Thein Tin. He was survived by a daughter, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. His only grandson, Thant Myint-U, is a historian and a senior official in the UN's Department of Political Affairs and the author of "The River of Lost Footsteps", in part a biography of U Thant.

Named for him

*The U Thant Peace Award acknowledges and honours individuals or organizations for distinguished accomplishments toward the attainment of world peace.
*The embassy road, Jalan U Thant in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is named after him.
*A tiny island in the East River opposing the headquarters of the United Nations, U Thant Island, is named for him.
*U Thant Honorary Lecture Series has been held regularly at the United Nations University (UNU) Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.
*United Nations University (UNU) Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan has named their premiere conference facility after him.
*The United Nations International School faculty votes to elect a Junior as the U Thant Scholar, equivalent to valedictorian. The 2008-2009 scholar is Maya Kurien.


Further reading

*cite book |author=June Bingham |title=U Thant: The Search For Peace |publisher=Victor Gollancz |year=1966
*cite book |author=Bernard J. Firestone|title=The United Nations under U Thant, 1961-1971 |publisher=Scarecrow Press |location=Metuchen, N.J |year=2001 |pages= |isbn=0-8108-3700-5
*cite book |author=Ramses Nassif |title=U Thant in New York, 1961-1971: A Portrait of the Third UN Secretary-General |publisher=St. Martin's Press |location=New York |year=1988 |pages= |isbn=0-312-02117-8
*cite book |author=U Thant |title=View from the UN |publisher=Doubleday |location=Garden City, N.Y |year=1978 |pages= |isbn=0-385-11541-5

External links

* [http://www.un.org/av/photo/subjects/sg3.htm UN Photos of U Thant] from the United Nations website
* [http://www.un.org/Overview/SG/sg3bio.html Official U.N.S.G. biography] from the United Nations website
* [http://www.asiantribune.com/?q=node/11810 Peace Eludes U Thant] Henry Soe-Win, "Asian Tribune", June 17 2008

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Thant Myint-U — is an historian and a former United Nations official. He was born 31 January 1966 in New York city to Burmese parents and is the grandson of former UN Secretary General U Thant. He was educated at Harvard, the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced… …   Wikipedia

  • Thant,U — Thant (thänt, thănt), U. 1909 1974. Burmese diplomat who served as the secretary general of the United Nations (1961 1971). * * * …   Universalium

  • Thant — [thänt, tänt, thant] U [o͞o] 1909 74; Burmese statesman & diplomat: secretary general of the United Nations (1962 71) …   English World dictionary

  • Thant — /thant, thont/, n. U. See U Thant. * * * …   Universalium

  • Thant — (Sithu U) (1909 1974) diplomate birman; secrétaire général des Nations unies de 1961 à 1971 …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Thant, U — born Jan. 22, 1909, Pantanaw, Burma died Nov. 25, 1974, New York, N.Y., U.S. Third secretary general of the United Nations (1961–71), the first Asian to hold the post. He entered the University of Yangôn, but the death of his father forced him to …   Universalium

  • Thant, U —    (1909 1974)    Serving as secretary general of the United Nations, U Thant was arguably the best known Burmese on the international stage until Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. A close associate of U Nu, he served as… …   Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar)

  • Thant, U — (22 ene. 1909, Pantanaw, Birmania–25 nov. 1974, Nueva York, N.Y., EE.UU.). Tercer Secretario General de las Naciones Unidas (NU) (1961–71), primer asiático en ocupar el puesto. Ingresó a la Universidad de Yangon, pero la muerte de su padre lo… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Thant — [[t]tɑnt, θɑnt, θænt[/t]] n. big U [[t]u[/t]] U Thant …   From formal English to slang

  • Thant — /θænt/ (say thant), /θʌnt/ (say thunt) noun U /ju/ (say yooh), /u/ (say ooh), 1909–74, Burmese diplomat; secretary general of the UN 1961–71 …   Australian English dictionary

  • Thant — biographical name U 1909 1974 Burmese U.N. official; secretary general (1961 71) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.