We must continue
“I believe that we will get on well, because he seems to be a man who takes good advice seriously”
Ralph Bunche begins his new mission as UN mediator in Palestine. If he could have chosen, he probably would have foregone this particular step in his career. The mission starts namely with the responsibility for arranging the homeward transport of the body of his predecessor and friend, Folke Bernadotte, who was murdered on 17 September 1948.
Ralph Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan, in the United States in 1904 and grew up under rather difficult conditions. His family moved around a lot during his upbringing, his father was constantly absent and his mother died in illness when Ralph was only 13 years old. His grandmother took over custody and he moved with her to Los Angeles. The young Ralph proved to have a real head for studying and graduated with top grades from High School. Thanks to the good exam results, money that his grandmother collected in the neighbourhood and scholarships, he managed first to graduate from the prestigious UCLA University in Los Angeles and later to complete a doctoral degree in political science at Harvard.
During the initial period after his doctoral degree he worked as a researcher, amongst other things, with the Swede Gunnar Myrdal, but when the United States entered World War II, he started working for OSS (a predecessor to the CIA). In the CIA’s open archives we can read that he continued to perform at the top level. In an evaluation of his performance, he is awarded the grade “Outstanding” in most of the evaluation points.
At the end of World War II, the Allies enter discussions on a new international organisation to replace the League of Nations, which in practice ceased to function due to the war. Ralph Bunche now starts to work on behalf of the United States on the design of the new organisation - the United Nations. In 1947, Ralph Bunche is commissioned to join the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, and when Folke Bernadotte is appointed UN mediator in Palestine, Bunche becomes his special adviser.
“I believe that we will get on well, because he seems to be a man who takes good advice seriously” Bunche writes in a letter home to his wife after the first meeting with Bernadotte.
Bunche and Bernadotte work tirelessly to get the ceasefire in place, to create an organisation for observers and on a long-term plan to resolve the conflict in Palestine. Just days before the new plan is due to be presented, Folke Bernadotte is murdered and Bunche is appointed by the UN as his successor. In 1949, after hard negotiations, Bunche succeeds with the long-term ceasefire that he and Bernadotte had worked on and the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) is made permanent. For his work in Palestine, Ralph Bunche is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 and he thereby becomes the first African American to be awarded the prize. In his acceptance speech he says:
“But above all, there was my treasured friend and former chief, Count Folke Bernadotte, who made the supreme sacrifice to the end that Arabs and Jews should be returned to the ways of peace.”