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Secretary-General of the United Nations, 1961-1971
U Thant was born in Pantanaw, Burma, on January 22, 1909. He was educated at the National High School in Pantanaw, and graduated from University College, Rangoon, in 1929. Thant had ambitions of being a writer, especially a journalist, and he published his first article in English in 1925 in Burma Boy, a publication of the Burma Boy Scouts Association. His first book, Cities and Their Stories, was published in 1929, and he subsequently published books on the League of Nations and Myanmar education, as well as a three-volume history of post-war Myanmar.
Thant began his career as an educator, becoming Senior Master at the National High School in 1929; he was named Headmaster in 1931. He subsequently served on Burma's Textbook Committee, the Council of National Education, and in the Heads of Schools Association. In 1942, during the Japanese occupation of Burma, he spent a few months as Secretary of Burma's Education Reorganization Committee. In 1943, he returned to the National High School as Headmaster, and served in that capacity for the next two years.
Thant's government service began in 1947, when he was appointed Press Director of the newly-independent Government of Burma. He was made Director of Broadcasting in 1948, and Secretary to the Government of Burma in the Ministry of Information the following year. In 1953, he became Secretary for Projects in the Office of the Prime Minister, in which capacity he served as one of the Prime Minister's closest advisers. In 1955, he was given additional duties, as Executive Secretary of Burma's Economic and Social Board. That same year, he served as Secretary of the first African-Asian summit, which gave rise to the Non-Aligned Movement.
In 1957, Thant was appointed Burma's Permananet Representative to the United Nations. On November 3, 1961, the General Assembly unanimously elected him to fill the unexpired term of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, who had been killed in a plane crash. He was unanimously elected to a full term on November 30, 1962, and re-elected to a second full term on December 2, 1966. As Secretary-General, Thant was instrumental in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis and ending the war in the Congo. The UN Development Programme, UN University, UN Institute for Training and Research, and UN Environmental Programme were all established during his tenure, and the United Nations took a stand against apartheid in South Africa at his insistence.
Thant retired to his home near New York City after his term ended on December 31, 1971. He died of lung cancer on November 25, 1974. A collection of his public addresses was published as Toward World Peace (1964), and an account of his years as Secretary-General, View from the UN, was published posthumously (1978).
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