Burmese secretary-general of the United Nations (1961–72). In this capacity his equanimity and composure helped to defuse several international crises.
Born in Pantanaw, the son of a wealthy landowner and rice miller, Thant was educated at the University College, Rangoon, before taking up the position of headmaster at the National High School in Pantanaw. During World War II, when Burma was under Japanese occupation, he worked for the independence movement and in 1947 joined the government service as a press director.
Thant was appointed director of broadcasting and in 1948 became a close adviser to the prime minister, U Nu, in the first Burmese republican government. Sent to the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) as a Burmese delegate in 1952, he was appointed permanent representative to the UN in 1957. After the death of Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961, he was elected secretary-general of the UN, in which capacity he helped resolve several crises of international security, including the Cuban missile crisis (1962), the Congo crisis (1963), the civil war in Cyprus (1964), the Indian-Pakistan conflict in Kashmir (1965), and the Arab-Israeli Six Day War (1967). He retired as secretary-general of the UN in 1972. U Thant was the author of several books on such subjects as Burmese history, education, and the League of Nations.
Subjects: Warfare and Defence.