Jewish World Review Dec 21, 2011 / 25 Kislev, 5772
A tale of two men
By Jay Ambrose
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il died within a day of each other, but that's where the similarities end. The lives of the two summed up a chief conflict of our era, with Havel on one side and Kim on the other. The contrast goes further. Havel was a stalwart of good, Kim a servant of evil, and relativistic sermons to the contrary can go hang.
Let's start with Havel, a brilliant Czechoslovakian playwright who helped script the real-life, earth-shattering fall of crippling, endlessly cruel communism in Eastern Europe. Unlike so many who scamper at the slightest threat, he held to principle despite constant harassment, work prohibitions and prison sentences.
With the Soviet Union willing to crush the opposition with tanks and Czech officials happy to use other tools as necessary, it would have been easy to give up hope. He didn't. He stuck to non-violent tactics and spread his message of truth and love. When the Soviet Union fell and hopes materialized into realities, this humble man became the Czechoslovakian president and continued in high office after Slovakia seceded and the Czech Republic was established.
His accomplishments were major, but former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright writes in a Washington Post opinion piece that he "never became fully comfortable with the exercise of political power." He helped give his country freedom, but his "preoccupation," she says, was "use of liberty for the right purposes." According to her, he was "steadfast in pursuing a moral universe."
Peaceful warriors like Havel were crucial in the collapse of wholly socialist, totalitarian dictatorships, though one example of such a place hangs on as a foremost symbol that we are a long, long way from the moral universe he wanted. Its most recent master was Kim, surely one of the most vicious clowns in human history.
Pot-bellied, 5-foot-3-inches tall, something less than the movie-star type he apparently wanted to be, he compensated with oversized sunglasses, elevator shoes, long hair teased sufficiently to add two inches to the top of his physique and slanted press reports of his athletic prowess. The publicity was that he got 11 holes-in-one the first time he went golfing. Unslanted reports further remind us that he liked the movie world so much that he had a South Korean actress kidnapped, along with a director.
In public, he was promoted as a kind of god. In private, some accounts say, he was Don Juan, a playboy with the benefit of exceptional coercive powers. He loved expensive cognac and expensive food, though none of this even hints at what was most wrong with him.
He held a nation captive in a slave state that did not work. Famines killed millions while he was in power, and a primary way of preserving a population to serve him was intimidating free-market states with his nuclear arsenal.
Feed us or face the music, he as much as said, and few thought he was kidding. Although details are unknown, it seems certain North Korea supplied the means for Syrians to start building a nuke bomb plant later taken out by the Israelis in 2007. Kim was himself a terrorist leader. In 1987, his henchmen bombed a South Korean airliner, killing 104 passengers and 11 crew members.
Few are now supposing Kim's death spells reform, and few suppose, either, that evil ends at North Korean borders or that it cannot reemerge in some places where it was previously conquered. Here's where hope resides: people like Vaclav Havel. We should thank him for the inspiration as we also remember Kim as an example of what threatens us.
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Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
© 2011, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE