Back when I started slipping with the Dudeletter, I used to do a lot of Obituaries on people. As a history major at the time, I loved the idea of trying to related to people how much I knew and how much people they did not know or care about mattered to them. However, after doing nearly a month straight of this style article, I realized that this was too dark even for me. This being said, I think with four deaths in four days of such different and important people it was worth mentioning the deaths of, in order, Christopher Hitchens (12/15), The Bugle (12/16), Vaclav Havel(12/17), and Kim Jong Il(12/18).
In this list of the recent departed, we have several important aspects of our own humanity. I will mention first, the Bugle, because it is having its own article soon, but the importance of Satire and humor is monstrous right now. High level, low brow, incredible humor, catch it please, before it is gone for good.
However, the three men who are actually dead and gone are key. To be sure, they represent the extremes of our culture. Christopher Hitchens, the kind of man who can only exist in a free society; angry, resentful, opinionated, intelligent. Vaclav Havel, the kind of man who fights for a higher purpose; brave, naïve, optimistic, compromising. Kim Jong Il, the kind of coward that rules with an iron fist and hides his own insecurities in a pit of self-loathing and spite; narcissistic, cruel, egotistical, dangerous. For every yin, there is a yang. Hitchens used free press, Havel fought for free press, and Kim Jong repressed press. Hitchens inspired and enraged, Havel offered hope and strength, Kim Jong offered fear and terror.
Christopher Hitchens was a writer and intellectual. From university in Britain he turned socialist, from actions in America he became conservative. He was a man with only his own agenda; truly independent. He was an avid atheist and a right-winger who was highly suspicious of Islam, starting with the Fatwa against his friend Salman Rushdie and extending through 9/11. He was against Bush’s non-interventionist foreign policy. He attacked every one from Mother Theresa to Ralph Nader, while fighting for Nader’s ability to be at the presidential debates in 2000. I will let him speak to his beliefs on Israel, “I am an Anti-Zionist. I’m one of those people of Jewish descent who believes that Zionism would be a mistake even if there were no Palestinians.” However, his polemical views are designed to controversial. I, by no means, agree with him on many things, however, I do believe that he represented his generation of intellectuals and showed an incredible amount of thought that could not be ignored. He was a truly brilliant man. I will let a better obituary close out, George Eaton of the New Statesman said “The tragedy of Hitchens’ illness is that it came at a time when he enjoyed a larger audience than ever. Of his tight circle of friends – Amis, Fenton, McEwan, Rushdie – Hitchens was the last to gain international renown, yet he is now read more widely than any of them.” Eaton revelaed that Hitchens would like to be remembered as a man that fought totalitarianism in all its forms although many remember him as a “lefty who turned right”, and his support of the Iraq War and not his support of the War in Bosnia on the side of the Muslims. Eaton concluded, “The great polemicist is certain to be remembered, but, as he is increasingly aware, perhaps not as he would like.”
Vaclav Havel is a hero. He was a playwright, a poet, and he stood up to the Soviets. You heard me. Havel received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, the Order of Canada, the freedom medal of the Four Freedoms Award, and the Ambassador of Conscience Award. He was the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first of the Czech republic. In every way, he is an incredible historic person. In America, we think of the hero’s of the end of the Cold War as Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, perhaps Margret Thatcher. However, this in not the consensus throughout the world. In many ways, Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa, Gerhard Schroeder, and Vaclav Havel were much more important. They led revolutions within their own country against Communism and totalitarianism. Havel led the Velvet revolution, leading to nearly no deaths and ended a crushing threat to the people. A true hero and humanist.
Finally an incomprehensible asshole. Kim Jong Il was the dictatorial criminal in charge of North Korea. I know that in North Korea, there are those that are actually sad and I will not hold that against them. When you live in a country like North Korea, there is not much real information. However, they are in such denial that his official cause of death was exhaustion from a train ride. Whereas his father was a fighter and a leader, which be no means I endorse, Kim Jong Il was a coward. He held his people and others hostage in exchange for food and medicine. He so mismanaged his thiefdom that while he collected American Movies and fine wines, about 1 in 10 of his own people died of starvation. Instead of infrastructure, he tortured and built nukes. A truly horrible human-being and a failure as a person.