Yesterday, I tweeted (@erchristensen) “Hitch, Havel, and Kim Jong Il. People say deaths come in threes. That’s a helluva three of a kind. Or the beginning of a great joke.” I don’t really believe in that whole “celebrity deaths come in threes” thing, but among the three men, there was a similar theme, if seen from opposite sides.
Christopher Hitchens was an author, a journalist, an essayist, a speaker, and a critic. He was confrontational, aggressive, and larger than life in many ways. His opinions, attitude, drinking and smoking, and his militant atheism probably made him as many enemies as they did friends. Although both sides of the political spectrum found ways to identify with him and reject him at various times, above all else, he hated totalitarianism, prizing personal freedom and independence above all.
Vaclav Havel was a playwright, an essayist, a poet, a politician, and a dissident. The 1989 Velvet Revolution saw Havel rise in power and become President of Czechoslovakia, a position he held until 1992, when he became the first president of the Czech Republic in 1993. He struggled against Soviet control of his home, for which he was repeatedly imprisoned. Yet he continued to fight, becoming a leading example of nonviolent resistance and change, and eventually triumphing over the Soviet Union.
And on the other side of the totalitarianism theme, you have Kim Jong Il, “Supreme Leader” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. A man who took over a country from his father and played a game of nuclear brinkmanship and controlled military aggression to wrangle concessions of food, energy, and money to keep his devastated country afloat. Many North Koreans suffer from malnutrition, starvation, poor health care, a propaganda-filled education, and the lack of many freedoms we take for granted. They are also forced to suffer through a massive cult of personality directed towards Kim. He represents one of the thankfully few remaining examples of the totalitarianism that Hitchens and Havel fought against. That so many should have to suffer under him is a tragedy.
And yet death found them all. Good riddance to Kim. As for Hitchens and Havel, you will be missed. The world moves on, but I’m left to wonder, who are the heirs (both literal in Kim’s case, and metaphorical in Hitchens’s and Havel’s cases) that will rise up in their place?