The Gangster and the Poet – Kim Jong Il and Vaclav Havel

By HOLMES

This week, we have been treated to odd bits of news from the North Korean state media machine. According them, Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack on Saturday, December 17, 2011. The “news” that has been broadcast from North Korea has been rather interesting.

One of my young coworkers took the time to read and analyze some of the very odd claims that were made for North Korean consumption and for those imaginary North Korean admirers that the NK government likes to pretend exist in large numbers across the world. Here are a few of the recent outlandish claims from a nation that is so crippled it can produce little more than outlandish claims.

Kim Jong Il lived for five thousand years. Kim Jong Il did not urinate or defecate because he was a higher being that didn’t need to do those lowly human functions. It’s not often that Westerners or anyone living outside of North Korea agrees with the NK media, but based on that particular claim, Westerners were apparently being fair and accurate when saying that Kim was “full of shit.”

We are now being told that a mountain peak in North Korea that was named after Kim Jong Il glowed for an hour after he died. As absurd as it seems, that claim might be accurate. It could be that the insects hiding beneath the frozen surface were so overjoyed at the death of the despised dictator that they glowed like glow worms and fire flies in celebration of his departure from their ecosystem.

The nonsensical and amateurish propaganda that flows from North Korea would all be nothing more than cheap comedy if not for the fact that it tells us something about the current state of their tortured society. Even in authoritarian police states like China, Cuba, Syria, and Iran, there are limits to how outlandish the propaganda can be. Neither North Koreans nor Cubans would believe that their respective crime syndicate leaders were five thousand years old, but the difference is that the Cubans would loudly refuse such asinine statements. It’s a sad comment about the lives of the victims of the North Korean crime state that they feel compelled to pretend to believe such absurdity.

Kim Jong Il had announced that his third son, Kim Jong Un, would inherit the family crime syndicate, but not all is going as planned. Today, North Korea announced that Kim Jong Un’s aunt and her husband would share power with him, and that the military would have more power than they did under Km Jong Il.

My impression is that the North Korean military hates Kim’s sister and her husband and will wrestle for control of the country. At least in the short term, it seems unlikely that the people of North Korea can expect much improvement in their lives. Chronic malnutrition and a complete lack of freedom will continue. Kim Jong Un has a long way to go to gain complete control of North Korea, but the undeserving victims of the ongoing Kim family crime spree have even further to go to reach freedom and human rights.

Kim Jong Un – To show their loyalty, all North Koreans are required to get bad haircuts before Friday. (That’s actually a joke. So far.)

While the news is filled with the farcical proceedings in North Korea, another important world leader left us on December 18, 2011. A brilliant poet who I admired.

On October 5, 1936, a boy, Vaclav Havel, was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. That boy would one day prove instrumental in leading the nation of Czechoslovakia out of the dark ages of forty-nine years of brutal Nazi and Soviet occupation.

image by Ondrej Slama

image by Ondrej Slama

Vaclav Havel was the son of a theater owner father and a wealthy mother. During the Soviet occupation, he was not allowed to attend secondary education because of his “bourgeois” parents, and he was shunted to industrial training. He worked full time and attended night school. Then, he dropped out of economics school and found work as a laborer in theater productions. From that humble beginning, he went on to become one of Europe’s most respected writers, admired poets, and esteemed world leaders.

While living under constant police surveillance and suffering through multiple prison internments, including a five-year stint, Havel managed to write popular plays and was able to see them produced in spite of sabotage by the Czech secret police. What did he have to say after years of abuse? “Truth and love will prevail over lies and hate.”

In 1989, as the Soviet lead Warsaw Pact began to unravel, Havel became the de facto leader of the Velvet Revolution. The Czech secret police and the Soviet KGB had long seen Havel as a dissenter. It is my belief that the Czech police state and the Kremlin decided Havel was just a poet and playwright and would never be able to successfully lead a revolution. They denied permission to their field operatives to assassinate him. They likely feared that killing Havel would have left less known and less visible leaders in charge of the resistance.

Vaclav Havel became president of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989 and served in that office until July, 1992. He later served as Prime Minister of the Czech Republic from 1993 until 2003.

The Soviets underestimated the poet and the people of Prague. Now, that poet is gone, but his memory and the freedom that he helped create lives on. The world was a better place with Vaclav Havel in it. It remains a better place for his having passed here.

To his family and to the courageous people of the Czech Republic who defeated brutal tyranny with little more than reason and moral conviction, I offer my sincere condolences and my deep admiration. May reason and moral conviction reign forever in the Czech Republic. May truth and love always prevail over lies and hate.

Tonight, in North Korea, the notions of freedom and human rights appear to be beyond all hope. Only 25 years ago, we would have said the same about Czechoslovakia.

Sandwich Day:The Day Between Berlin Wall Day and Veterans Day

By Piper Bayard

I call today Sandwich Day because it’s the day that is sandwiched between November 9, the day the Berlin Wall came down, and Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I.

Fall of the Berlin Wall wikimedia commons, public domain

Fall of the Berlin Wall
wikimedia commons, public domain

One slice of bread is Veterans Day. On November 11th, 1918, at 11 a.m., both England and France buried an “unknown soldier” in Westminster Abbey and the Arc de Triomphe, respectively, to commemorate the ending of World War I. Thereafter, November 11th became known internationally as Armistice Day. America followed suit in 1921, establishing the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetary. In 1938, Armistice Day became a national holiday in America. In 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, a day to thank living veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country.

The other slice of bread is the day the Berlin Wall came down, signifying the beginning of the end of the Cold War. English author and journalist George Orwell first coined the term Cold War in his essay, “You and the Atomic Bomb,” to describe a world that is at “peace that is no peace.” It was an ideological confrontation between mostly the Soviet Union and its satellite states against Western powers. It shaped our times and our nation more surely than Islamic terrorists are doing now.

Though the USSR and the USA never officially met on the field, we clashed unofficially through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. We also battled through military coalitions, extensive aid to states fighting Soviet-backed terrorists,    espionage, propaganda, the Arms Race, sports rivalry, and the Space Race.

As a kid during that time, I can tell you that the Cold War colored everything in life. Our conversations, our breakfast drinks, our cartoons, our college classes, you name it. Communism was a threat we took too seriously to be concerned about offending communists by calling them the enemy, and we lived 24/7 with the widespread belief that Earth would, inevitably, end in a mushroom cloud. A fated apocalypse. A post-apocalyptic movie with no hope of a “post.”

The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to separate communist East Berlin from Western Ally-administered West Berlin, was the symbol of the Cold War and the Cold War state of mind. When it came down, it didn’t just represent our Western victory over communism, it represented the limitless possibilities of the human race to control its destiny. Nothing seemed inevitable any more.

I know I’m unusually serious today — apocalypse can be that way at times — so I’ll lighten up with a bit of info about that most beautiful apocalyptic flower, the red poppy, which has come to symbolize World War I. Long before the Great War, the red poppy was a symbol of death, renewal, and life. That’s because its seeds can lie dormant in the earth for years, and then grow and blossom when the soil is turned over.

With the widespread digging of graves in the fields of Northern France and Flanders, beginning in 1914, poppies began to grow, inspiring Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae to write the following poem, the most famous of World War I. Click here for a beautiful song inspired by this poem, performed by the boys’ choir, Libera.

My profound thanks to our veterans on this Sandwich Day.  

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.