Kim and Havel: Death and dichotomies

| Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011

Two world leaders, one current and one past, died over the weekend. And their legacies are as stark as they are different:

• Kim Jong-il, 69, North Korea's communist dictator since 1994, died Saturday. True to form, government-controlled media said the long ill Mr. Kim died of "overwork."

Kim indeed worked hard -- starving his people in favor of pursuing a rogue nuclear arsenal and a lavish, narcissistic lifestyle.

He's succeeded by his son, the still largely unknown Kim Jong-un, 27 or 28, who, according to insiders, might be a puppet for Chang Sung-taek, the late Kim's brother-in-law.

Thus, the new dictator(s) look(s) a lot like the old. And an entire people will continue to pay -- with their liberties and their stomachs.

• Vaclav Havel, 75, the dissident playwright who became the voice of peace and freedom for Czechoslovakia -- and later its president -- died Sunday.

Mr. Havel rose to prominence after the Soviet-led invasion of 1968. The communists sought to silence Havel by jailing him numerous times. But it only drew more attention to his works and led to some of Havel's most insightful essays.

As Soviet dominance waned, Havel was the right man at the right time to help free Czechoslovakia.

We mourn the passing of Vaclav Havel. But we celebrate the beacon he powered.

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