Vaclav Havel

vaclav-havel.jpgI have no standing to note the death of Vaclav Havel except in recognition of how during my lifetime he helped make the world more decent and promising, through his combination of literary skill, civic responsibility, and deep humaneness. What Czech people have accomplished over the past 50 years depended heavily on specific circumstances of their history and the region's. But Havel deserves enormous and lasting respect for his role during and after the liberation of Central and Eastern Europe from the Soviet Communist era. And of course he always saw the worldwide implications of what his Velvet Revolution had meant in his own small country. Early this year, while my wife and I were back in China, we noted the criticism of Havel in the official Chinese press for mounting a worldwide effort on behalf of the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo, who had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That Havel himself never received that prize is one of its many lapses.

Sixteen years ago I had the good fortune to be seated next to Havel at ceremonial lunch, the only time I met him. He made conversation in English with some effort but with great range and spirit. We talked about the Czech tradition in jazz music, which like so many other things in the country was enjoying a renaissance; and about his post-political literary plans; and about "globalization" -- then still fresh as a concept and buzzword but about which he had prescient concerns. I was also able to introduce him there to my ethnically Czech wife.

His death occurs as our family observes the fourth anniversary of the loss of another wonderful man: Frank Zerad, my wife's father, born Zderad to immigrant Czech parents in Chicago. Frank would have been honored by this coincidental though sad connection, as we are on his behalf.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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