Václav Havel and the Invasion of Iraq (with Constant Reference to the Soviet-Led Occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968)
Peter Steiner (University of Pennsylvania)
Contradictions: A Journal for Critical Thought II, no. 2 (2018): 81–99
Keywords: Václav Havel, 2002 invasion of Iraq, rhetoric
Since the late 9th century the genre of “the letter of invitation” has enjoyed an uncanny status in Czech political discourse. Great Moravia’s incorporation into Slavia orthodoxa ensued from Prince Rastislav’s request for Christian missionaries addressed to the Byzantine Emperor Michael III. Consonantly, the eastward political orientation of Czechoslovakia after WW2 was, in part, the result of František Palacký’s refusal to accept the “Committee of Fifty’s” invitation extended in its missive of April 6, 1848 (attributed by K. H. Borovský to Franz Schusselka) to represent his people at the German Parliament convening in Frankfurt. My paper juxtaposes the two most recent variations on the said epistolary genre: 1) the letter authored by Vasil Biľak together with four other top CPC functionaries in mid-1968 asking Leonid Brezhnev for “a brotherly assistance,” that is, a military intervention thwarting the imminent counterrevolution in their homeland; and 2) the letter “United We Stand” (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 30, 2003) co-signed by Václav Havel and an assorted septet of European prime ministers urging its implied addressee, George W. Bush, to dispatch the military that would “rid the world of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.” The compelling need to compare these two texts was highlighted by Havel himself in his speech of November 20, 2002 insisting that “it is necessary [...] to weigh again and again on the finest scales whether we are truly helping people against a criminal regime and defending humankind against its weapons, or whether perchance this is not another–understandably more sophisticated than the Soviet one of 1968–version of ‘the brotherly assistance.’” My analysis demonstrates that the latter is the case and that the US invasion of Iraq solicited by Havel’s letter was as unjustified and unsophisticated as the earlier Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia that Biľak’s epistle legitimized.
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