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Havel Addresses U.S. Responsibility

By Valerie J. Macmillan

Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, discussed the growth of a world community and stressed the global responsibilities of politicians, the mass media and the United States in his Commencement address.

"Many of the great problems we face today have their origin in the fact that this global civilization is not more than a thin veneer over the sum total of human awareness," Havel said. "I do not believe in some universal key or panacea."

Havel spoke to a crowd of 25,000 students, parents and alumni who had gathered in the Tercentenary Theater for Harvard's 344th Commencement Exercises on Thursday, June 8.

"This does not relieve me, however, of the responsibility to think of ways to make the world better," he added. "Like it or not, the United States of America now bears probably the greatest responsibility for the direction our world will take."

At a press conference following the speech, Havel said that Harvard students will bear a great deal of the United States' responsibility in their lives.

"Harvard University is known as the breeding ground of the elite," Havel said through an interpreter.

"Whatever [its graduates] do, they will be a presence in American life," he added.

"They will also bear a specific part of that responsibility."

Havel also discussed the responsibilities of the mass media.

"Humanity's thanks belong to all thosecourageous reporters who voluntarily risk theirlives wherever something evil is happening, inorder to arouse the conscience of the world,"Havel said.

"There is, however, another, less wonderful,aspect of television, one that merely revels inthe horrors of the world or, unforgivably, makesthem commonplace," he continued.

"What interests me is...the responsibility ofthose who have the mass media in their hands," hesaid. "They too bear responsibility for the world,and for the future of humanity."

Havel cautioned the United States againstisolationism, listing several examples of timesthe nation had been hurt by isolationist stances.

"Isolationism has never paid off for the UnitedStates," Havel said to applause. "Had it enteredthe First World War earlier, perhaps it would nothave had to pay with anything like the casualtiesit actually incurred. The same is true of theSecond World War."

In a press conference following his speech,Havel said his warnings against isolationism wereintended as advice on any specific U.S. policy,but on the nation's general attitude toward theworld.

He said he wanted the U.S. to be "aware of thedangers that lie dormant in [affairs] likeBosnia-Herze-govina, that threaten the very valuesthat form the basis of democratic nations."

Havel ended on a personal note, saying that hismother always dreamed that he would be able tostudy at Harvard.

"But something else happened, something thatwould never have occurred even to my mother,"Havel said. "I have received a doctoral degree atHarvard without even having to study here."

"I don't know whether my mother is looking downat me from heaven, but if she is I can guess whatshe's probably thinking: she's thinking that I'msticking my nose into matters that only people whohave properly studied political science at Harvardhave the right to stick their noses into," Havelsaid to laughter.

"I hope that you don't think so. Thank you foryour attention," Havel concluded to a standingovation.

Students said they were impressed by Havel'sspeech.

"I liked it a lot," Leah Wimmmer '95 said. Shesaid she especially liked the address' focus onresponsibility.

"It was terrific!" Raphael D. Sperry '95 said."I thought it was the most valuable speech in thewhole commencement exercise.

"Humanity's thanks belong to all thosecourageous reporters who voluntarily risk theirlives wherever something evil is happening, inorder to arouse the conscience of the world,"Havel said.

"There is, however, another, less wonderful,aspect of television, one that merely revels inthe horrors of the world or, unforgivably, makesthem commonplace," he continued.

"What interests me is...the responsibility ofthose who have the mass media in their hands," hesaid. "They too bear responsibility for the world,and for the future of humanity."

Havel cautioned the United States againstisolationism, listing several examples of timesthe nation had been hurt by isolationist stances.

"Isolationism has never paid off for the UnitedStates," Havel said to applause. "Had it enteredthe First World War earlier, perhaps it would nothave had to pay with anything like the casualtiesit actually incurred. The same is true of theSecond World War."

In a press conference following his speech,Havel said his warnings against isolationism wereintended as advice on any specific U.S. policy,but on the nation's general attitude toward theworld.

He said he wanted the U.S. to be "aware of thedangers that lie dormant in [affairs] likeBosnia-Herze-govina, that threaten the very valuesthat form the basis of democratic nations."

Havel ended on a personal note, saying that hismother always dreamed that he would be able tostudy at Harvard.

"But something else happened, something thatwould never have occurred even to my mother,"Havel said. "I have received a doctoral degree atHarvard without even having to study here."

"I don't know whether my mother is looking downat me from heaven, but if she is I can guess whatshe's probably thinking: she's thinking that I'msticking my nose into matters that only people whohave properly studied political science at Harvardhave the right to stick their noses into," Havelsaid to laughter.

"I hope that you don't think so. Thank you foryour attention," Havel concluded to a standingovation.

Students said they were impressed by Havel'sspeech.

"I liked it a lot," Leah Wimmmer '95 said. Shesaid she especially liked the address' focus onresponsibility.

"It was terrific!" Raphael D. Sperry '95 said."I thought it was the most valuable speech in thewhole commencement exercise.

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