Richard Holbrooke Had Everything He Needed (He Was An Artist)

He didn’t look back.


David Remnick’s recent thoughts on the Khodorjovsky trial, its parallels—and non-parallels—to an earlier Soviet prosecution (of poet Josef Brodsky) made us think about poets, diplomats, and businessmen. And then the world lost a man who was all of these things: Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

If Eminem can stake claim to being the poet in his field, Mr. Holbrooke can take the title in his. Thousands of tributes pouring out online, in print, and on television make clear: there was art in what Holbrooke did, and while the price of that art may have been high at times it was never overvalued. The world was not too much with him, and he will be sorely missed.

On his show last night, Charlie Rose convened a group of the Ambassador’s closest friends: Les Gelb, Richard Beattie, Frank Wisner. These are one generation’s Wise Men, heirs to those of a generation prior, the generation to which Holbrooke formed a conscious, living link: the Greatest Generation. For many of those born in the forties and fifties, diplomatic power would accrue to a different kind of “greatness,” one exercised in a world whose battle lines looked less like classic school maps. Rose showed clips from old interviews. In one, from May of 1998, Holbrooke discussed his goals, and why he does what he does. “It’s like mountain climbing. I mean, why do people climb mountains? To test yourself. And Bosnia was the Mount Everest of diplomatic problems.”

He talked about his work in that place, a place redolent with history, Europe’s “tinderbox.” He pointed out a poem, Matthew Arnold’s “The Buried Life,” a portion of which he included in the acknowledgements of his book, To End A War. Here it is:

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,

But often, in the din of strife,

There rises an unspeakable desire

After the knowledge of the buried life;

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force

In tracking out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire

Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us—to know

Whence our lives come and where they go.

To test yourself and to know yourself. Holbrooke was not Hamlet. Or was he? He liked action, but he valued thought. The level at which—and the ambition with which—he engaged in a life of service and for country is one aspect of a legacy he leaves the next generation, a generation he cared for deeply according to his friends. Not many politicians quote poets, and while proficiency in poetry is unrelated to political success, it says something. It says that however else one fills the day—especially in the case of days replete with real drama—a person takes time for repose, and in repose learns what they think and feel. “He died for his country as sure as any soldier,” wrote Hendrik Hertzberg in his New Yorker blog. The world will show Richard Holbrooke requisite deference for this, as will history.

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

Why Lil Dicky made this star-studded Earth Day music video

"Earth" features about 30 of the biggest names in entertainment.

Culture & Religion
  • Lil Dicky is a rapper and comedian who released his debut album in 2015.
  • His new music video, "Earth," features artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheehan, Kevin Hart, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • All proceeds of the music video will go to environmental causes, Dicky said.
Keep reading Show less

After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists

Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.

Credit: Petr Kratochvil. PublicDomainPictures.net.
Surprising Science

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?

Keep reading Show less

Behold, the face of a Neolithic dog

He was a very good boy.

Image source: Historic Environment Scotland
Surprising Science
  • A forensic artist in Scotland has made a hyper realistic model of an ancient dog.
  • It was based on the skull of a dog dug up in Orkney, Scotland, which lived and died 4,000 years ago.
  • The model gives us a glimpse of some of the first dogs humans befriended.
Keep reading Show less