Half a world away, two former strongmen who led South Korea in back-to-back regimes in the 1980s and ’90s died within a month of each other: first, in October, Roh Tae-woo, a former general who oversaw, with a stern eye, his country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy; then, in November, Chun Doo-hwan, the bloodstained dictator who had seized power in a coup and later handpicked his friend Mr. Roh to succeed him.
In Argentina, a country long in the grip of dictatorship, the charismatic Carlos Saúl Menem, the beneficiary of the first peaceful transfer of power there from one constitutionally elected party to another since 1916, died at 90, having presided over an astonishing economic recovery in his 10-year rule, 1989-99, only to tumble from grace, pulled down by corruption.
In the Middle East, there were Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who tried but failed to resist the rise of religious radicalism as the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran; Ahmed Zaki Yamani (though he died in London), the schmoozing, globe-trotting Saudi oil minister who became a player in the rise of Persian Gulf states to stratospheric heights of wealth; and A.Q. Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb.
Dr. Khan’s work left no doubt that his country had acquired weapons of mass destruction. But had Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? Yes, proclaimed Donald Rumsfeld (an assertion echoed by his colleague General Powell in the George W. Bush White House). Time would prove him and others in the administration wrong, but not before, as defense secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld had helped push the United States into another invasion, after Afghanistan, and into another war.
Others who died this year had fought on entirely different fronts. Simple but courageous acts of defiance by both Martha White and Lucille Times in the Deep South of the 1950s, predating and presaging Rosa Parks, led to bus boycotts that in turn gave momentum to the civil rights movement and to warriors for the cause like Bob Moses. He endured brutality and jail in trying to register voters in Mississippi, where he “was the equivalent of Martin Luther King,” the historian Taylor Branch said.