Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011)

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Christopher Hitchens died on 16 Dec. of pneumonia, a complication of his esophageal cancer. With eloquence and reason, sprinkled generously with wit and wisdom, his talks were a joy to listen to. His unique insights into religion will resonate long after his voice has been silenced.

In one of my favorite clips, here’s Hitchens on hate speech:

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56 thoughts on “Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011)”

  1. Christopher Hitchens’ Unforgivable Mistake
    by John Cook

    In its obituary, the New York Times quoted Hitchens’ friend Ian Buruma, who told the New Yorker in 2006 that Hitchens was “always looking for the defining moment — as it were, our Spanish Civil War, where you put yourself on the right side, and stand up to the enemy.” He shared that impulse with George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz, and they found their moment in the stupid decision to invade Iraq. For Hitchens, it was the opening maneuver in a grand, imagined clash of western civilization against the Islamofascist hordes.

    It was something else for 113,000 civilians who died in the chaos unleashed. The great tragedy of Hitchens’ life was that, toward its end, he aligned himself so stridently with the very fools, cowards, and charlatans who most desperately invited exposure by his prodigious skills as butcher. How can someone who devoted so much of his life to as noble a cause as destroying the reputation of Henry Kissinger blithely stand shoulder to shoulder with Rumsfeld?

    People make mistakes. What’s horrible about Hitchens’ ardor for the invasion of Iraq is that he clung to it long after it became clear that a grotesque error had been made. In September 2005, he defended the debacle in Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard in terms that are simply breathtaking in their lack of concern for the victims of his Mesopotamian adventure. It was headlined “A War to Be Proud Of.”

    Torture and murder by feckless American troops at Abu Ghraib? “Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad,” he wrote. How clever! Anyone objecting to the occupation of Iraq on the grounds that torturing and murdering people is wrong and illegal is now obligated to defend the “abattoir” that existed prior to our arrival.

    Anyone complaining that the chief rationale for the invasion—the indisputable presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—turned out to have been a fantasy is being “childish,” he wrote. “‘You said there were WMDs in Iraq and that Saddam had friends in al Qaeda. . . . Blah, blah, pants on fire.’ I have had many opportunities to tire of this mantra.” How tiresome you are with your boring insistence that wars be justified! Hitchens’ answer to that whine is a trivial list of ominous fragments, conspiratorially arrayed: “Abdul Rahman Yasin, who mixed the chemicals for the World Trade Center attack in 1993, subsequently sought and found refuge in Baghdad.” If you don’t recognize the immediate global danger that the presence in Iraq of a man who built a bomb that killed six people ten years ago presents, you are a child.

    If you dispute the Bush Administration line that “terror” must be fought in Iraq lest it be fought on our soil, Hitchens alleged, you are guilty of dispensing “sob-sister tripe pumped out by the Cindy Sheehan circus and its surrogates.” Sheehan’s son had been dead scarcely a year at the time Hitchens wrote this.

    But surely Christopher, you recognize that the war has been badly bungled even if all your hearts were in the right place, right? “We need not argue about the failures and the mistakes and even the crimes, because these in some ways argue themselves.” For Christopher Hitchens to identify a subject about which no argument is required is a rare thing indeed. Abu Ghraib—why argue? The $9 billion in cash that simply disappeared—what’s to argue? Two months after the Hitchens wrote those words, U.S. Marines massacred 24 men, women, and children in Haditha. No need to argue.

    “If the great effort to remake Iraq as a demilitarized federal and secular democracy should fail or be defeated,” he closed, “I shall lose sleep for the rest of my life in reproaching myself for doing too little. But at least I shall have the comfort of not having offered, so far as I can recall, any word or deed that contributed to a defeat.” The rest of Hitchens’ life turned out to be unjustly circumscribed. But his demilitarized federal and secular democracy is a mirage. More likely a future Iranian client state and Shi’ite stronghold awaits. Those words would not wear well on his headstone.

    Hitchens’ style—ironically, given his hatred for tyranny and love of free expression—brooked no dissent. There was little room for good-faith disagreement or loyal opposition. His enemies were not just wrong, they were stupid or mean or small-minded or liars or cheats or children or cowards. It was thrilling and gratifying to see that articulate viciousness deployed against the Clinton cartel, or Mother Teresa, or Henry Kissinger—against power and pretense. To see it deployed in favor of war, on behalf of a dullard and scion, against the hysterical mother of a dead son was nauseating.

  2. Hitch, from here:

    “The way I put it is this: if you’re writing about the history of the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism, you can take out the word ‘fascist’, if you want, for Italy, Portugal, Spain, Czechoslovakia and Austria and replace it with ‘extreme-right Catholic party'”

  3. Best Tweet Ever:

    After a 30-minute discussion with Christopher Hitchens in my office, I’m now convinced that I don’t exist.


    “The blood on his hands — and on the hands of those who played an even greater, more direct role, in all of this totally unjustified killing of innocents — is supposed to be ignored because he was an accomplished member in good standing of our media and political class. It’s a way the political and media class protects and celebrates itself: our elite members are to be heralded and their victims forgotten. One is, of course, free to believe that. But what should not be tolerated are prohibitions on these types of discussions when highly misleading elegies are being publicly implanted, all in order to consecrate someone’s reputation for noble greatness even when their acts are squarely at odds with that effort.”

  5. When Hitch was wrong
    He was disastrously wrong
    By Alex Pareene

    The late Christopher Hitchens had the professional contrarian’s fixation on attacking sacred cows, and rather soon after his cancer diagnosis, he became one himself. I think he would’ve been disgusted to see too much worshipful treacle being written about him upon his untimely death, so let’s remember that in addition to being a zingy writer and masterful debater, he was also a bellicose warmongering misogynist.

    Upon the death of the unlamented Earl Butz, Hitchens excoriated editors who published sanitized obituaries of a man remembered solely for a vulgar racist remark made in public. Hitchens leaves a rather more varied legacy, but it’s just as important not to whitewash his role in recent history.

    There was no more forceful intellectual voice in support of the Iraq War than Hitchens. There were others who were more prominent, more influential or more persuasive, but Hitchens was the perfect shill for an administration looking to cast its half-baked invasion plans as a morally righteous intervention, because only he could call upon a career of denunciations of totalitarianism and defenses of human rights. (The fact that the war was supposed to be justified by weapons Saddam was supposedly developing didn’t really matter to Hitchens.)

    And so we had the world’s self-appointed supreme defender of Orwell’s legacy happily joining an extended misinformation campaign designed to sell an incompetent right-wing government’s war of choice. The man who carefully laid out the case for arresting Henry Kissinger for war crimes was now palling around with Paul fucking Wolfowitz.

    Once he became an unpaid administration propagandist, Hitchens, formerly a creature of left-wing magazines whose largest mainstream exposure was in Vanity Fair and occasionally on Charlie Rose, was suddenly on TV rather a lot. The lesson there, I think, is that the popular American mass media will make room for even a booze-swilling atheist Trotskyite if he’s shilling for a the latest war.

    And to be honest, his post-9/11 conception of an epoch-defining clash of civilizations between the secular West and the jihadists is more than slightly ridiculous. The secular West faces any number of graver existential threats — like unaccountable too-big-to-fail financial institutions and climate change, to name two that immediately come to mind — than that posed by the less-than 1 percent of the world’s Muslim population that subscribes to Salafist jihadism. Hitchens, the old Orwell worshiper, clearly just wanted a great big generational threat to tackle fearlessly, with polemics attacking the sclerotic establishment liberals who failed to see that the world was at the brink of disaster. He was looking for his own Spanish Civil War. That’s why he insisted on arguing that “Bin Ladenism” was equivalent to fascism.

  6. The problem with Mr. Hitchens was that once he made up his mind his was the only correct opinion and all others must be destroyed. Not argued, not debated, not reasoned simply destroyed. He was a vicious debater with a cruel tongue and a sharp mind, He could be fun when you agreed with him but I always ended up thinking “please get off my side” because he was so nasty, condescending and insulting.

  7. The blood of a million dead Iraqis are on his hands as well as the blood of tens of thousands of Serbs.

    He may have despised Clintion but he sure cheered on his NATO bombings in Yugoslavia.

  8. Bob/Elaine,

    I’ll have to say I know more about Hitchens political arguments than his theological arguments, but I will also say I found that I disagreed with him far more often than I agreed with him. I did, however, enjoy his style. He was a deft wordsmith.

  9. Elaine,

    His arguments in favor of the war were dishonest and overly generous with U.S. troops considering he was a limey.

    I also found his arguments regarding atheism epistemically shallow and about as convincing as a street urchin proclaiming personal knowledge as to where and when the world would and and Jesus Christ would return.

  10. Bob,Esq.,

    Hitchens most certainly was a cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq–which goes to show that one can be an articulate person who makes persuasive arguments about bad ideas. He may have been very intelligent–but he sometimes lacked wisdom.

  11. The man was an intellectual fraud. The legacy of Christopher Hitchens is as salvageable as that of Joe Paterno.

  12. How about the clear and present danger of perpetuating a fraud on the public with specious arguments in favor of the U.S. invasion of Iraq?

    Jesus H. Christ chief…

  13. Interesting clip, David. I’m pleased to learn that Hitchens shared the same view of Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919) as I have. While I agreed with the logic behind Holmes statement regarding when limitation of free speech is a valid consideration, I disagreed with the ruling. Schenck should have been freed under the “clear and present danger” standard as his words were not a clear and present danger, but rather merely politically unpopular. I’ve always felt that was a political conviction ultimately. Thankfully Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969) later clarified the “clear and present danger” standard, narrowing it, to give us the ” imminent lawless action” standard.

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