Pol Pot or Christopher Hitchens?

by Belle Waring on March 22, 2006

1. “Since he is of no use anymore, there is no gain if he lives and no loss if he dies.”

2. “I shall go on keeping score about this until the last phony pacifist has been strangled with the entrails of the last suicide-murderer.”

Easy, right? The less bloodthirsty one is Pol Pot. (As Brother Number One famously mused “Look at me now. Am I a savage person?”) It’s only fair to note here that Christopher Hitchens is not, in fact, a genocidal maniac. Well, not someone who has actually killed anyone, that we know of. It’s also nice to know that Pol Pot has a myspace profile. (His interests include taking control of Kampuchea and social experimentation. Music? DK, obvs.)



des von bladet 03.22.06 at 6:50 am

Does “Hatchet” Hitchens — you’ll never bury him alive! — have a recipe for immortality (based, for all we know, on eye of jihadiste newt and tongue of fellow-travelling toad), or is there another possible end to his otherwise untruncatable loquacity?


abb1 03.22.06 at 7:06 am

Hey, in his Democratic Kampuchea Pol Pot banned all religions – how bad could he be?


Steve 03.22.06 at 7:40 am

1) Read ‘Smear and Distortion’ by your colleague, Chris, right above this post.
2) Go back to writing about recipes and zany Asian advertising. Your mindless stream-of-consciousness blather is much more suited to such.


John Kerry or Adolf Hitler?

1) He spoke German, a EUROPEAN language.
2) He spoke French, a EUROPEAN language.

Its easy, right? The lesser politician is John Kerry. (as Goebbels once said, “We were democratically elected, weren’t we?”). It’s only fair to note here, that, John Kerry is not, in fact, a genocidal maniac. Well, not someone who has actually killed anyone, that we know of (oops…). Its also nice to know that Hitler has a myspace profile (His interests include taking control of Poland and genetic experimentation. Music? Wagner, obvious).



Mike D 03.22.06 at 8:05 am

Steve, don’t you think the Hitchens quote is a bit odd? He seems to be literally calling for the deaths of his domestic political enemies. I don’t think it’s unfair to quote him and then point out that he sounds like a loony.


Barry 03.22.06 at 8:22 am

And, in strict obediance to the law of right-wing freudian projection, steve’s post-script is much more stream of consciousness.


reuben 03.22.06 at 8:25 am

Go back to writing about recipes and zany Asian advertising.

Can she still write about politics, too? Or should she stick to zany “women’s stuff”?

You do realise that this thing comes with a remote, don’t you? You can change the channel.

Debate = very good
Bossiness + venom = rather sad, really


Jasper Milvain 03.22.06 at 8:33 am

Presumably Diderot and Tom Nairn are also worse than Pol Pol, at least from a rhetorical point of view.


reuben 03.22.06 at 8:38 am


Your zany analogy kind of misses the point. If John Kerry were making statements that, in comparison, made Hitler sound like he’d been smoking pot and listening to Donovan all day, that would be noteworthy. And your analogy would make sense in this context.


tom bach 03.22.06 at 8:43 am

Isn’t CH, who I do not care for and never have, being humorous or some such? Granted the full passage is incoherent (Well, if everyone else is allowed to rewind the tape and replay it, so can I. We could have been living in a different world, and so could the people of Iraq, and I shall go on keeping score about this until the last phony pacifist has been strangled with the entrails of the last suicide-murderer.) but the strangling paraphrase is neither a modest nor a serious proposal, is it? Treating it as if it were would seem to be a distortion of CH’s intent.


Ray 03.22.06 at 9:30 am

Even if Hitchens thinks he’s being funny, does it not say something about him that he thinks this is funny?


"Q" the Enchanter 03.22.06 at 9:38 am

Of course Hitchens is merely joking when he calls for the strangulation of phony pacifists; in D.C., you can get a ticket for that.


abb1 03.22.06 at 9:50 am

Him being happy of turning a country into killing fields for one group of unworthy people or another is another good joke.


Barry 03.22.06 at 9:58 am

Sick joke, I’d say, but one that we should make, and should rub his nose in.


harry b 03.22.06 at 10:11 am

I still like Hitchens, and still found Belle’s post funny. Not as funny as steve’s response, though.


reuben 03.22.06 at 10:19 am

Since it’s such a good allusion (see post 7 above), I’m willing to smile at Hitchens’ use of it, so long as he said/wrote it with something approximating a sardonic grin, either on his face or in his mind. Like Harry B, though, I still find Belle’s post amusing.


Donald Johnson 03.22.06 at 10:29 am

The problem with Hitch is that you can’t be sure he’s joking. He admitted his bloodthirsty joy about the opportunity to have a holy war against the jihadists after 9/11.

I still find him interesting when he’s not writing about anything that happened in the last 5 years.


roger 03.22.06 at 10:30 am

I’ve come to think that writing about politics simply isn’t Hitchens forte. He’s an excellent literary critic. But he seems to go to pot (not Pol Pot, however) when writing about, say, Iraq. For instance — suicide bombing makes it hard to find entrails undamaged enough to be wound about anyone’s neck — even a pencil necked pseudo-pacifist. If he is looking for entrails with tensile strength, he is going to find much better ware among the pro-war set. Carnivores and proud of it, I would imagine the Rumsfelds of the world have entrails you could lift a Dodge pickup with. Manly entrails, in short.


zdenek 03.22.06 at 10:36 am

Hitch is just using vivid language for emphasis , but its sad to see Belle take this muddled/lazy line confusing criticism with scoffing ; boring .


lemuel pitkin 03.22.06 at 10:40 am

Presumably Diderot and Tom Nairn are also worse than Pol Pol

The thing is, the rhetorical violence in both those cases was directed at powerful, respected, not to mention actually existing groups. Whereas Hitchens’ is at the Official Enemy and a figment of his imagination, respectively.

That’s what’s so striking about it to me — not the suggestion of violence, but the way a famous attack on convention has been turned into a mindless endorsement of it. Kind of encapsulates Hitch’s whole career, actaully.


Henry 03.22.06 at 10:47 am

bq. I’ve come to think that writing about politics simply isn’t Hitchens forte. He’s an excellent literary critic.

My theory has always been that Hitch thinks he’s George Orwell, when in fact he’s Cyril Connolly. Bit of a waster, not all that intellectually coherent when he’s pushed to define what he’s trying to say but with a prose style to die for when he’s on form.


Jaybird 03.22.06 at 11:05 am

It seemed obvious to me that he was quoting Diderot and/or Meslier.

It’s kind of like bitching about someone saying “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” and claiming that they’re bitching about a period of three days.

There’s more going on with that quotation.


P O'Neill 03.22.06 at 11:40 am

There’s an odd passage in Hitch’s most recent WSJ piece

But the grim fact is, as we know from Cyprus and Bosnia and Lebanon and India, that a handful of determined psychopaths can erode in a year the sort of intercommunal fraternity that has taken centuries to evolve. If you keep pressing on the nerve of tribalism and sectarianism, you will eventually get a response. And then came the near-incredible barbarism in Samarra, and the laying waste of the golden dome.

Aside from leaving much unsaid in his diagnosis of the other countries he mentions, the “near-incredible barbarism” of Samarra consisted of physical destruction, not death (the dome guards were tied up but not killed). Why does it earn more outrage from Hitch than the actual 30,000 +/- deaths in the war?


roger 03.22.06 at 12:03 pm

P. O’neill — I think a more pertinent question is — if we “know this,” why has Hitchens, for three years, loudly supported the incredible series of American screwups in the occupation of Iraq without ‘assuming the mantle of generalship” – his very stupid phrase – once? Or in other words, offered any critical feedback whatsoever. If you know that a disaster can easily happen and in the face of that knowledge you:
a. use half the manpower you need to affect your ends;
b. staff your organization with G.O.P. college kids on their summer vacations;
c. spend more time reorganizing an economy to benefit your corporate sponsors than trying to instill security in the zones you govern;
and d., respond with maximum and alienating force to hits on the occupying army — while letting hits on the natives sorta slide —
then hey, you get Samarra, and this kind of handwringing.

This is why these ‘analyses,’ and others by the pro-war set, are so self-subverting.


Sebastian Holsclaw 03.22.06 at 12:10 pm

I suspect you all are missing the subtlety of Pol Pot. When you have actually murdered millions you don’t have to use strongly worded statements to get your point across.

But still funny…


lemuel pitkin 03.22.06 at 12:18 pm

There’s more going on with that quotation.

Yes: specifically, an effort to dress up reheated conventional wisdom as daring contrarianism.


Doctor Slack 03.22.06 at 12:32 pm

Steve: Go back to writing about recipes and zany Asian advertising.

Others have already pointed out how sad this is, but I’ll just add that getting defensive on behalf of Hitchens is a losing proposition. When a journalist starts cranking out graphic fantasies about the deaths of his rhetorical opponents, it’s not a good sign.

He’s damaged his own credibility as an intellectual so extensively by this point that it has to be admitted, there’s a certain amount of schadenfreude in watching Hitch watch his own credibility circle the drain.

“I shall go on keeping score,” he blusters, and it’s not hard to picture him still saying it years from now, bending the ear of whoever’s on the next barstool about how the true tragedy of Iraq was that he was betrayed, sold out, let down, undermined by all those “phony pacifists.” (He and whatever fraction of the Iraqis his addled brain still counts as worthy of being spared the “killing fields,” of course.) Stewing in his own venom, getting even with “the Left” in increasingly lurid, cirrhotic fantasies; cranking out rants for the Wingnut Bugle about how he would have been right all along if only this or that had happened, and damn the French.

And really, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.


JR 03.22.06 at 12:35 pm

The phrase “killing field” is so completely identified with Cambodia that Hitchens’ use of it makes him seem deranged. It evokes indiscriminate killing on an unimaginable scale. It’s like calling for a Holocaust against your enemies, or demanding that they be slaughtered like the Tutsi. It’s so utterly in bad taste that the reader can only stand aghast at the unhinged hysteria of the writer.


lemuel pitkin 03.22.06 at 12:47 pm

It’s so utterly in bad taste that the reader can only stand aghast at the unhinged hysteria of the writer.

I think jr is my new favorite CT commenter.


goatchowder 03.22.06 at 1:03 pm

It’s a Holiday in Cambodia. Where you’ll kiss ass or craaaaaaack!


Barry 03.22.06 at 1:41 pm

Dr. Slack: “When a journalist starts cranking out graphic fantasies about the deaths of his rhetorical opponents, it’s not a good sign.”

Corresponding to a warrior swinging his sword and insulting his enemy, but taking care to stay well back from actual fighting.


Rasselas 03.22.06 at 1:54 pm

Who counts as a “phony pacificist”? People who claim to be followers of that disreputable, unkempt Jesus character but call for carpet-bombing and lakes of blood?


Arturis 03.22.06 at 2:34 pm

Another reason it’s easy to tell the difference:

Quote number one was said by someone in power, quote number two was said by someone who doesn’t have the power he believes he deserves.


dipnut 03.22.06 at 3:26 pm

I’m pretty sure Hitchens’s reference to strangulation is a metaphor, whereas Pol Pot was presumably being literal.

Also, Hitchens perceives a positive moral failing (whether you agree or not), for which this metaphorical strangulation is to be imposed. Pol Pot could justify killing someone for merely being “of no use anymore”. He goes so far as to hint that the person in question was of some use before; no matter. Good job well done, BANG! Brains on the floor.

Hitch is the more bloodthirsty, at least in a metaphorical sense, when you disregard at least one important moral consideration.


Matt Weiner 03.22.06 at 6:08 pm

“Only SOUNDS worse than Pol Pot” is not a standard to strive for, though.


lemuel pitkin 03.22.06 at 6:11 pm

I’m pretty sure Hitchens’s reference to strangulation is a metaphor, whereas Pol Pot was presumably being literal.

How about the killing fields?


roger 03.22.06 at 6:26 pm

Ah, the best comment on this post is from Oliver Kamm, here: http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2006/03/cultural_litera.html

While I thought this post unfair – I would give Hitchens two points for his literary reference and 3 points off for not imagining it very well — for it is in the nature of suicide bombing to make entrails unsuitable for hangman’s rope, thus making his allusion damned awkward — the way Kamm stuffs marshmallows in his cheeks and tries to out-pompify Hitchens (out-pompify is found in my dictionary, mistah) is so very, very ludicrous that my sympathies go back to CT.


Matt Weiner 03.22.06 at 6:54 pm

Excuse me, I don’t care about the literary reference. If I were to say “I will not rest until the last [unkind reference to group I dislike — say “greedy plutocrat”] is strangled with the entrails of the last [overheated reference to really quite bad group — say “torturing war criminal”]” the reaction would properly be revulsion at my homicidal ideation, literary reference or no. If you ask me whether Diderot deserves the same condemnation, I will point out that in the end the kings and priests were not the only ones to get it in the neck. And refer to Lemuel Pitkin’s 19.

Some such bloodthirsty rhetoric was described as “playing with fire by people who don’t know that fire is hot,” by a writer who Hitchens really ought to read.


Matt Weiner 03.22.06 at 6:59 pm

Wow, Roger, Kamm could out-pompify Elgar himself. I followed the link to Kamm’s previous attack on CT:

“While adding some links this week, I have also removed the link to the Crooked Timber weblog of assorted academics. This will be a matter of indifference to its authors, who have never linked to this site, so I’m at liberty to explain the excision with no risk of causing the distress that my strictures ought properly to elicit.”

“I wrote a column a couple of months ago in which I offered my fellow-liberals across the Atlantic the following helpful advice, which they have unaccountably ignored completely.”

That’s great stuff.


Doctor Slack 03.22.06 at 7:04 pm

Matt’s right. If someone were to say, “I don’t like that Oliver Kamm, and I do believe I will make my bullets drunk with his blood, and my knife shall gorge itself with his flesh,” pointing out that it’s a literary allusion to the Book of Deuteronomy wouldn’t make it any less deranged.

(Isn’t Jean Meslier (sp?) the point of origin for the entrails quote, originally?)


Dereck 03.22.06 at 7:26 pm

Ohfuhchrissake. Come in no. 38: the comments in bold are obviously meant to be self-deprecating and ironic. For incomprehension, you deserve to be a blogger on this site.


josh 03.22.06 at 8:34 pm

Henry: The Orwell/Connolly line is brilliant. The whole discussion is well worth it for producing that.
As for the Hitchens quote (the antecedents of which are given in Chris Brooke’s blog:http://users.ox.ac.uk/~magd1368/weblog/2006_02_01_archive.html#114017837951131018 )clearly comparisons to actual genocidaires can’t be serious. But there is, I think, a valid point to be made about Hitchens’s propensity for violent, false-macho rhetorical over-kill (ahem); all the chest-thumping and self-delighted revelling in saying brutal things for the sake of being shocking and appearing tough — well, it does seem to me a fair target for mockery. Even if Hitchens were right, such talk would be uncalled for. And as it is …


Pithlord 03.22.06 at 9:08 pm

Diderot’s bon mot was hardly without nasty consequence in the real world. Tom Nairn’s influence is fortunately pretty limited.


radek 03.22.06 at 9:14 pm

I dunno… I’ve been heard to mutter “Shoot them all like rabid dogs!” when the local city council does something stupid. I think the hyperbole just comes from having been exposed to a lot of commie rhetoric. It’s humor, dark humor, but humor.


Matt Weiner 03.22.06 at 9:40 pm

Dereck at 40: I wasn’t convinced by the rest of the post, but I’m convinced by the last paragraph here that O.K. does do self-deprecating humor. So my apologies to Kamm. (I will defend to my dying breath, however, the claim that some of the rest of the time he is pompous.)

radek, sure, but you don’t publish it. And good point pithlord, given that some priests and kings did get killed it’s not a great idea to use this bon mot when you don’t intend violence. Sorta like disparaging your opponents as rootless cosmopolitans.


roger 03.23.06 at 12:30 am

Ahem, Mr. #40: Pomposity descending to levity is pomposity still.


lurker 03.23.06 at 2:51 am

@posts 37 & 19
The writer Matt refers to also wrote that to bring the story of Jack the Giant Killer up to date you have to make it Jack the Dwarf Killer.
He was quite nasty to intellectuals who side with the strong against the weak and think that any politics dirty enough justifies itself. Clearly he was on the other side.


abb1 03.23.06 at 3:08 am

I dunno… I’ve been heard to mutter “Shoot them all like rabid dogs!” when the local city council does something stupid.

Normally city concilmen do not getting killed, and if they are, inflammatory rhetoric will be cited as a factor.

Iraqis, otoh, are getting killed every single day, often massacred, tortured and abused by US soldiers who, apparently, take the “killing fields” rhetoric quite literally.

Hitch&Co are an equivalent of the writers for Der Sturmer. I don’t see them advocating killing fields in Alabama for chrisitanofascists or in Israel for jeudeofascists; their appeal is unmistakably racist. They have a group of people singled out for extermination because of who they are, for the brand of religion they’ve been practicing for centuries.

It is not a joke when people with guns are acting on it.


abb1 03.23.06 at 3:10 am

Oh, sorry, I see now that Matt Weiner already responded to this.


Simon 03.23.06 at 5:36 am

Although some of Kamm’s remarks can be interpreted as self-deprecating, he has also stated in the past that his soi-disant ‘objectivity’ is “not a gag but a statement of fact”, and at such length as to indicate he wished to be taken seriously.


Belle Waring 03.23.06 at 7:11 am

hey, kids, take heed! if you don’t want to be compared with pol pot, try to avoid stating as a positive thing that iraq has been turned into a “killing field.” been to tuol sleng recently, anyone? not exactly happy fun time is it? when I hear “killing field”, I think about bullet-saving measures that led to infants being brained on the roots of ficus trees. if someone cites this in a positive way, and then follows up with some entrail-strangling…weeeellll. charitable interpretation does not exactly jump to the fore at this point.


Anthony 03.23.06 at 10:27 am

Hey, isn’t this where someone ought to say Pol Pot was all Chomsky’s fault anyway?


harry b 03.23.06 at 1:23 pm

Why on earth does Kamm think that the post implies that Belle doesn’t recognise the allusion?

He might, furthermore, do well to wonder why people don’t immediately assume that his self-deprecating humour is such, given his interpretation of this post.


dipnut 03.23.06 at 1:48 pm

Right you are, Anthony. This is exactly where.

Pol Pot was all Chomsky’s fault.


Daniel 03.23.06 at 5:17 pm


That’s the entire post, by someone who clearly has no idea that Hitchens is alluding to the sentiment usually (though inaccurately) attributed to Diderot that “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

Oh dear, Oliver is such a fucking cunt.

(of course, only an idiot would fail to recognise my allusion to the sentiment usually (though inaccurately) ascribed to the late Peter Cook that “you’re a fucking cunt, you are”)


Alexander Wolfe 03.23.06 at 10:34 pm

Literary “allusions” aside, Christopher Hitchens is still an idiot when it comes to all things Iraq (this quote above being from his most recent column on Iraq in Slate.) His columns have the whiff of desperation, as he clings to every last rational for having supported the war in Iraq as if his very sanity is riding on it. I for one hope that he does crack soon, and will disallowed from accessing the internet or pen and paper while he recovers in an asylum somewhere. Is that harsh? Yes. Does he deserve it? Certainly. It’s no harsher than what he directs at any critics of the war.

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