Even Though Hating Mother Teresa Was Great

by Belle Waring on December 17, 2011

Noted without comment.

{ 195 comments }

1

Guido Nius 12.17.11 at 1:01 pm

As Mother Teresa was a believer, hating her still is great.

2

ciaran 12.17.11 at 1:14 pm

obviously he was clueless about foreign policy, but damn it -he was sound on the religion question.

3

Belle Waring 12.17.11 at 1:23 pm

But as Hitchens was an atheist, he is no longer hating her. One imagines.

4

realdelia 12.17.11 at 1:31 pm

The best recent demonstration that journalists are
never to be confused with scholars.

5

Guido Nius 12.17.11 at 1:36 pm

Ah, that was Hitchens. Somehow there would be some justice in him still hating her. But I am sure he no longer does.

6

Antonio Conselheiro 12.17.11 at 1:55 pm

God, Mother Teresa, Lady Di, Bill Clinton, peaceniks, and Jews. You can build a sort of thermometer of hitchenism scaled 0 to 6. I’m at 3.5 or maybe 3.75. He hated Clinton at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. It’s odd to think that many very nice people are at 0, or that they’re at 2 according to a different ordering with peaceniks and Clinton at 1 or 2.

7

Antonio Conselheiro 12.17.11 at 1:57 pm

In his writings Hitchens exposed Mother Teresa, Lady Di, and President Mobutu Sese Seko, all of whom died within 8 days of one another in 1997. People need to know about the Teresa-Di-Mobutu synchronicity.

8

Antonio Conselheiro 12.17.11 at 2:08 pm

At times Hitchens’s prose seems entirely shaped by his tireless search for inconsequential correspondences.

I hadn’t read this when I wrote #6. People really underrate inconsequential correspondences. Truth and freedom and justice and humanity and consciousness and agency may all have been lost, but inconsequential correspondences cannot be taken from us.

9

BenSix 12.17.11 at 2:30 pm

That website boasts more easy targets than a 19th Century buffalo hunter. Does anyone rate Matthew McConaughey? I think even his Mother knows him as, “That guy from all those bad movies.” And David Brooks? He’s the Nick Cage of political commentary.

10

Antonio Conselheiro 12.17.11 at 2:36 pm

The McConaughey movie I saw was 100% Paul Newman ripoff, starting with his face.

11

Jeffrey Davis 12.17.11 at 2:39 pm

After Mother Teresa’s struggles with belief were revealed, Hitchens modified his attitude toward her. She was for most of her life a lonely, melancholic person whose attempts to believe in God and to coax him into a relationship with her were immense. Hitchens had scored off her because, as a very old woman, she became star struck — among her other sins — yet his own autobiography revealed a man who made a fetish of his relationships with the famous. Since his essays also revealed a man who delighted in summing up where we’ve failed, I’d guess he had his own lonely, melancholic struggles somewhere.

12

Antonio Conselheiro 12.17.11 at 2:45 pm

After Mother Teresa’s struggles with belief were revealed, Hitchens modified his attitude toward her.

Well screw him then.

13

puzzled 12.17.11 at 2:58 pm

How does this post not fall foul of CT’s policies against racism and sexism?

14

Michael Bérubé 12.17.11 at 3:04 pm

I just read this for the first time.

15

stubydoo 12.17.11 at 3:06 pm

Staking out the anti-Theresa position required both a lot of balls and a lot of originality. Yet it was his pro-Iraq-War stuff that earned him a fan base, despite requiring none of either.

(The atheism stuff was a middle case, being fairly ballsy but totally unoriginal).

16

phosphorious 12.17.11 at 3:27 pm

“Noted without comment.”

I was hoping for some comment. Right now it looks as if the intellectual enabler of the Bush administration has gone to his grave as a “courageous thinker.”

17

William Eric Uspal 12.17.11 at 3:38 pm

I think I’ll take Hitchens’ wit and style over the lazy tumblotwittospheric snark of that link, thank you.

18

phosphorious 12.17.11 at 4:02 pm

Ah yes, Wit and style.

19

Chris Bertram 12.17.11 at 4:05 pm

Everyone should read Greenwald (and follow the link to Corey Robin)

http://www.salon.com/2011/12/17/christohper_hitchens_and_the_protocol_for_public_figure_deaths/singleton/

20

Jeffrey Davis 12.17.11 at 4:20 pm

re: 7

Funny stuff.

21

chris 12.17.11 at 4:32 pm

Staking out the anti-Theresa position required both a lot of balls and a lot of originality. Yet it was his pro-Iraq-War stuff that earned him a fan base, despite requiring none of either.

Saying what lots of other people already believe always gets you more fans than the reverse. Politicians know this, which is why they’re always so spineless and unoriginal — it’s their job to stay popular and they know how to do it.

Hitchens, of course, was no politician.

22

Rich Puchalsky 12.17.11 at 4:43 pm

Did he ever do or write anything important enough so that people should bother about him?

He was a journalist and a public intellectual. His early career is best know for his denunciations of Mother Theresa and Princess Di. He was caught up as a useful figure by war proponents. Late in life, he wrote a book somewhere in the top ten of new atheism books.

Is anything that he wrote going to be read ten years from now?

23

chris y 12.17.11 at 4:45 pm

Staking out the anti-Theresa position required both a lot of balls and a lot of originality.

Up to a point, Lord Copper. I saw the same position on Ms Bojaxhiu expressed in the columns of a Dublin listings magazine about the same time that Hitchens noticed her. The article was less elegant than Hitchens’ prose, but a fucking sight funnier. And I don’t suppose the editors who published it had as many friends in high places.

24

Antonio Conselheiro 12.17.11 at 4:45 pm

Anytime someone says “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” it reminds me of Paul Wellstone’s funeral. There was a well-oiled national media machine trashing that.

25

Jonathan Mayhew 12.17.11 at 4:49 pm

Something I’ve always wondered: if you don’t really know whether there is a god, how do you know his exact position on contraception? There is something “off” about a being a dogmatist in religious detail while doubting the very validity of the system. To me, that makes Mother Teresa much worse a person than if she were an undoubting believer.

26

Marc Mulholland 12.17.11 at 4:52 pm

Great big stomping boots to fill. Will Nick Cohen fancy his chances, I wonder. Or is his schtick it all too noughties now?

27

chris y 12.17.11 at 4:57 pm

De mortuis nil nisi bonum. (With bonus Finnish subtitles.)

28

Brainz 12.17.11 at 5:25 pm

“In tribute to the Contrarian Christopher Hitchens I would like to say that he was a hack and will not be read at all inside 5 years.”

It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

Or maybe not — I never read much of the man’s work. He struck me as a comical jerk. He annoyed me when I disagreed with him, and he amused me when I agreed with him, but in neither case did I feel I learned much.

29

Brainz 12.17.11 at 5:32 pm

And #12 demonstrates that I didn’t read enough of his work, or the proper bits of it.

30

Nine 12.17.11 at 5:58 pm

“Is anything that he wrote going to be read ten years from now?”

Very likely, yes. Someone please keep count of how many times the question gets asked on this thread – counter currently stands at 3.

31

phosphorious 12.17.11 at 6:06 pm

@29

I count two, although technically the question was asked once and the negative asserted once.

I’ll ask it again, though, to be sporting: will anything he’s written still be read in ten years.

Bonus question: what of his writings will last?

32

J. Otto Pohl 12.17.11 at 6:17 pm

Hitchens was not the only leftist out of the British Trot tradition to support the US and UK invasion of Iraq. I would say it is not unusual path at all. A lot of the US neo-cons were former Trots as well. Individuals from the the left both in the UK and US have a long tradition of supporting such morally dubious positions. It should be noted that the left almost universally supported the Zionist ethnic cleansing of most of the indigenous population of Palestine in 1948. At that time Arabs and Muslims were considered inherently reactionary by the left, not much different than the position still maintained by the “decent left” today.

33

JW Mason 12.17.11 at 6:21 pm

His early career is best know for his denunciations of Mother Theresa and Princess Di.

I would say those came fairly late in his career. His style was well on its way to a schtick by then. For the real early Hitchens, see e.g. this fantastic defense of Noam Chomsky.

34

roger 12.17.11 at 6:37 pm

I’ve recently re-read his joyous trouncing of Isaiah Berlin in the LRB, which was written more than ten years ago. I think it will certainly be read ten years from now, by, well, at least me, if I’m still alive. There are many Hitchens pieces that are worth reading, but not many after 2000. The political reporting in the Spectator in the 80s, and the articles in Harpers at the same time, are still very good. Many of his NYRB pieces are good. Minority report is not so good, and of course the stuff he wrote for Slate is bad in a sad way – sloppy, demagogic, the kind of writing that reads like the writer himself wouldn’t read it. I think the book against Clinton is a good, polemical tract. I rather lost interest in Hitchens after 2003 – the prowar stuff was too gastly, as Jim tells Huck about the dead man on the boat. So I don’t know what the Orwell book, or the Paine, the Jefferson and the other stuff are all about.

35

Antonio Conselheiro 12.17.11 at 6:45 pm

The proper way to honor Hitchens on his passing would be to briefly praise him and then viciously insult everyone who fails to praise him. The decency and respect crap is inappropriate to its object. Alternatively you could insult him, and then go on with “and yet — if Hitchens was bad, the people now praising him are a hundred times worse”. As he lived, so should he die.

36

Russell Arben Fox 12.17.11 at 6:49 pm

For me, it was his anti-Mother Teresa position that really got me to take him seriously, and it remains the argument of his which I’ve learned the most from. Sometimes it takes a truly furiously, ballsy attack on something to figure out just what it is you value about it.

http://inmedias.blogspot.com/2011/12/godspeed-you-brilliant-thought.html

37

William Timberman 12.17.11 at 6:57 pm

The devil should have his due, if no more than that. When he was good, he was very, very good, and when he was bad…. Personally, I feel about him much the same as I did about Linus Pauling in his vitamin C days. Sad, but not angry. The trap is there for all of us, and as luck is more often our salvation than virtue, RIP is surely all that needs to be said.

38

John Garrett 12.17.11 at 7:04 pm

I read Mencken. Hitch in ten years, on whatever succeeds youtube (more likely) or some of the essays? Sure.

John Garrett

39

cian 12.17.11 at 7:18 pm

People still read that overrated hack Orwell, so maybe they’ll read the overrated alcoholic Hitchens. Maybe David Brooks is in with a shot, too. For every hack, a place in the firmament above.

40

cian 12.17.11 at 7:20 pm

Incidentally, for those that liked his earlier stuff (I didn’t), you can always blame the decline on the alcoholism. Heavy drinking does tend to have that affect on people.

41

david 12.17.11 at 7:29 pm

42

Russell Arben Fox 12.17.11 at 7:33 pm

Another yes for Scialabba’s review.

43

Meredith 12.17.11 at 7:40 pm

Who was it who said that atheists are boring because they can’t stop talking about god?

Alcoholism is a sad thing. Alcoholics often become quite nasty people, of course, and the so-called “high-functioning” ones maintain the wherewithal to find many targets of, and occasions for, their nastiness.

I’ll stop. De mortuis nil nisi bonum.

44

LFC 12.17.11 at 7:50 pm

I read Hitchens when I was subscribing to The Nation and he had The Minority Report column. Some of them were good, as I recall. Others not. For the rest, I think roger @33 probably has it right.

45

JP Stormcrow 12.17.11 at 9:02 pm

Given Hitchens two-fer on Jerry Falwell immediately after his death set the bar for recent-death slagging so no one should feel any compunction about not holding back.

The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing: that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called ‘reverend’
and
If he had been given an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox.

He was certainly more interesting than most.

46

JP Stormcrow 12.17.11 at 9:08 pm

adult@44:

From that link: because he sold to morons who watch Sean Hannity the illusion that they are not complete cretins, and they would pay top dime for that sort of intellectual deceit.

Very reminiscent (if not cribbed) from Lars Erik-Nelson on William F. Buckley:

Bill Buckley exists to wrap up peoples’ base, greedy, low-life, mean and nasty views into high-faluting language so that they don’t have to go around thinking they are just mean, stupid and nasty, but instead have a philosophy like Buckley’s.

47

phosphorious 12.17.11 at 9:12 pm

The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing: that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just say it in a british accent

Fixed for the occasion. The man literally spit at a person he disagreed with:

http://www.thenation.com/blog/165194/being-spit-upon-literally-christopher-hitchens

I’m not sure I can stand many more tributes to his wit and erudition.

48

Tedra Osell 12.17.11 at 9:21 pm

I suspect that Hitchens’ enthusiasm for the Iraq war stemmed from the same loathing of religion (“Islamofascism”) that caused him to hate Mother Theresa. (And that his loathing of Diana was largely sexist.)

I do think he was a good writer, though, and probably quite socially enjoyable.

49

cian 12.17.11 at 9:24 pm

From the Scialabba piece: He always seems to have been reading just the right book at just the right moment

a skill learnt by many Oxford/Cambridge undergraduates as they attempt to bluff their way through tutorials. The man was a very skillful bullshitter. Apparently this is something in short supply in the US, which was why he was able to make such a successful career there.

50

Wrye 12.17.11 at 9:34 pm

#12, I think. That’s one worth remembering.

Of this Vietnam syndrome, some of us have sworn, there will likewise be no forgetting, let alone forgiving, while we can still draw breath. But some of the victims of Agent Orange haven’t even been born yet, and if that reflection doesn’t shake you, then my words have been feeble and not even the photographs will do.

51

Antonio Conselheiro 12.17.11 at 9:46 pm

Every contrarian I’ve ever known, all the way back to the ur-neocons I knew around 1967, ditched his friends and affiliated himself profitably with the right. I don’t remember any of them ever moving left, and I don’t remember anyone ever losing money by it.

But to them talk, they all were terribly, terribly brave, and suffered horribly because they were shunned by the friends that they’d ditched.

52

chris y 12.17.11 at 9:51 pm

I do think he was a good writer, though, and probably quite socially enjoyable.

“Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.”

Time recognises greatness over the years. Yeats, Kipling – yes, Claudel – maybe. Not sure it’s a sufficient justification for this guy.

53

bob mcmanus 12.17.11 at 9:54 pm

#12 was very disturbing on more than one level. However well-intentioned it was drunken, lacking inhibition, written by a guy I would be afraid to take to a party. And that’s being generous to the author.

54

bob mcmanus 12.17.11 at 10:53 pm

Yeah, the Scialabba is pretty good. I had never read much Hitchens, but the VF archives are apparently available, and today I read pieces on Trotsky and Joyce. Wrong in detail, mostly wrong in overview, still right enough to be entertaining and informative. Hitchens read and lived to write, skinning the surface. Facile, shallow, witty and smart, a sentimentalist, a user. I think I prefer people who live to read.

Other people who wrote to deadline and for money and to impress and flatter their friends: Samuel Johnson and Gore Vidal?

55

chris y 12.17.11 at 10:58 pm

I find it impossible to imagine that Hitchens will ever be seriously mentioned in the same breath as even Vidal by serious people, let alone Johnson.

56

bob mcmanus 12.17.11 at 11:20 pm

55: I like their politics better myself, but I have never thought either of them particularly profound, just good at delivering what their audience would hear as profound.

Intellectuals are ruined by sentiment and a desire to be relevant.

57

snuh 12.18.11 at 12:45 am

re #55, “I have been asked whether I wish to nominate a successor, an inheritor, a dauphin or delfino. I have decided to name Christopher Hitchens.” was a blurb from gore vidal that ended up on many christopher hitchens’ publications. all pre-9/11, naturally.

58

phosphorious 12.18.11 at 12:57 am

@48

I do think he was a good writer, though, and probably quite socially enjoyable.

Yes, by all accounts the sort of guy “you’d like to have a drink with.”

:-|

59

Watson Ladd 12.18.11 at 12:57 am

bob, before you say Hitchens was wrong on Trotsky remember he was a member of the IS in the 1970′s. This gives him a great deal of authority on the subject of British Trotskyism, even if it might be colored by his later abandonment of IS. Intellectual detachment can achieve great things, but if we are condemned to make jewels for a fallen world perhaps it’s time to reconsider.

As for whether people will still read him, we could ask that about any commentator on current events today. Even Marx’s civil war commentaries are unremarkable, while perceptive.

60

Jack Strocchi 12.18.11 at 1:37 am

Got to give the final say on this stouch to Alexander Cockburn (a true literary blue-blood, unlike the relentless social climber Hitchens) who puts Hitchens’s idol-toppling into moral perspective:

between the two of them, my sympathies were always with Mother Teresa. If you were sitting in rags in a gutter in Bombay, who would be more likely to give you a bowl of soup? You’d get one from Mother Teresa. Hitchens was always tight with beggars, just like the snotty Fabians who used to deprecate charity.

61

dictateursanguinaire 12.18.11 at 2:29 am

Apart from everything else unsavory or worse about him. . .with all of the more important things going on in the world, he took the time to slam what? A president (which is nearly always missing the point, especially when it’s a personal criticism), Mother Theresa and religion, using arguments against the last that were either old or stupid/fascist. It just strikes me as wildly irrelevant and motivated by a desire to be outre (not to argue in bad faith here) rather than to say anything important.

62

Anderson 12.18.11 at 2:33 am

Everyone should read Greenwald (and follow the link to Corey Robin)

Greenwald’s piece mainly just reinforced that Hitchens loathed cant.

63

marcel 12.18.11 at 2:38 am

Comments here sent me eventually to Scialabba’s commonplace book, where I stumbled across this apropos bon mot of Walter Lippman’s:

More newspapermen have been ruined by self-importance than by liquor.

In CH’s case, it seems to me that it was a pretty good horse race that self-importance won by a nose!

64

Anderson 12.18.11 at 2:49 am

#12 was very disturbing on more than one level. However well-intentioned it was drunken, lacking inhibition, written by a guy I would be afraid to take to a party.

I have never had less idea what Bob McManus is talking about.

As for taking Hitchens to a party, David Frum described H.’s being taken to a Florida club notorious for excluding Jews from membership. The first thing he said to the waiter was to ask for a kosher menu.

65

josefina 12.18.11 at 2:55 am

Re 12: I’d never read that before either. I stopped reading Hitchens in early 2002, after he wrote, “I used to make my living expressing contempt for the U.S., its policies and its citizenry, as only a verbally facile clubbable ex-Trot with an Oxbridge accent can do — but after 9/11 there is no U.S.-branded totalitarian knob I will not gobble! And, mirabile dictu, I’ve found a whole new market!” Or something like that.

Even so, I remembered him as a deft and deliberate writer, someone who would consider meaning and connotation and context. And so this article is appalling. Mainly due to its subject matter (which did not need any rhetorical elucidation or enhancement) but also for what it reveals of Hitchens–obliviousness, bathos, narcissism.

One thing that struck me was Hitchens’ clunky use of allusions and Latin phrases. I’m a state-school grad so I’m a sucker for that shit when it’s done well. But here, it’s as if they were autonomic tics or union requirements. And so I stopped reading Scialabba’s review after this:

Equally admirable is his breadth of reading; he has made an art of casual allusion. “Erudition” is not quite right; it suggests labor, and what is most impressive about the way Hitchens liberally sprinkles apposite quotes from Auden and Larkin, Waugh and Wodehouse, Jefferson and Churchill throughout his essays is his apparent effortlessness.

“liberally sprinkles” with “apparent effortlessness” like a cow pissing on a flat rock.

66

phosphorious 12.18.11 at 3:16 am

@65 wins the thread.

67

bob mcmanus 12.18.11 at 3:41 am

64 see 65 paragraph 2

Appalling is the word.

68

Antti Nannimus 12.18.11 at 3:57 am

Hi,

Christopher Hitchens was a rough treasure. For all his cantankerousness, ill-considered behavior, and controversial opinions, the world is a lesser place without this brilliant man. On many subjects he very often spoke for me and others of my ilk, when we were not nearly so capable as him to do so. Even when I disagreed with him, I was grateful to hear such well-articulated views. It’s the very self-same reason I have returned almost daily to CT for so many years.

I think he died very bravely, and when my own time comes, I can only hope to do as well. Thank you, Belle, for observing his passing on CT.

For me, this is a sad day,
Antti

69

Watson Ladd 12.18.11 at 4:16 am

Funny bob, I always assumed it was good manners to ask about the dietary preferences of one’s guests, just like you shouldn’t eat until everyone is served, particularly at a Woolworths in Greensborough.

70

geo 12.18.11 at 4:51 am

Can’t remember if posting one’s own stuff is discouraged. Oh hell:

http://nplusonemag.com/Hitch-Obit.

71

Guido Nius 12.18.11 at 10:39 am

geo, either you miss an l in your title or you have a sophsticated play on words going on in there which I miss completely.

72

Anderson 12.18.11 at 1:51 pm

Mainly due to its subject matter (which did not need any rhetorical elucidation or enhancement)

That comment fits with an inference I’ve been drawing, which is that there are some people who believe in the notion of writing that “does not need any rhetorical elucidation or enhancement,” and others who don’t. The latter are at least impressed by Hitchens’s ability to write; the former don’t understand what writing is.

but also for what it reveals of Hitchens—obliviousness, bathos, narcissism.

Perhaps I am too sunk in these vices to recognize them in others, but I found the Agent Orange article kept me focused on the horror it described (whose scope I had not realized), not on Hitchens himself. If your takeaway from that article was “what an awful person this author is,” then, as Joan Didion said once, “Oh, wow.”

73

Rosie 12.18.11 at 3:25 pm

Mainly due to its subject matter (which did not need any rhetorical elucidation or enhancement) but also for what it reveals of Hitchens—obliviousness, bathos, narcissism.

Did it? I thought it revealed sorrow for the victims, horror at what had been done to them, disgust with and anger at who had done it. What’s he “oblivious” of that he should not have been?

Also, Vanity Fair is a middle-brow glossy mag. Isn’t it better that something on this subject should be published there than in The Nation or New Left Review? It’s not preaching to the choir.

One thing that struck me was Hitchens’ clunky use of allusions and Latin phrases. I’m a state-school grad so I’m a sucker for that shit when it’s done well.

So quot homines tot sententiae re the coverage of Hitchens. My education was paid for by the state as well.

74

cian 12.18.11 at 4:02 pm

just like the snotty Fabians who used to deprecate charity

Hmm. You know who also deprecates charity – poor people. Poor people hate relying upon charity and find it humiliating and degrading. Trouble with being a blue-blood fighting for the poor, is that you often have a strange idea of what its like to be poor.

75

cian 12.18.11 at 4:06 pm

Hitchens liberally sprinkles apposite quotes from Auden and Larkin, Waugh and Wodehouse, Jefferson and Churchill throughout his essays is his apparent effortlessness.

Its worth pointing out that other than Jefferson, none of those would be particularly obscure writers for a Brit of his generation/education. I think that some of what Americans found impressive in Hitchens is simply cultural difference. As Barry Freed observed elsewhere, much of his reputation was simply cultural arbritrage.

76

cian 12.18.11 at 4:11 pm

As for taking Hitchens to a party, David Frum described H.’s being taken to a Florida club notorious for excluding Jews from membership. The first thing he said to the waiter was to ask for a kosher menu.

Hitchens to a T. Made himself the centre of attention, self-aggrandizing and a great anecdote. Or are you suggesting that this was a political act of courage, because it really wasn’t.

77

cian 12.18.11 at 4:16 pm

The latter are at least impressed by Hitchens’s ability to write; the former don’t understand what writing is.

Perhaps. My own take on Hitchens is that he used his formidable rhetorical skills to disguise flaws and shallows in his arguments. If he had combined his writing skills with genuine intellectual depth – well, that would have been something.

78

BenSix 12.18.11 at 4:29 pm

My own take on Hitchens is that he used his formidable rhetorical skills to disguise flaws and shallows in his arguments. If he had combined his writing skills with genuine intellectual depth – well, that would have been something.

I do wonder, reading laudatory reviews of his prolific nature and compulsive need for argument, if those weren’t features that served to impair his thought. If he’d concentrated on a subject, and pursued it less ferociously than his usual bugbears, he might have produced more lastingly intriguing work. Battering out reams of prose, and starting rhetorical fights, are habits that are liable to appeal to journalists but there’s no necessary value in either, er – virtue.

79

tomslee 12.18.11 at 4:45 pm

#77 formidable rhetorical skills

What is this, something non-grumpy from cian? What is the world coming to?

80

geo 12.18.11 at 4:46 pm

Grazie, Guido, for pointing out that typo.

81

hardindr 12.18.11 at 7:41 pm

I’m not glad Hitchens is dead as some apparently are, but I don’t think much of him as a journalist. Frankly, I’m surprised nobody has mentioned this incident, which either showed him to be an incompetent or a liar: http://www.dailyhowler.com/h022299_1.shtml

82

Guido Nius 12.18.11 at 8:02 pm

What can I say, geo, you owe me one.

83

Bruce Wilder 12.18.11 at 8:20 pm

I felt I gained some insight into what Chistopher Hitchens was about, from his contrarian take on “The Strange Case of David Irving“:
http://articles.latimes.com/2001/may/20/books/bk-144

David Irving is the British author of several histories of the Nazis and WWII, who sued an American author for libel, for labeling him a Holocaust denier and liar. The distinguished British historian of Germany, Richard J Evans, asked to testify by the defense as an expert, undertook a considerable research effort to support the truth of the libel. The burden of proof rests on the defendant in a British libel trial, and it would be technically incorrect to say that truth is an absolute defense, as it is in the U.S., but the publisher spent considerable funds in this case to establish the truth, against holocaust denial. Hitchens was reviewing two books about the case, one by Evans.

And, Hitchens defends against Irving! Or more, precisely, he defends the dubious value of having people with a strong point of view make tendentitious arguements supported by errors of fact, polluting the public discourse. He never quite acknowledges that the Strange Case is one, where Irving was suing, imposing enormous costs onto the truthteller and her publisher, even though he had supposedly read the two books on the case, which he was supposed to be reviewing.

Hitchens was a piece of work, as my dear mother might have said.

84

Anderson 12.18.11 at 8:53 pm

Or more, precisely, he defends the dubious value of having people with a strong point of view make tendentitious arguements supported by errors of fact, polluting the public discourse.

Could you kindly quote the portion of the linked essay that you’re referring to? H. believes in a First Amendment right to say what one will, but I don’t see him arguing some positive value in the “tendentious arguments” themselves.

(H. has a date wrong btw; it’s incorrect that the Nazis killed almost no Jews until after 1941. People tend to equate the Holocaust with the death camps, without allowing for the hundreds of thousands of Jews killed by the SS during Operation Barbarossa.)

Irving *is* an odd and pathetic case; some of his books, the earlier ones, are still cited by reputable historians (who I hope are sufficiently on alert to check his references); he did some good archival work; he’s also a loathsome anti-Semitic troll.

85

John 12.18.11 at 10:21 pm

Hard to believe no one has noted his take down of Henry Kissinger which was timely and alas still necessary since Kissinger is still out there in the public arena and may outlive us all. His wrote a book length indictment of Kissinger’s lengthy list of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including his involvement in Indonesia’s illegal invasion of East Timor in 1975. Kissinger and President Ford gave the Indonesia dictator the go ahead a day before the assault which resulted in up to 184,000 East Timorese deaths.

Lots more on this is available from the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network -
http://etan.org/news/kissinger/default.htm – which continues to press for the former Secretary of State to be brought to justice.

86

Bruce Baugh 12.18.11 at 10:24 pm

I must say that Agent Orange article has lingered with me, and strikes me as genuinely good reporting and also very good writing. It’s passionate, but doesn’t give off the vibe of “once I pick an enemy, I can do anything to them and it’s all good” that I’ve gotten from so much of Hitchens’ writing. I would mourn him more if I knew of more pieces like that.

I’ve been thinking about how to summarize my criticisms of most of what I’ve read by Hitchens, and I think I can do it in two points.

#1. The one I mentioned above, the sense that absolutely everything goes in pursuing a vile enemy. It’s this quality that made me unsurprised, really, that he’d jump on the “let’s kill lots of Muslims” bandwagon after 9/11 – it’s characteristic of people who get off on hating. I don’t think it’s in the slightest bit different depending on who’s being hated, either; I don’t think there’s anybody in the world who should be fair game for whatever vileness I can dream up, and I think the belief to the contrary is a very, very big part of why our society’s fucked up in so many ways right now.

I’m weary of living in a vicious world and I don’t care to make vicious people my heroes.

#2 Without, I hope, succumbing to more than a little bit of Orwell veneration, I think that “Politics and the English Language” has a lot that’s relevant about Hitchens as a writer. Erudition isn’t always bullshit, nor even more vulnerable to being so than other styles. But when you’re smart, articulate, and given to unbridled hatred, it does help you in the amoral pursuit of vicious vengeance. It’s easy to bullshit in if that’s what you want to do, and it looks to me like Hitchens did. The writers who are influencing most these days tend to be a lot simpler and plainer in style, which makes it easier for me (at least) to do some bullshit checking and filtering.

87

Kaveh 12.18.11 at 11:10 pm

@12: The same kind of enduring misery he mourns after the fact in that piece on Agent Orange, he himself helped to cause by lending his pen to support the invasion of Iraq. Fallujah had an even higher discrepancy between female and male births than Hiroshima, and a higher cancer rate.

@48 I suspect that Hitchens’ enthusiasm for the Iraq war stemmed from the same loathing of religion (“Islamofascism”)

Except Saddam Hussein’s regime was secularist, so whatever H’s religion derangement syndrome contributed, racism and opportunism were what really carried the day.

88

Bruce Wilder 12.18.11 at 11:23 pm

Hitchens is nothing, if not a clever writer. He invites us down the rabbit hole, into an alternate reality, in which Irving is being censored, and where censorship of Irving is a core issue. Hitchens declares himself “full of contempt for the censorship of Irving and quite prepared to consider the idea that the Holocaust has been exploited and even distorted.” This is a false context, entirely of Hitchens’ construction, framing this nearly 4000 word essay.

The threat of censorship was coming from Irving, and the threat was directed at tellers of truth. But, you will not get that from Hitchens. In Hitchens’ telling, Irving’s work is valuable. Why Hitchens learned a lot about Goebbels from Irving, including confirmation that the youthful Hitchens was right(!) (about a particular fact, which was never seriously controversial or in doubt).

After a long paragraph dropping the names of various British historians and polemicists, he congratulates himself:

when I first became aware of Irving, I did not feel it necessary to react like a virgin who is suddenly confronted by a man in a filthy raincoat.

That he had a sneaking sympathy for fascism was obvious enough. But his work on the bombing of Dresden . . . was invaluable.

This is utter nonsense. Evans painstakingly showed how faulty and false, Irving’s scholarship was, even in that first book, about Dresden, written when he was 25.

The false framing allows Hitchens to pose as a man of high principle, declaring, in his peroration:

I still regard it as ridiculous that Irving’s books are almost impossible to obtain in the homeland of the 1st Amendment. This culture has assumed several great responsibilities. It sponsored the Nuremberg trials, with all their peaks and troughs of evidence. It has elevated the Holocaust into a universal moral example. It is the chief international guarantor of the state of Israel, at whatever proper size of territory or jurisdiction over others that that state turns out to possess. And it is the home–on the basis of equality–of the most flourishing Jewish community in history. Given this quadrilateral of historical commitments, there can be no prohibition of any voice whatever. One asks only, as one must ask with all morally serious arguments, that those entering the arena be transparent as regards motive and scrupulous as regards evidence. Irving’s contribution to this very outcome is an amazing instance of the workings of unintended consequence.

That last sentence is an amazingly oblique way of acknowledging Irving was proven a liar, at trial. And, it has to be, because how else can he reconcile the previous sentence with advocacy for making Irving’s work more widely available, and making Irving’s voice heard?

The truth about the public discourse is that it is polluted. People think themselves so entitled to opinions and points-of-view, that they can just make up facts; and if the opinion or point-of-view is offensive and inhumane, so much more should the leniency be for false facts. Hitchens pronounces himself well-satisfied with this state of affairs, and advocates that it should be continued. He trumpets pride in his personal ability to sort things out, a personal perspicacity he associates vaguely with being widely read and more specifically, with a personal immunity to “shock”.

This is a man, who has pridefully eradicated his own moral center. It is not surprising to me that he spent the last ten years, raking in the cash for apologizing for war crimes entailing torture and the needless deaths of a 100,000 people. He lost track of the ethical necessity of connecting subjective judgments to the reality of consequences.

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Bruce Wilder 12.18.11 at 11:27 pm

In my post immediately preceding,

That he had a sneaking sympathy for fascism was obvious enough. But his work on the bombing of Dresden . . . was invaluable.

is a continuation of the direct quote of Hitchens. My voice returns with, “This is utter nonsense. . . .”

I think I may have misunderstood how the HTML tag would be interpreted.

90

Watson Ladd 12.19.11 at 12:21 am

Bruce, being wrong is not a crime. Would you hazard an opinion on any subject if error exposed you to prosecution?

91

novakant 12.19.11 at 12:25 am

What’s scary is not Hitchens himself – he is just a more intelligent and erudite version of the kryptofascist cab driver, the ranting alcoholic at the local pub or Jeremy Clarkson. What is really scary is the admiration 95% of the media has shown for someone who spent the past decade spouting genocidal hate speech. The fact that you only can rely only on Greenwald, Counterpunch or the World Socialist Worker to condemn Hitchens as the moral monster he was makes me feel rather lonely in this world.

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ckc (not kc) 12.19.11 at 12:34 am

a more intelligent and erudite version of the kryptofascist cab driver, the ranting alcoholic at the local pub or Jeremy Clarkson

…I don’t think you’re going to have a turn in the reasonably-priced car

93

Anderson 12.19.11 at 1:08 am

raking in the cash for apologizing for war crimes entailing torture and the needless deaths of a 100,000 people

God, I’d never owned a book by the man before yesterday, and now I’m the Hitchens Defender. Maybe it’s just a higher (?) form of trolling.

But I’ll bite: okay, cite me the Hitchens essay or whatever where he (1) apologizes for a war crime that (2) “entailed” (3) torture and (4) 100K needless deaths.

Removing Saddam was fine in itself, tho surely not what we should’ve been doing at that moment, with the WTC site still a gaping hole. It’s the hideous indifference to the occupation, and the deliberate pursuit of torture, that elevated Iraq from “blunder” to “disaster.” And I think Hitchens, even if he didn’t anticipate what fuckups the Bush crowd would be, should’ve come clean about it after the truth was glaringly apparent. Stubborn bastard.

But what is the “war crime” H. apologized for, and how did it (necessarily?) entail torture and the wave of terror that overtook Iraq? Was it somehow impossible to have a sensible occupation without Abu Ghraib and letting the country descend into chaos? Really?

94

Rich Puchalsky 12.19.11 at 1:16 am

I read the article that Michael links to in #12. It begins with a whole lot about Hitchens, and his reactions, his offering of his rare-blood-type blood, his thoughts which he would defy anyone else not to have about euthanasia. Then there’s this:

“I am not an epidemiologist. And there are professionals who will still tell you that there is no absolutely proven connection between the spraying of this poison and the incidence of terrifying illnesses in one generation, or the persistence of appalling birth defects in the next one or the next one. Let us submit this to the arbitration of evidence and reason: what else can possibly explain the systematic convergence?”

In other words, the article is utter crap. What did we learn from that article? (Well, I had to stop reading at that point, so I don’t know about the rest.) Sentimentality? Hitchens is addressing a scientific issue, except that he’s not a scientist, and he seemingly made no effort to consult one. Maybe if he had, he would show some signs of knowing something about Agent Orange and the contaminant in it. He showed no sign of knowing that it was sprayed on food crops to destroy them, not only used as a defoliant to reduce cover… no, never mind. Instead we get lots of thinly veiled self-congratulation of himself for being the person who’s bringing this to us, and some writing flourishes that can apparently camouflage, for some people, the utter lack of knowledge in the piece.

It isn’t just political. Some people seem to like Hitchens’ style, and all right; if that’s your taste, that’s what it is. But this is a person who had to test it himself to find out that water boarding was torture. He’s a horrible writer for any kind of substance.

95

Bruce Baugh 12.19.11 at 1:19 am

Watson, what happened is that Irving sued the author and publisher of a book documenting his errors and lies. He wanted to use British libel law, with its burden of proof on the defendant, to suppress criticism of his work. Hitchens chose to portray this as Irving fighting for his freedom of speech, but there’s no reason for the rest of us to fall for that lie. (Unless of course it’s bullshit – it’s possible that Hitchens could have cranked out all that prose without ever bothering to check a fact at all, rather than looking and denying.)

Wikipedia on the subject, and links to more.

If Irving had won, it would have created an environment in Britain that much more hostile to works like, among others, The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice and No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family.

96

Watson Ladd 12.19.11 at 2:39 am

Bruce, I don’t need a lecture from you about what a libel suit in England entails. But I do need you to explain That last sentence is an amazingly oblique way of acknowledging Irving was proven a liar, at trial. And, it has to be, because how else can he reconcile the previous sentence with advocacy for making Irving’s work more widely available, and making Irving’s voice heard? as anything other then the suggestion that being wrong be made criminal. (You’re implying that if Hitchens had said Irving was a lier outright then the advocacy for Irving’s belief being heard would have been wrong, hence spreading that belief would be even wronger.) Hitchens was simply pointing out that the libel lawsuit Irving filed resulted in an even further blow to his reputation, and anyone reading the article at the time who knew about the case would have seen that.

97

lurker 12.19.11 at 2:55 am

Rich, is your commentary meant to portray passionately farting into a small box which is then given as a gift?

98

Rich Puchalsky 12.19.11 at 3:17 am

“lurker” @99, your comment doesn’t seem to fit under the commenting guidelines for this site, does it? You don’t have an identifiable pseudonym, and your comment is nothing but a contentless insult.

99

cian 12.19.11 at 3:32 am

Actually Bruce I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. I think the real problem with that piece is that he’s trying to be contrarian about something that is pretty much an open and shut case, and which he acknowledges is an open and shut case. That’s what’s so weird about the last paragraph. I mean what’s his point, that publishers should be rushing out to publish a book by a liar?

100

cian 12.19.11 at 3:32 am

Bruce, I don’t need a lecture from you about what a libel suit in England entails.

Watson, given you got the facts of the case wrong, you kinda did.

101

lurker 12.19.11 at 3:39 am

Rich, I read your characterization of the linked Hitchens as doing more or less the thing it complains of–epic wailing that doesn’t add. But you’re right that my joke is probably inappropriate for this site. I apologize and retract it.

102

Salient 12.19.11 at 3:55 am

An ordinary human being, with a personal conscience, personally answering for something to somebody and personally and directly taking responsibility, seems to be receding farther and farther from the realm of politics. Politicians seem to turn into puppets that only look human and move in a giant, rather inhuman theatre; they appear to become merely cogs in a huge machine, objects of a major civilizational automatism which has gotten out of control and for which nobody is responsible.

You do not become a “dissident” just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.

It’s not hard to stand behind one’s successes. But to accept responsibility for one’s failures… that is devishly hard!

…also noted without comment.

103

Rich Puchalsky 12.19.11 at 4:05 am

It’s “epic wailing” to point out that we really do know more about Agent Orange than a he said/she said about whether the contaminant in it causes these effects, to be resolved by Hitchens’ “Let us submit this to the arbitration of evidence and reason” i.e. guess, in a situation in which he’s told us that professionals think that guessing based on intuition isn’t good enough?

It’s insultingly dumb writing. Sorry that my blog comment didn’t” add”, and I guess didn’t come up to the standards that I think that Hitchens should have met to be considered to be a good writer on this subject.

104

lurker 12.19.11 at 4:28 am

Rich, what would you say exactly are the known quantities missing from the evidentiary situation Hitchens describes? I get that you are furious that he misdescribes it.

105

Substance McGravitas 12.19.11 at 4:29 am

But I do need you to explain “That last sentence [...] making Irving’s voice heard?” as anything other then the suggestion that being wrong be made criminal.

That is a remarkable reading. How do you come to that conclusion? Put it in a syllogism.

106

Bruce Wilder 12.19.11 at 5:12 am

@ Watson Ladd

Your notion that anything I wrote above amounts to “the suggestion that being wrong be made criminal” seems utterly bizarre to me.

107

liberal 12.19.11 at 8:55 am

@96: “It’s the hideous indifference to the occupation, and the deliberate pursuit of torture, that elevated Iraq from “blunder” to “disaster.””

LOL. How often do wars of aggression wind down through wise, well-planned occupations?

You might do well to ponder what I thought was a well-known quote from the Nuremberg trials: “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

108

Guido Nius 12.19.11 at 9:33 am

Hating Jeremy Clarkson is great as well. I only recently started doing it – and I feel much more in flow already.

109

Tim Wilkinson 12.19.11 at 12:41 pm

Michael Berubé @12 – ironic, given remarks on the Iraq/Libya thread, that the article chosen in defence of every frivolous faux-lefty’s favourite churner out of diverting verbiage should be one that is still fighting the Vietnam War

+1 josefina @65. Hitchens was above all an accomplished self-publicist and producing this kind of worthy, if botched and pedestrian stuff (see also his shock ‘Kissinger a scumbag’ scoop) was an important part of his public image.

The Agent Orange piece reminded me very much, if obliquely, of the guaranteed Oscar that goes to any big name actor who slobbers their way through some grotesque portrayal of mental, psychological or physical disability (you can really see some difficult acting being done). In fact Hitchens’s output in general fits this scheme – which perhaps explains his greater success in the US. He may have nothing actually useful or genuine to say (and he didn’t: he was a narcissistic fabulist in the Blair mould, just with a narrower audience and better taste), but you can really see the clever writing technique at work.

(On Hitchens’s apostasy, Finkelstein. Also, from a slight tangent, me)

110

Manta1976 12.19.11 at 12:51 pm

I will repeat what I wrote on another comment thread.
I will miss H.; he was my moral compass: whatever position he took, I could be pretty sure it was hideously wrong.
(I started reading him on Slate a bit after 9/11).

111

liberal 12.19.11 at 2:06 pm

I recall Alexander Cockburn mocking Hitchens many, many years ago, and was waiting for him to comment on H’s passing. He’s done so.

112

Rich Puchalsky 12.19.11 at 2:16 pm

“what would you say exactly are the known quantities missing from the evidentiary situation Hitchens describes? I get that you are furious that he misdescribes it.”

If you haven’t gotten the basic point by now, I don’t think you’re going to.

But OK. Agent Orange was so toxic because it was contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin, otherwise known as TCDD or (a bit inaccurately) just as dioxin. It’s a proven teratogenic chemical in animal studies — in other words, it causes birth defects. This is so well known, scientifically, that the U.S. Veterans Administration assumes that certain birth defects are caused by veterans’ exposure to Agent Orange — these veterans having, in general, less exposure than Vietnamese did, since after all defoliants were sprayed on their food crops as well as their forests.

Given that, Hitchens manages to come with a he said / she said sentence. A writer genuinely interested in politics rather than in pumping himself up might have looked at the history of dioxin health assessments in the U.S., and how EPA had to keep its assessment in draft form for so long because politically it couldn’t be released. But alright, let’s assume that Hitch has no time for that, only time for heartwarming stories about how he donated blood. How is “let us submit this to the arbitration of evidence and reason” anything of the kind? Epidemiologists don’t just work by instinct. If they think the question isn’t settled, and we trust them, then it isn’t settled. Some goof writer has no more ability to assure us that he’s used his evidence and reason than he does if he told us that evidence and reason showed us that the Earth couldn’t be more than 6000 years old.

It’s not a science article. But Hitchens should never have written what he wrote as part of it. Not the he said/she said, not omitting to tell us what people do know — which is a whole lot about the association of dioxin and birth defects — and not the aggressively stupid magisterial resolution of it by Hitch”s intuition.

I’m not an epidemiologist. But you could start by looking maybe here and here.

113

Watson Ladd 12.19.11 at 4:29 pm

cian, Bruce, Substance: Look at Bruce’s comment at @91. From the paragraph he quotes from Hitchens we see Hitchens is complaining about the unavailability of Irving’s work, not the criticism of it. That’s in the first sentence. Then my comment never mentions the libel lawsuit, simply pointing out that Bruce at 91 can only insist that Hitchens cannot actually admit Irving was a lier and insist his works should be more widely available at the same time. From this I think its reasonable to conclude that Bruce thinks that lies should not be published. (You’re right that he isn’t advocating for criminality. I misread 91).

114

Bruce Wilder 12.19.11 at 5:58 pm

cian is probably right: Hitchens was determined to be contrarian where there’s no contrarian case, and, of course, being Hitchens, he could not help be narcissistic. Add alcohol, and the L.A. Times is publishing 4000 words, that completely miss any plausible or coherent point.

In the second to the last paragraph, Hitchens claims that the trial

provoked a grand crisis in the “Holocaust denial” milieu, which now subdivides yet again between those who see Irving as a martyr and those who see him as a conscious, dedicated agent of Zionism who let down the team.

Now, even understanding that holocaust deniers are largely nutters, I find it hard to beleive that even some of them see notorious anti-semite, Irving, as a dedicated agent of Zionism, let alone that Irving’s performance in this case, by some remarkable stretch of imagination, had let down Team Zion.

To clarify for Watson Ladd, I think Hitchens’ anodyne assertion,

“. . . there can be no prohibition of any voice whatever. One asks only, as one must ask with all morally serious arguments, that those entering the arena be transparent as regards motive and scrupulous as regards evidence.”

is fine and admirable, as a statement of general or ideal principle. I just do not see Hitchens applying it, in the foregoing essay.

And, it is not as if Hitchens was above shouting down a “fascist crackpot”, when it suited him, in other circumstances.
http://www.c-spanvideo.org/appearance/464181672

The issue in the David Irving case was never whether Irving should be published. The issue was whether the views of his truth-telling critics should be published. Should publishers publish truth, fearlessly? That was the question put at issue.

Hitchens was hardly the only commentator, who seemed unable at the time to wrap his or her mind around the implications of the case. Some, who could, insisted that the issue was a narrow one, a by-product of the technical standards of British libel law, while others seemed to think the prohibitions on the publication of holocaust denial or fascist hate literature in various other countries — Austria, Germany, Canada, etc — was at issue.

The core issue, though, is whether writers should try to write the truth, and publishers should try to publish the truth. And, though the defendants were vindicated by the court in this case, the answer is rather ambiguous.

Truth is hard work, and harder still under determined and ruthless assault. Evans estimated that he and his graduate students invested close to 20 man-years to showing that Irving was a liar — and had always been a liar, throughout his career, from his first book, on the bombing of Dresden. Irving had enjoyed a degree of respectability among historians, which was undeserved, because no one had invested the effort to discredit him. One can say, as Anderson does @87, that he hopes those, who cite Irving, check his work, but that wasn’t happening.

Sadly, it is easier to write lies. And, easier, probably, to get financing for the writing of lies. And, way too easy to get lies past critics, who find their easy path is simply to announce that opinons on the shape of the earth differ.

Hitchens was a talented writer, but he seems to have found and chose to serve a market for volume, not quality. And, was not, himself, much troubled by that.

115

Watson Ladd 12.19.11 at 6:08 pm

For the record I agree with Bruce at 117. Hitchens is missing the important part of the case, namely the way this libel case was used to intimidate those who exposed Irving.

116

Substance McGravitas 12.19.11 at 6:21 pm

117

anon/portly 12.19.11 at 6:24 pm

When Hitchens in 91 is quoted as saying “Irving’s contribution to this very outcome is an amazing instance of the workings of unintended consequence,” Wilder describes this as “an amazingly oblique way of acknowledging Irving was proven a liar, at trial.” Is this correct? Perhaps I am simply unable to read, but ISTM Hitchens’s “unintended consequence” is that of an anti-semite advancing the cause of the Jews. I.e. the “outcome” is the positive things (for the Jews) described earlier in the paragraph. I.e. Hitchens is making a point about Irving as an anti-semite not Irving as a maker of false claims.

Hitchens asks (“only“) that “that those entering the arena be transparent as regards motive and scrupulous as regards evidence,” and then Wilder takes him as actually making precisely an opposite point, i.e. that “Hitchens pronounces himself well-satisfied” that people think “they can just make up facts.” I assume that Wilder’s view of Irving’s scholarship is correct and Hitchens’s view has been shown to be wrong, but that seems to be the only real conflict between them.

118

Bruce Wilder 12.19.11 at 7:26 pm

@120

I presume the phrase “this very outcome” in the last sentence is a reference to the previous sentence, which is not a statement of partisan values, but in favor of — for lack of a better term — application of critical method. That second-to-last sentence speaks to transparent motives and scrupulous reporting of evidence. Irving’s motives and unscrupulous reporting of evidence were exposed and made infamous by the process of the trial, an outcome, I presume, which could be considered, on its face, as likely unintended by Irving, though Hitchens earlier in the essay suggested a certain self-destructiveness in Irving’s penchant for offenses and provocations.

My point, though, is that there is something wrong with the “talented” writer, if we have to diagram his damn sentences, to figure out what he’s saying, and that something wrong might, reasonably in this case, be considered a moral obtuseness, however disguised (or highlighted, ymmv) as highmindedness and excessive narcissistic self-regard.

119

Bruce Wilder 12.19.11 at 7:34 pm

@120

As far as asserting that Hitchens seemed to be defending the value of a strong point of view, supported by a biased (beyond the point of false) reporting of facts, I was basing that on the theme of a good part of the main body of the essay, which consists not of a review of the books he was nominally supposed to review, but a recounting of Hitchens’ personal encounters with Irving, Hitchens’ appreciative reading of a (self-published) Irving book, and some name-dropping of polemicists, Stalinists and Tories, among well-known British historians.

120

Bill Benzon 12.19.11 at 10:05 pm

I never paid all that much attention to Hitchens. I’m sure a read some of his things in Slate and a few other things. And I’ve read a few things that got linked in various obits and such, including the Agent Orange piece up there in #14. My first reaction was, “hey! this is pretty good.” But then I read various criticisms of it in this thread and have decided, not so good.

Oh yes, the man has writing chops to burn. But he really didn’t need to open the piece as a contest between his pen and a photograph, nor did he really need to tell us about his very rare blood type, some of which he donated. Overall there is too much about how his sensibility is offended by what he sees, as though his sensibility should matter to his readers.

And Rich is right about the he asserts his judgment as evidence of the connection between Agent Orange and genetic damage. Given that there is, and has been for a long time, epidemiological agreement on that point, for Hitchens to ignore that and insist on certifying the connection himself is to give way too much importance to his judgment, implicitly asserting that it counts for more than institutionalized science.

In music criticism there’s talk about the value of technical virtuosity. For certain musical styles, for certain pieces, it’s necessary. But virtuosity alone, however impressive, isn’t sufficient for first-rate music-making. The virtuosity has to be tethered to a deep understanding of music itself. If it’s tethered only to the performer’s desire to achieve an impressive effect, the music is shallow. I’m thinking that Hitchens’ considerable prose skills were mostly tethered to his desire to make an impressive effect.

121

Harold 12.19.11 at 10:14 pm

When my daughter was in music school I befriended some of the parents — a nice couple — taught at a Catholic college — except members of OPUS DEI — so I gathered, and fans of Bill Kristol. This was the nineties. They went on and on about how great Christopher Hitchens was, how handsome, youthful, and charming, the wife said. He was going around to right wing groups trashing Clinton for a fee, I guess. That was when I realized something deeply wrong with the guy. I don’t agree with him about Mother Teresa, who as a friend of mine said, was probably one of the better things to come out of Albania, Hitchens notwithstanding.

122

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.19.11 at 11:24 pm

Evans estimated that he and his graduate students invested close to 20 man-years to showing that Irving was a liar

But why is it so important to show that Irving is a liar; is it some form of the “someone is WRONG on the internet” syndrome? It’s seems like a waste of time. Can’t one simply ignore Irving, and write the truth about Dresden, and the death camps, and all other things?

123

cian 12.19.11 at 11:32 pm

But why is it so important to show that Irving is a liar; is it some form of the “someone is WRONG on the internet” syndrome?

Because Irving’s stuff was widely cited by professional historians, for one.

124

cian 12.19.11 at 11:33 pm

I assume that Wilder’s view of Irving’s scholarship is correct and Hitchens’s view has been shown to be wrong, but that seems to be the only real conflict between them.

Hitchen’s view was shown to be wrong in the sodding book he was supposed to be reviewing. Yet more evidence that Hitchens was a skimmer, rather than a reader, I guess.

125

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.19.11 at 11:36 pm

…in fact, I think it’s quite obvious why Hitchens is going this. He doesn’t like cults, be it the cult of Mother Teresa, or princess Di, or The Holocaust. Where he sees a cult, especially a mainstream cult, he wants to assault it, and assault savagely. That’s, I think, understandable (hey, he is a contrarian after all), and kind of useful.

126

cian 12.19.11 at 11:37 pm

This:
My point, though, is that there is something wrong with the “talented” writer, if we have to diagram his damn sentences, to figure out what he’s saying, and that something wrong might, reasonably in this case, be considered a moral obtuseness, however disguised (or highlighted, ymmv) as highmindedness and excessive narcissistic self-regard.

and this:

I’m thinking that Hitchens’ considerable prose skills were mostly tethered to his desire to make an impressive effect.

seem to sum up most of the problems with the man – well other than the obvious.

127

cian 12.19.11 at 11:40 pm

Watson you wrote this about the Irving case:
Bruce, being wrong is not a crime. Would you hazard an opinion on any subject if error exposed you to prosecution?

Which shows that you clearly didn’t know what the case was about (Irving having brought the prosecution). When Bruce enlightened you, you then posted:

Bruce, I don’t need a lecture from you about what a libel suit in England entails.

Like I said, you clearly did. And I’ll add myself to the list of people who have no idea what what your subsequent point was supposed to be. At least Hitchens was good at contrarianism. You’re…not.

128

Harold 12.20.11 at 12:02 am

Hitchens liked to read and he could be funny, at least when younger.

129

DW 12.20.11 at 3:09 am

@128

He liked the cult of the neo-cons just fine, so his contrarian streak had its limits. And his support of David Irving was not a profile in courage. It was knee jerk contrarian defense of a formerly respected historian proven to be a thorough going fraud. Hitchens just liked showing how daring and iconoclastic he was. Irving was never censored. Hitchens liked to pretend otherwise but respectable publishers didn’t want to print Irving’s books because they were crap, not because of some cult of the Holocaust.

130

Bruce Wilder 12.20.11 at 5:16 am

Henri Vieuxtemps @ 125: “why is it so important to show that Irving is a liar?”

No, it was not some form of, “someone is wrong on the internet”; it was a libel action in the English High Court, to stop British publication of a book, by an American Deborah Lipstadt, in which Irving was labeled a holocaust denier and Hitler apologist, who distorted and misrepresented evidence to support his point of view. Under British law, the defendant must prove the substantial truth of such allegations to win a libel defense claiming justification. It was immediately important to prove Irving a liar, to put a limit on attempts to use libel law to censor critics of holocaust deniers.

There are broader issues, as well, such as the question of where the resources come from, and go toward, in any controversy. Where’s the quality control? Who does it? Who pays for it?

131

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.20.11 at 7:16 am

And his support of David Irving was not a profile in courage.

I’m not sure what it has to do with courage, really. It’s a routine, a niche in the trade. As long as a lot of people get righteously angry – mission accomplished. Sort of like what Howard Stern does. Maybe you and I would need courage to do this sort of thing, but not everybody is like that.

132

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.20.11 at 8:38 am

Bruce,
but that is my question: why is it important to label Irving a holocaust denier and Hitler apologist?

Here’s how I see it:

You could write: ‘Mr. Irving says there were 100K dead in Dresden, but our research shows there were only 20K.’

Or you could write: ‘Mr. Irving says there were 100K dead in Dresden, our research shows there were only 20K, and Mr. Irving is a Hitler apologist.’

If you write the first one, you (presumably) write the truth about the event, and there is no lawsuit, end of story, everybody’s happy.

If you write the second one, you write the truth about the event, and you accuse someone of being a Hitler apologist. Naturally you have to go to court, but not because you wrote the truth about Dresden. Surely, you had it coming, you picked the fight, no reason to complain.

133

DW 12.20.11 at 1:27 pm

@135

Why was it important to label Irving a holocaust denier and Hitler apologist? Because he was a holocaust denier and Hitler apologist whose work was a fraud despite which he was still taken seriously as a historian. It was not a case of “‘Mr. Irving says there were 100K dead in Dresden, but our research shows there were only 20K.” but “‘Mr. Irving says there were 100K dead in Dresden, but our research shows there were only 20K and oh by the way Irving knowingly got the numbers wrong.” Add into that support for Holocaust denial and you’ve got a strong case that Irving is a Hitler apologist.

Incidentally, Howard Stern’s an entertainer – he’s never been sold as a serious political thinker. If you want to argue that Hitchens was a brilliant performance artist and we should admired him for that, be my guest. But that’s not what his eulogists are saying.

134

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.20.11 at 3:36 pm

I don’t think Hitchens was a particularly brilliant performance artist, but he definitely had a very specific, distinct shtick. And without understanding it, I don’t think it’s possible to analyze his leaps and bounds.

With Irving, yes, “taken seriously as a historian” does sound like a sufficient reason for confrontation. Still, I wonder if he could be discredited simply on the basis of being wrong on facts, rather than his motivations.

135

Substance McGravitas 12.20.11 at 3:49 pm

Henri, see Bruce Wilder up the thread:

Truth is hard work, and harder still under determined and ruthless assault. Evans estimated that he and his graduate students invested close to 20 man-years to showing that Irving was a liar—and had always been a liar, throughout his career, from his first book, on the bombing of Dresden.

The point was that Irving is not just a Nazi apologist but that he plays with the history to make Nazis look better in what were taken to be straight historical works and not pro-Nazi polemics. So yes, he could have been discredited on the basis of being wrong on facts, but it took people noticing his craziness to drive that process.

136

cian 12.20.11 at 7:13 pm

With Irving, yes, “taken seriously as a historian” does sound like a sufficient reason for confrontation. Still, I wonder if he could be discredited simply on the basis of being wrong on facts, rather than his motivations.

Well in part that happened in the libel trial. When someone’s suing you, you throw what you have. And in Irving’s case it was rather easy to prove that he was an anti-semite who LURVED the Fuhrer. But I do think there’s an important distinction between incompetent historian, and hack historian who’s trying to rehabilitate the Nazis. Especially when hack historian has helped shape much of the understanding of the Nazis (for example – it was his research that formed Kurt Vonnegut’s understanding fo the fire bombing).

137

cian 12.20.11 at 7:16 pm

Or you could write: ‘Mr. Irving says there were 100K dead in Dresden, our research shows there were only 20K, and Mr. Irving is a Hitler apologist.’

It was more complicated. Irving had deliberately distorted, misrepresented and lied about the evidence to make his case. Irpstadt pointed this out, Irving sued.

That Irving was completely disgusting and disreputable was abundantly clear when Hitching’s wrote that article, with its strange almost defence.

138

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.20.11 at 8:20 pm

Sorry, Cian, but I don’t think you understand what the piece is about. As Hitchens says: “It would be tempting to summarize this as a near morality tale, in which the truth emerges as the stainless winner over bigotry and falsification. However, the conflict is not conducted in quite such hygienic conditions.” There are biases, myths, and misrepresentations all over the place, and a lot of it in the mainstream culture too. He’s saying, as I read him: if you want to go through all these troubles to (yes, deservingly) ruin this one guy, you may want to look more closely into the motives of others, including those on the opposite side.

139

cian 12.20.11 at 9:03 pm

Sorry, Cian, but I don’t think you understand what the piece is about.

Henri, if this debate has demonstrated anything, its that nobody quite understands what this piece is about. And I’m including Hitchens in that.

He’s saying, as I read him: if you want to go through all these troubles to (yes, deservingly) ruin this one guy, you may want to look more closely into the motives of others, including those on the opposite side.

Henri, here’s the thing. Irving ruined himself. He brought the case, and it destroyed him. The motives that he’s impuning were defense against a pretty nasty libel suit. The book was written, quite reasonably, to expose the fact that Irving (who had a repuation at the time as a serious and respectable scholar who was cited quite widely – if one with some dubious sympathies and politics) was making stuff up and distorting evidence. I’m really not seeing what’s wrong with that. Particularly when this is coming from the man who wrote the book about Mother Teresa…

At the end of the law suit he was exposed as a bully, an anti-semite, a Nazi and a fraud. His repuation was destroyed largely by the law-suit. He did it to himself. Hitchens seems to be oblivious to this rather obvious and fundamental point – or he’s doing his best to obscure it.

So maybe I don’t understand Hitchen’s point, but then given that Hitchen’s point seems to rely upon a (deliberate?) misreading of what happened, is it any surprise? The only way you can read the article in the way that apparently Hitchens wants us to, is to completely distort the facts of the situation. Was that Hitchens intent? who knows? Did hitchens simply not know the facts of the case? Well its possible, but it doesn’t say much for his journalistic skills if true. Is he a hack phoning it in, or just seeking controversy where he can find it? Perhaps.

An alternate reading is that Irving was a good drinking buddy, and this is influencing Hitchens. Particularly as the defendant in the case was, you know, a woman.

140

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.20.11 at 9:31 pm

I dunno, the main drift of the piece seems fine to me.

The piece is not well written, but clearly he is not defending Irving. And so, to you, the story and the lesson of it is that someone named Irving was exposed as a bully, an anti-semite, a Nazi and a fraud. That’s fine. That’s definitely a part of the story.

But to him exposing Irving is a side show, and his big lesson is that “those entering the arena be transparent as regards motive and scrupulous as regards evidence.” And that means: everybody entering this arena, a highly, highly politicized one. The fact that this unremarkable point turns out to be, in this case, so controversial is, I think, a testament to its value.

141

Bruce Baugh 12.20.11 at 10:16 pm

Henri, the reason there’s controversy is that he’s accusing Lipstadt and Penguin of being opaque as regards motive and/or unscrupulous as regards evidence – or at least he surely has nothing good to say about the motives and evidence. But if you read the trial, you’ll find the defense put on an amazing case. You could just about teach a course on historiography just using the transcript and citations. Someone who relies on Hitchens’ piece wouldn’t know that the defense was anchored in exactly the values he professes. Which means that the first failing in motive and evidence is Irving’s, and the second is Hitchens’.

142

js. 12.20.11 at 10:23 pm

liberal @114:

Cheers for the link. That piece is brilliant; hadn’t seen it.

143

cian 12.20.11 at 11:16 pm

But to him exposing Irving is a side show, and his big lesson is that “those entering the arena be transparent as regards motive and scrupulous as regards evidence.”

What possible relevance does it have to this particular case? Surely by bringing it up, he’s implying that Lipstadt’s motive was opaque and that she acted unscupulously. Given that she didn’t, and that piece is written so oddly that some people on this thread have assumed that Irving was sued by Lipstadt, what possible purpose is served by bringing it up in this way.

144

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.21.11 at 3:38 am

Bruce, Cian, the way I read it, his ‘motives and evidence’ statement is not directed at anyone from the defense at the trial, but rather at the general environment, political and cultural; at those “intentionalists” for example:

Differences of opinion between these two schools ["functionalists" and "intentionalists"], and discrepancies in the evidence, have recently permitted the emergence of something that is more of a phenomenon than a “school,” by which I mean the movement of “Holocaust denial” or (because it consists of two contrasting tendencies) “Holocaust revisionism.”

Exaggerations, bogus eyewitness testimony:

…”Binjamin Wilkomirski,” whose book, “Fragments,” was a whole-cloth fabrication by someone who had spent the entire war in Switzerland. This did not prevent him from receiving several awards and the warm endorsement of Goldhagen.

Forget the trial, he’s blaming this environment for the emergence of the “revisionism” phenomenon in the first place. I’m surprised it’s not obvious.

145

Substance McGravitas 12.21.11 at 3:53 am

Forget the trial, he’s blaming this environment for the emergence of the “revisionism” phenomenon in the first place.

So gosh darn it, we all do it and who’s to say who’s the real enemy of truth here? Some crazy Nazi or this sweet little kitten?

146

hellblazer 12.21.11 at 4:13 am

that piece is written so oddly that some people on this thread have assumed that Irving was sued by Lipstadt

To be fair, wasn’t one of those people Watson? for whose non sequiturs and propensity to, erm, jump to conclusions, no writer can really be held responsible.

147

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.21.11 at 8:07 am

No, not all of us do it, but those of us who do do it, like Daniel Goldhagen for example, prosper, get to teach at Harvard, never be called “completely disgusting and disreputable”, and 20 man-years will not be spent to unmask them and reveal their dark secrets. Because their tendentiousness, their bias is culturally acceptable.

148

hellblazer 12.21.11 at 9:14 am

Henri, isn’t the point that those 20 man-years had to be spent because Irving sued Lipstadt? You seem insistent that it was a vendetta on the part of Evans et al; if it was, then Irving brought it on himself, not just by the lying – and in case Watson is still being boneheaded on this point, it’s the *mendacity* which is “sinful”, not the error – but by launching the lawsuit.

As for Goldhagen, well I am neither knowledgeable nor energetic enough to engage you on your preoccupations. I’ll just say that as far as I know he didn’t sue the New Yorker or Clive James when Hitler’s Willing Executioners got a bit of a pasting there.

149

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.21.11 at 9:36 am

I’m not saying, let alone insisting, that it was a vendetta, nor do I, as far as I’m aware, have any preoccupations. What I am saying is that Hitchens in that piece takes a wider view than any specifics of that particular trial, and that he has a point. Does it make me a Nazi symp? Very well then.

150

Tim Wilkinson 12.21.11 at 11:53 am

Hitchens couldn’t argue his way out of a paper bag and tended to be sketchy about things like facts, concepts, etc. (His bro’s the same in that regard, I found out recently when I debated against him.)

Meanwhile Irving was (1) probably bang to rights on most of the accusations made against him – though it seems he may have thought he wasn’t in at least some cases; (2) a weirdo who so far as I’ve bothered to work out seems to have been a Hitler fan and probably to have adopted or at least been happy to indulge genuinely antisemitic (oh yes, and fascist, germanic supremacist) attitudes; (3) an idiotic client.

But all that aside and considering the wider situation in the round, HV is surely right about the double standard: Goldhagen et al., despite being much more obviously dishonest than Irving (who with good legal advice from the beginning could probably have got a result), never faced the same kind of career-ending character assassination as Irving.

Also the various Holocaust denial laws are unconscionable and counterproductive, and the general climate of hysteria is so unfavourable to anyone who might – in the course of honest historical investigation – depart from an approved narrative that just about the only people who are willing to do so are (a) crazies, nazis etc with nothing to lose, (b) impeccably credentialled Israeli Jewish historians writing if not in Hebrew then in diplomatese. Which suits the nutjobs of the ADL just fine.

I even wonder – very idly, though – whether this unhealthy climate might have contributed to driving him into more and more extreme positions and attitudes. Not to excuse him for anything, pof course.

(I had a quick look online, and the extent of my research was to find and skim some of this site which looks like a handy resource though its own editorial line is probably skewed – e.g., for a small example, is Emory University really recognized as one of the 20 leading universities in the United States? I don’t remember ever having heard of it, which may of course be my fault.)

151

Antonio Conselheiro 12.21.11 at 12:53 pm

Goldhagen has been pretty stiffly critiqued, hasn’t he? I haven’t followed his case, but based on what has come my way my impression has been his work should be read with special caution. He hasn’t been demolished, but he hasn’t sued anyone for libel either.

152

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.21.11 at 2:00 pm

Here’s Finkelstein’s piece on Goldhagen: http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=2&ar=2
Seems very similar to what I read (last night, and for the first time) about details of the Irving trial.
What, suing for libel and losing is the only way to end one’s career in this field?

153

Antonio Conselheiro 12.21.11 at 2:09 pm

Academia has made itself invulnerable to reality. If you think history is bad, look at economics. I’ve been talking about the fatal flaws of economics forever, but since 2007 even some mainstream economists are admitting that there’s a grave problem. But the ones who think that have no leverage against the complacent economists who see no problem at all.

154

Bruce Baugh 12.21.11 at 2:10 pm

Henri, if I were to say a little about anything you’ve written or done in public and then go on and on about the problems of pedophiles and pimps in public life without ever suggesting that you are neither a pedophile nor a pimp, you’d have grounds for complaint. Accusation via generalization is a real thing, and it was shitty of Hitchens to do it to Lipstadt and her defense team.

155

Alex 12.21.11 at 2:40 pm

It is surprising how many people, even at the time, seemed not to grasp that Irving was the plaintiff in the case. It wasn’t just Hitchens, although he should have known better.

(Also, Richard Evans’s book about being one of Lipstadt’s expert witnesses is pretty good.

Disclaimer: I played a tiny role in Irving’s downfall. At the time I was a student of Peter Longerich’s at Royal Holloway. One day, while the author of the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust was preparing to give evidence, he stuck his head tortoiselike out of his office as I was passing and asked me to borrow various works of reference as he’d fallen out with Bedford Library again. I got him the books. Later, I had to pay the fines.)

156

cian 12.21.11 at 3:22 pm

Forget the trial, he’s blaming this environment for the emergence of the “revisionism” phenomenon in the first place. I’m surprised it’s not obvious.

Well that’s because, in this article at least, Hitchens is a shitty writer. There are multiple interpretations of what he’s written. You found that one obvious, because it fit your own particular interests.

I would agree that multiple people’s careers should be destroyed on the basis of the books they’ve written (Goldhagen would be high on that list). However, Irvings destruction occurred because of the law suit that he brought.

I even wonder – very idly, though – whether this unhealthy climate might have contributed to driving him into more and more extreme positions and attitudes.

Irving? Nah, his own preoccupations did that. A self-made fascist – very English.

157

Gareth Rees 12.21.11 at 3:59 pm

Charles Gray’s judgement in Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt is online at BAILII and is essential reading to understand the case.

(I tried linking to it, but all my attempts to do so disappeared into moderation. Perhaps some kind moderator could fish one of my comments out of the moderation pool and replace this one.)

158

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.21.11 at 4:34 pm

Well, if we must get personal (this being already the second hint at my supposed obsessions and possibly dark motives), then I’d say you guys in this exchange (Bruce Baugh excluded, I think) sound a lot like you have a particular interest in belittling and deriding Hitchens and everything he ever wrote, as some groupthink exercise or something.

I’m not a big fan, and obviously his anti-islamofascism period was extremely ridiculous, and sure, the guy was a bit of a clown, but hey, let’s not get carried away beyond the confines of reason, as Hitchens might say.

159

Tom Bach 12.21.11 at 4:35 pm

Nothing that Goldhagen did rises to what Irving did; there is a reader on Goldhagen including pro and con discussions of the book. All, or nearly all, the documents from Irving’s attempt to ruin Lipstadt for vigorously disagreeing with his methods, conclusions, and etc are available here:
http://www.hdot.org/en/trial

160

Antonio Conselheiro 12.21.11 at 4:37 pm

The problem with Hitchens is that he’s not someone who it’s fitting to be nice to. He took pains to ensure that his world was purged of niceness.

161

Bruce Baugh 12.21.11 at 4:45 pm

I think cian has a great point about the badness of Hitchens’ prose when it comes to figuring out what the heck he meant by some of these passages. A polemicist should at least be pointing people in the direction she wants them to go.

162

Bruce Baugh 12.21.11 at 4:50 pm

Henri, I think I do have an interest in belittling and marginalizing everyone who toadied up for the Iraq war. It’s not like there’ll ever be justice for the ongoing tragedy, at least that I can say, and no prospect of removing their stranglehold on official discourse. But I can and like to carve out a bit of personal space in which true things remain true. People who make themselves monsters should be ashamed. Failing that, those of us who are not monsters should revile them.

I think the same thing is true of sexist toads, and of people who make a living as bullies. I want these to be seen as bad things, which you shouldn’t want to do or be, and which if you find yourself doing them, you’d want to stop it right away and start doing otherwise.

There’s certainly no comparison between Hitchens’ audience and that of other bullies like Rush Limbaugh. But my corner of the world isn’t filled with people who have a lot of nice things to say about Rush’s style or content, while it does have plenty of people who do that about Hitchens. So I tend the corner where I live.

163

marcel 12.21.11 at 5:09 pm

The research finding reported at the link below is apropos (if it holds up):

http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/alcoholfuture.htm

This might well explain his stance on the Iraq war.[1]

[1] And G-d knows what else: atheism, perhaps (not that there’s anything wrong with that)?[2]

[2] Technically speaking, Hitchens had a position on religious belief not atheism, but the parenthetical comment in the last fn is more amusing when paired with atheism rather than religion/religious belief.

164

LFC 12.21.11 at 5:14 pm

liberal @114:
I recall Alexander Cockburn mocking Hitchens many, many years ago, and was waiting for him to comment on H’s passing. He’s done so.

Skimming through the rest of that column (i.e., the part after the Hitchens part), I find Cockburn dumping incoherently on the EU, comparing it to the Roman Empire and suggesting that it is totalitarian. Anyone who thinks the EU is a ‘totalitarian’ ‘empire’, even factoring in very recent developments, is, quite frankly, out of his mind. (and oh yes, one of the reasons he doesn’t like the euro is that he misses the picture of the “devious” Cardinal Richelieu on French francs)

Sorry for the OT. Back to Hitchens, David Irving, and whatever.

165

Tim Wilkinson 12.21.11 at 5:20 pm

cian – Irving’s destruction occurred because of the law suit that he brought.

Yes, in the event, but I think it might have been overdetermined by the Lipstadt book – if it did, as it arguably did, make sufficiently strong allegations about dishonesty and (it seems) abuse of archive material as to end a historian’s career unless rebutted by an independent tribunal of fact, e.g. a court.

And in fact, had Irving stuck to some of the more tractable claims relating specifically to those issues, he might (holding other things rather artifically equal) have won his case, since without recourse to S5 of the Defamation Act it would have been much harder to argue that he had no reputation to lose from the unproven allegations.

4.7 As I have already mentioned, the burden of proving the defence of justification rests upon the publishers. Defamatory words are presumed under English law to be untrue. It is not incumbent on defendants to prove the truth of every detail of the defamatory words published: what has to be proved is the substantial truth of the defamatory imputations published about the claimant. As it is sometimes expressed, what must be proved is the truth of the sting of the defamatory charges made.29
4.8 Section 5 of the Defamation Act, 1952 provides:
Justification. In an action for libel … in respect of words containing two or more distinct charges against the [claimant], a defence of justification shall not fail by reason only that the truth of every charge is not proved if the words not proved to be true do not materially injure the [claimant's] reputation having regard to the truth of the remaining charges.
It may accordingly be necessary, in a case like the present where a number of defamatory imputations are the subject of complaint, to consider whether such imputations (if any) as the Defendants have failed to prove to be true materially injure the reputation of the claimant in the light of those imputations against him which have been proved to be true.

The judge found the following defamatory claims to be in need of justification:

i.
that Irving is an apologist for and partisan of Hitler, who has resorted to the distortion of evidence; the manipulation and skewing of documents; the misrepresentation of data and the application of double standards to the evidence, in order to serve his own purpose of exonerating Hitler and portraying him as sympathetic towards the Jews;
ii.
that Irving is one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial, who has on numerous occasions denied that the Nazis embarked upon the deliberate planned extermination of Jews and has alleged that it is a Jewish deception that gas chambers were used by the Nazis at Auschwitz as a means of carrying out such extermination;
iii.
that Irving, in denying that the Holocaust happened, has misstated evidence; misquoted sources; falsified statistics; misconstrued information and bent historical evidence so that it conforms to his neo-fascist political agenda and ideological beliefs;
iv.
that Irving has allied himself with representatives of a variety of extremist and anti-semitic groups and individuals and on one occasion agreed to participate in a conference at which representatives of terrorist organisations were due to speak;
v.
that Irving, in breach of an agreement which he had made and without permission, removed and transported abroad certain microfiches of Goebbels’s diaries, thereby exposing them to a real risk of damage.
vi.
that Irving is discredited as an historian.

The judgement is lbyrinthine, and it’s hard (if you’re as ergophobic as me anyway) to track down each of these to see how the judgement found on the issue of justification.

There’s a relatively mild criticism:

Findings in relation to the instances of Irving’s historiography cited by the Defendants
13.51 For the reasons which I have given, I find that in most of the instances which they cite the Defendants’ criticisms are justified. In those instances it is my conclusion that, judged objectively, Irving treated the historical evidence in a manner which fell far short of the standard to be expected of a conscientious historian. Irving in those respects misrepresented and distorted the evidence which was available to him

But the stuff about mishandling of archive material was found unjustified, as was at least one serious instance of falsification.

This would of course still leave the small matters of generic poor historical judgement, grotesque bias, etc to be determined among historians and in public discourse – which ought to be enough to discredit him as a historian, one supposes, without any need for embellished allegations. Whether abhorrent views and attitudes should come into it as a separate item in the accounts is another matter.

Not that any of this has much to do with whatever it was that Hitchens wrote on the topic, I don’t suppose.

166

Tim Wilkinson 12.21.11 at 5:28 pm

BTW, 2 things:

In the above the italics came out ok without being reopened after each para/newline/carraige return/thingy – they only get closed off automatically by the WordPress code if you have two para marks in a row.

2. The burden of proof thing is less important than it might seem – it only really comes into play if one side decides its case is so good it doesn’t even need to be argued. Which is not going to happen much. THe rest of the time, you have two sides making their case and by thetime they’ve finished, the issue of who started out with the burden of proof has largely become irrelevant.

167

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.21.11 at 6:29 pm

Well that’s because, in this article at least, Hitchens is a shitty writer. There are multiple interpretations of what he’s written.

It’s not that difficult to interpret, if you want to. First, he gives the context: Irving is prejudiced (obviously), but so are most of his opponents (not at the trial, but in the ‘intellectual arena’); fabrications, exaggerations, and misinterpretations are common and rampant.

He describes the trial.

He addresses all the points that people here accuse him of not addressing: that Irving brought it upon himself (“He forced the confrontation himself, by putting his own work on trial in attempting to sue the work of another.“, page 2). That the defense team was brilliant (“Evans was quite devastating” and so on, page 5). That the defense won hands down (“It’s not too much to say that by the end of the trial, the core evidence for the Holocaust had been tested and found to be solid.“)

And then he says that, considering the context, squashing one bigot and falcificator who happens to be fighting against the current is not exactly a great victory for the truth and decency.

Now, I agree: he could be clearer. But perhaps he was, in fact, lacking courage, or perhaps a more straight version of the same couldn’t be published in LA Times or, for that matter, anywhere else.

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Bruce Wilder 12.21.11 at 6:37 pm

“The burden of proof thing is less important than it might seem . . . “

Oh, rubbish. It is as important as it is, because it combines with a very high standard of proof. The defense in this case supposedly spent close on £2 million, and still didn’t satisfy the judge across the board, against a defendant, who was a buffoon, and who couldn’t even afford an attorney.

169

Substance McGravitas 12.21.11 at 6:40 pm

Academia has made itself invulnerable to reality. If you think history is bad, look at economics.

As far as I know neither Goldhagen nor Irving are a part of academia.

170

cian 12.21.11 at 6:45 pm

(this being already the second hint at my supposed obsessions and possibly dark motives

If you mean me, you were the one that said you had a particular interest. I neither said, nor hinted, that there was anything dark about your motives. You are massively overreaching here. I happen to agree with you about the holocaust industry – and I’m an admirer of Finkelstein who was far braver (and to be fair nastier) than Hitchens ever was.

The reason I think this article was a bad article, is because it is confusing and confused. None of us can agree about what it means. Even your interpretation has shifted over the course of this argument.

I have no problem with prose being difficult when its dealing with difficult concepts – but this is not one of those cases.

It’s not that difficult to interpret, if you want to.

Well no it isn’t. The problem is which interpretation do you choose. Not helped that his argument seems to veer all over the place throughout his article.

And then he says that, considering the context, squashing one bigot and falcificator who happens to be fighting against the current is not exactly a great victory for the truth and decency.

Except it wasn’t true. Irving was pretty influential. And if that’s all he’s saying, he’s gone an awfully long way round to get there, and in the process rather minimising the details of the case (and having included a strange autobiographical interlude).

If he’d said, great, but what about these other people. Fine. If he’d actually stated ways in which Irpstadt was dubious, rather than simply insuinuating it rather slyly. Sure, fair enough. But he doesn’t do any of that.

But perhaps he was, in fact, lacking courage, or perhaps a more straight version of the same couldn’t be published in LA Times or, for that matter, anywhere else.

Then why write it.

171

Adrian Kelleher 12.21.11 at 6:51 pm

Goldhagen’s reputation took a dive after Finkelstein’s demolition job on him, however Finkelstein contested the cohesiveness of Goldhagen’s thesis and validity of his interpretative statements rather than his employment of factual information, IIRC.

OTOH, Finkelstein wouldn’t bother with Irving who long ago crossed the line into outright fraud. It’s not correct to say that Irving’s reputation was solid before the Lipstadt trial — it had been zero for decades prior to that.

The Dresden raid was always controversial; the British blamed the Soviets for instigating it and there was controversy and infighting within the UK about its execution, the US claimed the UK roped it into it, and after the war the Soviets denied ever having had anything to do with it. Irving showed a minimum of shrewdness in inserting himself into this pre-existing controversy, however subsequent targets such as the commander of the convoy PQ-17 were ill-chosen and by the 90s his dishonesty had long since been exposed.

Much media discussion of the holocaust tends to run on rails. This is always the way when journalists lacking specialist knowledge tackle difficult subjects — they default to a defensive mode of reportage. However I don’t think it’s fair to characterise academic discussion of the holocaust as being somehow constrained.

Finkelstein took on Goldhagen because he was inept, not because of disagreement on fundamental historical data. Omer Bartov gave Finkelstein’s “The Holocaust Industry” both barrels in a blistering review, yet Finkelstein didn’t get into a general feud with Bartov like he did with Goldhagen or Alan Dershowitz. The reason is that Bartov, though no less emphatic in his conclusions, is simply a much more scrupulous scholar than either of the other two. Bartov is dismissive of Goldhagen also.

These disputes can be compared with the receptions received by the books of James Bacque and Giles MacDonogh on the postwar occupation of Germany. Bacque got taken apart for sensationalism and abuse of statistics. MacDonogh is just as sharp yet he hasn’t suffered anything like the excoriation that might be expected if tone and emphasis were the deciding factor.

There’s a reason why these debates were still ongoing in the 90s and 2000s…

After the war, three German commanders — Von Leeb, Guderian and [A.N. Other] — were recorded in captivity in bugged conversations concocting a plan to basically blame everything on Hitler, who was conveniently dead, and create a moral firewall between the Nazis and the SS on one hand and the Wehrmacht on the other. The general unreliability of Soviet history greatly facilitated this effort, and the German generals’ (incomplete and usually seriously inaccurate) accounts of the Eastern front came to dominate the Western understanding of the Nazi-Soviet war, a topic from which the holocaust cannot be disentangled.

A picture emerged that was technically and morally skewed. For example grossly erroneous wartime German intelligence estimates took on the mantle of fact and things like the intimate organisational links between the Einsatzgruppen and the field armies were covered up.

This picture could not be fully corrected until the Soviet archives were opened to scrutiny after the dissolution of the USSR. This is a major reason that holocaust scholarship continued to be so active into the 1990s/2000s. This may have conveyed an impression of ever-expanding claims arising mysteriously at ever-greater distances from when the events actually took place, but there was sound reason for the new studies: new information.

172

Antonio Conselheiro 12.21.11 at 7:06 pm

172: Most of the history profession is academically employed, as Goldhagen was until 8 years ago, And free-lance historians are often credentialed, and Goldhagen (but not Irving) was. The general question was raised about what a historian has to do to get disbarred, and what kind of checking the profession did when not ideologically or legally driven, as it also was on the colonial gun ownership debate.

173

Substance McGravitas 12.21.11 at 7:13 pm

An interesting mention of Goldhagen in the AHA’s minutes:

http://www.historians.org/info/annualreports/1998/businessmeeting4.cfm

“(5) Conference Group for Central European History’s (CGCEH) statement on the use of legal means to settle academic disputes: Members discussed CGCEH’s request that the AHA add its name as a signatory to its statement condemning recourse to legal action in scholarly disputes. The statement arose from legal action threatened by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen following an unfavorable review of his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Ruth Bettina Birn in Historiographical Review. Ms. Phillips stated that the Professional Division could examine the issue at its fall meeting and make a recommendation to Council. Mr. Katz stated that the Research Division would advise against signing the CGCEH statement.”

174

Substance McGravitas 12.21.11 at 7:15 pm

And I am wrong about Goldhagen anyway:

Goldhagen is an affiliate of Harvard’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.

175

Tim Wilkinson 12.21.11 at 7:17 pm

Bruce Wilder @171 – [The burden of proof] is as important as it is, because it combines with a very high standard of proof.

No, that’s just standards of proof being important, which they are regardless of where the burden of proof starts off. But in a civil action, the standard is supposed to be >0.5 (kind of) for either side.

The defense in this case supposedly spent close on £2 million, and still didn’t satisfy the judge across the board

The reason so much effort was required (if it was) to establish those points that were established would seem to reflect the relatively slim basis of the accusations made against Irving at the time they were made.

Similarly, the fact that some of the allegations were not proved appears to be due to the fact that they were untrue or anyway unwarranted, a possibility you seem to disregard.

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Tim Wilkinson 12.21.11 at 7:18 pm

relatively slim basis – that is, in terms of evidence already gathered by Lipstadt before publishing.

177

Tom Bach 12.21.11 at 8:30 pm

David Abraham was run out, some say without cause, for allegedly sloppy work.

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Bruce Wilder 12.21.11 at 8:44 pm

“in a civil action, the standard is supposed to be >0.5 (kind of) for either side”

You’re thinking about common torts, where, with regard to some issues, the “preponderance of evidence” becomes a standard of proof in decision of controversy.

British libel law requires that the defendant prove (that’s burden of proof) the substantial truth of the allegation (standard of proof), in a defense of justification, even where the plantiff is a public figure. The contrast with American libel law is stark: the burden of proof is reversed, and the standard of proof resting on the defendant is higher in Britain. (In the U.S., a defendant in a libel action can concede the falsity of the allegation and still win, because the plantiff must also show malice.)

“The reason so much effort was required (if it was) to establish those points that were established would seem to reflect the relatively slim basis of the accusations made against Irving at the time they were made.”

That’s precisely an example of the kind of false reasoning that makes a case like this so pernicious. There’s no balance of effort, between truth and lies. Lies are cheap. Truth is expensive.

179

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.21.11 at 9:24 pm

Sorry Cian, I misunderstood.

Then why write it.

In this case, I believe, because you’re a professional journo. Simple. People want to read your stuff, they get the paper with Target ads inside, they buy from Target, Target shells out some of its markup to the paper, the paper pays you, you pay your rent. So, to sell those ads you need to be interesting and controversial, but not so controversial that the editor gets in trouble and old people start calling and threatening to cancel their subscription. So, you find your shtick and you stick to it for as long as it works, and then you find another one.

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Tim Wilkinson 12.21.11 at 9:33 pm

common torts like defamation?

the substantial truth of the allegation is the matter to be proved, not the standard of proof. It means something less than the total, literal truth of the allegation. The proposition to be proved is a bit different in the US as you say.

There’s no balance of effort, between truth and lies – well, when one is trying to establish them before a court, truth ought to be a bit easier really. Remember that the truth of the holocaust was not really supposed to be on trial – all the defamatory allegations were about Irving, going well beyond mere inaccuracy – see #168.

181

cian 12.21.11 at 11:23 pm

In this case, I believe, because you’re a professional journo.

I think we’re in total agreement here :)

182

politicalfootball 12.22.11 at 12:34 am

Hitchens’ take on Irving was disposed of entirely, at some length, by Bruce Wilder in 91. What objection has been brought up that wasn’t effectively answered in 91? Henri, particularly, seem to be defending a piece that Hitchens didn’t write – or alternatively suggesting that it’s okay to write nonsense. In 173, cian discusses the piece that Hitchens didn’t write:

If he’d said, great, but what about these other people. Fine. If he’d actually stated ways in which Irpstadt was dubious, rather than simply insinuating it rather slyly. Sure, fair enough. But he doesn’t do any of that.

It’s always a tipoff when someone defends a piece of writing by saying that it’s incoherent. Here’s Henri in 170:

perhaps he was, in fact, lacking courage, or perhaps a more straight version of the same couldn’t be published in LA Times or, for that matter, anywhere else.

And here’s Henri defending Hitchens’ piece on the grounds that, well, a guy’s gotta make a living:

In this case, I believe, because you’re a professional journo. Simple. People want to read your stuff, they get the paper with Target ads inside, they buy from Target, Target shells out some of its markup to the paper, the paper pays you, you pay your rent. So, to sell those ads you need to be interesting and controversial, but not so controversial that the editor gets in trouble and old people start calling and threatening to cancel their subscription. So, you find your shtick and you stick to it for as long as it works, and then you find another one.

Well, yes. Hitchens is a whore who prospered by writing bullshit, as he did in the Irving case. Why are we arguing about this?

183

Bruce Wilder 12.22.11 at 12:36 am

I apologize for misusing the term, standard of proof.

@182 In this case, I believe, because you’re a professional journo. . . . you find your shtick and you stick to it for as long as it works, and then you find another one.

That’s the economics of it, of course. The journo, to make a decent living, has to produce a remarkable volume of writing, something many eulogies for Hitchens note that he could do. Some of his more credulous fans seem to think he had some integrity, too; the evidence on that seems much thinner than the evidence for his narcissism.

184

Tim Wilkinson 12.22.11 at 2:53 am

I apologize for misusing the term, standard of proof.

(Is this where one says ‘Rubbish?’) Look I’m not really that bothered, I found it interesting to look into the case, and you were apparently wrong (not just misusing a term) about libel, on the internet.

The standard of proof is important, but symmetric. The nature of what is to be proved/kept unproven is important. The burden of proof is hardly important at all.

re: The reason so much effort was required (if it was) to establish those points that were established would seem to reflect the relatively slim basis of the accusations made against Irving at the time they were made

In a US court there might be additional facts at issue, but that doesn’t affect the way that this issue plays out. (Anyway, while I’m not sure how malice works in this US context, I’d be surprised if it weren’t pretty well establishable here – by the same token I don’t think the UK defence of fair comment – which would protect a good faith book review, for example – was raised.)

A case ends up – because of the balance of probabilities standard – being a contest to see whether the case for p or the case for not-p is stronger, regardless of the distribution of the initial burden of proof. I expect one could devise a Coase-like theorem about it – though here we’re presupposing a trial, so transaction costs don’t really come into it, I don’t think.

Maybe it looks t othe casual observer as though a higher standard was being required of the defence in this case, but recall (again) that they were not just establishing various facts about the holocaust – they were using the obviousness of those facts to found an inference that Irving was (must have been) deliberately bending the truth, etc. So they had to estabish obviousness, not as a matter of the standard of proof, but of the proposition to be proved. And I should think they would have to do functionally the same thing in the US.

But I’m having to repeat myself a bit now, and having originally given the sentence or two relating to this matter second billing after the way italics work, I’ll probably leave it there, if BW can refrain from further attempts at a Parthian shot.

185

Tim Wilkinson 12.22.11 at 3:12 am

Also,

The -reason- fact so much effort was required (if it was) to establish those points that were established would seem to reflect the relatively slim basis of the accusations made against Irving at the time they were made

isn’t an inference, as #181 suggests (‘false reasoning’), but an observation.

186

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.22.11 at 10:17 am

Hitchens is a whore who prospered by writing bullshit, as he did in the Irving case. Why are we arguing about this?

Well, there are whores, and then there are whores. Most whores we don’t even notice; this one obviously had a je ne sais quoi.

187

Michael Bérubé 12.22.11 at 4:19 pm

Tim Wilkinson @ 112: Michael Berubé @12 – ironic, given remarks on the Iraq/Libya thread, that the article chosen in defence of every frivolous faux-lefty’s favourite churner out of diverting verbiage should be one that is still fighting the Vietnam War

I think I can clear up your confusion by suggesting that it makes sense to talk about the Vietnam War in an article about the use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. But no, for the record, I wasn’t “defending” Hitchens; you are finding in my comment a bunch of words that no one else can see. I thought it was an essay worth discussing, and I like much of Rich’s discussion of it.

188

Rich Puchalsky 12.22.11 at 4:55 pm

To be fair to Hitchens, I guess, I haven’t checked whether the U.S. VA classed certain kinds of birth defects as caused by Agent Orange as of 2006, when his piece was written, as opposed to now. The epidemiological paper that I cited was published in 2006, but I can’t imagine that if he’d talked with an actual epidemiologist back then the person wouldn’t have pointed out at least the basics. Our knowledge hasn’t improved that much in 5 years.

189

Robert 12.22.11 at 5:25 pm

“As Mother Teresa was a believer, hating her still is great.”

I thought the Mother Teresa hit piece was one of the weakest things ever to issue from Hitchens’ pen — and the guy was not without misses to begin with.

It was illogical. It was ill-supported. It was petty, mean-spirited, and reeked of bigotry — and the latter, the presence of such obviously and pervasive resentment and bigotry in an avowed atheist, of course undermines one of the key talking points evangelical atheists like Hitchens use to argue we should do away with religion. They (I suppose I should say we, as I am an atheist) severely undermine that case when they go out of their way to demonstrate that people are capable of being small-mined, bitter, hateful and biased without the slightest encouragement of invisible superheroes from space.

190

bianca steele 12.22.11 at 5:51 pm

Tim Wilkinson: The burden of proof is hardly important at all. . . . In a US court there might be additional facts at issue, but that doesn’t affect the way that this issue plays out. . . . A case ends up – because of the balance of probabilities standard – being a contest to see whether the case for p or the case for not-p is stronger, regardless of the distribution of the initial burden of proof.

Wait, what? What? The purpose of a court case is not to find Truth. (For that matter, the purpose of a journalistic piece (or series of journalistic pieces), polemical, personal, or informative, is not to find Truth.) You seem to be reifying some ideal-typical account of the scientific method.

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Tim Wilkinson 12.22.11 at 6:21 pm

The purpose of a court case is not to find Truth.

No, I suppose you might say (in the case of a civil suit) it’s more like a contest to see whether the case for p or the case for not-p is stronger

192

bianca steele 12.22.11 at 8:34 pm

“Is it true that the case for p is stronger or is it true that the case for not-p is stronger?”?

Sorry for cluttering up the information superhighway with obvious inferences.

193

Tim Wilkinson 12.22.11 at 8:37 pm

yeah but if you do that I just disq

194

Tim Wilkinson 12.22.11 at 8:37 pm

…uote it again

195

Tim Wilkinson 12.22.11 at 8:40 pm

Didn’t mean to post that – what I was getting at was that you can add ‘it is true that’ to all sorts of things. It doesn’t necessarily signify anything very much.

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