Hitchensian drift

by Chris Bertram on December 29, 2003

History News Network has “a discussion”:http://hnn.us/articles/1882.html of whether Christopher Hitchens has sought to misrepresent his own reaction to 9/11 in the light of his subsequent political evolution (via “Au Currant”:http://www.jackieblogs.com/ ). When the Guardian article Sean Wilenz descibes as “particularly sickening” (available “here”:http://www.ucolick.org/~de/WTChit/Hitchens.html ) is re-read, I don’t think Hitchens has anything to be ashamed of or that there’s great inconsistency between what he said then and the positions he has adopted since. What has changed appreciably is Hitchens’s attitude to both the Bush administration and the Iraq war. On my old blog Junius, “I linked on March 2 2002”:http://junius.blogspot.com/2002_03_03_junius_archive.html to a “Hitchens article in the Daily Mirror”:http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/allnews/page.cfm?objectid=11650232&method=full (subtitle: “On the peril of America’s muddled, ignorant hawks”) in which he attacks the Bush administration’s “axis of evil” approach and refers to “an overconfident superpower whose leaders appear to be making up foreign policy as they go along.” Hitchens has every right to change his mind about the issues of the day. What some of us find unsettling is the ease with which he is today able to denounce as lacking in moral intelligence people who agree with positions he himself spouted as recently as the spring of 2002.



derrida derider 12.29.03 at 11:11 am

Once a Trot, always a Trot ….


fyreflye 12.29.03 at 3:33 pm

Perhaps the real problem is that anyone still bothers to read Hitchens. Whether he’s right or wrong, his only real purpose is to attract attention to himself.


Zizka 12.29.03 at 8:47 pm

Hitchens and others have portrayed their post 9/11 bandwagonning opportunism as a brave wiullingness to confront The Left. These questions of opportunism aside, we’re not talking here about an inconsistency between his old and his new positions, but about an inconsistency between two of his reports about what he felt at the time of the attack. He basically has claimed that he felt immediately what he really felt only later.

His second (present) position is a horrifying one. It reminds me exactly of Bertrand Russell’s reports about the glee many Brits felt at the beginning of WWI.

“Everything I love is going to fight everything I hate” (paraphrase). What a classically pathological statement of projection. No matter how much someone hates Islamic fundamentalism, only to a very sick puppy can it possibly be “everything I hate”.

They’re not the New York Yankees, for Christ’s sake.


msg 12.30.03 at 4:38 am

I was raised to be on the side of the underdog, all things being equal, or equally unknown. Time and experience have shown me though, that the little guy in a streetfight isn’t always the victim.
I’m convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is not the little guy anymore. And that the confusion most of us encounter when trying to see through the fog and obfuscation makes it impossible to even speak of these things rationally.
The charge of anti-semitism is no longer an accusation of racism or bigotry alone, it’s become a kind of plague vectoring, a sentencing pre-judgement for an irredeemable crime. I know that, I’m not courting the reaction, but I won’t be quiet out of fear either.
The list of Jews in prominent positions in the current US administration’s assault on Iraq is pretty long.
Bremer is a Jew. Tommy Franks is a Jew. Hitchens’ almost inexplicable volte-face may be because he’s a Jew.
It’s meaningful. It’s scary. And it’s impossible to talk about publicly without great risk.
The historical significance of Iraq, or Babylon, to the Jewish people is immense. So big that its echoes carried all the way out to Bob Marley and other Rastafarians.
I thought at the time the museum in Baghdad was ransacked last March, and the number of things gone missing kept shifting around, that that might have been a factor, and was locked out of another comments page for saying so.
I still think it’s true, but something far more unsettling is happening now. It’s not at all clear to me what it is, but it seems very dangerous, acutely dangerous.
My saying that is automatically proof of anti-semitism, or foolhardiness; but I’m not at all uncertain about my open-mindedness about race and ethnicity on the one hand, and I have almost nothing left to lose now on the other.
Hitchens has his own reasons for becoming so publicly pro-Israel. And so violently anti-Islamic.
I envy him that clear choice.
There doesn’t seem to be a name for the group I would single out for antipathy here. It certainly isn’t Jews as a race or ethnic group, but within that ancient sorrowing band, hiding there, behind the unimpeachable shield of the horrors of pogrom and Holocaust.
Too much that doesn’t fit, that makes no clear sense, begins to fit all too well into that template.
No one has a workable solution to the present conflict in the Middle East, of which Iraq is only one theater.
But there are nuclear weapons there, and enough hatred being created every day to destroy us all.


Chris Bertram 12.30.03 at 8:18 am

MSG: To be honest, I can’t make enough sense of your comments to work out whether I’d qualify them as anti-semitic or not. But on a point of fact, Hitchens remains extremely hostile to the current Israeli government and to the occupation of Palestinian land. So your comment appears to based on at least one false premise.


msg 12.30.03 at 10:16 am

Thanks for the example of brevity and clarity.
One of the reasons what I’m saying is so opaque is the subject itself is opaque to me. Something’s going on there, I don’t have the poli-sci background or the geo-political connections to get any deeper or wider views about what it is than the bits and pieces of Internet news.
But what I hope may show through to someone who reads what I wrote without the automatic reflexes of political correctness is I am not being ‘anti-semitic’.
Hitchens does seem to think of Sharon and Co. as thuggish, and he professes admiration for Yitzhak Rabin as do I, as I discovered when I actually sought out and read some of his recent stuff.
So that was a serious error, and I retract that statement, or whatever one does here besides just subside in cringeing shame.
I don’t fully understand why American media is so universally pro-Israeli. I believe still that the American presence in Iraq has more to do with Israel than it does oil.
But I now see Hitchens as a more complex individual, and regret very much having shot myself in the foot there.


Jason 12.30.03 at 2:37 pm

Re Hitchens’s ease in denouncing his former self: This is a pretty common character trait, I think. I have several friends, for instance, who, when they go on a diet, force everyone else around them to go on a diet, too. Their logic is always that otherwise we’re not being supportive, that we’re tempting them into backsliding, etc.

The other example that comes to mind is smokers who have recently quit and who, as a partial consequence, become bitter and meanspirited about anyone else who smokes. (“If I can’t enjoy myself, then I’ll be damned if you can . . . “).


Joshua Scholar 01.01.04 at 9:29 pm

Hitchens has always been willing to attack anyone at the drop of a hat, his personal friends, Mother Theresa etc. Now we’ve found out that he’s also so even handed that he’s willing to praise his “enemies” without reserve.

You have to love that kind of honesty.

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