December 27, 2003


Mr. Hitchens's Revisionism of His Own History (Sean Wilentz, History News Network)

In his interview with the right-wing web magazine, re-posted on HNN, Christopher Hitchens claims that his moment of truth about Islamic fascism arrived in 1989, and that by September 11, 2001, he had fully come to "[t]he realization that American power could and should be used for the defense of pluralism." He then says that after seeing the World Trade Center atrocities on television, he was exhilarated: "Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose."

Mr. Hitchens was thinking nothing of the sort, and he knows it. He was thinking, in standard, knee-jerk anti-American terms, that America was largely to blame for bringing on the attacks. And he said so, in a particularly sickening column for the Guardian published on September 13, 2001:

With cellphones still bleeping piteously from under the rubble, it probably seems indecent to most people to ask if the United States has ever done anything to attract such awful hatred. Indeed, the very thought, for the present, is taboo. Some senators and congressmen have spoken of the loathing felt by certain unnamed and sinister elements for the freedom and prosperity of America, as if it were only natural that such a happy and successful country should inspire envy and jealousy. But that is the limit of permissible thought.

In general, the motive and character of the perpetrators is shrouded by rhetoric about their "cowardice" and their "shadowy" character, almost as if they had not volunteered to immolate themselves in the broadest of broad blue daylight. On the campus where I am writing this, there are a few students and professors willing to venture points about United States foreign policy. But they do so very guardedly, and it would sound like profane apologetics if transmitted live. So the analytical moment, if there is to be one, has been indefinitely postponed.

We're firmly of the opinion that when Leftists fight among themselves we all win, and Mr. Hitchens's inability to disavow his pro-Soviet past makes him an at best problematic ally--he deserves most of what he gets. But the essay cited here, while terribly silly, is somewhat less cut and dried than the quoted passage suggest, So is this war? (Christopher Hitchens, September 13, 2001, The Guardian). And Mr. Hitchens did come around to a full-throated, even if self-contradictory, defense of Western civilization pretty quickly,   Let's not get too liberal (Christopher Hitchens, September 21, 2001, The Guardian). More importantly, the grudge Mr. Wilentz carries has little to do, in all likelihood, with his sensibilities being offended on September 13th, and much to do with with his sycophantic defense of Bill Clinton, who Mr. Hitchens always took great relish in fileting. That being the probable source of the current brawl, we've a rooting interest in Mr. Hitchens.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 27, 2003 8:02 AM

Hitchens is a talented writer,but never trust him.

Posted by: M. at December 27, 2003 10:21 AM

I agree with M, but this is a bad rap. Before September, 2001 was out, Hitchens had written "Damn the Doves!" in the Spectator and was backing the invasion of Afghanistan to the hilt.

Posted by: Peter B at December 27, 2003 10:34 AM

Yeah, Wilentz is off his rocker on his one, but Hitchens is that most frenzied of fanatics: the irreligious fanatic, and thus, as M. says, untrustworthy.

Posted by: Paul Cella at December 27, 2003 10:59 AM

It is difficult for me not to rejoice when a lefty seems to "come around." It is especially true when it's an articulate one published nationally. It's fun to list the names of those who have changed their minds to my liberal friends.
While it is at least possible that one's political leanings can be attributed to temperament and might be viewed as fixed, I am always influenced by Alec Guiness' last line in "Bridge Over The River Kwai" when he looked around him and said "My God, what have I done?" At that moment, he saw everything differently.
I once voted Democratic because of my naivete and the Dems' smooth lingo, but I have changed, never to return. Maybe I'll give Hitch the benefit of the doubt until he proves untrustworthy. We can use allies in this political fight. The incoherence of the Democratic candidates is wonderful, but I hate to count my chickens before they hatch. I just see it as a portent when lefties convert their rhetoric to our type in public. Jerry

Posted by: jerry dodge at December 27, 2003 6:23 PM

Ahh, but what did Hitchens say during the Cold War? Or, in a different struggle, before the Gulf War in 1990? Quite, well, somewhat, defensive over Saddam's invasion of Kuwait with the usual bromides then given - Kuwait was stealing Iraq's oil, it was always a province of Iraq, the colonial powers had artificially created it, et cetera.

We certainly welcome Hitchens to the cause. But let's make sure we have one eye on the battle and another on some of those in the foxholes with us.

But, boy he can sure write and is extremely well-read.

Afterword: re above - see his horrible essay for the Nation about a decade ago on Leo Strauss and the Straussians. Real stinkeroo.


Posted by: SteveMG at December 27, 2003 8:34 PM