Slugger O'Toole

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Christopher Hitchens, 1949 – 2011

Fri 16 December 2011, 10:22am

Writer Christopher Hitchens has died aged 62.

He was as contrary as he was brilliant.

Here is a brief In Memoriam from Vanity Fair (his outlet of choice since 1992) and, here, a longer tribute from his friend Christopher Buckley Stanley in The New Yorker.

Better, perhaps, though to post one of Hitchens’ own writings in tribute.  I’ll make no apology for choosing one of his most remarked upon pieces of recent years — his 2008 Vanity Fair article on waterboarding, Believe Me, It’s Torture, after having volunteered to personally experience the infamous interrogation technique.

This was a brave article, not just in the physical or mental sense of someone voluntarily undergoing torture (albeit one that was within his power to stop),  but because of Hitchens’ willingness to challenge the orthodox US view of waterboarding as morally acceptable. All the braver, perhaps, too as Hitchens had previously endorsed the war on Iraq and Bush as President.

Christopher Hitchens, 1949 – 2011

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Comments (36)

  1. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    The Preening Popinjay has passed on: http://christopherhitchenswatch.blogspot.com/

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  2. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    I only ever saw and wrote about him once: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ec9e95a2-1286-11d9-863e-00000e2511c8.html#axzz1ggyUmlJA

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  3. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    Great writer, love him or loathe him, and I guess everybody felt both feelings for him at some time in his career.

    Still his equally gifted brother Peter is still around to give us some of that Hitchens’ magic.

    RIP

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  4. Charlie Sheens PR guru (profile) says:

    You could argue with what he said sometimes, but not with how he said it!

    I always enjoyed his debate with that Fox News weasel Sean Hannity about God.

    I think he drove them mad sometimes, they thought he was their guy based on his unflinching support for the iraq war and yet, he tore them a new one on everything else.

    Could be very funny too.

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  5. Jimmy Sands (profile) says:

    “his equally gifted brother Peter”

    You had to spoil it.

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  6. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    Oh come on Jimmy, just because you don’t agree with him, just as I often disagreed with Christopher, doesn’t mean that Peter is not also a superb polemicist.

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  7. Jimmy Sands (profile) says:

    I don’t think you could seriously bracket them together, no.

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  8. Greenflag (profile) says:

    Sad news indeed – Brave man . And yes ‘waterboarding was, is and will forever be ‘torture’.

    The War in Iraq is over -Estimates of total deaths range from 100,000 to 500,000 with some 5,000 Americans included in that figure . Some 15,000 are to remain and a huge number of ‘contractors’.

    Orwell’s newspeak comes to mind and the fat lady has yet to sing .

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  9. Greenflag (profile) says:

    @ Charlie Sheen PR guru,

    ‘I think he drove them (Fox News /Hannity etc) , mad’

    Nope -they were that already ;( He just drew them out to show what idiots they were, are and will remain .

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  10. RepublicanStones (profile) says:

    Great man, great loss. I think its possible to be both a fan and an opponent of the same man. Very few people engender such feeling, but Hitchen’s was, IMO, one such man. I’ll be raising a glass to him tonight, remembering his great wit, his seemingly endless intellect and faculty for conjuring a suitable quote for any occasion. He was not a man without faults (who is?) his War on Terror persona left many of his admirers cold. His poorly timed criticisms against his close friend Edward Said, did likewise. But i don’t think it fair to dwell on what we didn’t like about him, considering the entirety of the man.

    For those of you who haven’t, i highly recommend his memoir Hitch-22, a fascinating read. Twas my book of choice for my honeymoon, and herself got annoyed at how much time my nose spent in it. Think i’ll now go and pull it of the shelf for a second helping.

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  11. Into the west (profile) black spot says:

    flashman
    have to go with jimmy sands on this one.
    At the risk of playing the man
    Chris was the real deal , travelled, experienced, dangerous.
    His brother Peter never left school, his intellect is a sham.

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  12. wild turkey (profile) says:

    Patrick

    Hitch was one of my main men…. and personally i hope Christopher and Gore Vidal will be able to sort out their differences at a later date. I digress.

    I am at best vaguely acquainted with the body of Hitchens journalism and essays.

    Question: what, if anything did he have to write about Norn Ironland, the conflict, the peace process etc etc etc.

    i have been unable to find anything. any useful pointers greatly appreciated

    WT

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  13. wild turkey (profile) says:

    RS

    Hitch-22. great book

    Suggestion? take a second honeymoon

    regards

    WT

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  14. He was irritating……..which means that I liked him…….well mostly.
    The point about a really good journalist (in the sense of a person who “journals”) is that they should not write from a view that is “left” or “right”. Because real life is not like that.

    The best journalists are not those that we like or dislike…..but rather those that we …..like “sometimes”

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  15. Alias (profile) says:

    His publishing market was mostly comprised of left-wingers and anti-religious fanatics. The good thing about those classes of readers from a publisher’s point of view is that they’ll (religiously) buy any old twaddle that reaffirms their prejudices.

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  16. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    Wild Turkey
    Just what we already knew:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2007/04/these_men_are_peacemakers.html

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  17. Manfarang (profile) says:

    I first heard his name from the journal International Socialism So much for revolutionary students!
    In middle age they become good beneficaries of capitalism
    In those days I was very anti-clerical but those left wing students weren’t interested in anything to do with the the church.. It seems he stole my thunder.

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  18. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    “Chris was the real deal , travelled, experienced, dangerous.
    His brother Peter never left school, his intellect is a sham.”

    How absurd, Peter Hitchens has travelled more places, and reported on more countries than you’ll have hot dinners, he lived in Moscow before the fall of Communism and only recently reported from Egypt on the deteriorating situation there. Peter Hitchens does not report from the lobby of five star hotels but by actually going into the street and meeting real people.

    You are only denigrating him because you don’t like his politics, be more self aware.

    However this is not the place, remember Peter is in bereavement at the moment.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2075133/Christopher-Hitchens-death-In-Memoriam-courageous-sibling-Peter-Hitchens.html

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  19. Alias (profile) says:

    Thanks for posting that link, Harry. There is a touch of Kane and Abel to the saga that Peter mercifully avoided in his unsentimental but moving way. Since he posted something by T.S. Eliot, here’s a little more:

    Eyes that last I saw in tears
    Through division
    Here in death’s dream kingdom
    The golden vision reappears
    I see the eyes but not the tears
    This is my affliction

    This is my affliction
    Eyes I shall not see again
    Eyes of decision
    Eyes I shall not see unless
    At the door of death’s other kingdom
    Where, as in this,
    The eyes outlast a little while
    A little while outlast the tears
    And hold us in derision.

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  20. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    ITW,

    Do you ever weigh anything before you say it?

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  21. The yokel (profile) says:

    [email protected]. thanks for posting the link.
    Sums the last 40 years up in all its futility. I particularly liked the phrase ‘ brutish Calvinist street thug’ referring to Paisley.

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  22. Henry94 (profile) says:

    I always found him a pleasure to read even when I didn’t agree with him. It was like watching Maradona playing against your team.

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  23. Into the west (profile) black spot says:

    Mick,
    I did actually reflect afterwards that his brother would be grieving.
    But was drawn into it reading sands vs flashman.
    please accept my apologies

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  24. Edmund Burke (profile) says:

    Patrick, the New Yorker tribute was penned by Christopher Buckley, the son of the late William F. Buckley.

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  25. RepublicanStones (profile) says:

    Apologies for my oar, but whilst Peter was not without his victories over his elder sibling (opposition to Iraq war for instance) i think he may himself admit that Christopher was something else. Those of us on the anti-war left should give thanks for the likes of Hitch, because as Henry alludes to, having such formidable opponents only improves you in the long run.

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  26. toker (profile) says:

    It is true no matter that both brothers are great polemic commentators. The article that Flashman posted is excellent and very true he was certainly very brave and never held back in what he said even though you may not have agreed with what he said .

    One element that showed his fearlessness was his response when Diana died (by the way he made a documentary on this called the mourning after its online) Where he compared it with mass hysteria.

    I never understood his siding with right wing republicans many of whom were religious extremists over Ken Starrs false witch hunt of Bill Clinton over lewinsky I really never understood his motive is seemed to be a promotional stunt which lacked any principle.

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  27. Jimmy Sands (profile) says:

    On the contrary he is probably the only participant in the Lewinsky farrago to display any integrity.

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  28. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    “I never understood his siding with right wing republicans many of whom were religious extremists over Ken Starrs false witch hunt of Bill Clinton over lewinsky”

    Perhaps because as a man of principal he was disgusted by the serial sexual exploitation of vulnerable women by a powerful sleazy aging lothario and felt he needed to speak out?

    BTW in what way were the allegations that Clinton had an affair and tried to cover it up false?

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  29. Mickhall (profile) says:

    Hitchens welcomed the election of Thatcher and supported the Falklands War; and went on to support and become propagandist in chief for George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq war and occupation.

    A towering intellect my arse. Just a middle class lefty turncoat with a sharpened pen who became a willing tool of reaction.

    more here

    http://www.organizedrage.com/2011/12/obituary-peter-hitchens-one-time-lefty.html

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  30. Alias (profile) says:

    Mick, I think you’re falling into the trap of regarding journalists as being as important as they think they are when you blame the deaths of “500,000 or more Iraqis” on Chistopher (not Peter as in the Freudian wishful thinking in your url). Only journalists regard the death of another journalist as being a significant public event.

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  31. Jimmy Sands (profile) says:

    Mick,

    This malevolent screed is tagged “peter hitchens one time lefty”. And that’s probably the high point.

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  32. Mickhall (profile) says:

    Alias

    I did not blame that number of deaths on Hitchens alone, what I wrote was this;

    “500,000 or more Iraqis had their lives stolen in that war and occupation.”

    One of the problems with MSM journalism is they often become cheer leaders for war, and despite a massive loss of life, they walk away scott free, only to repeat the same ‘mistake’ again.

    I might be wrong, but I cannot think of any western journalist being tried for inciting war crimes since Joseph Goebbels, hence if Cameron, Obama, whoever, decide to attack Iran, all those who howled the most in the media about the existence of Saddam’s WMDs, will repeat their ‘mistake’ all over again and without sanction.

    Jimmy

    If that is the only criticism you can offer you have lost your touch, having sunk into pettivile. If Hitchens had not become a cheer leader for the neo-cons his death would have passed without hardly a mentioned, beyond that is a group of intellectual groupies who made him their hero because they also caved into Capital on Iraq.

    He certainly would not have led Sky and Fox News. Nor incidentally would he have spent his last days in a very expensive private medical facility in Texas. Perhaps you can tell me, how did Hitchens manage to gain a visa to enter the USA in the latter stage of the cold war, when he had no job to go to, and a history of communist political activity.

    Most folk with his prominent left wing political background would have been put on the next flight home.

    Reaction always knows how to pick out its next mark.

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  33. Alias (profile) says:

    Mick, I really can’t disagree with what you said there in general. I’m just a bit uneasy about singling one journalist out for criticism when the government strategy of using the media to engineer support for the war involved a rather large number of them to relay the relevant propaganda and is organised at the executive and editorial level.

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  34. Alias (profile) says:

    By the way, I think the left always had this rather dismal practice of making icons out of rather flawed characters in order to engage in a bogus appeal to authority by way of proffering their mantras, so there are a lot of old hens strutting around like peacocks.

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  35. Jimmy Sands (profile) says:

    “If that is the only criticism you can offer you have lost your touch,”

    If it were then you may have a point.

    The (anonymous) rant describes him has a neo-conservative, a term he would himself never have accepted, on the sole basis (unless you can identify another) that he supported the overthrow of a genocidal tyrant who it appears is still unaccountably mourned by those who continue (inaccurately in my view) to describe themselves as progressives. You (and the nameless hatchet man) are the reactionaries here, not him.

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  36. Mickhall (profile) says:

    Jimmy

    He not only support Saddam’s overthrow, he actively supported the neo conservative government which brought it about. Your being dishonest when you claim progressives morne Saddam’s overthrow.

    What many of us objected to is the way this occurred as it was always going to lead to disaster as many of us pointed out even before the war began. The only people who could legally overthrow Saddam were the Iraqi people.

    Before the Arab Awakening supporters of Bush and Blair and their gofers like Hitchens could get away with claiming the Iraqi people were incapable of this so we had to do it for them. Not any more, as Gary Younge wrote:

    “The Iraq war started out with many parents but has ended its days an orphan, tarnishing the reputations of those who launched it and the useful idiots who gave them intellectual cover. Nobody has been held accountable; few accept responsibility.”

    If as you claim, and I reject, Hitchens was not a neo-con supporter, then we must conclude he was a useful idiot, which does not say much for his so called ‘towering intellect.’

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