Saturday, December 17, 2011

Death of a scribbler

I am uncomfortable with the gloating which the death of Christopher Hitchens has caused here on the Upper Left Side of Blogenheim. Here is the entirety of yesterday's post by esteemed blogger Roger Ailes:

Ashes to ashes. Smoking will do that you.

Christopher Hitchens has died. He is not survived by thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed by America's occupation of Iraq.

Hitchens was a great, and sometimes misguided, polemicist, but he wasn't a politician or a bureaucrat. It seems a tad excessive to hold him responsible for a war, any war. Me, I'd save this kind of snark for the death of, say, Dick Cheney. They have to run out of heart valves eventually.

It's always sad when people of ability lend their talents to evil, but Hitchens was not Albert Speer or even Leni Riefenstahl. He worked for no government or political campaign. And exactly how much power did his gorgeous prose have? His hatchet job on Mother Teresa is unlikely to carry much weight when canonization time rolls around. (Or has it? I'm not clear on her position in the vast Catholic pantheon.) His irrational hatred of Bill Clinton, apparently dating from some Oxford slight, did not prevent Clinton from winning, and serving, two full terms. His equally bizarre fondness for George Bush was hardly decisive, except insofar as it led him to take up US citizenship and presumably vote for the shit. Unlike Judith Miller and other hacks, his cheerleading for the Iraq war did not carry the imprint of the Newspaper of Record. True, he never acknowledge being "misled" about the war, but few polemicists ever admit their mistakes, or Sunday morning television would be nothing but cartoons. (An exception was David Brock, who retracted his smear of Anita Hill, but so what? Professor Hill's onetime harasser continues to sit on the Supreme Court despite his manifest lack of ability and integrity, and there isn't even a movement to impeach him.)

God Is Not Great is a terrific read, and I can see it influencing a bright adolescent on the brink of agnosticism, but it hasn't exactly emptied the houses of worship. It adds little to Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian except to extend the argument: a sort of Why I Am Not a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Mormon Or Anything Else. (Actually, Hitchens decided some years ago that he was a Jew, or as he might say, echoing Jonathan Miller, "Not a Jew -- just Jew-ish," but he didn't let it slow him down. It turned out that the things he admired about Jews -- love of argument, secular culture -- where precisely the things he admired in himself. I couldn't help thinking of Moliere's Monsieur Jourdain, who is delighted to learn he has been effortlessly speaking prose his entire life.)

Nobody is right all the time -- George Orwell was apoplectic on the subject of men who wore sandals, for some reason -- and everybody has the right to be an ass without being blamed for appalling and unnecessary wars. Had Hitchens with his last breath dictated an apology for the WMD fantasy, the shambles we have opted to call "Iraq sovereignty" would be just as bloody. Millions would be without electricity or reliable water, Sunnis and Shiites would still blow up each other's shrines, the dead would still be dead. If a man goes from being the scourge of Henry Kissinger to flattering the likes of Paul Wolfowitz in exchange for drinks and meals, let us not rejoice in his death. Let us rather pass over his errors with silence and pity, and be grateful for the lovely writing he did.



Blogger john_burke100 said...

I really object to Ailes' crack about smoking, which reminds me of a gloating comment I saw in the Nation about the appropriateness of Roy Cohn's having died of AIDS. Cohn was a monster, Hitchens not (though he defended some monstrous acts and ideas), but in any case diseases are not punishment, viruses and cancers are not instruments of divine or karmic justice, and everybody has to die of something, usually something fairly squalid. If Ailes is glad Hitchens is dead, let him take pleasure in the death without suggesting that it was somehow earned.

5:32 PM  

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