“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”
— E.M. Forster
— What I Believe and Other Essays
“…you magnificent bastard! I read your book!”
— George C. Scott
The only thing missing from Christopher Hitchens resume as a perfect cliché of the cliché of being a very specific type of Brit is that he did not so far we are aware, contract the pox.
That he never wrote a novel (a fact remarked upon by his friends, all novelists or poets or journalists) is of less interest and dare we say significance then the absence of a wound of Venus as it used to be called some centuries ago. Notwithstanding the anachronistic fact of living in an age, post penicillin, we mean to highlight the extent to which like the original trio on Top Gear, Hitchens was the perfect portrait of a perfectly British sort – a sort of anti-Colonel Blimp – a kind of off-the shelf tribal archetype – and yet so completely English that no other “type” would suffice. Thus in the same way that Serge Gainsbourg is a kind of quintessentially French example of being French, Hitchens could not be more of a type of Brit if someone had invented him.
Almost a romantic libertine and thus almost (but not brave enough to truly be) Byronic, plump, self-indulgent, nurtured by multiple feuds and broken allegiances, consumed by a certain febrile and often caustic wit and a sometimes well deployed charm, betrayed by a too quick temper and a bad habit of being lazy when deep effort was not only required but was a matter of intellectual dignity, he was in all other respects a perfect example of a most resplendent cliché of the sort found in Gillray cartoons suffering from gout or if Woodhouse had been born after the second war and attended Oxbridge and been a not quite leftist, he would have written a character named Christopher Chance based on his old chum, Hitch.
But as to the man himself: He completed the traditional (cliché ) trajectory of university radical who, upon his Road to Damascus loses his faith and decides, without evidence, that surely he has found his reason. Going from the left and specifically the Trotskyist left to the right of W and Cheney is a specific type of cliché. Long hair becomes either short or non-existent, or retreats from the forehead like a decimated heard, waists become ample and radicalism in support of revolution becomes dinner with establishment courtiers and small (ish) magazine articles become contracts for fat books that suck praise from the soda jerks of conservative media or worse, liberals.
And so on to his late Blue Period collapse into a twisted acolyte of conservative shock and awe which remains mysterious and can only be dismissed as a cliché if one believes only in the shallow justice of clichés.
Drunk as a British lord or something like that is an old chestnut seldom employed anymore as with the decline and slow evaporation of England as a world power one tends instead to think of their New World iteration – the master of the universe type so easy to ridicule that even hacks like the late Tom Wolfe could pin them to the wall- the coked up, psychotic Wall Street sadist who lacks the charm of a British libertine and if he was buggered at university has either suppressed the memory under a conveyor belt of underage Ukrainian whores, or has repressed it under a constant barrage of unfunny attempts at humor, involving hitting other men in the crotch while flogging bad stocks in exchange for toxic profits buried offshore, and a house in Connecticut.
That Hitchens made his fortune in America is yet another cliché within the nesting doll of still more clichés as England has become the country mouse to America’s city mouse, and like some 19th century bildungsroman, a man makes his reputation by making his name in the capitals of the empire – DC or New York. And while The City used to be a capital of Empire (an outpost of progress) Brexit has confirmed it as either dead or suicidal.
Hitchens of course had the advantage, such as it was, of speaking with an accent that suggests to certain Americans of limited experience, an especially keen type of intelligence, even if what he was saying was no more dull and witless than the tripe being spewed by the haircuts masquerading as journalists, on any number of chat shows or “news” programs.
But of course this was not just any British accent but an Oxbridge snarl full of rolls and plump demarcations, that allowed for lengthy digressions full of obscure (at least to the other panelists and most of their audience) references and doublebacks – a particular tactic of a type to which Hitchens belonged; educated not just at Oxbridge but in a specific manner that taught young men to verbally feint agreement, only to double back with a sly but devastating disagreement based on an assumed tone of absolute moral superiority, which itself was based on the assumption that, being from a small cloistered sect within the already narrow precincts of a small island, clinging unhappily if not petulantly to a larger continent, being British meant by definition that everyone else was obviously, inferior.
For an example consider that towards the end of his magisterial deconstruction of his friend Martin Amis’ too shallow assault on Stalin, (Lightness a Midnight) Hitchens makes use of the elegant pivot declaring that: “But I can’t quite write as if a major twentyith-century tragedy had been enacted to prove that I was correct in the first place. And I don’t say this because I wasn’t correct…”
Frankly there is something sadistically jesuitical in the elegance of the parsing; lawyerly in the equivocation, and ultimately pettifogging in the construction.
At its best it displays a sense that things are rarely linear, progressing from wrong to right or visa versa, and instead inhabit a sketchy middle ground of disturbed and disturbing vagaries and shadow. At its worst it contradicts every other moment when as lord high executioner, he brought forth judgement. Granted he was having words with a friend but there is something queasy making about the whole contraption, as it rests on a prevarication that hints at extolling one’s sanctimony at the expense of the dead, or at least being the Cheshire Cat’s grin fading away above a mountain of skulls. It is, shabby and all the more shabby because it’s constructed with finesse. And equally as bad, and thus a sin against both literary style and a sense of the moral, there is something almost precious in the “But I can’t quite…” as if he is right at the edge of stopping but winsome bad boy that he is, he must still cross the line which then creates the hidden fault lurking among the tall grass of the bullshit: namely that here Hitchens is both voyeur and actor hamming it up for the audience. Look at me, he says (pleads) have an elegant public spat by private means, with my very public friend. Aint we special. Oxbridge then, Oxbridge now, Oxbridge forever.
But from this perch Hitchens then employed the qualities of an ardent lover devoted and worshipful of his new love – America.
Going so far as to become a citizen, he ejected from rule Britannia, embraced the neo-con mantra and went to work for his new crush with all the passion of a man who having found his faith assumed, that by definition, he had lost his reason though he would be damned if he was not going to defend his overweight and porcine amore with all the gusto he could manage.
We don’t by the way, say all of this as someone who dislikes the late and sometimes dearly missed Hitch, rather as someone who wishes he were still spewing acid and ink on behalf of style if not actual reasonable arguments of some merit.
Hitchens was, even when wrong, which was far more often than most of his fans or critics seem to realize, still entertaining and on occasion, informative.
If for no other reason than to celebrate taking the time to construct an idea built upon an appreciation for the rules and potential of language, and to do so with a certain flair, even if it was employed in the defense of the ridiculous and the obscene, remains no small accomplishment.
And yet, a certain reckoning is in order if not overdue.
The fact is, that like a character from a British novel of say, the mid 20th century – think Greene or Durrell (perhaps Amis Pere?) – there is both something sad about Hitchens and something mysterious in his decline and transformation from bite the hand that feeds you contrarian, to suck the cock that betrays you court jester. One half expects to find him in a Graham Greene-esque novel, rumpled, drunk or hungover or both, sitting on the veranda somewhere tropical or amid the burnt out husk of empire in Asia, caught on the horns of a moral dilemma from which there is no escape, only resignation. That such characters were condemned by Hitchens as examples of what he insisted was Greene’s faulty imagination and defective moral compass, say more about the critic than they do about the subject.(1)
We mention Greene in particular because there is something downright odd in Hitchens assault on Greeneland and its proprietor that speaks, in part we guess, to as yet undisclosed deals in quiet rooms where men with connections to men who make things happen, must have occurred.
As discussed elsewhere Hitchens criticism of Greene is genuinely too clever by half but what truly matters is not that he was wrong about Greene (though he certainly was) rather that he was far too intelligent to think he was fooling anyone other than his new neo-con friends, who are about as literate as a well-used whore is chaste.
Rather than rehash his sophomore efforts to use Orwell as a cudgel with which he bashed Greene, we turn instead to a lazy and nasty piece from some years ago collected in, Arguably, in which Hitch snarls at the historian Robert Dallek (who deserves at least some venom) and his then recent biography of JFK, An Unfinished Life, but also takes the opportunity presented by the biography to spit poison at the entire Kennedy clan.
We hasten to add that we have nothing against venomous retorts per se, especially when the truth is that the target (JFK, RFK, et al) are deserving of it and more.
The problem here is not that Hitchens is wrong (though he is certainly not correct) but that in addition to those sins he enumerates, there are other things that are also true and that when lined up and examined create context. The result is then, for any honest and intellectually mature effort, a sense that less bile and more appreciation that anything was accomplished at all is worth even a little praise.
Case in point being that Hitchens is quick to take Dallek’s then fresh revelations about JFK’s drug use as a sign of moral failure and a half-wit’s intellectual capability – and we mean JFK not Dallek. Hitchens is dismissive of Dallek for saying that the drug use is worrisome yet seems to have had no ill effect on the man’s capabilities and he then adds that surely the record demonstrates that the drugs and the bullshit proved if not disasters then a sure sign of missing catastrophe by an inch. Thus in this version of the narrative Kennedy is more lucky than clever. This in turn is used as a launching pad for an assault on the usual suspects – the Kennedy’s mixing with and manipulation of the media and its Hollywood style shallowness (see Mailer’s Superman comes to the Supermarket) a lack of moral courage and a sense of boorish entitlement, etc.
But then there’s the issue of context. First, the fact is that Kennedy did not cave in to the demands of his Strangelovian advisors like Curtis Lemay or Allen Dulles or sadistic alcoholic thugs like William Harvey who all advocated dropping as many nukes as possible and believed that if all that remained were two Americans and one Bolshie then we (the good guys) were the victors. In fact the more realistic assessment is, had Kennedy done nothing else except get laid and avoid World War III, he would deserve praise and all the myth-making he has received.
To highlight just how close the world was to a radioactive gottdamerung consider for a spine chilling moment if you dare, what the world’s fate might have been had Nixon won in 1960 instead of Kennedy.
This in turn begs the question: must we then be ironically and ruefully thankful for the mobbed up votes in crooked Chicago, West Virginia and Texas?
The answer seemingly is yes, or as someone we once knew put it while discussing the systemic corruption of New York City: just imagine how bad things would be run if it wasn’t corrupt.
Which of course is not to say we are fans of the mafia and rigging elections. We are however fans of context and not cherry picking the details, no matter how elegantly you then cook the word pie.
Hitchens of course was too smart to be that stupid, and we suspect he simply was either hungover or certain that none of the people he was professionally in bed with were going to argue with him.
And here we return to his deconstruction of Amis where he points out that while one has every right, and every reason to condemn Stalin as a monster of truly epic stature, the trickster aspect of history makes an honest person ask what then if the revolution of 1905 had succeed in overthrowing the Czar? Would the First World War have occurred? Would it have played out differently? These are perfectly valid questions and Hitchens is correct to raise them but then what of his refusal to apply the same rigor elsewhere? That sort of inconsistency is the very sort of thing that in others would drive him to drink and drop acid-flecked paragraphs like journalistic napalm on the miscreants who dared defile the halls of logic, with their shabby attempts to sneak one passed the great gatekeeper of intellectual integrity.
But, and it is no small reason to pause, Kennedy’s drug use while of historical importance pales in comparison to a host of other presidents, and assorted pols including a certain George Washington.
What’s that you say, our George was high as a kite while being first?
Indeed because we know from extant letters and assorted remembrances that George used to frequent what were then called bawdy houses by which they meant whore houses and that he was subsequently treated for gumas.
What’s a guma?
Guma is medical Latin for a tumor thought to be the result of improper or unbalanced humors. Translated from the quackery of the 18th century a guma was a tumor caused by syphilis and was treated based on the best medical knowledge of the era. Namely, opium and mercury or if available, arsenic.
Why did George lose his teeth? Because he sat per his doctor’s advice, over heated tubs of mercury and inhaled the vapors, which among other things cause his teeth to fall out and addled his mind.
The mercury in case you were wondering (and even if you weren’t), was used because the “doctors” believed that the gumas would break up and flow would be restored because mercury, being the winged messenger of the gods, was in its vaporized form, likely to increase movement.
Of course George was not alone.
Thomas Jefferson grew opium at Monticello and while keepers of the flame might be inclined to say it was for scientific research, we have no trouble assuming that old Tom followed the doctor’s sage advice like everyone else and mixed it with whiskey, to make laudanum and drank it to soothe any number of things for which it was then prescribed – headaches, fevers, insomnia, etc, etc.
One could also point out that FDR was a drunk and a womanizer, whose family fortune was based on his grandfather having been an opium dealer in China, but what matters more is that one can easily anticipate the rebuttal being to highlight the arguably greater accomplishments of Roosevelt and Jefferson but while comparing presidential successes has its pleasures, the easiest and most effective retort is that Nixon was at least so far as we know, stone cold sober in the early 60s and had he been president in October of ’62 we have little doubt that the absence of drugs would have had as little to do with his igniting Armageddon as his being buzzed on a cocktail of narcotics would have to do with his being a psychopath. While it’s certainly true, or at least arguably certain, that drugs and drink and psychotic rants do not mix well, it is also true that Nixon didn’t need any help in being insane.
This of course is the problem with allowing spleen to take the place of objectivity.
That Kennedy was a gangster is irrefutable but what seems to confound and enrage his critics, is that he was a successful gangster (at least until Dallas) who avoided World War III and the same cannot be said for Nixon who quite likely would have gleefully cracked under the pressure, and ordered the invasion of Cuba.
For example, one could consult the Nixon tapes and listen (or read a transcript) of Tricky telling noted pacifist and Jazz poet Henry Kissinger that by god, if he has to he will drop a fat one on the North Vietnamese, and if anyone complains he’ll drop one on them as well.
Versus JFK in a meeting with the Joint Chiefs and his staring down the assorted psychopaths, who believed a little radiation gave you a healthy glow and made a man out of you.
It is also worth noting that Hitch in the business of settling scores, is not above riding Gore Vidal’s pitchfork and using the nasty comment of a man for whom he was at one point pleased to be called his dauphin, and later called a senile old twaddle. But regardless, he rides two horses with one ass and tells us that Vidal was nasty though quite right to describe Teddy Kennedy, as having the appearance of 300 pounds of rotten veal.
Of course we note that the single most unremarked upon fact of Vidal’s biography, is that it must have been a truly bitter pill to swallow knowing that no matter how hard you tried, you would never get to be Jackie Kennedy.
But, we digress.
Nowhere in his JFK in Sickness and Stealth does Hitchens spare a single word for Nixon. Nor does he offer the slightest context for why JFK campaigned to the right of Nixon in full Cold Warrior mode. Rather he elides the context and presents instead a drugged up halfwit, sex obsessed gangster who was, in retrospect (per Hitch) an example of a dismal and sad failure. Which we assume, would make a theoretical Nixon presidency in 1960, a hilarious example of success.
While there are a host of reasons to criticize both JFK and Bobby, from thuggish assaults, to using the FBI and IRS to intimidate their opponents (they did just that to force the steel companies to cave in on negotiations and did so in a thoroughly Nixonian manner) (2) to the madness of the anti-Castro crusade, what’s missing from Hitchens’ obituary of JFK are any of the other things that are also true.
And it’s not just Nixon who is AWOL, but not a word about everyone’s favorite crossdressing fascist, J. Edgar Hoover; nothing about the lunatic fringe that was not so fringe and with the assistance of the Birch Society, posed a not insignificant threat to even the shabby forms of democracy then in place. Not a word about the Klan, or governors standing in schoolhouse doorways, or insane neo-fascist generals calling for armed rebellion, or the very genuine possibility of an accident causing a nuclear war.
Also missing from Hitchens’ calumny is any mention off the banal realities of legislative politics. We get nothing from him about the fact that the reason the Kennedy’s had to swallow hard and put LBJ on the ticket was because while the south was democratic, it was the democratic party of old white men who hated Catholics, Jews and Blacks and not necessarily in that order.
Hitchens moral superiority would be easier to digest, were it backed up by at least some relevant facts.
For example he is quick to dismiss those he ridicules as keepers of the flame by asserting that the Kennedy’s support for civil rights was lukewarm and Fabian – a matter of the least they could do.
Again, one wonder exactly what Hitchens thinks would have happened in 1962 if JFK had pushed with all the power at his disposal for a civil rights act?
Well one need not guess as we know from both supporters and enemies of the president that the House and the Senate were in no mood to compromise, and were in fact dominated in key committees, by unreconstructed confederate racists and assorted lunatics.
Which is not to say more couldn’t have or shouldn’t have been done, but it is to say that the facts as they often do, tend to get in the way of a good rant.
While Hitchens is (again) correct to point out that Joe Sr. was a bootlegging mobster and that the Kennedys bought and paid for reporters, and did business with the likes of Sam Giancana, he forgets, or succeeds in not mentioning, that the more germane point is not that the Kennedys were gangsters but, who in government wasn’t? While it seems banal to regurgitate the details of Bobby Baker and Billy Sol Estes (3) the problem is that ol Hitch has given us a Cliffs notes version of the story, as if one had decided to explain Moby Dick and not mention the whales.
Once you grant that fact the entire narrative changes. Want to be president of the United States in 1960? Well, who are you willing to fuck, and who are you willing to destroy and who are you willing to make a deal with in order to do it?
Not so very different from the current era but make no mistake had the internet existed in its contemporary form in 1960, Jack Kennedy would never have been a senator let alone president.
But of course Lord Hitchens knows that. What seems to be the case is that he was hoping everyone else had forgotten it or that no one outside of a Kennedy partisan would bother to argue with him.
Consider that in his (hit) piece on Kennedy he casually slips in that Oswald was the lone gunman.
While we could delve into the issue we aim (pun intended) to hit another target.
First, that a few years earlier while part of a round table discussing Oliver Stone’s JFK, Hitchens said the question was not was there a conspiracy to kill the president but which of the multiple conspiracies in motion is the one that succeeded.
It’s possible that he may have changed his mind but one does feel the need to point out that such casual flip-flops are the stuff of numerous Hitchens destructions of any number of jabbering public clowns who are either so stupid they couldn’t remember what they had said previously, or they were so contemptuous of the public’s memory that they didn’t care what they said next because, a la Trump, they will spew whatever the fuck bullshit they want and when confronted say: who you gonna believe, me or your ly’n eyes.
To add insult to injury Hitchens dismisses Stone as a mere paranoid and does so in a single line amid the rest of the third rate verbal shrapnel aimed at denigrating the facts.
There is something here reminiscent of his pretzel logic assaults against Bill Clinton in which the venom displayed was so over the top that one begins to assume not only that he protests too much, methinks, but that the complaints are the stuff of an hour on an analyst’s couch and not the stuff of a book review or political analysis.
Perhaps powerful men who achieved a measure of greatness however fleeting as all such accomplishments are, rankles and burns? Perhaps some unresolved Oedipal issues? Or just some old fashioned Dick envy?
Regardless what does matter is that if your going to demand fealty to logic and the consistency of civic virtue then you shouldn’t piss yourself and expect no one will notice or not care.
Consider for example Hitchens repetition of a pile of extravagant if not baroque swamp gas first deployed by Seymour Hersh in his book, The Dark side of Camelot – that if not for the cocktail of drugs Kennedy was consuming he would not have experienced the degenerative spinal damage which plagued him and which led to his having to wear a restrictive back brace – and if he hadn’t been wearing the brace he would have been able to duck and avoid the lethal headshot.
In other words Hitchens and Hersh are disgusted because Kennedy was unable to either avoid a trio of bullets fired at the back of his head or a fusillade of bullets fired from multiple directions.
To put it another way, they are outraged and demand to know what Pearl Harbor was doing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on December 7th.
This is the sort of half-baked junior league pettifogging employed by run of the mill mouth breathing knuckle dragging morons for whom Hitchens rightly had nothing but contempt. And not just because they were wrong, even spectacularly wrong but far worse than being wrong was that they had committed the sin of a lack of style; itself an insult to Hitchens’ sometimes formidable intelligence.
At the very last he seemed to be saying ,you could do me the courtesy of trying to seduce me before putting it in my mouth.
And so we come to the final toss (so to speak) the last roll of the dice where Hitch, our old comrade, the stalwart defender of Rushdie and the man at the barricade who, a bottle in one hand, a lit fag in the other, would say: you shall not pass, turns and embraces the moral void, the desiccated soulless dawn of the 21st century – the war in Iraq.
George W. Bush was the public face of a private corporate junta put into power by a judicial putsch.
A far more sinister and cunning moron that Trump but sinister cunning and a moron all the same. The invasion of Iraq was clearly an idiotic adventure from day one but now with its rough creature Syria slouching towards the Bethlehem of the West’s sense of itself as a bastion of superior morals and greater commitment to ethics, it must be ranked alongside any of the other ethical catastrophes of the past century.
In terms of slaughter and indiscriminate butchery, in terms of naked political barbarism and ham-fisted stupidity as well as feckless diplomatic acts of bad faith and a gossamer sense of decency the abyss of Syria is on par with the Cambodian Killing Fields, the carpet bombing of Vietnam, the capitulation to fascism and the support for fascism and subsequent industrial scale slaughter in Central and South America and assorted acts of genocide in other parts of the world.
Which then raises the question of how and why someone as seemingly as bright and well-read as Hitchens could have fallen for the third rate hucksterism of a third rate huckster and his gang of malignant trolls.
Consider this analysis from one of the hacks at The New Yorker which we quote at some length:
“His monologue continued up until 9/11 and the singular insight that the attacks had given him: the American revolution was “the last one standing” and beat pretty much any conceivable alternative in the oppressed corners of the world. He was saying that he had been wrong, something that Hitchens didn’t do often enough—wrong not about anything in particular (he defended every specific political choice he’d made), but about the core question of whether America was a force for good or evil in the world. From there, it was a fairly short and direct line to the late evening, a few years later, when I met Paul Wolfowitz at a party in Hitchens’s D.C. apartment.
Some of his critics on the left, the former devotees of “Minority Report,” accused Hitchens of currying favor with the powerful—specifically, with those in the Bush Administration who were leading the war effort. The idea was that Hitchens had sold out for the sake of celebrity and dinner invitations. I don’t buy it—in spite of his well-established attraction to fame and fortune. So why did he throw himself with complete zeal into the idea of the war, breaking with so many old comrades, often with relish?
One reason was his hatred of religion. September 11, 2001, put Hitchens in touch with the molten anti-clericalism that was one of his elemental passions. It burned so hot that he turned it without a second thought at a secular, totalitarian Iraqi dictator. 9/11 gave Hitchens a sense of purpose like nothing since that early intimation, the Rushdie fatwa. It propelled him straight through the last, most productive, most visible decade of his life.
The second reason is a little murkier. He was, by his own lights and that of his admirers, a thoroughgoing contrarian. (One of his lesser known books was called “Letters to a Young Contrarian.”) And nothing could be more contrarian, in the early years of the last decade, than for a hero of the left to embrace George W. Bush. It breathed new life into Hitchens, his persona, and his prose.” (4)
This of course is one of the fairly standard obituaries. Hitchens sold out and/or was devoted to a rabid anti-clericalism and being a contrarian.
But in order to be accurate it requires a Hitchens who was either far less intelligent than the record (the speeches, essays, books, and testimony of both friends and enemies) allows even with profound lapses in judgement as witnessed by his bush league assault on JFK et al. Or it requires that we take it as read and conclude that the old boy did sell out, did allow himself to be blinded by hatred of x in declaring his infatuation of y, and that’s all there is to it; a great example of a particular type of cliché.
But we detect the faint odor of something far more complicated.
And we offer this with absolutely no proof, and not a shred of evidence except the circumstantial evidence that we have already provided and the well sifted record of similar cases that at one point in time provoked similar questions and were left to simmer until years after the fact previously secret documents came to light.
Here’s what we think: Christopher Hitchens was blackmailed by the American government and given the choice of either being publicly ruined over some indiscretion or several indiscretions, exposed as having already been on someone else’s payroll, or being sent to prison and ruined.
The idea that such a thing is outrageous is itself outrageous.
We are not children and we don’t live in a comic book where American Exceptionalism is real.
It’s not and we know better and one need not call in Scully and Mulder to contemplate the number of people coerced into leading double lives and being trapped on the horns of a moral dilemma like characters in a Graham Greene or Le Carre novel. Jonathan Swift was blackmailed into being a spy and Orwell helped the spooks and how many times do we need to be told about some reporter or another with “great sources” who turns out to have been on someone’s government payroll before we start thinking of it as a reasonable assumption that the not so invisible hand of Uncle Sugar can be found anywhere.
A former Trotsky supporter, a former 60s radical with a not inconsiderable talent for provocation and a talent for picking fights with formidable and sadistically revenge minded mafia chieftains from Henry Kissinger to the Vatican. Surely, exactly the sort of person for whom the spooks would reserve a special purgatorial existence.
Consider a minor anecdote from, Arguably, where Hitchens describes a trip to Beirut and how while walking through a neighborhood controlled by the neo-fascist Falange he spots a swastika poster and proceeds to deface it.
Describing his motives as heroic and contrarian he avoids mentioning the utter depravity of his reckless disregard for his companions (both locals) who had to help pull him away from the thugs – the fascists – who were going to kill him – and no doubt, them as well. In other words a man for whom the phrase – on my radar – was invented.
From Indonesia to Haiti, from Moscow to Washington D.C. our man Hitch was a world class shit disturber and the idea that such a man (a journalist and a celebrity of sorts no less) would not have files in all the better and most of the worst secret police archives does not only not pass the proverbial giggle test it simply isn’t worth considering.
What is worth considering is the extent to which the Bush Cheney Junta would be depraved enough to usher in an era of neo-fascist Orwellian terror and as history shows do exactly what countless other regimes have done.
Time after time we know that in times of war the law falls silent. A staple of espionage thrillers hardboiled detective stories, sci fi and comic books is the nefarious and sinister subversion of democratic norms by the spooks in the middle of a war.
H Bush, a few days after 9/11 said: We’re going to have to get into bed with some unsavory types and afterwards I don’t want to hear from you civil liberties types.
Putting aside the aristocratic Yankee honk with its sociopathic disregard for trifles like civil liberties, exactly what does one suppose Bush the first meant?
The obvious answers are things like renditions and black sites and waterboarding but of course that’s just the tip of the spear and what we know about.
History in this case is the perfect guide.
Blackmail, informants, double agents, assassinations, imposters, planted stories in the media and deceptions within deceptions within still more deceptions. Churchill’s bodyguard of lies and all the rest of it and anyone who thinks that Hitchens as a victim of such an environment isn’t plausible is either an idiot or on the payroll of people who don’t want to talk about the possibility that Hitchens was on someone’s payroll.
This is the dog that didn’t bark.
No one is speculating about it because they will say we’re responsible journalists and we can’t report speculation.
Except of course they report speculation every damn day and if someone wanted to find out they would.
But they don’t.
The media, the so called free media died a long time ago, (if it was ever alive) but what we have now is a kind of zombie media that wants us to believe it’s defending itself and us from the worst aspects of Trump.
The truth is that they are a corporate empire fighting to protect itself from the worst aspects of Trump and if that means defending everyone else they’ll do that as well but only up to the point where it might require a display of ethics and integrity because at that point they’ll toss the public onto the pyre and cover it with live video in an endless loop from now until either the end of time or until something better comes along.
We don’t know what convinced Hitchens to offer Bush inc. a jaw shattering blowjob but we’ve come too far to look at his Road to Damascus conversion and just chalk it up to a contrarian sense of caprice and whimsy fueled by too much booze or too little sense of grace under pressure.
Which is not to say that he did not act with courage when cornered. We still think his attack on Greene suggests a man sending messages in a bottle and it is not out of the question to imagine his support for Bush’s folly as a man finding a way to betray his country and not his friends while still falling on his sword.
That rattle you hear is Marley’s chains and we believe you can add the story of Christopher Hitchens to the pile of unanswered questions that are shaking in the darker corners of the nation’s basement.
1 For a look at Hitchens assault on Graham Greene see the footnotes to the following:
2 For a look, however brief, at JFK’s Nixonian assault on the steel barons see, Robert Dallek’s, JFK an Unfinished Life.
3 For a look at Bobby Baker, and Estes see the following:
4 For the New Yorker article:
Addendum: In regards to Hitchens contra Graham Greene, it’s worth taking note of a related side issue. A longstanding rumor has been that Edward Lansdale was the model for Pyle in, The Quiet American. The counter argument rests on the timeline which has Lansdale in Vietnam after Greene wrote the book.
It’s not a bad argument but it overlooks three salient points. First, that Pyle could have been a composite and that as a result Greene blended details from several individuals among whom Lansdale may have been one among the many.
Secondly, that Lansdale’s domestic situation mirrors the triangle in Greene’s novel.
Third, that Lansdale’s situation was hardly unique. There were certainly more than a few American servicemen with wives and mistresses and among the wives there were certainly more than a few who refused to grant a divorce.
It is this last point that brings us back to Hitchens’ attack on Greene. The fact that Greene’s finely calibrated radar was able to find the coordinates for the numerous ways in which domestic moral dilemmas echoed in and around larger social and political dilemmas is an indication not only of a solid writerly grasp of details but an indication of a flaw in Hitchens’ criticism as well as Orwells.
But more importantly, it is not credible that Hitchens would not have been aware of, if not the precise details, than certainly the basic outline of the very (in)famous Lansdale and would have been well acquainted with the rumors that circulated across the world of international journalists – and even more specifically among journalists with an attachment to writing about and from foreign locales and about the nexus between public politics and the shadow world of intelligence agencies. Thus, he would have known that far from being shallow and thus unrealistic, or morally and intellectually compromised, Greene was the lethal chronicler of empire that his reputation claims.
Taken altogether, Hitchens’ criticism of Greene rings completely false and Hitchens would have known that it rang false. He was both too well read and too intelligent to not know it. But he also would have known that his friends would not disagree (at least not publically) and his neocon friends certainly would not disagree even if they had the wit to figure out the puzzle and sift the clues for a proper answer.