Hitchens hagiography

I’m totally with Glenn Greenwald that it is especially wrong to whitewash the full nature of the dead, just because they were political figures.  In many cases, the reason their death attracts so much attention is for being politically controversial in life.  He starts with the example of Ronald Reagan and then moves onto the recent death of Christopher Hitchens.  The man sure knew how to write, and by all accounts had quite an intellect.  But that’s not enough to forgive him his mistakes, that he oh-so-surely, would not have forgiven others.   What I really loved though, was this awesome John Cook obit in Gawker, which Greenwald linked to:

The outpouring of grief, goodwill, and teary encomia that has attended news of Christopher Hitchens’ passing would—if he was anything like the persona he presented in print—have turned his stomach. He loathed sentiment, welcomed combat, and delighted in inflicting hard truths. In that spirit, it must not be forgotten in mourning him that he got the single most consequential decision in his life horrifically, petulantly wrong…

He shared that impulse with George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz, and they found their moment in the stupid decision to invade Iraq. For Hitchens, it was the opening maneuver in a grand, imagined clash of western civilization against the Islamofascist hordes.

It was something else for 113,000 civilians who died in the chaos unleashed. The great tragedy of Hitchens’ life was that, toward its end, he aligned himself so stridently with the very fools, cowards, and charlatans who most desperately invited exposure by his prodigious skills as butcher. How can someone who devoted so much of his life to as noble a cause as destroying the reputation of Henry Kissinger blithely stand shoulder to shoulder with Rumsfeld?

People make mistakes. What’s horrible about Hitchens’ ardor for the invasion of Iraq is that he clung to it long after it became clear that a grotesque error had been made…

Torture and murder by feckless American troops at Abu Ghraib? “Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad,” he wrote. How clever! Anyone objecting to the occupation of Iraq on the grounds that torturing and murdering people is wrong and illegal is now obligated to defend the “abattoir” that existed prior to our arrival.

Anyone complaining that the chief rationale for the invasion—the indisputable presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—turned out to have been a fantasy is being “childish,” he wrote. “‘You said there were WMDs in Iraq and that Saddam had friends in al Qaeda. . . . Blah, blah, pants on fire.’ I have had many opportunities to tire of this mantra.” How tiresome you are with your boring insistence that wars be justified!

Great stuff.  And there’s more.   One of the reasons I always enjoyed “Heathers” so much (a pitch black comedy, not for everybody, but really worth seeing if you have not) was the underlying theme of how people are remembered in death versus how they are treated and thought of in life.  Anyway, Christopher Hitchens surely had much to recommend him, but one should not so easily whitewash or forget just how wrong he was on Iraq.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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