Friday, 16 December 2011

On Hitchens

I'm sorry to hear of the passing of Christopher Hitchens. There are a number of good obits, including one from David Frum, that do a good job of celebrating the man and describing what he accomplished. I'm happy to acknowledge that in terms of writing skill he was in a league with the likes of George Orwell, as his glowing New Statesman obit contends. But Hitchens's legacy will always be stained, in my eyes, by his outspoken support of the Iraq war and the responsibility he bears for contributing to the "clash of civilizations" rhetoric and perspective in which responding militarily to the attacks began to trump all else.

Hitchens's writings, including his set of "discussions" with Noam Chomsky, from those weird post 9-11 months are worth another read today. I think Hitchens correctly called out Chomsky and some others on their inclination to rationalize the Sept. 11 attacks. (link to the set of exchanges between him and Chomsky: 12345)  But it's also interesting and useful to read his farewell article from The Nation today. In it he declares, as if it's a sort of reductio ad absurdum, that, "I have come to realize that the magazine itself takes a side in this argument, and is becoming the voice and the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden." I'm not sure that that is an accurate portrayal of The Nation at the time, but if so aren't we at least somewhat inclined to say, "well, bully for them"? In the hindsight that a decade's perspective, trillions of additional dollars in debt, an efficiently executed assassination in Pakistan and legislation like the troubling National Defence Authorization Act affords us, isn't it hard to deny that The Nation was right to worry that the actions being put in place by Ashcroft et al might well present a deeper threat to the American way of life than anything OBL could ever hope to summon up?

Update: interesting anecdote with a similar conclusion: link

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