Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, an appreciation

This is a bit of a rehash of a book review I did of Hitch 22, the memoir of Christopher Hitchens, who has died.

Christopher Hitchens was a profound and prolific writer for whom I had a consistent and enormous regard. His features in Vanity Fair were always the best thing in that impressive magazine. He intentionally and deliberately got up people's noses, so, when you agreed with him, such as over his storming book on the Clintons, No-one Left to Lie To, you cheered at his searing wit, his savage pen and his withering turn of phrase. When you disagree, as I do over his outright dismissal of anyone of faith anywhere, I just thought he came across as oafish. Even more bizarrely, though I find less to agree with his brother Peter Hitchens about, I find his civility more endearing.

Hitch's stance on Iraq was the one issue he became the most notorious for. I supported the case for regime change in 2003, even though the WMD issue was the one used here in the UK, and Hitchens provided ballast for an argument that became almost unarguable through the so-called "insurgency" and throughout the horror that Iraq became. Yet, he did this well, he's a closer observer and a longer chronicler of Iraq than most and predicted a horrific collapse of Iraqi society, post-Saddam Hussein and his murderous sons, with or without an invasion. Where Hitchens was at his best was in his journalism, such as when he told the story of Mark Jennings Daily, a young American who enlisted in the army and died in Iraq after being convinced of the nobility of service by Hitchens' writings. This was heavy grown-up stuff. Proper choking accounts of a proud family deep in grief, but accepting into their home the man who so inspired their son to fight and die.

There are some wonderful tributes today. This from Norman Geras, and this from Ian McEwan. But the best of all is this from his brother Peter.

Sunday addition: Christopher Buckley in the New Yorker.

On the theme of death, which has concerned me lately, I liked this line from Peter: "Much of civilisation rests on the proper response to death, simple unalloyed kindness, the desire to show sympathy for irrecoverable loss, the understanding that a unique and irreplaceable something has been lost to us. If we ceased to care, we wouldn’t be properly human."

I hope Christopher is being pleasantly surprised right now.

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