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Interview with Hitchens: Love, Poverty and War

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With the Left, which is supposed to care about secularism and humanism, it's a bit harder to explain an alliance with woman-stoning, gay-burning, Jew-hating medieval theocrats. However, it can be done, once you assume that American imperialism is the main enemy. Even for those who won't go quite that far, the admission that the US Marine Corps might be doing the right thing is a little further than they are prepared to go - because what would then be left of their opposition credentials, which are so dear to them?



by Jamie Glazov

December 29, 2004

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Christopher Hitchens, one of the most prominent political and cultural essayists of our time. He is the author of a new collection of his essays: Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays. 

FP: Welcome to Frontpage Interview again Mr. Hitchens, it is a pleasure to have you back.

Hitchens: It’s a pleasure to be invited again.


FP: Before we get into some of the issues, could you kindly give our readers a few hints why you titled your essay collection the way that you did?


Hitchens: There's an old saying that a man hasn't lived until he's experienced love, poverty and war. (O. Henry even wrote a short story in which a hapless New Yorker gets involved in all three in one evening.) But don't worry, this isn't about my love life or my struggles with poverty. It is, though, in its third section, directly concerned with the latest and bitterest war, namely the fight against jihadist nihilism, and it does contain my reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and some of my domestic battles with those who don't believe there is, or ought to be, a war in the first place.


The first section, on Love, is chiefly devoted to literary criticism and to essays on those I regard as upholding the gold standard here. These range from Borges and Proust to Byron and Kipling and Waugh and Amis. My hope is that literature can replace religion as the source of our ethics, without ceasing to be a pleasurable study and pursuit in its own right.


The remainder of the Love section is about my adopted country, the United States, and of various travels I have taken within it, as well as the renewed attachment I feel after the criminal assault on New York, and on my home town of Washington DC, by fundamentalist murderers.


The "Poverty" chapters are chiefly concerned with my hatred and contempt for religion and for the "faith-based" in general. Poverty here is intended to mean poverty of the mind and the imagination, as well as the actual poverty, stupidity, disease and ignorance which religion creates and with which it then has a parasitic relationship.


FP: You label the enemy in our current war as ‘jihadist nihilism.’ Could you kindly define this term please? Are we fighting fanatic Muslims who are waging war for Allah but who, deep down, don’t believe in anything at all? I am kidding of course but please give us a workable definition.


Hitchens: Osama bin Laden is a kind of pseudo-intellectual, with a rough theory of history and a highly reactionary desire to restore a lost empire. But he negates even this doomed, pseudo-Utopian project by his hysterical Puritanism, which bans even music and which of course would deny society the talents of women as well as driving out anyone with any culture or education. Thus, any society run by him or people like him would keep on going bankrupt and starving itself to death, with no ready explanation of why this kept happening. The repeated failure would inevitably be blamed on Zionist-Crusader conspiracies, and the violence and repression would then be projected outward, which is why we have a right to concern ourselves with the "internal affairs" of the Islamic world.


Below even the bin Laden level, however, there are those who insist that they prefer death to life, and who really mean it. Suicide is not so much their tactic as their rationale: they represent a cult of death and they are wedded to destruction. It's amazing how many people refuse to see this. They persist in saying that it's a protest against something, or a reaction to some injustice. They are right to an extent: as long as there is a non-Salafist Muslim anywhere, or a Jew or Christian or rationalist, or an unveiled woman or a profane work of art, the grievance can never be appeased. Of course this does have something in common with fascism - "Death to the intellect! Long live Death!" was a favorite slogan of some Francoists: I think it was coined by General Quiepo de Llano - but even fascism could build an autobahn or design a rocket, while these primitives only want to steal enough technology to wreak devastation. So far, they have mainly brought down their own house (as in Afghanistan and now in Iraq) but we can't allow ourselves take too much comfort from that. However, there is some encouragement to be derived. The 1990s Islamist insurgency in Algeria, for example, was crushed partly because the GIA (which now seems to have gone out of existence) had no political demands and had more or less excommunicated all other Algerians as heretics. This same dead-end for jihad is perhaps being reached in Palestine and will be reached, if we stay intransigent, in Iraq also. What I keep saying is: they wish to be martyrs and we must help them to achieve martyrdom by every method at our disposal.


FP: Words of wisdom Mr. Hitchens, thank you.


You include in your essay collection what I thought was one of your best masterpieces: ‘Unfahrenheit 9/11: The Lies of Michael Moore.’ In it you note that to describe his film ‘as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability.’ To be sure, as you demonstrate, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a work of shameless lies and deceit. I think it serves as a perfect reflection of the psyche of the contemporary Left. Hating Bush and America has become an obsessive priority and everything else – including truth – has become expendable.


Tell us a few of your thoughts on Moore and his film and in what ways you think both reflect the psychology of the contemporary Left (if you think they do).


Hitchens: I have to say that I love it when you say "one of my best masterpieces".


Actually, the review of Moore's mendacious film involved me in very little mental effort: it was more like an exercise in logical and moral hygiene. The movie was so idiotic and so sinister that it more or less condemned itself: a tiny shove is all it took.


As to the psyche that it represents: There is a widespread view that the war against jihadism and totalitarianism involves only differences of emphasis. In other words, one might object to the intervention in Iraq on the grounds that it drew resources away from Afghanistan - you know the argument. It's important to understand that this apparent agreement does not cover or include everybody. A very large element of the Left and of the isolationist Right is openly sympathetic to the other side in this war, and wants it to win. This was made very plain by the leadership of the "anti-war" movement, and also by Michael Moore when he shamefully compared the Iraqi fascist "insurgency" to the American Founding Fathers. To many of these people, any "anti-globalization" movement is better than none.


With the Right-wingers it's easier to diagnose: they are still Lindberghians in essence and they think war is a Jewish-sponsored racket. With the Left, which is supposed to care about secularism and humanism, it's a bit harder to explain an alliance with woman-stoning, gay-burning, Jew-hating medieval theocrats. However, it can be done, once you assume that American imperialism is the main enemy. Even for those who won't go quite that far, the admission that the US Marine Corps might be doing the right thing is a little further than they are prepared to go - because what would then be left of their opposition credentials, which are so dear to them?


FP: Mr. Hitchens, these leftists who are now allied with, as you call them, ‘women-stoning, gay-burning and Jew-hating medieval theocrats,’ are your former comrades. This pathological alliance they have nurtured in the terror war is the reason you broke ranks with them. And you should be commended for the courage and nobility that it took to make that step. How are you faring lately since you have left the family? Can you give us a glimpse into what it is like to have become a non-person amongst your former community? Do you miss anything? Have you considered offering a mea culpa to get back in? On a more serious note (from the last question): are you at all embarrassed that you were once part of the Left? If it is so deranged, surely 9/11 wasn’t a starting point for the derangement. Tell us a bit, looking back at your on your intellectual journey, where you think you may have been mistaken in associating your self with this crowd and with the progressive faith.


Hitchens: No courage was involved, though it's kind of you to say so. Courage is what is shown by the election workers in Iraq, for instance, and by the volunteer soldiers who protect them.


There is a small but useful pro-regime change "Left" in the United States and it has its counterparts in Europe (and of course, most importantly, in Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran and elsewhere). I keep in touch with these comrades, but I don't really consider myself to have any political or party allegiance any more. The last time that I wrote anything that was couched in specifically "Left" terms was my book on Clinton, where I tried to persuade people that he was a reactionary as well as a thug and a coward and a crook. I rather lost that battle (though not that argument!) and was born originally as a group formed to defend a President's right to perjury.


Reflecting on where the rot set it, I have come to the temporary conclusion that much of the "Left" was forced by events to adopt a status-quo position. Thus, it neither really opposed nor welcomed (with some exceptions in both cases) the historic anti-Communist revolution of 1989. It sat on its hands during the Balkan conflict. It could find no voice in which to discuss the urgent challenge of holy war. When it came to Iraq, you could even hear leftists saying that an intervention might "destabilize" the region: a suggestive choice of term from supposed radicals, suddenly sounding like Kissinger Associates.  


Much the same has become true on other fronts, with people essentially saying, on things like Social Security; just leave it the way it is. Even the environmental movement seems to resent modernity and be nostalgic for agrarianism. I'm perhaps over-speculating here, but another trope of "anti-Americanism" could be one that resents the United States as the country par excellence of disturbing change and innovation and, via regime-change, of revolution. The Right often makes a version of this mistake, as with stem-cell research and Buchanan-type isolationism and nativism. But the Left is really doomed if all it wants is a quiet life.


FP: You call Bill Clinton ‘a thug and a coward and a crook.’ I wish that you would stop trying to sugar coat everything and tell us how you really feel about him. On a serious note though, could you kindly give us a little text for each word? For each label give us a few sentences of why you think that term applies to yours truly.


Hitchens: Well, I understate matters a little, perhaps.


In my book on the man, No One Left To Lie To, I have a chapter on rape. It contains the evidence of three women, all of them socially “upscale,” all political supporters of Clinton (or at least supporters at the time they first knew him) and all unknown to each other when they told their stories. They offer appallingly similar accounts of being forced to submit, and of being forced by the same M.O.


I would only be wearying you if I said that the official feminist movement showed no interest in this evidence. And it is not true that "boys will be boys" in this instance. Only thuggish and cowardly boys go in for this kind of thing.


As for crookery, I think you will find if you look at the Congressional reports on campaign finance, and at the findings of the Center for Public Integrity, that they unearthed more evidence on revolving-door contributions and shakedowns than for any campaign even since Nixon's CREEP. "Nice to see you again, Mr. President,” as Roger Tamraz says on a tape of a meeting in the White House. I think he was still wanted in Beirut at the time. Many other inquiries can't be completed because of the number of donor/witnesses who fled the country. It's all there on the record.


Cowardice is not just a private vice, by the way. When he was running against Bush Senior, Clinton said that the atrocities of the Bosnian war were reminiscent of the Final Solution. That may have been an exaggeration, but you can't employ a phrase like that and then run away from it. When elected, Clinton backed away for almost three years before he did anything about Bosnia, and a lot of people died there because they had believed him and kept on resisting. Much the same with Iraq and the Taliban: he kept saying that something would have to be done about Saddam Hussein but never did it, which meant that a much more scarred and bankrupt Iraq became somebody else's legacy. His lack of effort in Afghanistan needs no further comment from me.


It's true that much of the GOP was weak on this as well, at the time, but it's also true that when Clinton did finally act he could count on some tough-minded Republican support, even from people who privately or publicly thought that he deserved impeachment and might even be "wagging the dog.” That by the way is the conspicuous difference between then and now, when even people who were co-responsible for the Clinton policy (like Al Gore and Madeleine Albright) suddenly claim that they don't know what the President is talking about when he mentions the Ba'ath Party's long record of tyranny and aggression and deception.


FP: I particularly enjoyed your essay ‘The Devil and Mother Theresa.’ It is always nice to see an expose – and the more vicious the better – of individuals who appoint themselves as God’s representatives but whose own lives cannot survive moral scrutiny of any kind.


As you note, Mother Theresa ‘praised poverty and disease and suffering as gifts from on high, and told people to accept these gifts joyfully.’ At the same time, as you say, ‘none of the things commonly believed about Mother Theresa – such as her unwordliness and her modesty – are even in the least bit true.’


As somewhat of a lapsed Catholic, I have to say that you are narrowing in here at something extremely vile within the Church – and all religious institutions (I am not saying that there are not many good, vital and sacred things). It is connected to the grotesque reality of numerous Catholic Bishops and Archbishops being informed of a priest molesting boys and, instead of calling the police, moving him to another parish for more innocent prey to abuse.


We see here the phenomenon of religious people and institutions believing they are above the law. And together with this, we see the sacrifice of human beings on the altar of ideas. In this case, religious ideas.


Can you talk to us a bit about these things? In particular, what led you to your interest in Mother Theresa? Why do you think so many of God’s self-appointed representatives are often such hideous people? Do you have some personal experiences that have molded your disposition on this subject?


Hitchens:  Well, my book contains my account of testifying, at the request of the Vatican, against Mother Teresa at the hearings on her beatification. (The present Pope has abolished the office of "Devil's Advocate,” so I was invited to represent Satan pro bono.)  I did mention the topics you raise, as I also stressed her sick relationship with the Duvalier despotism in Haiti, with the Keating Savings and Loan, and other scandals. She was a friend of the corrupt element of the rich, as well as a friend of poverty.


However, I would not necessarily accuse her of hypocrisy. I don't suppose for a second that she kept any of that misappropriated money for herself. And, though there have been complains of cruelty to children at her Calcutta home, these seem to arise from stupidity and poor training rather than sadism or sexual psychopathy.


What's amazing about the degeneration of the Catholic Church is that, having been extremely dogmatic about some minor sins, such as divorce or contraception, it has asked for lenience and wiggle-room when it comes to a sin that any decent Atheist would die rather than even be suspected of: the rape and torture of children. This simply means that, like the mullahs who can't condemn suicide-murder, it has lost any claim it may have had to moral or spiritual authority. But this doesn't greatly affect me, since I never thought it had any such authority in the first place.


I chose Mother Teresa because she exemplified the fanaticism and fundamentalism that are so dangerous in all their shapes, and because she had mounted a successful PR campaign to get people to overlook her real beliefs. Take one example: I happen to believe that the term "unborn child" is a scientific one, not a propaganda one, and I respect those who revere pre-natal life. But in her Nobel address, Mother Teresa described abortion as "the greatest threat to world peace." This would be absurd enough on its own, but she also described birth control as morally equivalent to abortion. Not even the Church demands this level of fanaticism on the point. Yet here were many liberal and secular types, all ready to describe her as "saintly" even though she was binding poor women in the Third World to an eternity of thralldom to their own fertility. Had I written a book entitled "Pat Robertson Sucks" (which by the way, he most certainly does) I would not have been trying to educate people about the delusions they don't even know they are harboring.


FP: Ok, since we are talking about Mother Theresa and the Church, let me take the risk of turning to religious matters with you for a moment. For some reason, I have a difficult time picturing you walking into a confession booth to confess your sins (I am not saying that you have committed any) or heading for a retreat at a monastery. You have made it clear that you are not, well, let’s say a highly religious or spiritual person, if one could call it that. But I tread lightly with these labels. Could you tell us a bit about your disposition to the potential existence of the Divine and, perhaps, of life after death? If I may so ask, as my dad used to ask almost every person he met: why are we here? What do you think is the meaning of life?


Hitchens:  I was quite young when I concluded that the stories in the old and new testaments were both nasty and untrue. I was also quite young when I noticed that they were used, by rather questionable authorities, to keep order and to invest their own status with a little extra penumbra. I continue to notice this kind of thing, and I try keep up with the archaeology and science that combats belief in the racial and tribal mythmaking of the Bronze Age.  Some agnostics and even Atheists say that they are sorry that there are no grounds for belief, but I am glad. It would be horrible if we were the objects of a permanent supervision by an unassailable power, which kept us under control even after we were dead. At least in North Korea, you can escape the divine leader by dying... Meanwhile, it's pretty obvious that the priests and rabbis and imams are at least sensible enough to demand power in this world rather than the next. If they are all such materialists, who am I to disagree?


If there had been a divine creation, or if there is a god or an afterlife, which there is every possible reason to doubt, it could not be within the competence of the clerics to know this. So one can start by eliminating from the argument those who claim to know, let alone those who claim to know what god thinks about sex, for example. I think one should proceed from there to eliminating the power of religion over public life, and keeping it in the home or in the private mind. If I thought I had found a redeemer or prophet who really cared about me, I imagine I should be happy. But those who actually affect this belief can't be happy until I believe it, too. This shows, among other things, their own insecurity. I say to hell with them. At the moment, this certainly helps give me a reason to live, not that I feel I need one. 


FP: Ok, please just bear with me for a moment. In Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov returns to God ‘the ticket,’ rejects His world, as long as there is a tear of one innocent suffering child. Ivan is not an Atheist. He believes in God. But he rejects Him and His creation and returns the ticket. What are your thoughts about innocent suffering in the world alongside the existence of a loving God? Many believers would say that suffering is, in part, the result of the free will that He gave us. There has to be suffering, otherwise we wouldn’t be free. Jesus is God (if we believe in Him) and he also suffered.


In any case, what do you make of Ivan and this whole question?


Hitchens: Since I am an Atheist I am completely unmoved by people who are so sentimental and self-pitying that they blame god for human suffering. This only repeats the fallacy of belief, or the discredited argument from design.  And if I was a believer, I am sure that I would not act or speak as if god owed me an explanation. Have some self-respect!


Horrible as it would be if we lived under a permanent divine supervision, it would be more horrible still if such a despotism was benign.


I am agnostic about what people call "free will" but supposing that we do have it, it would clearly be nonsensical to say that we had it by anyone's permission. I'd prefer to say that we have free will because we have no choice.


FP: It will take me awhile to digest these words. In the meanwhile, let’s move back to the political arena:


Your essay ‘A Rejoinder to Noam Chomsky’ serves as a good example of your parting of ways with not only Chomsky but with the Left in general. In terms of the MIT professor, this is an individual who, after 9/11, was spouting all kinds of vile fantasies about how the Americans were going to perpetrate a genocide in Afghanistan that would take 3-4 million Afghan lives. Nothing like that ever happened and the Bush administration has achieved praiseworthy success in that country: it has removed a fascist regime, liberated 25 million people, started the process of democratization in that tortured country and laid the foundations for a promising future. But there is, naturally, nor will there be, any mea culpa from Chomsky, or from the Left, on Afghanistan. And I have a feeling there won’t be an apology about the liberation of Iraq if it turns out to be a promising democracy and helps to defeat our Islamist enemy.


In regards to Chomsky in general, do you think there has been a significant deterioration in his mindset? He clearly sided with the Taliban and al-Qaeda after 9/11, did he not? Could you give us a diagnosis of this guru of the Hate-America Left?


Hitchens: My quarrel with Chomsky goes back to the Balkan wars of the 1990s, where he more or less openly represented the "Serbian Socialist Party" (actually the national-socialist and expansionist dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic) as the victim. Many of us are proud of having helped organize to prevent the slaughter and deportation of Europe's oldest and largest and most tolerant Muslim minority, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Kosovo. But at that time, when they were real, Chomsky wasn't apparently interested in Muslim grievances. He only became a voice for that when the Taliban and Al Qaeda needed to be represented in their turn as the victims of a "silent genocide" in Afghanistan. Let me put it like this, if a supposed scholar takes the Christian-Orthodox side when it is the aggressor, and then switches to taking the "Muslim" side when Muslims commit mass murder, I think that there is something very nasty going on. And yes, I don't think it is exaggerated to describe that nastiness as "anti-American" when the power that stops and punishes both aggressions is the United States.


Has he declined morally and politically? I probably differ from you in saying that I think he has. I recently looked up some of his old polemical classics - on the Vietnam war, for example, and on East Timor and on Sharon's conduct in Lebanon in 1982 - and found them still to be highly cogent and lucid. I think even someone who had disagreed with him then would be compelled to say the same. He was always slightly bad at taking criticism, but then he had often been unfairly attacked as well. In some awful way, his regard for the underdog has mutated into support for mad dogs. This is not at all like watching the implosion of an obvious huckster and jerk like Michael Moore, who would have made a perfectly good Brownshirt populist. The collapse of Chomsky feels to me more like tragedy.


FP: Well, you would be right in assuming I see no degeneration in Chomsky. I think he has always been a sick individual who is filled with self-loathing. His record on Israel and the Cold War is shameless and how he tried to excuse Pol Pot’s killing fields is, well, few words can describe such vulgar Holocaust Denial.


Hitchens: I simply think that you are mistaken about Chomsky. He was one of the great figures of conscience during the crisis of the 1960s, and if the Israelis had listened to him we would not have had to wait until it's almost if not actually too late to hear Sharon talk in honeyed words about the need for a Palestinian state. I would add two further things: Chomsky has been a useful opponent of the post-modern relativist tendency in the academy, and has always believed in verifiable truth and standards of evidence. He has also, while most of the Left took a derisive or slanderous position, been a defender of the record of George Orwell.


He has now been impeached by his own standards, since scrutiny of the evidence does not bear him out on Serbia or Afghanistan or Iraq. It didn't bear him out on Cambodia either, though he was never a "Holocaust denier" or anything like it.  And he has, I think, ceased to be of any use to young people who might pardonably doubt the official story. The position he took, comparing the attack on the World Trade Center to an admittedly criminal Clintonian strike on Sudan (and virtually concluding that the latter was worse!) showed the absolute exhaustion of the glib "double standards" school, as I point out extensively in Love, Poverty and War. But his decline and fall is a loss, and you miss the point by denying it.


FP: Well, I guess. The way Chomsky has dealt with the 100 million lives that communism sacrificed in the Twentieth Century on the altar of utopian ideals in his ‘scholarship’ is nothing more or less than Holocaust Denial. It is unconscionable how he tried to drown the evidence of Pol Pot’s killing fields and then, when it could no longer be denied, how he tried to blame it all on the United States, rather than on the mass murderers who followed the socialist plan created by leftist intellectuals who studied in Paris.


Chomsky’s decline and fall deserves a huge party and celebration. But unfortunately, I fear there is no decline or fall whatsoever. The sicker and more demented he gets, the more numerous and intoxicated his leftist groupies appear to become.


But let’s move on.


It is interesting that you use the word ‘Brownshirt’ in reference to Moore. Do you think the Left has acquired some tendencies that can be legitimately labeled as fascist?


Hitchens: On Moore, if you must, I have noticed in observing and debating him that he is an addict of crowd-pleasing and demagogy, and also an addict of "secret financial government" rhetoric. He also affects a certain plebeian and blue-collar style. When he thinks it will work, he will pretend to believe that "American jobs" are migrating to Mexico, or that "American boys" are being duped into war by hidden cabals. This combination of nativism and populism (stirred in with a nauseating dose of sentimentality and an absolutely breath-taking contempt for objective truth) reminds me very much of the dolts who joined the SA. But then, those guys were probably as surprised as their dumb Stalinist counterparts when the Hitler-Stalin pact was signed. By the way, that was the only treaty he signed that Stalin didn't break.


With much of the remaining Left, I have to say, there is a certain immunity from Moore's gruesome posturing, if only because they don't think it was a good idea to have General Motors, or the city of Flint, Michigan, in the first place. And some of them are genuine pacifists, while Moore is an open supporter of the Islamist death-squads in Iraq.


FP: Where exactly did you stand in the election? Your answer in Slate to this question left some ambiguity. Could you clear this up for us? How come you didn’t just come out and clearly say: ‘I am for Bush’ or ‘I am for Kerry’ or whatever. . . . 


Hitchens: I could never understand the confusion here. I was invited by The Nation to express a view, and said that as a single-issue person (the single issue being the war) I was unenthusiastically but decidedly for Bush. Slate magazine then asked me for a condensed version of the same argument, which I sent off. I had not been told that they were going to put their contributors into "Bush" and "Kerry" columns, rather than just printing our opinions, and someone took a too-quick look at my piece and stuffed it into the Kerry column. I suppose this was because I'd said that Bush deserved punishment for his many foul-ups in Iraq, while it would be amusing to see Kerry come up with his plan for "victory" there. Anyway, after reading my piece again, or perhaps for the first time, the Slate editors posted an explanation and an apology, but of course nobody ever reads things like that and I still get odd looks as if I'd tried a clever bet on both horses. It's been an object lesson for me in something I already knew: don't try and be ironic if you don't want to be misunderstood.


FP: What kind of ‘punishments’ do you think Bush deserved for his ‘many foul-ups in Iraq?’ I am not sure how it is Bush’s foul-up that his administration is trying to build a democracy there while myriad religious fanatics and fascists flock to Iraq from around the Muslim world to blow themselves up alongside Americans, democracy builders and civilians. Or are you referring to Abu Ghraib – which was a Sunday school class compared to what was going on in that prison under Saddam Hussein? But our mainstream media doesn’t seem to be too interested in that. . . .


Hitchens: I read recently (and with some pleasure) that a vast new generator is being trucked in pieces across Jordan and bolted together in Baghdad. (This is a Bechtel job, by the way, not a Halliburton one.) Good. That'll help get the power back on. Sometime in the spring of 2005, or so we are promised. Whose job was it to see that such a generator came in behind the first wave of Coalition troops? And is this person still in that job? Do you have any idea of what was thrown away in the first few weeks of the intervention? You don't get a second chance to make a good first impression.


The transfer of authority, and the holding of elections, could both have been accomplished well before they were, but Iraqi democrats who argued for it were over-ruled. Want to get me started? Bush sent an ambassador to London - to LONDON - who throughout the whole crisis never made a public appearance except with the Queen at horse-racing events. Bush retained the services of one of Clinton's worst toadies, George Tenet, and has now given him a Presidential medal instead of arraigning him for his failure even to try to stop Al Qaeda forming an army on our soil. He placed an obvious fool and incompetent at the head of the Justice Department. He continues to insist on the brainless "war on drugs,” which could quite possibly mean that we will lose Afghanistan again. He faked a media event that made it seem as if the war was over, which must mean that he has a very scant idea of what we are up against. Neither he nor anyone in his Cabinet was able to keep their story straight about the real and documented menace of Ba'athist involvement with WMDs and jihadism. As far as I can see, Bush would have a tough time explaining his policy even to his own wife (against whom I won't hear a word).


Put it this way: when I defend the regime-change case I am invariably asked, whether it's on radio or on the platform, why it is that if I am right, the Administration doesn't seem to have heard the news. We are in dire shape if arguments of this importance are being left to me.


Abu Ghraib under our command was by no means a Sunday school class (though I had been to the prison before that and know that any comparison with the preceding state of affairs is obscene). That's just the point. We are not just signatories to certain conventions, but have insisted that other countries sign them, too. THAT's why there's no comparison. But American soldiers were allowed to indulge in recreational torture, which didn't even pretend to be directed at the combating of "ticking bomb" terrorism, and to make pornographic videos of the business.  People say that "Muslims" are offended by giggling women supervising hooded and naked men: do you know anyone who isn't? I am against capital punishment in all circumstances, but I admit to wishing that somebody could have been shot for this.


I have met American and British soldiers who had the fortitude to take fire and not return it, because they quite maturely and bravely understood the importance of not hitting a mosque or gutting a family. They were betrayed by these lazy, skuzzy reservists who were often themselves the product of our highly disgusting mass-incarceration system, so I know who's shooting whom in the back, thanks very much.


FP: Well, Mr. Hitchens, I guess it would be an understatement for me to say that we disagree on many of these aspects regarding Bush and the war. Certainly no President is perfect and there is no conduction of any war that transpires without mistakes. But this is not the time and place, I suppose, for us to debate the technicalities of these questions. Suffice it to say that it is truly a terrible – and tragic – thing that our media consistently focuses on what is supposedly going wrong in Iraq, rather than on all the incredible successes that are occurring there – thanks to Bush and his administration. The positive developments involve everything from the improvement in the Iraqi peoples’ lives to the successful defeat of the terrorists and their infrastructure to the laying down of the foundations for liberty.


To your point that you wish that someone on the American side would have been shot for Abu Ghraib, all I can say is that my eyes have glazed over. I think a genuine argument could be made that the whole idea of war with an enemy is to kill their people, not ours.


In any case, let’s suppose President Bush called you and asked you for your advice on the terror war and Iraq, what would you say?


Hitchens: As Jeeves gravely says to Bertie Wooster in another context (he's been asked how he would feel if his family saw him waving his trousers in the air in Piccadilly Circus): "The contingency is a remote one, sir." (By the way, this also applies to the imagined dilemma posed by Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor.)


A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires, first, that I wait to be asked, and then keep my counsel discreet. 


FP: Well, in our last moments here, let's focus on your exceptional talent and career. Whether one agrees with you or not, you are always a tremendous pleasure to read. Tell us, why do you write? What inspired/inspires you to do so? What do you think is your calling? What is it that you would like to achieve with your craft and talent?


Hitchens: I write because in some way I have to, and have always known that I did have to. As I progressed (if that's the word for it) the urge to become a writer became fused with the urge to move to the United States. I can't really give any objective account of why either of these was the case. I can say, though, that my intuition was somehow right, and that my adopted country kept its promise, and that I acknowledge that in every line, even when I am supposedly writing about something else.


My ambition has been to do some honor to literature and poetry, which I can only do by appreciating it and not, like some of my more gifted friends, by composing it. The same second-best applies to my scribbling on the public sphere, where I try to expose gods as false, and other illusions as false consolation. When I can, I attempt to draw attention to people whose contribution might otherwise be overlooked: in the present case this gives me the privilege of publicizing heroic fighters and dissidents whose cause we dare not betray. That's enough in itself, but at my most exalted and high-flown I would hope to write something that would represent a solid punch for civilization against barbarism: something that was ironic without being apologetic.  


FP: Mr. Hitchens, it was a real privilege to speak with you. Congratulations on your new collection of brilliant essays and I wish you all the luck in the future. I hope you will not be shy to visit us again soon.


Hitchens: Shyness is not the problem.


FP: Fair enough. I think that is a pretty accurate self-assessment.



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Last modified 2005-01-09 06:42 PM

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