I had to the put the article down two times before getting through it. I blinked hard, folded the paper, and smacked the pages against my seat. I was reading Christopher Hitchens’ meta-journalism piece about a killed American soldier who was inspired by his writing in support of the Iraq War. The subway doors parted and I exited the 14th Street station and walked down toward Rattlestick Theatre. I clenched the sheets between my fist.
Hitchens recounts his experience to learning that a recently killed soldier had cited his writing as a primary reason for signing up as a soldier. Hitchens was a war hawk. In 2002, he was one of the leading proponents of going to war in Iraq in the age of terrorism, even though Iraq had nothing to do with the World Trade Center attacks, or in fact any of the terrorist attacks on American soil. I remember his sweaty, bloated face plastered in the talk show circuit, making his way through the cable news, night after night. It was the charm and smarm campaign. The smug grin of someone calling for war who had never fought or experienced its terrors first hand. If ignorance isn’t bliss, then bold-faced idiocy must be paradise.
As I walked through the west village, I could feel my heart beginning to thump louder in my chest as I flashback through all his rancorous and snide remarks directed toward liberals and anti-war activists. They were weak and he was strong. They were stupid and he was smart. It was the kind of self-satisfying face made for a punching bag or target practice.
I calmed myself enough to unclench my fists. I straightened out the wrinkles in the paper and continued reading. Was this an apology? Was Hitchens using this American’s death for an unnecessary war that he prompted to backtrack and recant?
Hitchens takes us through the range and depth of his soul: his guilt, his comparison to literary greats who stood behind war, guilt assuaged by grateful beatific family members of the deceased, more comparison to his own writing and literary greats, his luxury box seat view of the war he rooted for, his explanation for why other people messed up a perfect war, and continued sprinkling of great authors from history in light of himself.
I started to laugh. The indolence was so thick that apology was impossible. The self-denial and ease at which he repositioned all the facts. The war would have worked if it wasn’t for the bad planning, the bad equipment, the bad decisions made after the invasion. In his piece, he traveled to Iraq with his 23-year-old son to view the wreckage. Hitchens misses the cruel irony in celebrating the death of another man's child for his words while his son accompanies him for a luxurious tour of post-Saddam Iraq as it implodes. Hitchens' son didn’t serve, his son was still alive, and that maybe due to knowing that you can’t take Daddy’s words that seriously when it comes to war because they are all reflections of how he is positioning himself for greatness.
Hitchens veers into a ersatz apology for a moment. In his radiant genius, he gets a glimpse of the fool-headed impossibility of the Iraq War ever working, and all the anti-war activists who were warning of the impending doom America faced after several long and mostly frustrating years in the fertile crescent.
Hitchens embodies the worst of Western intellectual privilege and decay. Removed from any culture but his own and unwilling to view things from other vantages points, he has a restrictive view of an expansive world. Worst of all, he is assured that in his limitations lies his very virtue. If anything appears wrong, neoconservatives like Hitchens don’t adjust their position to the facts on the ground, but they adjust their view of the facts on the ground to fit their position. It is like peeking at the world through a keyhole and trying to draw a navigation map.
But it would almost be understandable if their was a self-corrective mechanism to the neoconservative logic. But there isn’t any checks-and-balances which is why it’s not an intellectual viewpoint but a mass delusion that is destructive whenever its employed. All information is subjective and therefore we really don’t know if global warming is happening, if America’s 10,000 gun deaths a year have anything to do with the glut of weapons on the street, if fracking is the reason why the middle of Illinois has had 80 earthquakes in the last few years, if blacks are unfairly profiled by the police, if starting a war with a nation under false pretenses leads to false leaders, false victories, and enrages a populace to the point of supporting terrorist. We really don’t know, so we will continue on with business as usual.
Hitchens hedges at remorse and then concludes that the American soldier was brave and exemplary example. While lamenting his death, he also notes that he represents the best in American values. His needless death is a rallying cry for heroism instead of a reflection on past mistakes. Hitchens avoids the what’s in front of his face. He was wrong. He was arrogantly wrong. His words inspired people to die unnecessarily for on false pretenses. And he remains wrong in his reflective obfuscation and intellectual tap dance.
No, Mr. Hitchens.
No, you don’t get to apologize. No, you don’t get to rewrite, revise, reframe, and re-confuse the rallying cry for war that you were a part of Mr. Hitchens. You don’t get that luxury because words have not only a power but a responsibility. If you are unable to shoulder that burden then your careless narcissism hastens the young and idealistic down the primrose path of ruin. Your chicken hawk, war mongering was the mouthpiece for the murderous fools of war. The young men you lionize to justify your arrogant miscalculation have paid for your mistakes with their own blood.