They are going to have to cut him into many slimy pieces to spread him around the Malbolge, but extensive preparations are no doubt underway for Christopher Hitchens in the Eighth Circle of Hell. His hysterical support of the war in Iraq has been bad, but for this self-serving, sanctimonious piece of shit in the November Vanity Fair alone he's earned his wretched place.
The piece reads, on its surface, as a mea culpa of sorts on Hitchens' behalf following the death of a young man who reversed his anti-war stance after reading Hitch's many op-eds about the need to fight, joined the Army as a second-lieutenant, and then died in Iraq on January 15th, 2007. His name was Mark Daily. Hitchens learned about Daily's death after a friend forwarded Teresa Watanabe's moving L.A. Times piece on Daily, written on February 16, 2007. There is very little factual difference between Watanabe's piece and Hitchens' piece concerning the life and death of Mark Daily--but a moral gulf that may just be large enough to fit Hitchens' enormous ego lies between them.
Hitchens' piece so sins by ommission, is so self-serving in its faux-humility, that it makes a mockery of an all-too-real tragedy. It just might be the single most disgusting bit of nastiness of the entire Iraq war. The lies, half-truths, and knowing fabrications leading our nation unto war, the lies, half-truths, and knowing fabrications about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman... these were corporate--institutional ass-covering and propaganda from both the usual and unusual suspects (among the latter of whom must surely be counted Hitchens himself). But this piece... the only thing to do is dig into it and start scraping away the bullshit beneath which beats Hitchens black heart.
After a little stage-setting, Hitchens says, "Over-dramatizing myself a bit in the angst of the moment, I found I was thinking of William Butler Yeats...," quotes Yeats' "Man and the Echo," then "dismisses[es]" any comparison between himself and Yeats. Except: he just spent several hundred words doing just that. What humility! Telling us of his humility, while showing the opposite.
But then this contradiction is rife in Hitchens' piece, as when, a couple paragraphs later, he says, "I don't intend to make a parade of my own feelings here...," as if we weren't being made aware of almost nothing but his feelings and their grim parade.
The absurdity of this rift between what Hitchens is saying and the game he's playing is made almost comical when he quotes a long list of the possible 'causes' of Daily's death:
"So, was Mark Daily killed by the Ba'athist and bin Ladenist riffraff who place bombs where they will do the most harm? Or by the Rumsfeld doctrine, which sent American soldiers to Iraq in insufficient numbers and with inadequate equipment? Or by the Bush administration, which thought Iraq would be easily pacified? Or by the previous Bush administration, which left Saddam Hussein in power in 1991 and fatally postponed the time of reckoning."
Note that Hitchens leaves out the ostensible subject of this entire piece: the causal fact, the one Daily readily stated, that Hitchens himself convinced Daily more than anyone else that he should sign up and go to war. A convenient elision at the end of that causal chain, no?
But all this is just so much scene setting itself for Hitchens' lying and treacherous coup de grâce: his perversion of one of Orwell's best essays in the service of his own self-servicing.
Orwell's essay is "Looking Back on the Spanish War"--just go read it: I could quote the whole thing. Done? Now, notice what Hitchens left out: the imprecation against those who call for war with a dirty conscience, the discussion of how quickly people change their stance for or against war, how they equivocate on "atrocities" based on their political allegiance of the moment, and most importantly: Orwell's insistence that war is a very nasty thing. Yes, it is sometimes necessary--but within that necessity lie dishonesty, cruelty, filth, atrocity, corruption: just the sorts of things one would expect from any side in any war & which are in daily evidence in Iraq. Orwell's Italian soldier, whose boots Daily to fills in Hitchens' version, is not fighting for anything other than the ability to feed himself, to defend his moral standing as a human being in the face of those in power (on any side) who would deny him his welfare, his ability to live a life at such a distance from one of despair that he at least has a chance to take one breath of hope:
"All the considerations that are likely to make one falter [in war]--the siren voices of a Petain or of a Ghandi, the inescapable fact that in order to fight once has to degrade oneself, the equivocal moral position of Britain, with its democratic phrases and its coolie empire, the sinister development of Soviet Russia, the squalid farce of left-wing politics--all this fades away and one sees only the struggle of the gradually awakening common people against the lords of property and their hired liars and bumsuckers."
Hitchens' selective use of this is in service to his own melodrama--and not Daily's sacrifice--puts him in Orwell's class all right: though you will have to decide whether or not he's a "hired liar" or a "bumsucker" or both. Hitchens failure--one extended to all the Iraq war hawks--to tell the difference between a noble death and the nobility of a cause, or the far more important point (one Orwell makes with such force) that when a moral cause involves war neither the noble man nor the noble cause can escape the gruesome ignobilities that attend to, are inherent in, war, is a kind of sad grotesquery of inattention.
One wonders: did Hitchens actually read the whole of Orwell's essay before he gutted it for his Vanity Fair essay? If he did, he must have experienced the awe-filled terror of a schizophrenic recognizing his other self in the mirror. Now that would have been an essay... I hope to see Hitchens write it someday.