I was truly shocked to read the following paragraph in today’s David Brooks column:
Several months ago, Christopher Hitchens was sent an article about a young soldier, Mark Jennings Daily, who had been killed in Iraq. Daily was improbably all-American — born on the Fourth of July, an honors graduate from U.C.L.A., strikingly handsome. He’d been a Democrat with reservations about the war. But, “somewhere along the way, he changed his mind,” the article said. “Writings by author and commentator Christopher Hitchens on the moral case for war deeply influenced him.”
My heart almost went through the floor when I read the last sentence. Christopher Hitchens’ “moral case for war deeply influenced him???” Ugh, what a waste. Hitchens has a moral conscience the size of a pea. His reasoning is spurious. Everything about his writing is hyperbolic and almost clown-like. He’s a WASP [note: reader Mark Klein advises me that Hitchens is Jewish!] version of Alan Dershowitz though with a much posher accent. And this poor boy gave his life under the influence of Christopher Hitchens’ moral world view?
How do you think a man of such moral vacuity would react to indirectly leading a man to his death?
“I don’t exaggerate by much when I say I froze,” Hitchens wrote about reading that sentence.
I should hope so. At the very least.
Brooks gives Hitchens the benefit of the doubt in the following passage:
His essay in the November issue of Vanity Fair is a meditation on his own role in Daily’s death, and a description of the family Daily left behind. Hitchens asks painful questions and steps on every opportunity to be maudlin, and yet for all its tightly controlled intellectualism, the essay packs a bigger emotional wallop than any other this year.
I don’t even have the heart to read what I’m certain will be a morally self-serving exercise. Everything about Hitchens makes me sick to my stomach. None more so than a story like this. Talk about someone with blood on their hands. I hope that Hitchens will ponder what Mark Daily might’ve done with his life had he spurned the former’s pipe dreams. What contribution could this boy have made to society? What family might he have created? And what contribution has Hitchens himself made and what part has he played in this tragedy?
It is certainly true that someone as intelligent as Daily clearly was was the agent of his own fate. He was guided by his own conscience and takes as much responsibility for his actions in life and death as Hitchens must. But had I written something that led a boy to fight and die in a conflict as muddled and hopeless as Iraq I don’t think I could face myself. I’m certain Hitchens will find a way to block out his own culpability.
Norman Weinstein says
Once upon a time Mr. Hitchens took strong moral positions against the depredations of such as those right-wingers who are presently ruling and ruining us. What caused him to become a Little Drummer Boy for these barbarians is most likely a strange mélange of reasons. One of these reasons, I suspect, is his friend Martin Amis’s taking him to very public task in the book Amis wrote several years ago, KOBA THE DREAD. How dare he (Hitchens) not take up loud vocal arms against the terrorists that so many good people – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush et al? – are bravely battling! Not long after that book’s appearance do we find the protean Hitchens rapidly changing shape before our eyes to become – abracadabra! – a blood-swilling neo-con. God, how I wish that maybe somewhere, somehow, all these ladies and gentlemen warriors, long-distance advocates of war, might be taken by their well-scrubbed hands to wade through the spilled guts of men, women and children and maybe, just maybe, come to realize that their addiction to killing as a solution to whatever dare oppose American hegemony actually helps lead to just that – slaughter of human beings. What a disgusting man he is! Let him take his moral self-recognition to hell and burn therein!
Zhu Bajie says
“I’m certain Hitchens will find a way to block out his own culpability.”
I suspect that’s why he drinks.
jerry shapiro says
u should follow your own link and read Christopher Hitchens’ eulogy for Mr. Daily. apparently the Daily family is far more forgiving and loving than readers of Tikun Olam. so much for repairing the world.
Jeanne Capozzoli says
To Norman Weinstein — you express (but much better than I ever could) the rage I feel toward the lady and gentlemen warriors ( Bush/Cheney and the rest of the neocons) who through multiple deferrments made sure that they did not serve in combat but who enthusiastically sent other peoples sons and daughters into unwinnable wars.
I have no doubt that these chicken hawks, these armchair warriors, will be remembered historically for having caused huge amounts of death and destruction — all to the detriment of American interests.
Richard Silverstein says
Forgiveness has to be earned. What has Hitchens-Blumenthal done to earn any? Has he repented his horrific support for this miasmic war? Has he expressed any regrets for inspiring this boy to enlist & then die? Of course not. The first rule of teshuva is: express sincere remorse & you will be forgiven. Don’t express remorse & you will not be forgiven. Period.
I used to read HItchens pretty regularly back in the first few years of this century. He has an admirable facility with the language, but I came to see over time that there wasn’t a whole lot underneath his fluid prose (which has gone downhill anyhow). It dawned on me after a while (perhaps I’m slow) that he spouts a lot of vacuous nonsense. Hitchens is the classic intellectual fop poseur. He doesn’t possess any deep knowledge or expertise on anything, rather he has just enough superficial acquaintance with the geo-political realm to frantically attempt grasping an authoritative voice. His contempt for the Arab and Muslim world positively drips from his pontifications. He’s really ballooned into some sort of carnavalesque relic of the British Empire. I picture HItchens wearing his imperial duffs, all bloated and bleary-eyed from drink, sternly gesticulating out there at the wayward brown people of the Third World–ready with grim determination to bomb and slaughter them into “democracy” and “civilization”.
As for this courageous young man, Mark Daily, influenced tragically into an early death by the imperial Brit baboon, I haven’t yet read the article but I doubt any serious self-reflection will occur. From his writings, I don’t get the sense he’s very well equipped in the conscience department. (This last bit may be a bit harsh–I can’t step inside someone else’s psyche and moral universe–but that’s the sense I have.)
Just to clarify–in the last couple sentences above, the “he” I’m referring to is obviously Hitchens. I should add that I do hope that Hitchens, if he chooses to genuinely reflect on the death of this young man, can have a moment of conscience and consider the real consequences of his war-mongering.
Read his memoir, ‘Hitch 22’, wherein he does make great mention to Mark Daily (pages 320-29). Hopefully, you will find empathy in your heart for Mr. Hitchens after reading it.
Richard Silverstein says
I agree whole-heartedly that the man is detestable, but I don’t agree with you about his responsiblity for the death of someone who read his book or articles and then enlisted and ended up being killed in the war. Sure, he basically encouraged people to enlist in this absurd, destructive war.
But, in addition to the responsibility of the enlistees for their own decisions, I think it is very important to emphasize the broader cultural and political context of these individual decisions. Whether it’s in our formal educational system, the mainstream press, or in popular culture, we US citizens are subjected to strong and largely uncontested messages about the goodness of US military might, its large role as a tool of foreign policy, and the devaluation of problem-solving through diplomacy and other non-military means.
In addition, as a society, our educational system has taught us very little about how the rest of the world works and has nearly destroyed our critical faculties as a whole. Instead, our culture and knowledge tell us that it is only an issue of us maintaining our “Will” to impose our just vision on anyone we choose. This is really what drives people to enlist in a fruitless and costly war, not a journalist hack here or there. If not Hitchens, this person would probably have read someone else and made the same decision.
So, yes, Hitchens should be fiercely criticized for his absurd arguments, his posturing, and everything he got wrong. He should be shown to have zero credibility on this and related issues. But I don’t think he is really responsible, except in a very small way for butressing our cultural and civic proclivities to buy in to Bush’s war. But that responsibility extends to our society as a whole.
Richard Silverstein says
You are entirely right. I left myself get carried away a bit by my detestation for Hitchens. He is only partly to blame. As I wrote, Mark Daily, being an intelligent human being wasn’t forced into enlisting. Finally, the lion’s share of blame lays at the feet of George Bush and Dick Cheney as the authors of this horror. I hope that history and Hell have a place reserved for them appropriate to their crimes & misdemeanors.
Hitchens’ late-life discovery of his Jewish genes (which his brother disputes) oddly enough coincided with the switch to neocon positions in his writing. It earned him a place on The Forward’s Top 50 Jews list for 2002–
In the famous debate between Hitchens and British MP George Galloway at Baruch College in 2005, Galloway has some fun reminding Hitchens’ (largely Jewish) fans of the latter’s one-time ardent support for the Palestinian cause.
Richard Silverstein says
Yes, I wrote a post attacking the rightward tilt of the Forward’s list. 3 right wingers for every liberal on that list. Naming Hitchens as an important JEWISH figure for the yr is preposterous. Other than having a Jewish ancestor does Hitchens even consider himself Jewish or have any linkage or interest in Judaism or Jewishness?
MidEast Brief, thanks for your comment. I agree that directly blaming Hitchens for Daily’s death is incorrect and inappropriate and I fell into that a bit. It was obviously Mark Daily’s decision to go fight in Iraq.
Hitchens’ smug arrogance and armchair warriorness bug me and probably tend to push the hyperbole. One of the things that particularly annoys me about the Hitch is the sense I get that it’s all a game to him. He seems too smart to peddle the simplistic and barbaric positions that he does and his pseudo-eloquence can serve to grant a seductive (yet empty) veneer of reason to the murderous Neoconservative project. So I guess he seems particularly annoying and despicable on these grounds.
So Hitch killed Lt. Daily? I thought his death was an IED by a crazed murderer.
Brave of you to point out that Lt. Daily wrote that he knew of the dangers of serving his country but did it anyway. So much for your argument.
You only wish you could write like Hitch but then again you are singing to the choir and not to independent thinkers, so keep your head in the sand and breathe deeply.
No Davis, Mark Daily was not killed by a crazed murderer. He was killed by an Iraqi resistance fighter, who was resisting the occupation of his country by a foreign occupation force. Daily’s death was an act of war, not murder.