Christopher Hitchens Meets His Maker

I have to admit that I am not a follower or admirer of Christopher Hitchens, but that’s as much my fault as it is his.

I didn’t tend to read the publications he wrote in and was somewhat put off by his, off and on, connection to David Irving.

Still, I feel any objective observer must acknowledge that Hitchens was a prolific and significant writer.

I don’t think that we should fawn over “Great Men” and bemoan their demise whilst the rest of humanity are often consigned to the grave without barely a thought or an obituary, nevertheless, it would have been good to read more of Hitchens’ contemporary writings.

This piece was something he wrote in December 2011, when he knew his time was very short, it is very powerful:

“However, there is no escaping the fact that I am otherwise enormously weaker than I was then. How long ago it seems that I presented the proton team with champagne and then hopped almost nimbly into a taxi. During my next hospital stay, in Washington D.C., the institution gifted me with a vicious staph pneumonia (and sent me home twice with it) that almost snuffed me out. The annihilating fatigue that came over me in consequence also contained the deadly threat of surrender to the inescapable: I would often find fatalism and resignation washing drearily over me as I failed to battle my general inanition. Only two things rescued me from betraying myself and letting go: a wife who would not hear of me talking in this boring and useless way, and various friends who also spoke freely. Oh, and the regular painkiller. How happily I measured off my day as I saw the injection being readied. It counted as a real event. With some analgesics, if you are lucky, you can actually “feel” the hit as it goes in: a sort of warming tingle with an idiotic bliss to it. To have come to this—like the sad goons who raid pharmacies for OxyContin. But it was an alleviation of boredom, and a guilty pleasure (not many of those in Tumortown), and not least a relief from pain. “

A fairly well-written obituary is available at the Guardian.

Update 1:
I think my view of Hitchens was far too charitable as this article argues, he seems to have had a serious problem and I am not talking about smoking or drink:

“Hitchens’s bestselling atheist jeremiad, God is Not Great (2007), provides an excellent overview of its author’s sentiments on the topic of Jews and Judaism. While the book is ostensibly opposed to all religions equally, Hitchens goes out of his way not merely to criticize Judaism but to portray it in the ugliest possible terms, invoking many of the classic themes of anti-Semitism in order to do so.

He informs us, for example, of the “pitiless teachings of the God of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all,” and whose Ten Commandments have nothing to say about “the protection of children from cruelty, nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, and nothing about genocide.” Indeed, according to Hitchens, “some of these very offenses are . . . positively recommended” by the God of the Hebrews, with far-reaching historical consequences. According to Hitchens, the Jews’ genocidal God and His order to drive the Canaanite tribes out of the land of Israel form the basis not only of a “19th-century irredentist claim to Palestine” but of the current debate among Israeli rabbis over “whether the demand to exterminate the Amalekites is a coded commandment to do away with the Palestinians.” Who these rabbis might be, the extent of their influence, and whether anyone listens to them are questions that go mostly unaddressed.

For Hitchens, the evils he lists are not just religious tenets; they are ingrained in the Jews themselves. The rituals and practices of Judaism, he charges, are debased by the Jews’ obsession with money, as exemplified by the “hypocrites and frauds who abound in talmudic Jewish rationalization” and who operate according to the principle: “‘Don’t do any work on the Sabbath yourself, but pay someone else to do it for you. You obeyed the letter of the law: who’s counting?'” (Hitchens’s world abounds, apparently, in dutiful shabbos goyim.) Circumcision, he claims, is the “sexual mutilation of small boys” and “most probably a symbolic survival from the animal and human sacrifices which were such a feature of the gore-soaked landscape of the Old Testament.” As for anti-Semitism, the Jews brought it on themselves. “By claiming to be ‘chosen’ in a special exclusive covenant with the Almighty,” Hitchens writes, “they invited hatred and suspicion and evinced their own form of racism.” “

I had always wondered what Christopher Hitchens and David Irving had in common and why he, apparently, kept in with Irving for years, when no sensible historian would touch Irving with an extended barge pole.

I suppose the above clears up the matter.

Update 2: Professor Lipstadt demonstrates Hitchens’ shiftiness when defending David Irving:

“Giving Hitchens the benefit of the doubt about the lies of the Goebbels book still does not excuse this claim from his 1996 Vanity Fair article: “And, incidentally, [Irving] has never and not once described the Holocaust as a ‘hoax’.” Restricting ourselves just to what Hitchens could have known before writing that, we find that, testifying at the 1988 trial of a Canadian Holocaust denier, Irving said, “No documents whatever show that a Holocaust had ever happened.” What’s the defense of this? That Irving doesn’t use the word “hoax”? OK then. How about these?

In a 1991 speech, Irving said, “Until 1988, I believed that there had been something like a Holocaust … but [in] 1988 … I met people who knew differently and could prove to me that story was just a legend.”

In 1990: “The holocaust of Germans in Dresden really happened. That of the Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz is an invention.”

And, again, in 1991: “More women died on the back seat of Senator Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.”

Remember, Hitchens’ defenses of Irving did not appear on, to use his own phrase, “some ghastly Brownshirt Web site,” but in Vanity Fair and the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Inevitably, in the L.A. Times piece, Hitchens brings up the totem of Irving enablers, “the censorship of Irving.” What is he referring to? St. Martin’s Press did not censor Irving; it chose not to publish his book because its chairman, Thomas J. McCormack, was sickened by the thought of publishing a book whose subtext, he said, was “the Jews brought this onto themselves.” St. Martin’s did not prevent the book from appearing elsewhere, and in fact, the Goebbels bio was published in Britain, from where the faithful could order it. Any honest person who talks about David Irving and the censoring of history has to acknowledge that the censoring has been attempted by David Irving himself. This is what the libel trial was about — Irving’s attempts to censor Lipstadt’s “Denying the Holocaust” — though, as the trial showed, the claims Lipstadt made against Irving are demonstrably true. This is not the only piece of litigation Irving has attempted or threatened. His lawsuit threats delayed for years the British publication of historian John Lukacs’ “The Hitler of History.” When it did appear in Britain, it was published in an edition that bowdlerized Lukacs’ case against Irving. These very real attempts to quash the work of historians are never mentioned by Irving’s defenders. But somehow, the work of historians who set out to prove the deceptions in Irving’s work is depicted as an attempt at censorship, or a way of inhibiting historical examination. ”

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14 Responses to Christopher Hitchens Meets His Maker

  1. Pingback: David Irving and Christopher Hitchens « Soupy One

  2. I don’t find this very convincing. Criticising the teachings of Torah surely doesn’t amount to antisemitism? I also agree with Hitchens on circumcision. You might be right about this, however:
    “By claiming to be ‘chosen’ in a special exclusive covenant with the Almighty,” Hitchens writes, “they invited hatred and suspicion and evinced their own form of racism.”
    It is at least poorly worded, given the historical context; but then don’t all believers claim to be the chosen ones?
    Thanks for writing this interesting post.

  3. soupyone says:

    I will take them one by one:

    1. “Criticising the teachings of Torah surely doesn’t amount to antisemitism? ”

    Of course, it can.

    It depends on how you do it. If you invoke old stereotype, etc.

    2. “It is at least poorly worded, given the historical context; but then don’t all believers claim to be the chosen ones?

    As a specific connotation in terms of antisemitism. It is constantly used by antisemites to sneer at Jews, or as another euphemism.

    Sadly, few people ask why Hitchens would be friendly with David Irving, doyen of Holocaust denial. Now that is an interesting question.

  4. Thanks for your answer. Just to be clear, I believe Holocaust denial is absurd, and very likely anti Semitic; many Holocaust deniers have indeed some sort of Neo Nazi agenda. Specifically for the purpose of commenting on your blog post I watched the video clip with Hitchens talking about David Irving, and I must say Hitchens seems to be mainly defending our right to read that book, and not endorsing what the book is trying to convey. Let me remind you that Hitchens also defended Salman Rushdie, so it cannot be said he is selective in emphasising the importance of freedom of speech.

  5. soupyone says:

    “and very likely anti Semitic”

    A bit like saying water is very likely wet.

    Of course, Holocaust denial **is** antisemitic, that is its rationale, to deny the crimes of National Socialism, to exonerate the Nazis, etc

    Hitchens liaison with David Irving is not merely he is defending his right to speak.

    I have detailed it at great length elsewhere on my blog. Hitchens wined and dined Irving. Treated him like a family friend. Even when Irving was proven to be a nasty antisemite and a pro-Hitler ideologue, Hitchens carried water for him, try to exonerate him, until the very last.

    So no, it’s not about freedom of speech. There was a bond between those two men, and the question is why?

  6. I could be wrong in my statements, and am happy to be proved wrong, but this post lacks sufficient evidence. Please provide me with a link to those details “elsewhere on your blog”.

  7. soupyone says:

    Let me see if I can explain it another way:

    If someone said to you “C could be a programming language”, you would probably reply “it most certainly is, as anyone in the field knows”

    That is the same with Holocaust denial and antisemitism. No reputable specialist, no competent historian, frankly no one that has, seriously, troubled to read a book on the subject with any degree of objectivity, would argue about it.

    It’s a bit like quibbling as to whether or not C can be classified as a programming language.

    There is a marvellous search facility within my blog, I would not wish to deprive you of hunting around and researching the topic!

  8. But all Hitchens is saying is “Let them write that C is not a programming language”. He isn’t saying it’s not a programming language, is he?

    I have searched your blog but unfortunately failed to find a post with these arguments. Perhaps you would be kind enough to provide a link to it – thank you!

  9. soupyone says:

    Forgive me, I would be most happy to address your questions, if you could articulate them in a way which is logical and understandable.

    I shall make my point again. No one, moderately educated, argues that Holocaust denial is not antisemitic.

    Therefore to quibble on this particular point, suggests that you might better inform yourself on this topic.

    That is what I’m saying.

    The search facility is a piece of cake to use when you put in the keyword: Hitchins

    http://soupyone.wordpress.com/?s=Hitchens

    Do excuse me if I sound exacerbated, but the arguments are in front of you and I try not to spoon feed my readers. I assume:
    1) most understand Holocaust denial is antisemitic
    2) most appreciate that David Irving is a neofascist historian
    3) that there is an anomaly when someone on the Left consciously support a Holocaust denier.

    I hope that is fairly clear.

    Also, I would recommend reading the Holocaust Denial on trial site, and the works of Deborah Lipstadt, etc

  10. I’m sorry, I must have not made myself particularly clear, I didn’t mean to upset you. I did *not* come to your blog looking for information on Holocaust Denial or David Irving – I am interested in Christopher Hitchens. I agree with all 3 points you mentioned, fair enough. But point 3 does not seem to apply to Hitchens. This is what I asked you to clarify and this is what I have not found on your blog.

  11. soupyone says:

    Me: “3) that there is anomaly when someone on the Left consciously support a Holocaust denier.”

    Your reply: But point 3 does not seem to apply to Hitchens.

    We seem to have a real problem communicating.

    I make a point, you quibble, I emphasise the point, I reiterate it and eventually you concede it.

    Let me make it very clear that my point three was based on evidence. I am an empiricist, I only argue from evidence.

    If you make the slightest effort to read the links on Hitchins and the volume of words I have already written on him then I suspect you would not argue over point 3.

    Go on, do some reading, please.

  12. Fine, I’ll do some reading (and hopefully there will be a warmer welcome and fewer remarks on your side next time).

  13. soupyone says:

    My most humble apologies.

    As a blogger after writing hundreds of words I make an assumption that my readers will read them ,or would least endeavour to use the links, which I provide.

    As a way to help I shall provide those links directly, they were available in the search engine as I indicated above but I appreciate it is a bit complex.

    The first shows Hitchens still try to santise Irving in 2006.

    http://soupyone.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/hitchens-on-robert-faurisson-and-defending-david-irving/

    In http://soupyone.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/david-irving-and-christopher-hitchens/

    I go into detail viz in December 2011( two years ago)

    “I imagined that his supporters will, no doubt, say it was because of freedom of speech and how he was an absolutist. That is a plausible answer, except it doesn’t address the issue of the facts.

    1. Christopher Hitchens, initially, downplayed David Irving’s views.

    2. Hitchens misrepresented Irving’s work to put a nicer spin on it.

    3. Hitchens even gave Irving “one last chance” in the wake of the Irving v. Lipstadt trial after 2000.”

    Downplaying an active antisemite’s views is unconscionable. The last chance which Hitchens gave to Irving continued on from year 2000 even to 2006.

    So up until the end Hitchens was loyal to their friendship (which involved the Irving visiting Hitchens flat in America, a rather intimate action if you know the mentality of the English). He only distance himself from Irving when Hitchens wife made a strong point of pointing out Irving’s racism.

    I believe that explains most of it.

  14. Hi, thank you for the links. I have read your blog posts and the articles you linked to; the ones describing the court case were very interesting.

    The only thing that Hitchens did wrong, in my view, is saying that Irving never called the Holocaust a hoax, while the latter’s view apparently drifted towards that conclusion. Other than that, I don’t believe Hitchens downplayed Irving’s views, misrepresented his work, and the “last chance” bit is, frankly, a bit dishonest on your side.

    Finally, I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit on this: “I think the problem with Hitchens was that he “inherited” some strange views from his time with the International Socialists, but couldn’t bring himself to admit it.”

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