I thought Christopher Hitchens was on the wrong side of the aisle. For example, he was scathing in his opinions about Bill Clinton, during the sex scandal over Monica Lewinsky. Not that I approved of Clinton’s dalliance, but still I thought it was a grotesque over-reach by the Republicans to impeach him, and I felt that Hitchens was helping the wrong people. In his memoir Hitch 22 (Twelve, New York, 2010) he says almost nothing about his stance on that, but he repeats many of his other criticisms of the former President. Nevertheless he approved Clinton’s decision to intervene in the Bosnian war.
Hitch 22 goes back to Hitchens’ school days and rolls forward through a journalistic career that took Hitchens very far afield, and brought him into contact with some of the brightest lights in literature and politics of the last half century. He goes into depth about these encounters, keeping careful score of what was said by whom and who turned out to be right or wrong. Some of these accounts are droll, such as the time when a famous female politician swatted him on his backside in public, others sad, but all interesting. The book shows, step-by-step, how Hitchens went from being an active socialist to a neocon critic, defender of Bush I and II for intervening in Iraq, while criticizing their incompetence – Bush I for failing to take out Saddam, and Bush II for botching the occupation of that country.
In a number of places he refers to his well-known atheism, but he also writes of having learned as an adult that his mother was Jewish, and how he did some research on the origins of that side of his family. His criticism of what he called Islamo-fascism preceded 9/11 and was based on his observations as a journalist covering events in the Middle East, especially Iraq. He was active in promoting the idea that Iraq would have to be invaded, long before 2003.
A quick wit on television, Hitchens had what his friends called a Rolls-Royce mind. His books on religion and Thomas Jefferson showed his commanding intelligence and that is on full display in Hitch 22 as well. The depth and seriousness of the reading he did as a boy and as a student are impressive, and the content very different from what Americans are given to understand as the accepted canon. One might think that language differences were the main reason for variation in education in different countries, but if Hitchens is any example, the real reason is that people in different countries give different books to their children.
Hitchens’ principles were libertarian to a large extent, and his reactions to infringements were visceral and sharp. This sent him down a surprising path, given his early socialist leanings.