Misremembering Hitchens

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James Kirchick (h/t Mick Hartley) writes on all that was left unsaid at a memorial service for Christopher Hitchens in New York last month.

The service began with an opening speech by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who set the tone for the event when he mentioned, in passing, Christopher’s “curious prowar stance before the invasion of Iraq.” We would hear next to nothing about Iraq for the rest of the 90-minute service, a glaring omission considering that the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, second only perhaps to his crusade against religion, was the defining topic of the last decade of Christopher’s life. An impressive array of people performed readings of Christopher’s best work; some of which—Tom Stoppard from a Nation piece on the Prague Spring, Tom Mallon from a Vanity Fair dispatch about North Korea, Christopher Buckley from the memoir Hitch 22—were deeply moving.

But not a single one of the readings was about Iraq, never mind the looming threat of Iran or the hypocrisies of the antiwar movement, topics that consumed Christopher and gradually drove him away from the Nation (which, he concluded, had become “the voice and the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden”) and the left in general. One of his most memorable polemics, the absence of which at the memorial was surely attributable to the fact that it would have offended most of the people in the room, was his evisceration of filmmaker Michael Moore and his Fahrenheit 9/11. This “silly and shady man,” Christopher wrote, had produced a film which represented “a possible fusion between the turgid routines of MoveOn.org and the filmic standards, if not exactly the filmic skills, of Sergei Eisenstein or Leni Riefenstahl.”

Christopher never apologized for his support of the war, or expressed the slightest doubt that he had been wrong in backing it, but the memorial service tried to whitewash this episode as if it were akin to an embarrassing crime he had committed.