Sunday, August 08, 2010

Book review: Hitch-22

Christopher Hitchens is a man it is easy to find likable or to despite, depending upon whether you agree with him or not.

On the matter of religion, I agree with Hitchens. On the matter of politics, and especially the Iraq War, I really, really disagree with him. Still, overall, I find him likable, and his memoir, Hitch-22, has not changed this, though it has vividly demonstrated some of Hitchens' blind spots to me (but more on that later).

As mentioned, Hitch-22 is Hitchens' memoir, covering his life from his childhood and youth through to present time. Not all of Hitchens' life is given equal coverage - much of the book is devoted to his childhood, and to his college years and his start as a book reviewer and journalist. There is also some focus on recent years, with only brief forays into the intermediate years.

The book gives an interesting insight into the mind of a man who has crossed pretty close to the entire political spectrum, leaving many former friends behind as enemies, and who has never been afraid to speak out and stand by his principles, no matter how unpopular. And make no mistake, even though Hitchens has crossed the politcal spectrum, it doesn't mean that he doesn't, largely, stand by his earlier convictions, as the following quote demonstrates.

I had expected the newly elected Labour government to withhold British support for this foul war [Vietnam] (and the amazingly coarse and thuggish-looking American president who was prosecuting it), and when this expectation was disappointed I began, along with many, many of my contemporaries to experience a furious disillusionment with "conventional" politics. A bit young to be so cynical and so superior, you may think. My reply is that you should fucking well have been there, and felt it for yourself.


Hitchens movement across the political spectrum was, in other words, not because of a change of heart on his former convictions. Rather it was as a result of Hitchens growing disagreement with his then-political allies on issues such as intervention in the former Yugoslavia and, later, the threat of Islamic Fascism, as Hitchens coined it.

Hitch-22 is well written, as one could expect from Hitchens, but it is surprisingly uneven - there are several times where chapters gets sidetracked, and never really get back on track. It also suffers from Hitchens focus on the famous people he used to, and to some degree still, hang out with (this flaw reminded me of Robert Graves' Goodbye to all that!, which suffers from the same problem).

And then there is of course the matter of Hitchens' pig-headedness on the Iraq War.

OK, that might sound harsh, but let me try to explain.

Hitchens was an early supporter for the war on Iraq. He was that well before 9/11, and for reasons unrelated to the Bush Administration's first reasons for going into Iraq. Hitchens thought that Saddam Hussein was an evil monster who had to be stopped.

Agree or disagree with him, at least it makes sense, given the premise.

In Hitch-22, Hitchens spend some time going into his reasons for his support, and the spends time attacking the left for their stance against the war.

Well, I am not particularly left-winged (by European standards I am quite right-winged), and unlike those people that Hitchens criticize, I am not a dove or pacifist - I frequently back military interventions (like ex-Yugoslavia), and I even think that invading Afghanistan was appropriate under the circumstances. But I was, and still am, against the Iraq War. The reasons for this are where Hitchens appears to have a blind spot.

When the Iraq War was being sold to the general population, it was being sold under false premises. Not only did the Bush Administration, and the coalition partners, link Saddam Hussein with Al Quaeda without evidence, they also lied blatantly, and repeatedly, about things such as WMD (which, contrary to Hitchens' claims in the book, hasn't been found). This was obvious to many of us back then, and that was the reason why I opposed, and still oppose, the war - the lies demonstrated, to me, that there were no justifiable reasons for the war. Had there been any such, there would have been no need to lie.

What Hitchens doesn't seem to take into consideration, is that the Iraq War wasn't fought for the reasons Hitchens wanted it fought. This means that people might object to the other reasons, rather than his reasons. But this should probably not surprise us, as Hitchens seems unaware that the conspiracy to get the US into war with Iraq, that many people has mentioned, is not Hitchens and his ideological allies on this subject (though one of them, Ahmad Chalaby, did play an important role), but rather the much more influential Project for the New American Century.

Having gotten this out of my system, I should probably say that despite the books flaws, and the blind spots it displays, it is still very much worth a read. The parts on Iraq is only a small part of the book, and other parts of the book easily makes up for this - especially Hitchens' description of his mother and her suicide is very powerful and moving writing.

So, all in all, Hitch-22 is a book which annoys and impress, but most importantly, makes you think. Much like its author.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Karlo said...

I'd agree about the Iraq War. The deception leading up to it is disturbing, as is the reality that wars are being fought for solely economic objectives.

August 24, 2010 1:44 PM  

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