Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, who died in 2011 at the age of 62, wrote several dozen pieces for the LRB between 1983 and 2002. A Hitch in Time, a collection of some of them, is published by Atlantic.

11 September 1973: Crimes against Allende

Christopher Hitchens, 11 July 2002

I have a more or less fixed memory of the end of the ‘Sixties’. In the autumn of 1970 I went to join a strike picket at the General Motors plant in Fremont, California. Handy for Berkeley and Oakland, the factory was one of the salients of a national labour shutdown that was scheduled to begin at 12 o’clock at night. In the ranks of supporters were hardened veterans of the...

Done Deal: Nixon in China

Christopher Hitchens, 5 April 2001

Henry Luce​ – who coined the catchphrase about ‘the American Century’ – once said that the crucial event of that century would be the Christianisation of China. He meant the Protestant evangelisation of China; it would have been no less absurd to propose the conversion of the Chinese to Judaism, but there was a time when millions of American homes gave little...

Performing Seals: The PR Crowd

Christopher Hitchens, 10 August 2000

A man I met told me that F.R. Leavis had once been invited to Columbia University to talk, and was afterwards bidden to a reception in his own honour. The co-editor of Scrutiny had been very much himself and, after his departure, was discussed as visitors tend to be. A certain elderly member of the English Department even observed: ‘He seemed perfectly all right to me. I can’t think why everybody calls him “Queenie”.’‘

Novelists can be lucky in their editors, in their friends, in their mentors and even in their pupils. Sometimes they are generous or sentimental enough to fictionalise the relationship. In Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell gave his friendless, dowdy and self-pitying protagonist Comstock one true pal: the editor and patron Ravelston, proprietor of the small yet reliable magazine Antichrist. This Ravelston – some composite of Sir Richard Rees and John Middleton Murry – was a hedonistic yet guilt-ridden dilettante, good in a pinch, and soft on poets, but too easily embarrassed by brute exigence. Saul Bellow – who has already shown a vulnerability to exigent poets in his wonderful Humboldt’s Gift – now presents us with Ravelstein, a hedonistic kvetch who manifests patience towards none. As is known to all but the meanest citizens of the republic of letters, the novel is an obelisk for the late Allan Bloom, author of the 1987 shocker The Closing of the American Mind. This book, which was a late product or blooming of the University of Chicago Committee on Social Thought, argued that the American mind was closed because it had become so goddamned open – a nice deployment of paradox and a vivid attack on the relativism that has become so OK on campus these days. Bloom’s polemic swiftly became a primer for the right-wing Zeitgeist; a bookend for the shelf or index sternly marked ‘all downhill since 1967’. And even then, there were those who detected a Bellovian lending, or borrowing as the case might be.’‘

Diary: The Candidates for the 2000 Presidency

Christopher Hitchens, 6 January 2000

It was in San Diego, California in the late summer of 1996 that the working hacks finally tumbled to what they had done. A Republican National Convention had been arranged, as a sort of soundstage or a mixed-media event, entirely for the convenience of the press and TV. The delegates were mere extras on the set, the coronation of the two nominees was a sure thing, the feral extremists and fundamentalists had been tidied out of sight, the corporate-sponsorship logos were beautifully placed, the camera angles and background briefings were the chief preoccupation of the Party managers and – there was exactly nothing to cover, nothing to transmit, and nothing to write about. A day or so passed, in this city of sinister charm (once described by Gore Vidal as ‘the Vatican of the John Birch Society’), in an agony of boredom and irrelevance. And then the ABC News Nightline team, the flagship of supposedly serious coverage, announced that it was vacating its skybox and leaving town. No story. Thus did the grand tradition of Convention reporting – a tradition that spans Mencken and Ed Murrow – come to its close in bathos and ennui. And ask anyone what they can remember about the utterly null Democratic Convention in Chicago a week or so later: the only possible comment was by way of pointed contrast to the same Convention in the same city in 1968, when politics was still for real. (The Mayor of Chicago is still called Richard Daley, but with the mediocre son all resemblance ends.)’‘

What a Lot of Parties: Diana Mosley

Christopher Hitchens, 30 September 1999

In the autumn of 1980 I was leafing through the latest number of Books and Bookmen and came across a notice of Hans-Otto Meissner’s biography of Magda Goebbels. The reviewer was Diana Mosley. Fair enough, I thought, she had at least known the woman. Indeed, as she put it herself: ‘I knew Magda and Dr Goebbels quite well. She was charming and beautiful, he was clever and witty.’ Eschewing bleeding-heart compassion, yet unusually ready to put in a humane word for the unfit, she found the kindest context for the dwarfishness of her hero, who she described as ‘a small man, not much smaller than Napoleon. He limped because of a club foot, as did Byron. Very clever, he got a scholarship to Heidelberg where he acquired his doctorate.’ Lady Mosley burbled on in this vein for a bit, spicing things up with references to Goebbels’s ‘inspired oratory’. Concerning Kristallnacht she was scrupulously non-judgmental, concluding that ‘his guilt must rest on supposition.’ I remember wondering how she would tackle the ticklish question of the immolation of the Goebbels kinder. Here is how she grasped the nettle: ‘Everyone knows the tragic end. As the Russians surrounded Berlin, the Goebbels painlessly killed their children and then themselves. The dead children were described by people who saw them as looking “peacefully asleep”. Those who condemn this appalling, Masada-like deed must consider the alternative facing the distraught Magda.’ At this point, I threw the mag to one side and seized a pen. It’s true that the shaggy fundamentalists in the Josephus yarn did put their families to the sword before falling on their own, but still … So I wrote a piece for the old New Statesman, emptying the vials over Books and Bookmen and saying rather pompously that I wouldn’t turn in my next review for it until the editor had repudiated the Mosley/Masada trope.‘

Running on Empty: The Wrong Stuff

Christopher Hitchens, 7 January 1999

Like every writer before him who has ever scored a triumph … Fallow was willing to give no credit to luck. Would he have any trouble repeating his triumph in a city he knew nothing about, in a country he looked upon as a stupendous joke? Well … why should he? His genius had only begun to flower. This was only journalism, after all, a cup of tea on the way to his eventual triumph as a novelist.

Moderation or Death: Isaiah Berlin

Christopher Hitchens, 26 November 1998

In The Color of Truth, the American scholar Kai Bird presents his study of McGeorge (‘Mac’) and William Bundy. These were the two dynastic technocrats who organised and justified the hideous war in Vietnam. Cold War liberals themselves, with the kept conservative journalist Joseph Alsop they formed a Three of Hearts in the less fastidious quarters of Washington DC. Another player made up an occasional fourth man. Isaiah Berlin was happy, at least when Charles (Chip) Bohlen was unavailable, to furnish an urbane ditto to their ruthlessness. Almost as if to show that academics and intellectuals may be tough guys, too – the most lethal temptation to which the contemplative can fall victim – Berlin’s correspondance with this little cabal breathes with that abject eagerness that was so much a part of the one-time Anglo-American ‘special relationship’. To Alsop he wrote, on 20 April 1966, an account of a dinner with McGeorge Bundy:’‘

Diary: the Almanach de Gotha

Christopher Hitchens, 2 July 1998

In his memoirs, Claud Cockburn wrote about the occasional charm of things being just the way they’re supposed to be. Thus, the first time he wenton the Orient Express he met a tempestuous woman who was later arrested for espionage; the first time he interviewed a politician he was told a breathtaking lie in the first five minutes; the first time he entered an Irish castle a fine large pig ran squealing across the main hall. Sometime in me Seventies, I was taken to one of those nightclubs in Berkeley Square, and there ran into Jonathan Guinness and his party. Introductions were effected; I didn’t catch all the names and said to the small dark man who still had hold of my hand: ‘Sorry, did you say you were Paul from Romania?’ He released the mitt and drew himself up somewhat. ‘Paul of Romania.’ I burbled something about it being dreadfully noisy in here, he unbent a little and produced from his inside pocket an enticing brochure about real estate in the Seychelles.‘

I was just beginning to write about 1968 when I learned of the death in New Orleans of Ron Ridenhour, the GI who exposed the massacre at My Lai. He was only 52, which means that he was in his early twenties when, as a helicopter gunner in area, he learned of the murder of nearly 660 Vietnamese civilians. This was not some panicky ‘collateral damage’ fire-fight: the men of Charlie Company took a long time to dishonour and dismember the women, round up and despatch the children and make the rest of the villagers lie down in ditches while they walked up and down shooting them. Not one of the allegedly ‘searing’ films about the war – not Apocalypse Now, not Full Metal Jacket or Platoon – has dared to show anything remotely like the truth of this and many other similar episodes, more evocative of Poland or the Ukraine in 1941. And the thing of it was, as Ron pointed out, that it was ‘an act of policy, not an individual aberration. Above My Lai that day were helicopters filled with the entire command staff of the brigade, division and task force.’’‘

In Arthur Schlesinger’S court history, A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, which might without unfairness be called the founding breviary of the cult of JFK, there appears the following vignette. Schlesinger had been asked to carpenter a ‘White Paper’ justifying Washington’s destabilisation of Cuba, in which the high-flown rhetoric of the New Frontier might form a sort of scab over the fouler business of empire. This task he readily performed, scampering back to the Oval Office for a chat with the divine one:‘

A Regular Bull

Christopher Hitchens, 31 July 1997

I once had the luck to meet the great Saul Bellow, who in the course of the evening told me the following story. In 1945 he had been engaged as a book reviewer for Henry Luce’ Time magazine. Or he thought he had been so engaged. When he turned up for work, he was informed that Whittaker Chambers, chief Pooh-Bah of the ‘back of the book’, wished to see him. He entered the sanctum and found the stout, surly presence waiting behind a desk. ‘Sit down Mr Bellow. Tell me, what did you study at university?’ Bellow replied that his study had been English literature. He was asked to give his opinion of William Wordsworth as a poet. He responded that he had always thought of William Wordsworth as one of the Romantics. ‘There is no place for you,’ said Chambers on hearing this, ‘in this organisation.’ The future Nobel Laureate was fired before he had been hired. Reflecting on this in 1989, he said he still had two questions about it. The first and unanswerable one was: what if he’d kept the job? He might be a book critic for Time to this very day. The second question was: what answer could possibly have saved him? I thought then, and I think now, that the books editor wanted the junior scribe to look him in the eye and say that William Wordsworth, a one-time revolutionary poet, had seen the error of his ways and – braving the scorn and contumely of his one-time comrades – become a reconciled conservative.’

The Trouble with HRH

Christopher Hitchens, 5 June 1997

Amid all the wretched declension of the British royal family, many people seem willing to suspend their general disapproval, disappointment, boredom, nausea – you name it – in the case of Our Sovereign Lady The Queen. Unselfish, dutiful, serious, modest, faithful unto death, she rises above the showbiz values, disco ambitions and petty neuroses of her clan and brood. But does she truly deserve such a dispensation? Monarchs may be able to elude responsibility for many things, but surely the state of the monarchy is not among them. And the Queen made at least two decisions of her own which contributed to the present zoo-like condition of her relatives. The first was her choice of consort: the hawkish and chilly authoritarian who made such a hell of his offspring’s childhood. The second was her resolution, so pious and so carefully meditated, to sacrifice her only sister’s happiness for the greater cause of family values and the high duty of setting an example. This is the House of Windsor, not the House of Atreus (let’s keep our sense of proportion), but still, here if anywhere was its original sin. Does Brenda, even now, look wistfully back on a time when marriage to a divorced war hero was considered the height of scandal and required the officiousness of the aptly-named Cantuar?’

Bill and Dick’s Excellent Adventure

Christopher Hitchens, 20 February 1997

I was travelling in Illinois when I first heard some beefy local pol utter the profound Post-Modern truth that ‘Politics is showbiz for ugly people.’ Yes, you too may be a mediocre, flaky-scalped, pudgy sycophant. But, with the right ‘skills’, you also can possess a cellular phone and keep a limo on call and ‘take meetings’ and issue terse directives like ‘I want this yesterday, understand.’ Unfortunately, the women you meet in the politics biz will tend to be rather too much like yourself. But, hey, bimbos can be rented! And won’t they just be impressed to death when you pass them the bedroom telephone extension and it’s the Prez talking.

National Treasure

Christopher Hitchens, 14 November 1996

The 44 Restaurant in the Royalton Hotel at 44 West 44th Street is a pretty suave and worldly Manhattan lunchery. So at any rate it seems to my provincial, country-mouse Washingtonian optic. I am sometimes taken there for a treat by my editors at Condé Nast, who use the place as a sort of staff canteen. My old friend Brian McNally, demonstrating that le patron mange ici, occasionally lets me sit at his table. I have learned not to point and squeak and say: ‘Look, isn’t that the girl from Dirty Dancing!’ Everybody acts very unconcerned about celebrity, though you get the occasional ‘Hi, Tina.’ The deliciousness of the food and the epicene beauty of the staff absorb most of one’s energy in any case. So I have a distinct memory of the occasion – not very many months before her last illness – when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis stopped by for a snackette. I happened to be browsing and sluicing myself there that day, and was amazed to see hardened New Yorkers acting like the most abject stage-door Johnnies, and indeed Janes. The former First Lady sat in the main booth with her friends, looking serene and detached, while all sorts of people took their time collecting their hats or whatever, and rubbernecking shamelessly.’’

A Hard Dog to Keep on the Porch

Christopher Hitchens, 6 June 1996

Oxford 1968-9. In the evenings, after dinner in hall, groups would take shape informally in the quad. There was Richard Cobb’s lot, making for the buttery and another round of worldly banter. There was this or that sodality, taking a cigarette break or killing time before revision. There was my own cohort, usually divided between the opposing tasks of selling the factional newspaper, or distributing the latest leaflet, or procuring another drink. And there were the Americans. I remember James Fenton noticing how they would cluster a little closer together and talk in a fashion slightly more intense. Mainly Rhodes or Fulbright scholars, they had come from every state of the union with what amounted to a free pass. The Yanks of Oxford were accustomed to going home and taking up a lot of available space in the American academy, in the American media and in American politics or diplomacy. Yet for this contingent, the whole experience had become deeply and abruptly fraught. They were far from home and they were deeply patriotic. You could tell that they had been told by their selection committees, before embarking on the Atlantic crossing, that they should comport themselves as ambassadors and emissaries. But those local lawyers and Rotarians and Chambers of Commerce had not prepared them to hurry up, finish their studies and take ship to Vietnam.

The Cruiser

Christopher Hitchens, 22 February 1996

Few things are harder to write than a sincere treatment in the style of ‘more sorrow than anger’. The sincerity is bound to get in the way of both the sorrow and the anger, and vice versa. One will be suspected, perhaps, of masking (beneath the regret) a covert relish. The ful-some style of the obituarist may creep in, causing one to be sanctimonious about the virtues in order to appear generous about the backslidings. Hypocrisy waits at every intersection. But it remains the fact that Conor Cruise O’Brien has been one of the great stylists of our time, whether writing about France, Britain, Ireland or Africa. It further remains a fact that his has been a voice attuned to the discourse of reason, and that when he has been ‘mobbish’ (his own preferred term for a bit of polemical exaggeration; no harm in it; no malice; the fellow needed a bit of a start anyway) then even this mobbishness has been generous, and a pleasure to read. O’Brien has been an internationalist, a wit, a polymath and a provocateur. I can still remember the excitement with which I discovered a copy of Writers and Politics, in a provincial library in Devonshire thirty years ago. Nobody who tries to write about either of those subjects, or about ‘the bloody crossroads’ where they have so often met, can disown a debt to the Cruiser. I hope that this is enough by way of sorrow and sincerity, though I could certainly have amplified it. Because the plain fact is that his latest book is a disgrace. Even if it doesn’t make one angry, it is a cause for disgust and depression. It fouls his reputation both for writing and for reasoning.

Diary: Men (and Women) of the Year

Christopher Hitchens, 14 December 1995

This month in New York, the fashionable charity named United Cerebral Palsy is having an ‘awards’ event. I think that the winners must have been picked some time ago. The ‘outstanding achievement’ prize goes to General Colin Powell, and will be presented by Barbara Walters. The ‘humanitarian’ award goes to Diana Spencer and will be presented by Henry Kissinger. In other words, a single well-placed grenade could remove the whole beating heart of the international celebrity industry, along with its most servile and deferential interviewer and promoter: Barbara Walters, doyenne of drool and sultana of shlock. But not even this would restore the stolen year; the twelvemonth of trash and false alarms to which we have been subjected. In nominating one’s ‘people of the year’, it is necessary to say a bit about the disqualifications. These must include any propensity to waste time. A true celebrity ‘delivers’. He or she keeps weaving and moving in an effort not to disappoint. Richard Nixon was such a one. Every time a new segment of Watergate tape was released, revealing his Jew-baiting or thuggery or corruption, he would publish a new book on grand strategy or at least fly to Beijing. What a trouper! Such a pro! Say what you like about Dick, there was nothing of the cock-teaser about him. This is more than can be said for United Cerebral Palsy’s two chiefest honorees.


Christopher Hitchens, 19 October 1995

I recently paid a solemn and respectful visit to Gore Vidal’s grave. It is to be found in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington. You take a few paces down the slope from the graveyard’s centrepiece, which is the lachrymose and androgynous Mourning Figure sculpted by August St Guldens for Henry Adams’s unhappy wife Clover (whose name always puts me in mind of an overworked pit pony). And there in the grass is a stone slab, bearing the names and dates of birth of Vidal and his lifelong companion Howard Austen. The hyphens that come after the years (1925 and 1928 respectively) lie like little marble asps, waiting to keep their dates. Who knows what decided the cemetery authorities to advertise their prospective clients in this way? Elsewhere among the crosses and headstones one may find Upton Sinclair, Nobel laureate and defeated Socialist candidate for the governorship of California, Alice Warfield Mien (mother of Wallis Simpson) and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, grande dame of Washington dynastic bitchery. (She had a motto emblazoned on her sofa-cushion in Georgetown: ‘If you can’t think of anything nice to say about anybody, come and sit by me.’) A clutch of Supreme Court Justices, political bosses and Civil War generals completes the roll. And all this seems fitting for Vidal: radical candidate in a California Senate race, collector and generator of gossip from the exile Windsors and the Georgetown ladies, and master in novel form of the Washington of Henry Adams. John Hay and Teddy Roosevelt.


Christopher Hitchens, 24 August 1995

The dust-jacket of this book carries the assertion, outlined in a box for those who like their facts highlighted, that

Look over your shoulder

Christopher Hitchens, 25 May 1995

‘You can read about neo-Nazis all the time in the New York Times,’ said a sardonic acquaintance of mine the other day, ‘as long as they are in Germany.’ And indeed, the existence of an all-American underground composed of paranoid fascist mutants was until recently considered a fit topic only for those who are themselves labelled paranoid. When Costa-Gavras made a film on the subject about ten years ago (Betrayed, starring Debra Winger and Tom Berenger) he was laughed to scorn by the mainstream critics, who diagnosed a bad case of Euro-Marxist condescension towards the nightmare side of the American dream. There were no big funds available to law-enforcement agencies to track down the violent Right, as there would have been if the targets were Libyans or Cubans or (best of all) ‘drug king-pins’. Every now and then, the American Jewish Committee or the Anti-Defamation League or Morris Dees’s heroic Klanwatch outfit would issue a report, warning of the weed-like growth of ostensibly anti-tax militias who also sold Mein Kampf and inveighed against Zog, their sinister acronym for what they term the ‘Zionist Occupation Government’. I must confess that I used to ignore some of these reports myself. One pamphlet, put out by the ‘Aryan Nations’, had run a ‘wanted’ list of mugshots, exposing the real powers behind Zog. My own name appeared next to that of Norman Podhoretz. Momentarily chilling as it was to feel ‘wanted’ by these people (let alone to be gazetted with Podhoretz), the overwhelming impression was of crankiness cut with impotent, pitiable hatred.

Diary: On the Original Non-Event

Christopher Hitchens, 20 April 1995

Every spring, American camera crews and sound-teams and the boys and girls of ‘the pencil press’ (as it is still quaintly known) load their equipment or stuff their notebooks in a pocket and set off for the unthrilling town of Punxatawney, Pennsylvania. The occasion is ‘Ground-Hog Day’, when a local creature named Punxatawney Phil is reputed to predict the coming season’s weather. I think it’s the angle of his shadow that is supposed to work the trick. A long time ago, this media ritual passed the point at which it could be called self-satirising, and became instead a ludicrous and embarrassing chore. The reading and viewing and listening public would not notice if this non-event went uncovered, and the media would be glad to be shot of the tedium of ‘covering’ it, but nobody quite knows how to stop the dance. Locked together and sobbing with boredom (as in They Shoot Horses Don’t They?), the numbed partners drag their way across the floor one more time. Russell Baker once wrote a brilliant column about these gruesome proceedings, which summarised for him the participation of the press in events that are staged only for the press’s benefit.

Lucky Kim

Christopher Hitchens, 23 February 1995

While I was still reading these books, and thinking about them, I chanced to have two annoying near-KGB experiences. A creepy individual named Yuri Shvets published a book called Washington Station: My Life as a KGB Spy in America, which was fully as lurid and preposterous as its title (put out by the ‘respected firm’ of Simon and Schuster) might suggest. Its central allegation was that an old personal enemy of mine had been a key ‘agent of influence’ in Reagan-era Washington. I could believe anything of this man except that his ‘controllers’ had awarded him the hilarious code-name of ‘Socrates’. And every checkable allegation in the book turned out to be grotesquely false. So that was irritating, because it meant another portentous non-scare about a virtual non-person. Then, at a party in Georgetowm, I found myself being introduced to Mr Oleg Kalugin. Now apparently retired from his foul career as a secret policeman, Mr Kalugin gave me a card with the name of his consulting firm (offices in Moscow and Washington) on it. The outfit was called Intercon, which seemed more appropriate than was perhaps intentional. Mr Kalugin looked as if he had been dreamed up in an Ian Fleming nightmare. His idea of light conversation, since I decided to ask him about some of the books under review, was to hint that he could say a lot if he chose. ‘Your Kim Philby … ha, ha, ha, that’s quite another story … Yuri Modin – well, he’s a character …’ and so on. I found myself getting irrationally pissed-off. Here am I, a journalist and a free citizen of the Anglo-American world. But if I seek to know what was really done in the Cold War dark, I must attend upon someone who was a criminal in that war. My ‘own side’ has no intention of enlightening me, and the spook industry has built up such an oligopoly in journalism and publishing that no untainted rival – such as the old-fashioned idea of full disclosure – has been permitted to challenge the self-interested ghouls who pay out their ration of ‘secrets’ in a niggardly and mysterious fashion as a form of individual and collective welfare. What if, I decided, what if, just for once, one read this output as if history mattered and as if the war of ideas was a real thing?’…


Christopher Hitchens, 12 January 1995

Forster’s apparently evergreen remark, about choosing to betray your country rather than your friends, has always seemed to me to be – as well as an exercise in moral casuistry – the father and mother of a false antithesis. I mean to say, who ever is actually faced, or has been faced, with such a choice? In 1917 or thereabouts, Siegfried Sassoon confided to his friend Robert Graves that he was planning to ‘go public’, as a decorated front-line officer, with what he knew about real conditions on the Western Front. Graves had him put away for ‘shell-shock’, for his own good. That was certainly a betrayal of a friend and, I would argue, also a betrayal of the country. Kim Philby, who actually did set out to betray a country as well as a class, was also strikingly disloyal to his friends (though they, almost irrespective of politics, seem to have been loyal to him). In order for Forster’s Choice to come up in your own life, you must be able to plead that there is something tremendously the matter with either a. your country or b. your circle of friends. When Willy Brandt put on the uniform of a country that was fighting his own – the action for which the German conservatives never forgave him – he was not thinking: ‘Pity about my friends, but I feel I have to betray my country.’ Nor, if he had elected to betray his friends, could he have argued that he was doing his country much of a favour.’

Who Runs Britain?

Christopher Hitchens, 8 December 1994

In the Thirties Wal Hannington, the Communist organiser of the National Unemployed Workers Movement, was leaving a committee meeting when an unknown comrade came up and pressed a letter ‘to be read later’ into his hand. Hannington soon removed the envelope from his pocket, opened it idly, and was astonished to find himself summoned to a secret meeting where all kinds of mayhem and sedition were on the agenda. The note was couched in terms that suggested the discussion would come as no surprise to him. He threw the letter away. Very shortly afterwards, he was stopped by the police (‘Just a routine enquiry, sir’) and given a very thorough search indeed. The investigating officers seemed to be looking for something in particular, and moreover to be disappointed at not finding it.

On Spanking

Christopher Hitchens, 20 October 1994

Sometime in the late autumn of 1977, I went to a book party that was held in the Rosebery Room of the House of Lords. Why I went I can’t think – the volume was some piece of unreadable bufferdom extruded by Lord Butler, who as ‘Rab’ had never in his life done anything to live down the Greek Street sobriquet ‘flabby-faced old coward’. He himself was vaguely present, moving about the carpet like a terrible tortoise. A sprinkling of hacks and politicos completed the scene, which was identical to a score of similar gatherings except in point of its grand setting. And then there was a sort of sensation at the door and in came Margaret Thatcher. Rab’s shell crackled and contracted a little, as he tried to look flattered by the attention of his new leader: she whose whole purpose it was to cram Butskellism as harshly as possible into the WPB of history.’

Strait is the gate

Christopher Hitchens, 21 July 1994

Probably every journalistic wretch in the business has by now tried his or her hand at shoving a ‘gate’ suffix onto the end of some dingy piece of chicanery. There have, admittedly, been a few quite funny examples of the genre. ‘Tailgate’ wasn’t bad for the pantsdown episode in which Senators were found to be fornicating with the boy and girl pages who take messages through the marbled halls. ‘Koreagate’, on the other hand, was a lame effort to define the Washington influence-peddling of the arms-dealer Tongsun Park. The brittle and amoral wits of the new Post-Modern New Republic actually ran a competition to summarise the bewildering complexity of the Iran-Contra affair, and got gates galore. Since Oliver North and John Poindexter had communicated their fell designs through a system called the Prof computer, and since the thing hinged so much on transfers of hot and dirty money, I myself proudly came up with ‘Profligate’ which, though it won me no prizes, did get briefly adopted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Every Latest Spasm

Christopher Hitchens, 23 June 1994

To have been lampooned once by Mary McCarthy might have been considered a misfortune, but to have been ridiculed by her three times must count as some sort of carelessness. In her ‘Portrait of the Intellectual as a Yale Man’, she presented Jim Barnett, a likeable boy from a promising background who, in the devil’s decade of the Thirties, could nonetheless suit his own fancy:

Diary: The Salman Rushdie Acid Test

Christopher Hitchens, 24 February 1994

In all the stultifying discussion of Prince Charles’s fitness to grasp the orb and sceptre of kingship, there is one qualification that is almost never canvassed. I refer to his ability to give the annual Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth. No light matter this – it was a dreaded annual penance for his grandfather – and made no lighter by his presumptive inability to end the chat by saying: ‘My wife and I … ’ But never mind. He is in every other respect ideally suited to the task; even better at discharging blank or ‘false-alarm’ fusillades than he is at receiving them.’…

In the bright autumn of my senescence

Christopher Hitchens, 6 January 1994

If there is one term that illustrates the rapidity with which historical truth can degenerate before one’s very eyes, that term is ‘Vietnam Syndrome’. According to those who employ this smooth and evasive construction, the lesson of the Vietnam War is that the United States suffered greatly from being ‘entangled’ in a ‘quagmire’ in Indochina, and should henceforth be extremely prudent about overseas military commitments. Jimmy Carter put it very gruffly, when he said that both America and Vietnam had suffered equally. Henry Kissinger, in his memoir Years of Upheaval, phrased it even more prettily: ‘Hanoi and Washington had inflicted grievous wounds on each other; theirs were physical, ours psychological and thus perhaps harder to heal.’

Say what you will about Harold

Christopher Hitchens, 2 December 1993

Since it can be properly said that nothing in Harold Wilson’s political career became him like the leaving of it, there is some justice in the fact that he is now best-remembered for one photograph and for one action. The photograph shows him next to the Duke of Grafton while assuming his stall at Windsor as a Knight of the Garter, and the action was the compiling (would that be the word?) of a resignation honours list that rewarded those who – oh, dash it, I don’t know – shall we say made money rather than earned it? Anyway, in the photograph Wilson looks like nothing so much as a grinning monkey on a stick, and in the matter of the honours list he achieved the near-impossible feat of discrediting the discredited and making a laughing-stock out of something already rather disagreeably risible. So I suppose that one can spare about ten milliseconds of sympathy for those, suggestively calling themselves ‘revisionist’, who have attempted to sweeten Harold Wilson’s memory. (I mean our memory of him; not his memory of us, which has notoriously faded.)’

Diary: On Peregrine Worsthorne

Christopher Hitchens, 4 November 1993

In Simon Raven’s Alms for Oblivion novel sequence, we are introduced to the hopeless young charmer Fielding Gray. His father is remote and sourly reactionary; his mother develops ominous signs of chippiness and puritanism. Young Fielding gets through most of the right hoops but usually in the wrong way. His public school, in other words, is slightly too minor. He is cheated of the joys of Cambridge only to taste them later on. His regiment is raffish rather than distinguished. His career as a gentleman-scribbler is a ropey one, very much circumscribed by the simultaneous eclipse of the British Empire and of the idea of the leisured man of letters. Nor are matters helped by such vulgar difficulties as the need to pay tradesmen, the need to keep up an appearance of sexual continence and the need to maintain a steady flow of copy.

Mary, Mary

Christopher Hitchens, 8 April 1993

Who can forget the moment in Chapter Six of Greenmantle when Richard Hannay penetrates the inner apartments of Colonel Ulric von Stumm and, with a thrill of horror, realises that there is something distinctly rum about the chief of Prussian Intelligence:

Oh, Lionel!

Christopher Hitchens, 3 December 1992

We know from his immense correspondence that P.G. Wodehouse was at once omnivorous and discriminating in his reading (garbage in; synthesis out – a good maxim for any young reader-for-pleasure setting out on life’s road). He cited authors as various as Lion Feuchtwanger and Rudyard Kipling, and didn’t bluff about a book he hadn’t read. And we know that he was excessively fond of the theatre. But he never alluded to the author of these ensuing lines, which come from Act One, Scene One of an imperishable stage moment, when the young master is discovered by his manservant while trying out the piano:’

Touch of Evil

Christopher Hitchens, 22 October 1992

In a rather more judgmental time, history was sometimes written like this: ‘The evils produced by his wickedness were felt in lands where the name of Prussia was unknown; and in order that he might rob a neighbour whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel, and red men scalped each other by the Great Lakes of North America.’ ‘Evil’? ‘Wickedness’? The ability to employ these terms without awkwardness or embarrassment has declined, while the capacity of modern statesmen to live up to them has undergone an exponential rise since Lord Macaulay so crisply profiled Frederick ‘the Great’. Walter Isaacson’s new study of Kissinger shows beyond doubt that he rose to power by intriguing for and against an ally, the South Vietnamese military junta, whom he had sworn to defend, and that in the process of covering his tracks, consolidating and extending his power and justifying his original duplicity, he was knowingly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of non-combatants in lands where his name was hitherto unknown. He also played an immense part in the debauching of democracy in the North America of his adoption.

Why Bosnia matters

Christopher Hitchens, 10 September 1992

The daily round in Sarajevo is one of dodging snipers, scrounging for food and water, collecting rumours, visiting morgues and blood-banks and joking heavily about near-misses. The shared experience of being, along with the city’s inhabitants, a sort of dead man on leave makes for levelling of the more joyous and democratic sort, even if foreign writers are marked off from the rest by their flak-jackets and their ability to leave, through the murderous corridor of the Airport road, more or less at will. The friendship and solidarity of Sarajevo’s people will stay with all of us for the rest of our lives and indeed, at the present rate of attrition, it may be something that will only survive in the memory. The combined effect of incessant bombardment with the onset of a Balkan winter may snuff out everything I saw.

Diary: In Washington

Christopher Hitchens, 20 August 1992

The high and low points of the Democratic Convention were, I found, unusually easy to determine. High indeed was the sight and sound of Aretha Franklin singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, and giving it a variation that provided one of those only-in-America moments which do in fact only occur in America. Lower, both in scale and register, was the experience of seeing Roy Hattersley cruising the upper galleries of the ghastly neo-brutalist Madison Square Garden. Mr Hattersley is far too corporeal to be called a ghost, and most delegates wouldn’t have known him from Banquo anyway, but his apparition would, if he were better known, have caused said delegates to put on their garlic. The very last thing that the Democrats need is a reminder of what can happen to a campaign that plays by all the rules of poll, consensus and respectability.

Liber Amoris

Christopher Hitchens, 28 May 1992

Two core propositions occupy the centre of Sir Kingsley’s fiction, and are doggedly reflected in his occasional journalism, his memoirs, his poetry and his conversation. Rendered as questions, these propositions make it vitally necessary to ask, of everything: ‘Is it any good?’ and ‘Is it nice, or is it nasty?’ (Amazingly, he himself answers in the affirmative when these questions concern, of all crappy things, Science Fiction.) Generally, though, the interrogation is more discriminating than it sounds. To be more specific, life and judgment can be tricky if something, or somebody, turns out to be jolly nice but no bloody good.

Booze and Fags

Christopher Hitchens, 12 March 1992

Hard by the market in Cambridge is or was Bacon’s the tobacconist, and on Bacon’s wall, if it stands yet, there’s an engraved poem by Thomas Calverley of which I can still quote a stave or two when maundering over the port and nuts (before the brandy stage):

Pretending to write ‘Vile Bodies’

Christopher Hitchens, 9 January 1992

On the lovely covers of the old Grand Street – a name derived from poor Jewish immigrant New York but still somehow redolent of capacity and generosity – there was the logo of a mettlesome goat. As I grew to know Ben Sonnenberg, so I grew to appreciate this animal. Impatient and randy as it is well-known to be, the goat is above all an omnivore. I have never inquired of Ben what his ambition might be, because I’m tolerably sure that he would reply, ‘To have tried everything once,’ and then make one of his Oscar Wilde gestures. But to be familiar with him, and with his library and his circle and his anecdotes, was to see how apt was Murray Kempton’s description of Grand Street as a magazine arranged like a dinner party – a dinner party, moreover, that has itself been arranged purely to gratify the host.’

On the imagining of conspiracy

Christopher Hitchens, 7 November 1991

It is an intriguing fact, a fact of intrigue, possibly the most ironic fact in the modern history of conspiracy, and arguably the great test of all who believe in coincidence, that on 22 November 1963, at the moment when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was being struck by at least one bullet, Desmond FitzGerald was meeting AMLASH in Paris. FitzGerald, the father of the more famous Frances, was a senior exec at the CIA. AMLASH was the CIA codename of a disgruntled and ambitious Castroite. FitzGerald handed AMLASH a specially-designed assassination weapon in the shape of a fountain pen, and discussed the modalities of termination. Emerging onto the wintry boulevards, he found that his own President had been murdered. A bit of a facer.

Tales from the Bunker

Christopher Hitchens, 10 October 1991

The Beirut Golf Club possesses many advantages for the overseas visitor seeking a vigorous nine, or even 18, holes. For one thing, its greens and fairways provide the only remaining enclosed parkland in a city where urban blight is an increasing problem. For another, its caddies arc young and competitive and hire themselves out on a basis of keen but friendly rivalry. My own selection of Hassan, a lad of no more than twelve summers, proved especially fortunate. After judicious study of my game, he proferred advice on my swing which helped correct a lifelong tendency to slice. He also demonstrated resource and sagacity in dealing with the feral dogs which haunt the bunkers and, snarling and scrapping, constitute an unscheduled hazard on the longer drives and closer putts.

Simply too exhausted

Christopher Hitchens, 25 July 1991

Looking up, we perceived Miss Postlethwaite, our sensitive barmaid, dabbing at her eyes with a dishcloth.

Bravo, old sport

Christopher Hitchens, 4 April 1991

Each morning, the great, grey New York Times publishes a box headed ‘Corrections’, which box makes a sort of running auto-adjudication on the performance of the journal of record. On one day, there is a matter of spelling or nomenclature set right. On another, a date or a place. Occasionally, the correction goes so far as to specify what the paper might, or even should, have said. Some see, in this parade of scruple and objectivity, a Victorian combination of public rectitude and private hypocrisy whereby the more influential subscribers get their chance to ‘set the record straight’. Others discern a sort of semiotic inquisition, useful for disciplining errant or over-imaginative reporters into the uses of impartiality. (Alexander Cockburn comes right out and says that its purpose is to convince the public that everything else in yesterday’s Times was historically and morally true.) Anyway, last November the paper ran a ‘Correction’ which is unlikely to be bested:

Diary: In Washington

Christopher Hitchens, 7 February 1991

The Greeks had a saying that ‘the iron draws the hand towards it,’ which encapsulates, as well as anything can, the idea that weapons and armies are made to be used. And the Romans had a maxim that if you wish peace you must prepare for war. Oddly enough, even strict observance of this rule is not always enough to guarantee peace. But if you happen to want a war, preparing for it is a very good way to get it. And, among the privileges of being a superpower, the right and the ability to make a local quarrel into a global one ranks very high. Local quarrel? Here is what the United States Ambassador to Iraq, Ms April Glaspie, told Saddam Hussein on 25 July last:

What is this Bernard?

Christopher Hitchens, 10 January 1991

In the dismal mid-Seventies Patrick Cosgrave, later to be Margaret Thatcher’s adviser and biographer, took me to a Friday luncheon at the old Bertorelli’s in Charlotte Street. Here was a then-regular sodality, consisting at different times of Kingsley Amis, Bernard Levin, Robert Conquest, Anthony Powell, Russell Lewis and assorted others, and calling itself with heavy and definite self-mockery ‘Bertorelli’s Blackshirts’. The conversational scheme was simple (I think it had evolved from a once-famous letter to the Times defending Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam and signed by all or most of those present). One had to pretend that Britain was a country where it was dangerous to hold conservative opinions. So that a sample sally might begin, ‘I know it’s unfashionable to say this’ and go on to propose that, say, Hans Eysenck was on to something. Someone would lift a riskily brimming bumper and cry, ‘Down with Oxfam!’ Someone else might recommend a piece of samizdat from Encounter. And so the afternoon wore on agreeably enough, with daring satirical calls for South African port, Chilean wine and so forth.

Tio Sam

Christopher Hitchens, 20 December 1990

A feature, not just of the age of the end of ideology, but of the age immediately preceding the age of the end of ideology, is that of the dictator who has no ideology at all. While Pinochet had a Manichean or Francoite anti-Communism to inform him, and Vorster and Verwoerd had the dream of white Christian destiny, and the Greek colonels the rather more insipid rhetoric of ‘Greece for Christian Greeks’, the decay of outright fascist systems was quite a rapid and complete one – much more rapid and complete than Nicos Poulantzas, for example, had envisaged in La Crise des Dictatures. On the other side of the Ribbentrop-Molotov hyphen, while it is true that men like Mikhail Suslov and Mao Tse-tung may have gone to their graves thinking of the Leninist state as history exemplified, it is not believable that Edvard Gierek or Milos Jakes or any of the other ‘Vodka-Cola’ general secretaries (Erich Honecker partially exempted) thought anything of the sort. When the Army deposed the Party in Poland in 1981, Susan Sontag was quite right to say that a new stage of decadence had been reached, though her ironic formulation of ‘fascism with a human face’ was misleading. By that stage, Ceausescu and Kim Il Sung had taken the personality cult beyond the baroque, insisting on the study only of their own thoughts and lives.’

How’s the vampire?

Christopher Hitchens, 8 November 1990

‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a throne.’ This wistful schoolboy howler from 1066 And All That is the essential summary of two related absurdities. The first is the intrinsic inanity of a royal family; the second is the ridiculous blend of deference and denial that goes into the making of public support for it. Philip Ziegler is a historian of uncommon candour and, especially considering the ‘authorised’ nature of his work, unusual humour. Yet in the very first paragraph of his very first page he pitches face-forward into the enduring fallacy that sustains our monarchical cult: ‘To have been born in 1894, eldest son of the eldest surviving son of the eldest son of the Queen Empress, was to be heir to an almost intolerable burden of rights and responsibilities.’ There you have it, even if expressed with Ziegler’s manners and proportion (‘almost’ and ‘rights’ slightly qualify the supposed awesomeness of the burden). This is, still, the bleat of the drawing-room and the drone of the saloon bar. ‘I don’t know how they do it.’ I wouldn’t have her job.’ Yet the ensuing 560 pages contain conclusive and exhaustive evidence a. that the Windsors are a burden on us, not the other way about, and b. that the chief difficulty at every stage of Edward VIII’s life lay in the finding and invention of things for him to do.

Christopher Hitchens states a prosecution case

Christopher Hitchens, 25 October 1990

On 22 February 1965, the fifth month of Harold Wilson’s first ministry, Richard Crossman recorded the following in his Diaries of a Cabinet Minister:

Diary: Keywords

Christopher Hitchens, 13 September 1990

Disemplaning at Baghdad Airport a few years ago, I was met by a guide and interpreter who really did look like a retired torturer. Conducting me smoothly to my hotel (‘Are you a member of the drinking classes? I think the Armenian brandy might tickle your fancy’), he laboured to dispel the image of the unsmiling xenophobic Iraqi which the rest of Baghdad society was at such pains to reinforce. I didn’t know whether to bless or curse my luck when he leaned forward, patted my kneecap and fluted: ‘I believe that we shall be such friends. I have two consuming interests – Adolf Hitler and Oscar Wilde.’ Only hours later, or so it seemed to my disordered fancy, we were sitting in a villa that had once housed the Nazi embassy, while he played a tape of The Importance of Being Earnest. He himself took the part of Algernon, while the role of Lady Bracknell was hogged by a very distinguished British foreign correspondent of what might be called the old school. A large sepia photograph of the Führer frowned from a mantel. Later in the week, we were absorbing a pre-lunch cocktail when my new chum said casually: ‘Would you care to pass the afternoon with Abu Nidal?’’

Heart of Darkness

Christopher Hitchens, 28 June 1990

Alexander reminded me that Black once said that he was prepared to let his editors have a completely free hand except on one subject. He forbade attacks on American Presidents in general and President Reagan in particular.

Thousands of Cans and Cartons

Christopher Hitchens, 24 May 1990

Several years ago, Tariq Ali published an exquisite interview with a disillusioned veteran of the Indian Communist Party. This old comrade had been invited to Moscow by Khrushchev, and wanted a chance to express his misgivings about the treatment of Boris Pasternak. During a Bolshoi performance in which Khrushchev was showing no interest, he seized his moment. In vain. No, said the burly peasant, I want to hear no more about this author. We shall not be publishing him. Had it occurred to the party of Lenin, asked the Indian communist very silkily, that if literature was forbidden it might start to circulate in unauthorised forms? Maybe and maybe not, replied Khrushchev, but in any event the party of Lenin would not be giving it currency.

Reader, he married her

Christopher Hitchens, 10 May 1990

When Tom Driberg died in August 1976, the Times ran an obituary which, as people used to say, broke with convention. The deceased, bleated the former Thunderer, had been: ‘A journalist, an intellectual, a drinking man, a gossip, a high churchman, a liturgist, a homosexual …’ There was nothing precisely objectionable about this. Tom had, after all, been indubitably the most consecrated blow-job artist ever to take his seat in either House. But the Times had never before described a public figure as a homosexual, let alone defined him as one, let alone in an obituary. William Rees-Mogg had, apparently, decided that anything less would be anodyne. This same Mogg has written elsewhere of a psychic and political link between Maynard Keynes the homosexual and Keynes the promiscuous debaucher of the currency, tying this in turn to the homosexual propensity for treason, so his appalling frankness in the case of a known political and moral outsider was of a piece with his general tendency to ethical invigilation. With Tom safely below ground, others have crept forward to say that he was a shady player in the espionage milieu, thus rounding out the picture that Mogg had begun to sketch.

At the close of the Fifties, the New Left put on a mass meeting in London, at which the star speaker was Isaac Deutscher and the slogan was ‘Into the Red Sixties’. At the close of the Seventies, there was a much-anticipated rally in Central Hall, Westminster, unironically billed as ‘The Debate of the Decade’, between Tony Benn and the leaders of the supposed British extra-parliamentary opposition. At this event, the motion for the debate was reform versus revolution. On the cusp of the Eighties and Nineties, New Left Books offers us a discourse of positive revolutionary gradualism from a young Muscovite dissident, winner of the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize for his last book, who is fighting to save the Soviet Union for socialism. You certainly need a dialectic to interpret this evolution.

Siding with Rushdie

Christopher Hitchens, 26 October 1989

Just as the Muslim world was vibrating to the ‘insult’ visited on the Prophet Muhamed (Peace Be Upon Him) by an Anglo-Pakistani fictionist of genius and renown, the British and American mass audience was thrilling to the reborn version of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. The movie, which is the closest investigation most English people have made of their country’s long, intense, misunderstood encounter with Islam, is actually rather touching in its attempt to ‘understand’ the other by means of epic romance. To the fatalism of a subject population, who are serfs to a Turkish empire and captives of a holy book they cannot read. Lawrence cheerily and repeatedly intones: ‘Nothing is written.’ By this he does not intend any insult to the lapidary, but only a bracing ‘Western’ injunction against surrender. Yet Islam means surrender. The very word is like the echo of a forehead knocking repeatedly on the floor, while the buttocks are proferred to the empty, unfeeling sky in the most ancient gesture of submission and resignation.

Diary: Andy Warhol at MoMA

Christopher Hitchens, 12 October 1989

The intriguing thing about the opening night of the Andy Warhol retrospective in Manhattan was its tameness. MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art) can seldom have looked so respectable while being at the same time, in a faintly macabre way, en fête. I could have got in without a black tie, but would have looked wildly conspicuous in mufti and was glad to have observed the protocol of the invitation. The event had the feel of a fundraiser for the Republicans (or, admittedly, in these days of high-tab politics, the Democrats). Since Warhol had in his time – then just drawn to an end – been sounded out for the post of Jimmy Carter’s official photographer, and gone on to grace the glitz-infested dinner table of Ronnie and Nancy, this didn’t seem inapposite. The pictures on the walls looked as familiar and predictable as the people. Surely that’s Marilyn. And look – there’s Jackie. There, reassuringly, is the Campbell’s soup can. In fact, there it is again – and again. It’s barely even a shock to see the late Andy Warhol himself, holding a small crowd in the angle of the staircase and sporting that unmistakable silver wig. Those who cluster round are careful to betray no sign of excitement, engagement or curiosity. Could this impersonator be the renowned Alan Midgette, who in 1967 ‘stood in’ for Andy at the University of Utah, of all places, and had the students demanding their thousand-dollar fee back? Warhol’s hope had been, ‘Maybe they’ll like him better than me,’ but surely there was some faint private relief on his part that this particular con didn’t work.’

Credibility Brown

Christopher Hitchens, 17 August 1989

It is rather a pity, considered from the standpoint of the professional politician or opinion-taker, that nobody knows exactly what ‘credibility’ is, or how one acquires it. ‘Credibility’ doesn’t stand for anything morally straightforward, like meaning what you say or saying what you mean. Nor does it signify anything remotely quantifiable – any correlation between evidence presented and case made. Suggestively perhaps, it entered the language as a consensus euphemism during the Vietnam War, when ‘concerned’ members of the Eastern establishment spoke of a ‘credibility gap’ rather than give awful utterance to the thought that the Johnson Administration was systematically lying. To restore its ‘credibility’, that Administration was urged, not to stop lying, but to improve its public presentation. At some stage in the lesson learned from that injunction, the era of post-modern politics began. It now doesn’t seem ridiculous to have ‘approval ratings’ that fluctuate week by week, because these are based upon the all-important ‘perception’ factor, which in has in turn quite lost its own relationship to the word ‘perceptive’.’

At the Party

Christopher Hitchens, 17 April 1986

In the Forties and Fifties there used to be a series of Confidential books – Washington Confidential, New York Confidential and so on – turned out by Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer. The fearless duo, shrouded in their macintoshes and trilbies, would bring the naive reader the straight dope from the lower depths. They practised the same combination of rough-hewn populism and right-wing politics as a Mickey Spillane thriller or a contemporary Reader’s Digest. And their technique was to dwell in a wet-lipped manner on all the subjects – interracial sex, narcotic indulgence, the doings of deviants – that they most affected to deplore. Tersely, not to say badly, written, these books found the same nerve of prurience and titillation that the Sun or the National Inquirer have since learned to exploit on a grand scale. And the same technique, of somehow being present at a wicked party while keeping your own morals intact, has served other breathless and heavy-breathing narrators very well since.’

Diary: Reagan and Rambo

Christopher Hitchens, 3 October 1985

The standard image of President Ronald Reagan as a game but fuddled movie actor is an image so stale as to be rebarbative. It is the standby of the weary cartoonist, the flagging gag-writer and the composer of hackneyed captions. It’s been a boast of mine, during some years of writing from Washington, that I have never lampooned the old boy as a Wild West ham, an All-American kid, a granite-jawed GI, or any other of the stock repertoire. To fall for such instant ‘takes’ is to be a hack oneself – like those who go to Republican conventions in Texas and dwell endlessly on the rhinestones and ten-gallon hats.’

The Wrong Stuff

Christopher Hitchens, 1 April 1983

Here, for a start, are some nuggets of the old and the new New Journalism. What do they have in common?


Red Science

9 March 2006

In his discussion of J.D. Bernal (LRB, 9 March) Eric Hobsbawm writes: ‘In 1945-46 the wartime insider once again became the Communist outsider and potential traitor, though the establishment had more trouble in getting used to the transition than George Orwell, who lost no time in denouncing Bernal’s Stalinism and “slovenly style".’ Since Hobsbawm goes on to say that Bernal...
Perry Anderson (Letters, 20 January) scorns to notice the contradiction between the sources he scrutinises and the conclusion he draws. If Orwell, by conducting his own freelance annotation of contemporary fellow-travellers, was in the ‘service of the secret state’, then why was the dreaded list already prepared in the sinister form of a quarto notebook? And surely, by asking Richard Rees...

Moderation or Death

26 November 1998

it’s not possible to please everyone, and it can be unwise even to try, but I found on reading Mark Lilly’s letter (Letters, 18 February) that I felt a sort of commitment to cheering him up. Anyone who has so resentfully treasured one of my frivolous notes from the dear dead days of twenty years ago, and who keeps it by him in a gazelle-infested exile at the University of Tunis, is entitled...


30 July 1998

I can be of some help to John Coleby (Letters, 17 September) in his quest for traces of Rimbaud in Cyprus. The British Governors’ old summer retreat in the Troodos mountains now serves, as does the former colonial residency in Nicosia, in the office of Presidential mansion. As a luncheon guest there in the summer of 1984, during the tenure of President Kyprianou, I asked about a plaque to Rimbaud...
John Bayley in his review of Rudyard Kipling on the Irish Guards (LRB, 4 June) mentions the old man’s advice to his son John about putting tennis netting over trenches on the Western Fornt, and says that ‘we do not know whether John Kipling ever read the paternal advice.’ Actually, we do know. On 29 August 1915, after the advice on ‘rabbit netting’ had been pressed on...

Brief Shining Moments

19 February 1998

Christopher Hitchens writes: In my article I gave an imaginary instance, drawn from the imaginative work of Arthur Schlesinger, of the means by which an apologist for JFK might have proved that, had ‘He’ lived, the Bay of Pigs invasion would not have taken place. Some readers may have found this counterfactual exercise too strenuous, or too cynical. But here, prompt upon its hour, is a...


14 November 1996

Richard Boston (Letters, 2 January) can keep his Aeneas to himself. Of course I know that ‘fiduciary’ is a word derived from ‘trust’. (My old school motto was, and I dare say still is, In Fide Fiducia.) It’s for this precise reason that the financial system has ‘fiduciary’ instruments. More to the simple point I was making, the term ‘trust fund’...

Porch Puppy

6 June 1996

Carried away by contempt for bipartisanship, I allowed myself to describe former Senator Bob Pack wood as a Democratic saurian in your last issue. I know better. He was of course a Republican saurian.
In his rather loopy defence of the new American populist and conservative fauna (Letters, 22 June) Richard Cummings defends Pat Robertson from the charge of anti-semitism and announces that, contrary to my claim, the names Warburg and Rothschild are ‘names found nowhere in Robertson’s pamphlet’. Let me refer him to the index of The New World Order (1991), which is now being passed...


12 January 1995

Alasdair Palmer’s distraught letter (Letters, 9 February) is written under a mistaken impression, and is also wrongly addressed. He seeks to clear himself of the allegation that he is a. a Conservative and b. a writing colleague of Ms Anne Applebaum. On the first point, having thought of him as an associate since Cambridge days of Christopher Andrew, and more recently of Oleg Gordievsky, I happily...


4 August 1994

In the old days of the New Statesman weekend competition, we elicited this entry. I forget whether we ran it or not, but I can remember that it went like this:Un jeune matelot à MarseilleA rencontré une fille sur le quaiElle murmure ‘Ah chéri,’Dit-il, ‘Pas sur ta vie!Je regrette – comme Paris – je suis gai.’

The Yale Man

23 June 1994

There’s no need for Dennis Wrong (Letters, 4 August) to be so literal. Since Mary McCarthy made fun of Dwight Macdonald explicitly on two occasions, and since good things come in trios. I decided to emphasise the Macdonaldish aspects of her ‘Portrait of the Intellectual as a Yale Man’. That there are such aspects, Wrong does not deny. It also helped me to glide smoothly into the Yale...

Walk on by

18 November 1993

Andrew O’Hagan’s essay on the beggar’s art (LRB, 18 November 1993) is also a wonderful treatise on the ways in which we must all learn to bear the sufferings of others. Recently I heard a pointful story from the great Herb Caen, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. A lady vegetarian councillor in that most compassionate of cities was walking between lunch and work, and passed...

Demonising Nationalism

25 February 1993

Tom Nairn cannot have meant to understate the nature or impact of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia when he wrote that the term may have originated with Jose-Maria Mendiluce, the special envoy of UNHCR, and might therefore be a sort of journalistic vernacular (LRB, 25 February). Actually, Mendiluce told me that he thought he’d come up with the term himself (blushing to recall that he’d...

Siding with Rushdie

26 October 1989

Maqbool Aziz (Letters, 23 November) already believes that I am invincibly smug and complacent in the rightness of my defence of Salman Rushdie. So I fear that I may only seem to taunt and madden him afresh if I say that I take comfort and confirmation from his attack upon me. Yet it seems that I would have satisfied him, as far as points of fact go, if I had written of a demonstration outside the United...

In his book about religion, Peter Hitchens has a lot more to say about his brother Christopher than Christopher has to say about Peter in his book about himself.* ‘Some brothers get...

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The Positions He Takes: Hitchens on Paine

John Barrell, 30 November 2006

‘If the rights of man are to be upheld in a dark time, we shall require an age of reason,’ wrote Christopher Hitchens last year on the dust jacket of Harvey Kaye’s recent book...

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Winning is very important to Christopher Hitchens. Dr Johnson was said to ‘talk for victory’, and by all accounts it seems the same might be said of Hitchens. He certainly writes for...

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In this short book, Christopher Hitchens sets down the main charges against Kissinger: murder, violation of human rights and complicity in mass atrocities on a scale equalled only by Eichmann,...

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‘The crude commercialism of America, its materialising spirit, its indifference to the poetical side of things, and its lack of imagination and of high unattainable ideals are entirely due...

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Why Calcutta?

Amit Chaudhuri, 4 January 1996

Among the welter of images and mythologies that constitute the middle-class Bengali’s consciousness – P3 and Ganesh underwear, the Communist hammer and sickle, Lenin’s face,...

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Against it

Ross McKibbin, 24 February 1994

Christopher Hitchens may not be ‘the nearest thing to a one-man band since I.F. Stone laid down his pen’, but he comes close. For the Sake of Argument records a life of action, of...

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Further Left

R.W. Johnson, 16 August 1990

Many years ago it was the habit of the PPE tutors in Magdalen College, Oxford to hold a discussion group for their undergraduates. At one such meeting we were somewhat disconcerted to find we had...

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John Sutherland, 14 June 1990

Deference to royalty in this country is enforced by a judicial and popular savagery which is always there but only occasionally glimpsed. The glimpses are instructive. In 1937 the diplomat...

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David Gilmour, 1 June 1989

Hitchens was right to go West. He needed lusher plains of political corruption across which to spread himself. He needed a country of wide horizons and myopic international vision. And he needed...

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Passionate Purposes

Keith Kyle, 6 September 1984

There used to be a type of book known as the ‘Secret History’ of some international problem. With some passion, extensive citation of material, and a somewhat self-regarding manner,...

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