Mr. Hitchens's Revisionism of His Own History


Mr. Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton University.

In his interview with the right-wing web magazine FrontPageMag.com, re-posted on HNN, Christopher Hitchens claims that his moment of truth about Islamic fascism arrived in 1989, and that by September 11, 2001, he had fully come to "[t]he realization that American power could and should be used for the defense of pluralism." He then says that after seeing the World Trade Center atrocities on television, he was exhilarated: "Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose."

Mr. Hitchens was thinking nothing of the sort, and he knows it. He was thinking, in standard, knee-jerk anti-American terms, that America was largely to blame for bringing on the attacks. And he said so, in a particularly sickening column for the Guardian published on September 13, 2001:

With cellphones still bleeping piteously from under the rubble, it probably seems indecent to most people to ask if the United States has ever done anything to attract such awful hatred. Indeed, the very thought, for the present, is taboo. Some senators and congressmen have spoken of the loathing felt by certain unnamed and sinister elements for the freedom and prosperity of America, as if it were only natural that such a happy and successful country should inspire envy and jealousy. But that is the limit of permissible thought.

In general, the motive and character of the perpetrators is shrouded by rhetoric about their "cowardice" and their "shadowy" character, almost as if they had not volunteered to immolate themselves in the broadest of broad blue daylight. On the campus where I am writing this, there are a few students and professors willing to venture points about United States foreign policy. But they do so very guardedly, and it would sound like profane apologetics if transmitted live. So the analytical moment, if there is to be one, has been indefinitely postponed.

I am glad to see that Mr. Hitchens has since changed his mind about the dangers posed by Osama Bin Laden and about the imperatives of American power. But he has falsified history. Twenty-four hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- barely two years ago -- Hitchens fiddled on about the evil Americans and their taboos and their refusal to reckon with their wickedness. Mr. Hitchens may be a historian, but he is what George W. Bush calls a "revisionist historian" -- and in this case the history is his own. His invocation of George Orwell can at best be judged as cynical.

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monish r chatterjee - 8/22/2004

Most like myself from the liberal fold, have felt deeply betrayed by Christopher Hitchens' cozying up the worst and most nefarious, narrow-minded zealots, except that these are from the Western world (does that, somehow, in a subconscious, racist region of Mr. Hitchens' mind, make such rabid zealotry tolerable?).

Indeed, when Mr. Hitchens was "awakened" to Islamic zealotry in 1989 (I presume it was in reaction to the "fatwa" against Salman Rushdie, since I too wrote in defense of freedom of expression at the time), I had started to watch him speak with eloquence and conviction on a variety of matters, clearly allied on the liberal side (by association, on the side of the oppressed and downtrodden of the world). He was so perceptive (or so it seemed) vis-a-vis the sickening cult worship of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa.

Of course, my assessment of CH was proven wrong during his bilious, hateful attacks on Bill Clinton, and all the subsequent racist campaign he has become a part of, in the name of saving "civilization," which for all intents and purposes is a Western, Kipling-esque, Macaulay-ite thing. In embracing Western racism as a means of neutralizing Eastern/Arabic/and "other" models, and along the way lauding an intellectual zero (and far worse) such as GWB), Mr. Hitchens has not only revealed his true colors, but also made a spectacular turnaround that at its best rightfully shows him as nothing more than a crass opportunist.

If there is anything revisionist in Mr. Hitchens' approach to 911, it was his supposed early observation that I find more consistent with the CH I once found admirable.

Of course, it is clear that Prof.Wilentz chides the post-911 Hitchens, since it exhorted one to examine America's clear culpability in inviting hatred around the world (in India we call it the Doctrine of Karma). Instead, Prof.Wilentz implies that CH's supposed revisionism, which justifies the vile, violent and racist aggression on a sovereign nation, simply based on a crusade-like hatred of "the other", is much closer to the mark. Sadly, this shows the Princeton professor very much in the Kipling-esque mold of viewing the rest of the world (even as the color barriers invariably vanish) as "the white-man's burden." The professor's view of history is truly scary and skewed.

Monish Chatterjee.

Irfan Khawaja - 7/19/2004


Irfan Khawaja - 7/19/2004

I notice that the link for the Guardian piece didn't come out right in my earlier note, but the Hitchens article is called "So is this war?" (Sept. 13, 2001), and can be found by clicking the other link I gave and scrolling down.

Larry Talbot - 7/19/2004

"That the left – or a vocal segment thereof – could not bring itself to distance itself wholeheartedly and unequivocally from a mass butchery of innocents is pathetic and revealing."

You are just piling absurdity upoun absurdity. Hitchens is NOT a vocal segment of the left, as anyone on the left - and Hitchens himself - will tell you. There is a reason he is so beloved on Faux News and it isn't because of his strong left-wing opposition to the far right Bush regime...

Irfan Khawaja - 7/19/2004

My God, can a scholar of Richard Wolin's stature not do better this? I am sorry to have to put it this way, but I find it hard to believe what I am reading. A tenured professor at Princeton launches an openly defamatory--and completely absurd--attack on a journalist by hauling out a two-year old article that he proceeds to misinterpret while ignoring other writings that flatly contradict his claims. And what happens?

The Eminent Men emerge from the academic woodwork to pile onto the initial attack by *reinforcing* the defamation, while bystanders cluck-cluck about the "intensity" of the response to it. Evidently, it's perfectly OK to defame people, but moderation is the crown of the virtues when rising to the victim's defense.

And what does the defamation amount to? That the asking of "why" questions entails sympathy with mass murder and a deficiency of patriotism. Or coming the other way around, that criticism of those who shun such questions entails the same. A claim that ought to win the prize for non-sequitur of the month is being hailed here as sublime wisdom. It just doesn't get worse than this.

Incidentally, whether Hitchens was reporting on the views of others or speaking in his own voice or doing a bit of both at once makes absolutely no difference here. The real issue is this: is it really true that to ask 'why' is by that fact alone to express sympathy with Al Qaida? Is it really true that to raise questions about possible causal connections between US policies and the attacks is by that fact to "justify" the attacks? The answers are: no and no. A question is not an answer, and a causal connection is not a justification. Indeed, "a" causal connection is not even an *explanation*, much less a justification--much less empathy for mass murder.

(Incidentally, a person of somewhat malevolent motivations could have a real field day with Professor Wolin's incautious assertion that Al Qaida comes across as "less heroic" because they killed NON-Americans. Is the tacit implication here that it's worse to kill non-Americans than Americans? Or that terrorists retain their heroic stature if they kill Americans but lose it otherwise? I don't think that's the intended claim. But then I don't think Professor Wolin is at present the best judge of authorial intention.)

Come, Professor Wolin: explain. Where do you find a "justification", sly or otherwise, of 9/11 in the Guardian essay? Where is the empathy for the attackers? Does "justification" and "empathy" somehow follow from the sheer *fact* of wondering "why"? (Would the remedy then be to cease asking why questions?) You cannot seriously be saying that a request for a causal explanation of X just IS a justification of X--and yet I'm hard pressed to grasp what else you are trying to say.

Finally, as to Hitchens's "eventual" change of mind about religious fundamentalism, I offer this little quotation from dozens more I might have offered: "This is why the confrontation has been fought on every continent. It happens to be the occasion, in our time and place, for the traditional enmity between the imaginative and the literal to be dramatized. And, complex though it all is, it has elements of simplicity too. One must side with Salman Rushdie not because he is an underdog but because there is no other side to be on" (Christopher Hitchens, "Siding with Rushdie," London Rev of Books, Oct 1989; reprinted in "For the Sake of Argument," pp. 289-302).

I think it's been pretty clear all along what "side" Christopher Hitchens has been on.

Irfan Khawaja - 7/19/2004

I find it difficult to believe that a scholar of your stature could offer up nonsense of this nature. But here it is in front of me, and I have no reason to doubt the evidence of my senses.

First: There is no "justification" of 9/11, sly or otherwise, in Hitchens's piece. Nor is there any expression of empathy for the attackers. Nor have you, Gitlin or Wilentz produced anything remotely resembling an argument that there is. As to your claim that the left was unable distance itself wholeheartedly from the 9/11 attacks, that may be true of many people--but it obviously isn't true of Hitchens. I provide a link, for the second time, of essays that date to Sept. 2001 that flatly contradict that claim:


The link you offer (the email to Leo Casey) quite literally implies (1) that "why" questions are not profound, and (2) that the act of asking them makes one complicitous in the crimes that they are about. Such assertions are, to put it kindly, absurd. A "why" question is a request for a causal explanation--in this case, a request for the motivations behind an attack. I'd have thought that an eminent Freud scholar would have thought that a profound issue (cf. Civilization and Its Discontents).

In any case, profound or not, a request for an explanation is not a "sly justification"--not unless you utterly collapse the distinction between explanations and justifications. While I'm making distinctions, it's worth noting that a "why" question can also be a request for relevant causal factors that fall short of a full explanation--a fortiori, short of justification, sly justification, empathy, etc. This is primer action theory, and I cannot imagine that I should really need to explain it to the likes of Richard Wolin. But judging from you've written, evidently I do.

The reference you make in the link to the Israel/Palestine dispute is simply bizarre: there is no reference at all in the Guardian piece to that issue (apart from a passing reference to Palestinian youth celebrating the attacks--hardly support for what you say), much less an attempt to use it as a "sly justification" for 9/11. So may I ask: what on earth are you talking about?

As for Hitchens's "eventual change of mind" on religious fundamentalism, I suggest you read his essay "Siding With Rushdie," (London Review of Books Oct. 1989 and "For the Sake of Argument," pp. 289-302) which precedes the 9/11 attack by more than a decade. The essay makes amply clear where Hitchens's mind has been on this issue--or at least clear enough for those who desire clarification.

Phil - 7/19/2004

Commissar actually confined his U.S. misdeeds to just that geographic region. Pinochet, Sukarno, Marcos, Rios-Montt, the Mujahadeen. Do these names ring a bell?
Now, before anyone gets the ridiculous idea that I think 9/11 is a legitimate response to past U.S. malfeasance, think again. I don't. I just don't see why regarding Al Qaeda and the like as fanatical, murderous thugs and admitting that the U.S. has at times acted disgracefully are mutually exclusive.

Josh Greenland - 7/19/2004

"Regardless, I don't really understand why a bunch of seemingly bright people are arguing over a guy, Hitchens, who has been reduced to studying chicken entrails for signs of good news."

I agree with you in not understanding why a bunch of seemingly bright people are bothering to argue over a waste of time like Hitchens.

Ruth Mary Gill - 4/28/2004

Now you really are talking rubbish there.

Ruth Mary Gill - 4/27/2004

I would be happy to defend Hitchens, anytime.

Ruth Mary Gill - 4/27/2004

You are wrong mdmclain - Hitchens did not 'shift his position to score political points' - he shifted it because of the events of September 11, which made him see things somewhat differently than before. Christopher Hitchens is incredibly honest, an inspired writer, a person of great historical knowledge, and an extremely talented writer and journalist. He is somewhat arrogant too, I do believe, but one can forgive him this, bearing in mind all his other great talents.

So no, on behalf of Christopher Hitchens, I categorically reject your claim of opportunism on his part. He is well above that - accept or reject it as you chose.

Ruth Mary Gill - 4/27/2004

Yes, let's hope Mr Little has slid away - permanently!

Ruth Mary Gill - 4/26/2004

Yes, very well put Mr Burruto
I very much admire Hitchens - wish I could find even more than I have of what he has written - he is unique. It never ceases to amaze me how his critics usually resort to low-class insults in critizing him. They label themselves instead as low-class, who could count themselves lucky if they had one fifth of Hitchens' intelligence.

Holden Thedoor - 2/9/2004

Oooooooops ;->

Holden Thedoor - 2/9/2004

Look at the number of fatalities that Bush is directly responsible for. Maybe not as dangerous as Bin Laden but dangerous none the less. Anyway - Mr. Hitchens used to be a socialist. Remember? Then he was a liberal. Remember? Now he's what, a neoconservative? I believe he's also an atheist, a "proselytizing" atheist at that! What's next, studying to be rabbi? Intellectual integrity. Hmmm... sounds good... for now...

Holden Thedoor - 2/9/2004

Look at the number of fatalities that Bush is directly responsible for. Maybe not as dangerous as Bin Laden but dangerous none the less. Anyway - Mr. Hitchens used to be a socialist. Remember? Then he was a liberal. Remember? Now he's what, a neoconservative? I believe he's also an atheist, a "proselytizing" atheist at that! What's next, studying to be rabbi? Intellectual integrity. Hmmm... sounds good... for now...

Holden Thedoor - 2/9/2004

Look at the number of fatalities that Bush is directly responsible for. Maybe not as dangerous as Bin Laden but dangerous none the less. Anyway - Mr. Hitchens used to be a socialist. Remember? Then he was a liberal. Remember? Now he's what, a neoconservative? I believe he's also an atheist, a "proselytizing" atheist at that! What's next, studying to be rabbi? Intellectual integrity. Hmmm... sounds good... for now...

Holden Thedoor - 2/9/2004

Look at the number of fatalities that Bush is directly responsible for. Maybe not as dangerous as Bin Laden but dangerous none the less. Anyway - Mr. Hitchens used to be a socialist. Remember? Then he was a liberal. Remember? Now he's what, a neoconservative? I believe he's also an atheist, a "proselytizing" atheist at that! What's next, studying to be rabbi? Intellectual integrity. Hmmm... sounds good... for now...

Holden Thedoor - 2/9/2004

Reads like a description of our government, does it not ?

Soapington - 1/22/2004

You’re not the only one who’s puzzled, Mr. Wallison. I’m astonished that so much energy has been devoted to refuting Sean Wilentz’s wilful misreading of Christopher Hitchens’s 9/11 Guardian piece, when the article itself is a refutation of everything Wilentz has to say about it.

A. Nonymous - 1/18/2004

Of course, that doesn't change the fact that I'm hopelessly in love with the poor sap.

A. Nonymous - 1/17/2004

Christopher Hitchens is just upset because he cannot have sex in the missionary position and is addicted to pain medication and needs to lose a good 30 pounds.

Aaron Ruse - 1/14/2004

I just have to say how much I agree with your assertation that the facts and substance of the communication should be absorbed and interpreted before the application of any preconception or bias. At least as much as humanly possible. This has obviously been a problem for other postings above, whom immediately launched into personal attacks referring to egotism or political positionings, which invariably only dilutes the discussion and encourages me to move onto other sites. It took several threads for anyone to even get to the point about whether or not Hitchens was revising his own history or not.

While I agree that Hitchens seems to be quite hawkish in nature, I would gladly take a hawkish personality like his in comparison to the ones he has helped to expose in his writings such as "The Trial of Henry Kissinger".

Adam W - 1/7/2004

What has changed since he wrote that piece was a little thing that occurred on 9/11/01. Asking this is similar to asking the same question to someone who was an isolationist on 12/6/44 and then pro-War on 12/8/44. Some events really do change the way we think.

His "conversion" was foretold in that same piece by this paragraph:

"I happen to be one of those on the left who was sufficiently impressed by the threat of war and fascism in Bosnia to urge that international military help be given to the Bosnian resistance. (This meant that I sometimes found myself signing the same petition as Jeanne Kirkpatrick.) And I still can't read the urgent faxes and cables sent from Rwanda in the last days before the genocide without a feeling of insurmountable rage and frustration. Many on the left do not especially like to admit it, but there are probably other genuine "just causes" in our future, where American help will be solicited by deserving victims. It will be harder to argue about this logically or intelligently if the political establishment allows itself to go on picking and choosing from its own standpoint of impregnable moral self-regard. "

He just didn't realize that the deserving victims would be Americans themselves. And by the way, he still believes quite a few of the things he wrote in this piece. His support of Bush for his efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq do not mean he now thinks everything they do is right.

E.S. Wallison - 1/6/2004

I'm puzzled by the direction of the criticism of Hitchens. The accusation appears to be that he sought to justify the 9/11 attacks in suggesting that Americans felt an impulse to ask Why, and that some felt restricted from doing so because of the nature of the atrocity. Unless I'm missing something, Dr. Wilentz means to suggest that Hitchens' article in the Guardian indicates that he is frustrated because he is unable to pin the attacks on American foreign policy, etc. I didn't get that impression at all, and Hitchens' subsequent writings, in places such as The Nation (where the impulse to express such a sentiment is not often resisted), make fairly clear where Hitchens stands/stood. Even still, I would think Hitchens is best situated to judge his own beliefs. So where are things going here? Are good liberals like Wilentz, Gitlin, et al. actually suggesting they know what was in Hitchens' head, and that in (quite ambiguously) raising the subject of American culpability in the attacks, he was being anti-American or un-patriotic? Is that the point? Or is the point that Hitchens' well-documented beliefs are contradicted by those two (two!) "sickening" (Wilentz's word) paragraphs in the Guardian piece? Does Dr. Wilentz, who plies his trade on a university campus, mean to suggest that this is a question simply beyond the reasonable boundaries of discourse for Americans? (Having done the college thing myself, I'd be surprised if blaming the attacks on America's failures or depredations wasn't the status quo opinion.) In an alternative universe, where I have been forced to live since 9/11, the mere suggestion that some are mistaken, wrong, impossibly misdirected, etc. about the War on Terror has been met with anguished cries from the Left that folks are "questioning" their "patriotism." This is some switch here. Do we get another appearance from Tim Robbins to warn us that "a chill wind is blowing" across America? Will Wesley Clark be summoned to vouch for Hitchens and his right to (patriotically) express unpopular views on terror/dictatorship? When will come the benefit concert for Hitchens and other "dissidents" who, of course, will be locked up any day now by "Ashcroft's Justice Department"? Better still: If Hitchens retracts those two paragraphs, will Dr. Wilentz call off the hounds? Or will Hitchens have to retract the entire the entire Clinton book?

Waiting for that "knock on the door,"

S.A. Smith - 1/6/2004

Certainly we are (soon to be were, one hopes) in Saudi Arabia because of oil. This doesn't make us bad. We were invited by the government of SA, whether you or I see it as legit or not. I don't think OBL's claim on the sacred holy places of islam are any more persuasive than Crown Prince Abdullah's. Yes, the US acts in its own economic interests; hardly revelatory. I wish we had acted with more principle in the past but what's done is done and was done in a completely different context than what exists today.

The matter of concern to me is that OBL and his followers want to kill as many Americans as they can. What his reasons or demands are are relevant only to the extent that we need to understand them to protect American lives or the lives of our allies.

In any case, I doubt leaving the middle east will do anything to undermine his desire to restore islam to its former glory any more than our aerial slaughter of Serbian christians to stop the killing of muslims has won us any of his favor.

My point about East Timor was simply that OBL is not the least bit concerned with western notions of justice and does not regard himself as a fighter on behalf of the wretched of the earth, which I think you probably understand.

James Clinton - 1/5/2004

These attempts to smear an honest journalist are not new and are nothing but sour grapes on the part of knee-jerk lefties who can't resist an opportunity to side against the US even if it means turning a blind eye to the worst totalitarian threat the world has seen since Hitler left the scene. (This is not to say that Stalin was not a bad-news loser, just that he didn't try to conquer the world as Hitler did.)

Hitch's Guardian article, regardless of how much it reflects his own views at the time, only points out the obvious faults that the US has to live with and should correct. What the left has done - and Christopher Hitchens has not done - is go from there to say that Bush, poor dumb jerk that he is, is more dangerous than bin Laden.

Now that silly notion is playing out as false, those who trumpeted it are increasingly jealous of Hitch's intellectual integrity. Too bad for them. You don't like it, go out and make some of your own.

James Clinton - 1/5/2004

Well put, Mr. Burruto,

This Little Frank figure seems unexceptionally unintelligent and ill-informed. Perhaps he will unctuously slide away. :)

Phil K. - 1/5/2004

But the fact that UBL's repulsive intolerance was part of his rantings does not negate the fact that he would not have been urging a fight against the "infidels" if said armies were not stationed in what he believes to be the "holy land" of Saudi Arabia, which an earlier poster correctly pointed out he envisions as a new Caliphate.

Now, is he misguided, demagogic and fanatical in wanting such for the "nation" of Saudi Arabia? Obviously. However, exactly what is the U.S.'s common interest with the government of Saudi Arabia? Is it our mutual commitment to human rights? Our search for worldwide justice? I think we all know the answer. And incidentally, if you don't think Sukarno is relevant at all, is it just a coincidence that Al Qaeda has had such recruiting success in Indonesia?

I for one defended the first George Bush and the first Gulf War against attacks by fellow liberals. But only because I recognized that, for the right or wrong reasons, we were nominally allies of Kuwait, and had to honor that commitment. The disgusting thing is the lack of political will to extricate ourselves from alliances of mere economic convenience by seeking energy independence and then having the moral credibility to chastise repressive, undemocratic nations on the specific moral ground of democratic legitimacy.

Is there something so wrong about this?

Jim Michael - 1/4/2004

Let me see if I have this straight-you assert that Clinton was a premature anti-Islamofacist, and sign off without further comment. Your assertion is challenged directly, demanding a more complete explanation. The best you can do is to refer to Hitchens' 'obsession' with Clinton, taking issue with his characterization of that august personage. Am I missing something?

Clinton's fondness for missles was abundantly demonstrated with his strategy decisions in the Balkans. It's my opinion that he was not a leader who liked to dirty the boots of his troops, as his decision to slink away when casualties occurred in Somalia further deomonstrated. But you're the one who wanted to establish his global sheriff credentials-pony up, pal.

And, by the way-I'll go ahead and make the snarkiest comment I can, hoping to join the Clinton obsessives with full honors: Is it just me that suspects a disturbing connection between Clinton's reckless and impulsive use of the missle, the cigar, and his own Executive branch?

Sorry-couldn't resist. And, by the way-if the time listed on your post is correct, you may want to switch to decaf...

Philip Railsback - 1/4/2004

Yes, the Sudan attack was counterproductive, but that aspect had little interest for Hitchens. If it did, then he would have offered some kind of suppport and encouraged more effective action. In fact, he denounced Clinton's war against terrorists as a Clinton fabricated distraction. In the many Hitchens commentaries I read around the time he was far more interested in removing that "war criminal, criminal psychopath and rapist" (aka Bill Clinton) from power than Saddam or Osama Bin Laden. I don't think it would be overstating it to say that Hitchens was obsessed with getting Clinton. The result was that when Clinton was going after terrorists, Hitchens was going after Clinton. Your last sentence of your post ("[Clinton] was too busy inserting cigars into an intern.") certianly suggests that you share Hitchens' obsession.

John Burruto - 1/4/2004

Mr. Little's last entry dumps the usual load of leftist, party line garbage on readers. Typical of such unexamined drivel is his automatic, doctrinal reference to Hispanic and poor young men and women taking the brunt of the casualties in Iraq. The numbers contradict his assertion. The U.S. military is manned by nearly as proportional representation of ethnic and racial groups as found in this country. Ditto the unhappy casualty rate (as it was in Viet Nam, contrary to leftist propaganda). The description of our enemy as Islamic fascists is an accurate term for these fanatical and murderous haters of Western liberalism. Hitchens may have indeed been moderately inconsistent, but his direction is sound and his reasoning bracing.

C.R.W. - 1/3/2004

Dean's anger will be at least as much of a problem, as well.

Mr. "Angry Flip-Flop."

C.R.W. - 1/3/2004

Hitchens' comment was in reference to Dean's remarks that some people believe Bush had foreknowledge about 9/11 from the Saudis.

Like many of Dean's comments, I somehow understand what he was clumsily attempting a stab at. In this case, I believe the lesson is that concealing information can be counterproductive because doing so may feed the tendency to breed conspiracy theories. However, Dean, again clumsily, should have taken pains to make this point the thrust of his comment, rather than blankly reiterating the idea itself with only a tiny caveat that he doesn't believe it personally.

The only thing I'm not certain about is whether he does this intentionally as a rhetorical appeal to either conspiracy theorists or those who hate or don't mind maligning Bush, or due to verbal (and/or perhaps mental) sloppiness. A chief of state should pay close attention to language. Of course Bush, the candidate, was sloppy with language as well, but as we've all seen, through careful study of a teleprompter and great speechwriters, he largely overcame it - despite the lingering occasional guffaw.

But Dean's not up against Al Gore, and this isn't 2000, so we will never get the opportunity to see if his shortcoming improves.

Michael B - 1/2/2004

Mr. Luker, my most sincere apologies for conflating your post with the other.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/2/2004

"Ooooh" was, of course, not my word, but that of someone calling himself "Rod V." I have no idea who that would be.
No sneer intended at Michael B. Your post was, in fact, a remarkable vocabulary exercise. That was my only observation. You should write for publication here and elsewhere.
The piece that you cite about the incident at Princeton is very interesting. I hope that AIA will be as aggressive in condemning suppression of discussion, debate, and speech by the Right as it is of suppression of such things by the Left.

Michael B - 1/2/2004

Dear me, I've been sneered upon. (And so unique!) What's next, something along the lines that your daddy can beat up my daddy? If so it would be (entirely) in keeping with the ad hominem tone and other forms of avoidance herein.

Mr. Luker, you previously posted: "... submit an essay of the quality ... HNN should feature for publication here."

Here's one:


But let me guess, at the very best you'll smirk yet again, or use yet some other form of studied avoidance.

"Oooooh?" Indeed, speaks volumes.

Frank Little - 1/2/2004

Mr. Smith, I'm beginning to wonder if you actually might not mean what you write.

OK. Hitchens, (his undeserved reputation as a one-time 'radical' aside) has decided to find his fat white body a warm spot sucking at the largest money-tit in human history -- the apex of the Washington government/media elite, that much is a no-brainer.

But is it possible that there are serious people (not to mention self-professed 'leftists') who actually take the lies regurgitated daily through CNN, FOX, CLEAR CHANNEL at face value? Do you actually see the small-time thugs of Al Qaida as more dangerous, brutal and befeft of moral scruple than U.S. finance capital wielding a military power sufficient to destroy the world several times over?

As criminal as the attack on the World Trade Center was, have you not noticed that the criminal U.S. ruling class has already exacted "repayment" of several magnitudes since then in the murders of countless innocent Afghani, Iraqi and godknows who else -- men, women, and children? Or does 9/11 in your view simply write a moral blank cheque for the Pentagon to visit indiscriminate murder from the skies against impoverished brown-skinned peoples anywhere and everywhere?

If that's your view, you should get out a bit, because U.S. imperialism (as distinct from the American people) is hated, and I mean HATED for this around the world (including by the broad populations of its own erstwhile "allies").

It's sad that Black, Hispanic and other kids from impoverished parts of the U.S. are being picked off day after day in occupied Iraq. But anyone not blinded by patriotic psychosis rightly sides militarily in this conflict with the Iraqi resistance fighters.

So explain it to me once again: the folks who dropped that atom bomb (twice!) on civilian population centres, the folks who killed 3 million Koreans, the folks who carpet-bombed Indo-China (another 3 million), the folks who armed and trained the Afghan Mujahideen -- who skinned schoolteachers alive for teaching little girls how to read and write -- the folks who armed and trained hundreds of Saddams, Bin Ladens, Suhartos, Pahlevis, Duvaliers... (fill in list hundred other names and atrocities here), these folks -- (referring to both the Democratic and Republican wings of the property party) are LESS DANGEROUS to the world at large than "Islamofascist" threat sucked out of the thumb of a handful of neocon brain trusters?


Rod V - 1/1/2004

oooooh Mickey B!

Giving the less used parts of our vocab a walk out in the park I see! Good for you.

Tell me truthfully now, did you run it through a spellchecker first? Come on now, did ya? :)

Ralph E. Luker - 1/1/2004

Michael B. has an excellent handle on vocabulary.

S.A. Smith - 1/1/2004

You suggested that the threat of terrorism in the US was not serious or somehow exagerrated; the method you employed was ridicule. In this I think you are dense or at the very least that your priorities are out of whack. So, not only did you miss the point (intentionally?) but you resorted to an "argument" based on what you allege to be world-wide popular support for your strawman.

The last shot is yours.

Michael B - 1/1/2004

And what a display of it herein.

Reverting to a solipsistic fetal position that purposely and willfully ignores context, logic, proportion and balance - and in doing so does not hesitate in the least to pound its chest in triumphalist self-promotion and eagerly anticipated schadenfreude, however poorly founded and misbegotten it may be. And that is descriptive, not hyperbole.

It would be pitiable if its origins weren't found first and foremost in such a vacant willfulness and a blithely contented self-delusion.

Dave Mann - 1/1/2004

Has Hitchens's "embraced" the Bush regime? If, in 1943, had I been alive and I cheered the outcome of the battle of Stalingrad, would that have made me a Stalinist? Besides the "war on terrorism" has Hitchen's promoted any other Bush policies?

Frank Little - 1/1/2004

I'm certainly not alone in my "density" -- a large majority of the world's population, at this point in history at least, rightly regards U.S. imperialism as Public Enemy No. 1.

Paul - 12/31/2003

Whilst it is quite right to observe that changing your mind does not (neccessarily) make you intellectually inferior, it is surely also accurate to mention that trading it in for a smaller version probably does not help either!
p.s. the Hitch has a tv show, in which he examines the state of the State of Texas, airing this Sunday (4th Jan) on the British station, Channel4. Catch it if you can...

Gordy - 12/31/2003

you nailed it. The quote is weird. I'm not even sure what it's saying. And to take it as evidence of anything is weirder still.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/31/2003

Happy New Year, Peter Clarke. Try to be more sensitive to context next year and you won't find yourself accusing people of inconsistency where there is none. I do assume that you made the non-point in order to avoid my pointed questions about the purpose of your gnattery.

Peter K. Clarke - 12/31/2003

Luker in #27382:

"by which I assume you mean people with whom you happen to agree"

Luker in #27425:

"I assume nothing"

The new practice of displaying the text of all comments in a thread or subthread under each other is an improvement on HNN. (I am willing to give credit where it is due as well as make occasional specific and non-asperital criticisms). Now if people would only read what they themselves said before contradicting themselves in later comments.

As for Mr. Shenkman, he clearly knows what is doing and clearly reads at least some of these comments even if he chooses, as a matter of policy, not to screen out even the most blatantly irrelevant ones. What would be the point of a personal e-mail to him, unless it is from someone he knows and respects, such as one of his regular blog contributors ?

By the way, speaking of aspersions and failing to read prior comments, I have made no "interpretation" of the "rationale" for your new group blog. I only suggested a possible side effect of its creation, as a gesture of sympathy to your self-declared editorial powerlessness.

Happy New Year

Phil K. - 12/31/2003

Right. Everything is black and white. I forgot. Like the fact that the secularist governments (such as the one installed by the CIA in the 50s in Iran) are the direct object of UBL's ire negates the possibility that their enablers and supporters could be the target as well. Now, if you can show me where I said that UBL/Al Qaeda's response to their grievances has been justified, I'll eat crow. However, if you choose to believe that we haven't given him fodder for recruitment, I think you're just denying reality.
This has been a inadvertently symbiotic relationship where we have, for our own purposes, supported the Husseins, the Shahs and Saudis of the ME, in the process allowing UBL to say to potential kool-aid drinkers: "look, here are those infidels supporting the corrupt secular governments in our kingdoms."
Ironically, I believe that we have as many grievances with say, the government of Saudi Arabia, as Bin Laden does. It's just that we choose to subvert our grievances due to our insatiable desire for black gold. And, of course, our grievances are a great deal more lofty (disregard for human rights etc.) IMO, than his.

cosmosis - 12/31/2003

Hitchens: a lying, shameless, crotch sniffing republican hypocrite? Who could have guessed it watching him during the '90s during his daily cable appearances wherein he defended President Clinton...errr....

Peter - 12/31/2003

How was Clinton a premature anti-Islamofascist exactly? The cruise missile attack was counterproductive.

Hitchens writes in No One Left To Lie To:

"All that requires explaining is how a shower of cruise missiles did not manage to hit even one of the suspects. The only casualties occurred among regular Pakistani intelligence officers, who were using the "training camps" to equip guerrilas for Kashmir. As a result, indignant Pakistani authorities released two just-arrested suspects in the American Embassy bombings--one Saudi and one Sudanese. (The Saudi citizen, some American sources say, was a crucial figure in the planning for those outrages in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.) Not great, in other words. One might add that a stray cruise missile didn't even hit Afghanistan but fell on Pakistan territory, thus handing the Pakistani military a free sample just months after it had defied Clinton's feeble appeals to refrain from joining the "nuclear club." All in all, a fine day's work. Pressed to come up with someting to show for this expensive farce, the Clintonoids spoke of damage to bin Laden's "infrastructure." Again to quote Milt Bearden, who knows Afghanistan by moonlight: "What 'infrastructure'? They knocked over a lean-to? If the administration had anything--anything at all--the high-resolution satellite images would have been released by now."

Again, where's the evidence Clinton was a premature anti-Islamofascist? He was too busy inserting cigars into an intern.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/31/2003

I assume nothing and care not too much about what you think about Christopher Hitchens. You had cited him as the kind of writer who ought to be appearing here and I merely pointed out that he does. But if that is of so little moment, why do you keep returning to this site on such a regular basis only to cast aspersions on it? I should think that you had better things to do. Why not take up your issues in an e-mail to Rick Shenkman? One of your complaints, apparently, is that he doesn't monitor the comment boards as you think he should. Why, then, would you assume that your points are best made on the comment boards?
Thanks for the interpretation of the rationale for the blog's transformation. It is incorrect. A) I have no editorial authority over the HNN mainpage; B) I leapt at the opportunity of being associated with historians of the quality who are a part of Cliopatria.

Philip Railsback - 12/31/2003

Back to Hitchens, his biggest problem with Clinton seems to be that Clinton was a premature anti-Islamofascist.

- Philip

Ryan - 12/31/2003

"I wish more people understood that changing your mind on something does not make you intellectually inferior."

Truly wise words that all people need to heed.

David Patterson - 12/31/2003

An idiot.

S.A. Smith - 12/31/2003

"Yes, these red-white-and-blue "socialists" will get around to doing something about their own profit gorged capitalist ruling classes some fine day, but first there are those nasty 'islamofascists' hiding in every corner that need a righteous dose of extirpation, and for that an alliance with Bush, Ashcroft, and Rumsfeldt is not only permissible but the highest moral duty!"

Are you actually dense enough to ridicule or minimize the threat posed by terrorists who have already shown what they dare do and imply strongly what they desire? Yeah, you're right. Not scary at all. Let's hope the Democratic nominee, whoever he may be, is more serious than you.

"A hundred years ago, at the dawn of U.S. imperialism, we had Mark Twain to skewer the sanctimonious Hitchenites of his day... where's a voice like that when you need one?"

I nominate you.

Peter K. Clarke - 12/31/2003

You assume erroneously, Ralph Luker. I disagree with Hitchins quite extensively. Unlike Pipes (and HNN) however, he is not, as far as I can tell, systematically hiding what he is really about. Your point re not reading Pipes is well taken. That is why I would not bother reading the "Weekly Standard", for example. But does it pretend to be a mainstream, objective explainer of history, presenting views left, right, and center with evenhanded transparency ?

You can downplay HNN's hypocrisy by, for example, pointing out the little non-partisan nuggets of usefulness nestled around the edges of hyped-up headlines. And you can downplay your own potential leverage over HNN's editorial biases, if you like. (Especially if the conversion of your blog into a group blog has the effect of distancing you from HNN). In that case, however, I think it only fair that you not overplay my much lower potential influence by repeatedly asking me to buy into something I don't want to support.

Kaiser - 12/31/2003

I wonder if people use the same test about irresponsibility for our current president.

It seems to me that Dean's problem is that he attempts to correct statements he has made, whereas Bush, as a candidate, never corrected himself when he explicitly understated the size of his proposed tax cut, or the "miracle" in students test scores in Texas, what he did in his 1-year time off from the National Guard.

My point is that in politics it is better to obfuscate, distort, misstate and let others criticize you, than to try to correct your mistakes. I think the press is more likely to identify your inconsistencies and your changing positions when you keep bringing up the same thing, then to call you on your original mistake or distortion.

All I ask is remember the coverage of candidate Bush and tell me whether his every statement received the same kind of scrutiny and attentiveness from the press as Dean
s statements are getting. (See dailyhowler.com's coverage of the election as a good starting point).

Alberto Candau - 12/31/2003

Even allowing for all your loosely accurate comments (context seems conveniently missing), I still don´t see what´s so irresponsible. The fact that he tries to please anyone who comes across? Is that something new and unique? As I said, I personally don't like the guy, mostly because everything you mention, and everything he's done, but is he irresponsible? If anything, quite the contrary, he seems the most transparent of the lot. Compare him with Clark and Kerry, today for the war, tomorrow against it, next week we catch Sadamm so back for the war, etc.

So, were you for the war?

Kaiser - 12/31/2003

I dont think the issue is whether or not Hitchens has changed his mind, nobody doubts that he has, but whether or not his change was prompted by 9/11 or by a new administration in the White House. That is the question and dont try to reframe so that it appears that people are criticizing him simply for changing his mind. I mean, you can change your mind all you want, but don't pee on my boots and tell me it's raining.

I'm sure Plato's rethinking of his ideas was not initiated by the election of George W. Bush.

The record on Hitchens is clear. His own words speak for themselves.

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/30/2003

Let's try Dean's comment that he gave up his membership in the Episcopalian Church because it opposed a public bikepath. Or his comment just the last few days that the election is about religion and spiritual values, and that he plans to discuss his "deeply" religious attitudes in the South -- you know, where the rednecks are. Or his claim that the military is too big, followed quickly by his admission to Russert that he only knew there were between 1 and 2 million in uniform. Or his previous statement that the French will always oppose everything we do in foreign policy, followed by newer claim that we shouldn't do anything without UNSC approval -- where the French have a veto. Now I've lately discovered that he has engaged in a massive attempt to bury all his records as governor -- after criticizing Bush for secrecy. And now the energy group in Vermont meeting in secret -- just as he criticized Bush. I could go on, but the point is not only made, but with Dean's shoot from the lip style, my point will be made again and again for me by Dean himself. The man is going to make W look bright by comparison, and that takes real effort.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/30/2003

Mr. Clarke, Of course, HNN did feature this week the interview with Christopher Hitchens, one of the "top calibre thinkers and pundits," by which I assume you mean people with whom you happen to agree. As it happens, my posts here and at Cliopatria have tended to side with Hitchens against his critics. My name does not appear on the HNN masthead, but only as a contributor to Cliopatria. It wouldn't make sense to claim, as you imply, that all of my compatriots there are also "a part of the problem." We speak with no single voice. I, too, tire of too much Daniel Pipes on HNN. My solution to that is simply not to read him.

Alberto Candau - 12/30/2003

I don´t care much for Dean, but the new axiomatic "I can´t believe the irresponsible things he says" is becoming almost repulsive in its obscenity. Exactly what is so irresponsible? I'm willing to bet on this: all those that suddenly find something terribly wrong with Dean are former iraq war supporters that are extremely uncomfortable with the fact that the guy was against it from the beginning. They wish everybody was wrong on Iraq the way they were. Just a guess. Should we take a poll?

Frank Little - 12/30/2003

Thanks go to Mr. Smith for exposing what passes for the "left" these days far more eloquently than I could have done myself.

Yes, these red-white-and-blue "socialists" will get around to doing something about their own profit gorged capitalist ruling classes some fine day, but first there are those nasty 'islamofascists' hiding in every corner that need a righteous dose of extirpation, and for that an alliance with Bush, Ashcroft, and Rumsfeldt is not only permissible but the highest moral duty!

A hundred years ago, at the dawn of U.S. imperialism, we had Mark Twain to skewer the sanctimonious Hitchenites of his day... where's a voice like that when you need one?

Come to think of it, I wonder how far an honest Wobbly would get reading aloud a copy of the constitution in a public space in Ashcroftland today?


Peter K. Clarke - 12/30/2003

"If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem"? says Mr. Luker.
I tend to agree.

Among the problems with HNN are (a) its deliberately misleading headlines, designed (one can only presume) to provoke the sorts of angry back and forth shouting matches often found here, (b) the hypocrisy of claiming to reveal "complexities" of history while regularly serving as sounding board for those systematically distorting it, and (c) the lack of monitoring of comments for relevancy to history and to the subject matter commented upon.

The third of these deficiencies is illustrated by Mr. Luker's accusing me of ad hominem attacks. My earlier remarks were nothing of the kind. I merely reinforced what Christopher Hitchins already was beginning to discover about this website.

I do note that there has been some slight improvement over the past year with respect to points (a) and (b) above. Perhaps my occasional complaints have helped that glacial progress a bit. Reasonable people may differ on how to deal with the need for moderated discussions ( point (c) ), but the drawbacks of a free-for-all approach are clear enough and could at least be acknowledged.

On the other hand, it is clear that to attract articles from top calibre thinkers and pundits, like Hitchins (let alone lesser mortals such as me), without first addressing the fundamental weaknesses inherent in points (a) and (b), will not turn this website into that which it claims to be. Those, like Luker, who are on the HNN masthead and who continue to deny that it has remediable faults, are indeed "part of the problem". Will they ever become "part of the solution" and stop demanding that messengers pointing out salient aspects of "the problem" join them as part of it instead ?

C.R.W. - 12/30/2003

If you're not necessarily a fan of Dean perhaps it's motivated by the same suspicion I harbor that he couldn't possibly mean the incredibly irresponsible things he says as anything more than (a very wily form of) pandering. If the alternative, however, turns out to be the case, then Hitchens' judgment of Dean should serve as nothing less than the proverbial canary in the coal mine. For if his perception holds true, it would mean that Dean's problem is that he doesn't understand the difference between saying something for the effect it will elicit, saying something because he believes it, and saying something because it needs to be said. The possibility that these crucial distinctions could completely elude Dean may not seem foreboding to some, however, a realistic assessment of the potential gravity of the office he seeks makes it impossible to conclude otherwise.

Mark Simanowith - 12/30/2003

What a waste of time to discuss whether Hitchens has changed his mind or become more hawkish...blah, blah,blah. I'm sad to see Hitchens actually responding to such nonsense, but then I look at Hitchens now as a modern Cephalus. Scared to be wrong and to question the world in which he lives and his own interpretations, he is no longer a Gadfly.

I wish more people understood that changing your mind on something does not make you intellectually inferior. Go back and read your Plato.

I hope Hitchens finds his courage again.

Kelly Pinkava - 12/30/2003

I happened to watch Hitchens's virulent and personal attack on Howard Dean and Bill Clinton on Hardball yesterday. I am not a fan of either of them but the language that Hitchens used was awful. Hitchens repeated the same old crap about how Clinton broke all the laws by bombing Irag, Sudan, etc. As some one said earlier Hitchens definitely sounds like an unashamed boot-licker for the rulers of America!

S.A. Smith - 12/30/2003

Well said. And let us also not forget one of Al Qaeda's stated reasons for the Bali bombing: Australia's marginal role in the independence of East Timor from Indonesia.

David - 12/30/2003

Anybody who thinks Ashcroft is more dangerous to the U.S. than Bin Laden is a psychopath.

Rex Tumfiller - 12/30/2003

Why all the sturm and drang about a has-been hack like Hitchens? For me, he burst his own balloon in resigning over the statement that Ashcroft is more dangerous to the U.S. than bin Laden. Why not let the drunk go ruin his liver in peace and snicker at his manifestos?

Peter - 12/30/2003

Poor record. Clinton's attacks on Iraq and the Al Qaeda training camp and the janitor in the Sudanese pharmaceutical company building were timed such that they coincided with important dates on his court calendar. Remember, that was during the height of the Lewinsky Sturm und Drang.

This is somewhat straying from the topic, but in their book Al Gore: a User's Manual, Alexander Cockburn/Jeffrey St. Clair write, "In June of Campaign 2000, [Gore] publicly distanced himself from the president on Iraq policy, reiterating that Saddam has to fall, and pledging support to an exile group called the Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Ahmad Chalabi. In the late 1990s Chalabi's cause was pressed by Republicans in Congress .... A bizarre alliance, stretching from Helms to Perle and The New Republic to Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens, pressed Chalabi's call for the US to guarantee "military exclusion zones" in northern Iraq and in the south near Basra and the oil fields....
... [Gore] announced that he had differed with Clinton's refusal to release $97 million in military aid to the Iraqi opposition. These posturings remain precisely that, for the simple reason that any serious plan for full-scale war to topple Saddam would invovle (a) the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, and (b) a warm-up of relations with Iran, neither of which contingencies are in the least likely."

Irfan Khawaja - 12/29/2003

I wasn't able to post this as a response to Sean Wilentz's 12/29 piece "Criminal" due to some technical glitch, but this is meant as a response to that post and readers should read that before reading this. This response, I promise, will be my last contribution to this "little argument." (I am afraid that the term "little" does not so much modify "argument" as it modifies the stature of some of those participating in it.)

Professor Wilentz now offers the following speculation: Christopher Hitchens's views are purely a function of who was in the White House; anti-American when Clinton was in office, pro-American when Bush was. Such is the hypothesis.

And what was the primary, now desperately forgotten evidence offered for this amateur piece of pop psychology? An article printed in September 2001, nine months after George W. Bush assumed the presidency. Which is to say: the evidence offered for the hypothesis directly contradicts the hypothesis under consideration. Quod erat non demonstrandum. (Was I wrong in my earlier post to suggest classes in remedial logic?)

I do not mean to defend Hitchens's remarks about Clinton's supposed war crimes, etc. I don't find those earlier claims defensible, didn't find them defensible when he wrote them, and have in my own published work taken him to task for what I regard as his inconsistencies and wrongheadedness on any number of things he's said (review of "Long Short War," Reason Papers, forthcoming Jan. 2004 http://webhost.bridgew.edu/askoble/RPad.htm). But then, I accuse him of inconsistency and wrongheadedness, not of "revisionist" dishonesty. And the evidence I cited for my own claims does in fact support them.

Neither thing is true of Wilentz's piece. He made a claim about Hitchens's moral character based on an indefensible reading of the Guardian passage--a reading that no one has yet been able to vindicate in about a week of debate. Unable to back that claim up, Wilentz now goes back into the archives to find new and improved evidence for his thesis that he somehow omitted to mention the first time around. And so now we have new slop to contend with.

Hitchens, we are now told, had not arrived at a settled view of Islamofascism and the uses of US military power etc. between 1989 and 2001. True. But he didn't say in the interview that he had. Nor did he say, "There wasn't a single inconsistency in anything I'ver ever written on those subjects. I was infallibly right about everything." Nor, incidentally, was the question asked of him: "Enumerate all of your past inconsistencies and intellectual malfeasances for our readers."

Hitchens was asked to account for his POST-9/11 views. By way of explanation, he adverted to a few antecedents for the POST-9/11 attitudes. He said that he had come to despise Islamofascism after the Khomeini fatwa of 1989. Well, he undeniably had. And he said that he'd come to see that US power could be used to combat fascism in the Balkans. That, too, was undeniably true. Then he said that as he watched the towers fall he felt something he couldn't fully analyze or grasp. Perhaps the "non-analyzable fact" consisted in the two previous claims' suddenly coalescing in that moment. That happens.

Whatever the explanation, there is nothing here remotely resembling "revisionism," or Stalinist line-drawing. Nor has anything remotely resembling those things been demonstrated by Professors Wilentz, Gitlin, Wolin and the rest of their brain trust.

So, Professor Wilentz, spare us the sanctimonious lectures about academic objectivity, juxtaposted against the "winding paths" of bilious journalists. You have abundantly demonstrated that you do not know how to read a simple passage in your native tongue, nor evaluate it, nor argue your way out of a paper bag.

What you've shown us is that you excel at making reckless assertions about peoples' character at the drop of a hat. If this is what you want to showcase as being your own personal trademark, fine. But do please stop pretending that your polemical score-settlings are some great exercise in scholarly objectivity or some great contribution to The Historiography of Present Times. There is a difference between providing a "factual record of what transpired" and manufacturing a wholly factitious one. Your account falls squarely into the latter category. Rational agents, historians or otherwise, can already see the facts for what they are. Too bad you can't.

Michael B - 12/29/2003

So Mr. Wilentz, our self-proclaimed Sir Galahad of Transparent Truth and Knowledge in Realms Historical and Elsewhere, now openly acknowledges a primary vested interest: payback for criticizing Clinton. Shocked, I'm shocked! From "Accuracy in Academia," the following concerning censorship, Wilentz, Clinton, Princeton Univ., and another Princeton professor, Robert George:


The gist being that Wilentz led or helped to lead an effort to have Clinton speak on campus and was also instrumental in having Princeton prof. Robert George's piece, critical of Clinton, edited out of the campus newspaper. Will Wilentz deny this rather well documented and substantiated charge of censorship? Highly doubtful, but if so, what details, what nuance, what adumbrations, what additional context, what corrections more generally (if any at all?) does he have to offer concerning this "Accuracy in Academia" piece? None? Several? Details and specifics, please!

Certainly, much more could be written in response to Wilentz's latest salvo and highly leveraged presumption. To successfully answer even a solitary and brief accusation, however poorly or well founded it may be, often requires a rather extensive response in order to correct misperceptions and distortions or to more fully flesh out half-truths, occlusions, elisions, nuance, etc.

Which is precisely one of the reasons for my own questions concerning the "Accuracy in Academia" piece. Though only one.

I.e., it appears that the label "personal, petty, pathetic - from Princeton" still holds up fairly well.

David Van Etten - 12/29/2003

I'm gonna venture and say September 11 flip-flopped Hitchens. While the new Hitch might be consistent with the old, it does take a forgiving rereading to find the consistency. In my established circles, I too turned coat on September 11, from a proud campus leader who promoted the Left's spirit unabashedly and lectured against Bush, to a quieter and humbler radical who more often than not is defending Paul Wolfowitz. The day did it. The world did in fact change dramatically (duh, I suppose I'm preaching to the converted, i.e. everyone, with that statement). Political commitments have been dwarfed by potential dangers, and many radicals have struggled to regain focus with a sort of Thucydides-style perspective on things. I thank Hitchens for registering the change instinctively and immediately--regardless of Wilentz's assertions--and for helping guide us through this.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/29/2003

Mr. Clarke continues to attack HNN for offering opinion pieces with which he disagrees and featuring ad hominem attacks on its comment boards. In doing so, he continues to engage in what he condemns. Once again, I invite him to submit an essay of the quality he believes HNN _should_ feature for publication here. Was it Frederick Douglass, Mr. Clarke, who said "If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem"?

KRAPNIEKS! - 12/29/2003

From Mr Hitchens I expect nothing more than self regard. Most especially when he is marketing impressively articulated ideas. His pomposity and hawkishness does annoy, however, when the subject of wars to be waged arises. Mr Hitchens is not a bloke who will spill his drink or get his boots muddied. In that respect he is no better than other Ivy chicken-hawks (Perle, Feith, Cambone) who talk tough from soft, safe armchairs remote from the bloodshed.

Peter K. Clarke - 12/29/2003

Sensationalistic distortions of headlines and ad hominem irrevelancy are par for the course at HNN. Bona fide scholars and intellectuals, once they realize the dumbing down endemic here, steer clear.

Somehow this would not post directly under Hitchins's comment above. Evidently HNN is trying to make some changes. Too bad they are superficial rather than fundamental.

Peter K. Clarke - 12/29/2003

Sean Wilentz - 12/29/2003

Todd Gitlin's and Rick Perlstein's informative remarks, and Mr. Hitchens' plea for objectivity, lure me back into this little argument.

To be clear: My objection has never been to the positions Mr. Hitchens has taken since the atrocities of September 11, 2001, many of which I find agreeable. My objection is solely to the interview he gave to FrontPage, which HNN reposted, in which he covers up and distorts his shifts in positions over the years, right up to the date of infamy -- followed by his own personal version of what in Stanlist double-speak used to be called "line rectification."

The continuing postings are providing more information to show that, contrary to his current self-inflating revisionist claims, Mr. Hitchens had not arrived at a settled view in 1989 on pluralism, Islamofascism, and the uses of American military power. Whatever else he may have been thinking, his anti-Americanism lasted well after that -- up to and including September 11, 2001.

Here's another piece of the record: in 1998, Mr. Hitchens, writing for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington, denounced the Americans' "punitive assaults on Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq" -- that is, military attacks on Osama bin Laden
and Saddam Hussein -- as "criminal." Not insufficient or unsuccessful or even misguided, but "criminal." He added sardonically that the attacks "must surely convince some rock-ribbed types that Americans have not lost their traditional values or fealties" -- values and fealties he heaped with scorn.

Another piece of the record: in February 1999, Mr. Hitchens, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, dismissed Hussein as one of the "tin pots and yahoos" of the region, the "micro-megalomaniacs who think of their banana republics as potential superpowers." He mocked American military efforts to degrade the threat that Hussein posed -- and said that, by undertaking those efforts, the White House had reduced the United States to a banana republic.

A third: In his book, No One Left to Lie To, Mr. Hitchens called the bombings directed against bin Laden and Hussein "war crimes." His rhetoric then was almost identical to that of a man whose views he now says he finds contemptible, Noam Chomsky -- while it also had something in common with the partisan rhetoric of right-wing Republicans like Trent Lott. In their highly-praised book, The Age of Sacred Terror, Daniel Benjamin and Richard Simon, both former Government anti-terrorism officials, have noted that polemics such as these had "serious consequences, including the failure of the public to comprehend the nature of the al-Queda threat." Benjamin and Simon specifically criticize Hitchens' vituperations.

I respect that Mr. Hitchens may have changed his mind in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But why does he brazenly falsify his own history -- a history that is a matter of published public record?

This is only an interpretation, but I wonder if something other than 9/11 also changed Mr. Hitchens's mind. Before 2001, the President responsible for attacking Hussein and taking seriously the magnitude of the threat posed by bin Laden was Bill Clinton. Mr. Hitchens famously depised President Clinton, and at least once called him "borderline psychopathic" over the bombings directed against Hussein and bin Laden. Those military assaults, he said back then, were wholly unwarranted -- "Clinton's war crimes," he called them.

We all know how, like Mr. Hitchens, Clinton's successor and the Bush security team were dismissive about bin Laden and terrorism before September 11, 2001, and how they treated as unserious the grave warnings given them by Clinton officials. Then, suddenly, everything changed. That, too, is a matter of published public record, and undoubtedly we will learn more of this essential history from the Kean Commission's report about 9/11.

How can it be that when Bill Clinton attacked Hussein and bin Laden it proved that he was a borderline psychopathic criminal, but when George W. Bush does so it is a noble defense of pluralism and human rights? Did the change in Presidents, from Democratic to Republican, from centrist liberal to right-wing conservative, have something to do with Mr. Hitchens's change in position? Or was it simply his hate object's retirement from the White House that did the trick?

Who knows? In every era, polemicists and journalists get caught up in the passion of contentious events. But it is up to historians to provide an accurate and factual record of what actually transpired. Mr. Hitchens' plea for objectivity is an attempt to wave historians off from examining the winding path of one overheated pundit. In trying to cover up his own record, he is engaging in what Richard Nixon's crowd called "stonewalling." Historians, now and later, should see this effort for what it is.

Peter - 12/29/2003

Tariq Ali argues Hitchens has been mostly
consistent in his piece dated Sept. 26, 2001:

"When Christopher Hitchens supports a Western war he usually concentrates his fire on the 'enemy'. During the Falklands escapade he wasn't bothered by the sinking of the Belgrano or other such trivia that 'liberal twits' were questioning. For him Galtieri was a fascist and Mrs Thatcher was right. During the Balkan wars he decided that the Serbs were the enemy, Milosevic was a fascist and NATO was right to wage war. He slipped up on the Gulf War, which he opposed despite the fact that Saddam, in the eyes of many who supported that war, was a fascist as well."

But then Ali argues a political solution is
needed for Al Qaeda and compares it to
the IRA. "When the IRA attempted to blow
up the British Cabinet in Brighton, the
British state, horrified though it was,
did not declare war on Ireland. In fact,
soon afterwards it began to search for
political solutions."

However in that same paragraph he admits
that Al Qaeda is fundamentally different
from the IRA: "Of course, Bin Laden's
solution is a nightmare Pax Talibana
throughout the world of Islam, which
few Muslims or non-Muslims want."

Do any non-Muslims want this? Anyway,
obviously the IRA didn't kill civilians
for a Pax Roma. Hitchens takes up this issue in a response to Norm Finkelstein's charges of selling-out, but instead compares Al Qaeda with Hezbollah.

"I do think that Al Quaeda is doomed because of similar jihadist and millenial delusions. In my essay, I was attempting to distinguish it from, say, Hezbollah, which is a local politico-clerical-military faction with (relatively) limited and defined aims. I’m not sure, though, that this distinction would lead me to emulate Finkelstein, who called in public and in print for "solidarity with Hezbollah" on his notorious visit to Lebanon."

*Pace* Wilentz, Finkelstein and Ali place Hitchens
outside the camp of the so-called "Anti-Americans"
and probably would have recognized the Guardian
piece of reportage for what it was.

Sean Wilentz - 12/29/2003

Dr. Funk - 12/29/2003

C'mon everybody, lets stop the bickering and dance, dance, dance!

Bill - 12/29/2003

Christopher Hitchens obviously doesn't need any help sticking up for himself, but I still have a question for all of those comrades who keep insisting that imperial history is repeating itself in Iraq.

In 1853, while millions were dying from famine in India, Marx condemned the "sickening" conduct of British colonialism, which was casting Indian peasants into "a sea of woes." For all of that, Marx thought the British might just be giving a hostage to fortune: "England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindustan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfill its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England, she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution."

Since we are to judge American foreign policy by the political stripe of its supporters, let me ask, should I condemn Karl Marx as a closet neocon, or should I condemn George W. Bush as a closet Marxist?

Michael B - 12/29/2003

As a frequent, though critical admirer of Mr. Hitchens as journalist, commentator and unbeguiling interlocutor more generally, I was hoping to come to this site and read a critique of Hitchens along with at least some supportive, intelligently wrought comments. Alas, my hopes be dashed, though both in Wilentz's original posting and in the "supportive" ad hominem snarls, we be greeted with rot indeed. Aplenty.

Perhaps the most pithy comment was made by 'John Lederer' who simply states in reference to the original posting by Wilentz that "Generally it is desirable that a quote support the contention it is appended to." Understatement aplenty.

Would not even bother to comment, but at least two items are in fact worthy of some note, despite Wilentz's low pettiness. The referenced interview between J. Glazov of frontpagemag.com and Hitchens is a somewhat detailed and in depth exchange. Hence, at least in theory, it would represent some qualitative ground to pull a more honest, more substantive and more honestly focused critique from. Additionally, Wilentz has a fair amount of material written by Hitchens since 9/11/01 to pull from. Yet this abyssal vacuity is the sum total of Wilentz's production!

It is also worthy of note because it is precisely this type of guile laden smirk (thinly disguised as an honest critique and then adumbrated with similarly styled ad hominem attacks and presumptions) that is now transparently ubiquitous among both the hard and the softer Left, both the peripheral and the establishmentarian Left. Ubiquity indeed. Aplenty.

gio - 12/29/2003

this article takes hitchens completely out of context.
read the article for yourselves

Brian Siano - 12/29/2003

I can't say that I agree with everything Hitchens has said or written since 9-11, and i won't go into those points here. But there's something extremely sinister about Wilentz's article.

If I'm reading Wilentz correctly, he is faulting Hitchens not for the positions he holds now, nor for the reasons he holds those positions, but because he was insufficiently quick to _change_ his positions in the weeks following 9-11.

He seems to think Hitchens is thinking correctly right _now_, but that doesn't seem to be enough for him: he seems to regard Hitchens' immediate reactions as being, well, insufficiently zealous. And by trying to force our attention on this, Wilentz implicitly argues that even Hitchens' _current_ positions must be regarded as suspect, somehow.

As I said, I don't agree with everything Hitchens has written. But this guy Wilentz argues like David Horowitz.

christopher hitchens - 12/28/2003

My thanks to all those who feel able to "channel" my own thoughts better than I could manage for myself. Their efforts are a compliment of a kind. Could I just request, though, that the heading on this discussion - "Mr Hitchens' revisionism of his own history" - be given the question mark that objectivity requires?

William Miller - 12/28/2003

I tried to post a reply to David's comment about concerning letting Osama and his ilk speak for themselves. I couldn't post it there, so I'm posting it here. I'm not going to argue with him over who speaks for the terrorists, but I do have one issue.

I'm still trying to figure out why people who don't do what people like David expect or demand are invariably referred to as "anti-American."

Can we please drop that nonsense and just stipulate that pretty much everybody in this country loves it but that reasonable people can disagree? In other words, grow up, David, and drop the name-calling.

David - 12/28/2003

Osama's stated objections to the Great Satan don't resemble in the slightest those U.S. policies which the Left claims drives islamic extremists.

In fact, I doubt the word "Caliphate" has even crossed the lips of a Leftist when speaking of islamic extremism, even though it's a stated goal of AQ.

I wish they'd let the islamic extremists speak for themselves instead of putting words in their mouth, so as to further their own anti-American agendas.

"Mossadeq", "Sukarno", "Iran/Contra", indeed.

Wagner - 12/28/2003

Many on the left (and some on the right, as Pat
Buchanan has, unsurprisingly, also taken up this
rationale) will say that Osama's desire to drive
US troops out of the holy land was his response to
an oppressive American foreign policy. Trouble is,
as the NYT's Judith Miller pointed out right after
9/11, his objection to American troops in Saudi
Arabia is not that they're imperialist oppressors.
His specific objection is that they're infidels.
And more specifically, that the troops contained
*Jews and women*. And the presence of armed women,
says Miller, seemed to be the thing that enraged
him most. (One of his pseudo *fatwas* refers to
them as "Jewish whores".) So not only did Al
Qaeda *not* attack us because of our foreign
policy, they attacked us for some of values we
should be most proud of: freedom of religion,
and equal rights for women. *Those* are the
two "policies" that made us a target. Dignifying
Al Qaeda's motivations by implying that they're a
response to our support of Pinochet and so on is
ignorant, for one thing. For the other, it's a
betrayal of the principles they *are* attacking
us for.

Wagner - 12/28/2003

Criticizing the US for cancelling our ABM treaty
with Russia, among other inconsistencies, hardly
cancels out or contradicts his position in the
terror war. (And Hitchens has continued, post-
9/11, to criticize our dealings with "allies" of
convenience, like Pakistan, as he does in the
Mojo piece.)

More key, Hitchens' main beef with unilateralism
in the essay, if you actually read it, is because
he's concerned about us having the legal backing
to, well, blow up future fascists. (Even when
that means sucking it up and signing onto that
policy with known conservatives.) On both counts,
it's not only consistent with his post-9/11 views,
it's prescient:

"I happen to be one of those on the left who was sufficiently impressed by the threat of war and fascism in Bosnia to urge that international military help be given to the Bosnian resistance. (This meant that I sometimes found myself signing the same petition as Jeanne Kirkpatrick.) And I still can't read the urgent faxes and cables sent from Rwanda in the last days before the genocide without a feeling of insurmountable rage and frustration. Many on the left do not especially like to admit it, but there are probably other genuine "just causes" in our future, where American help will be solicited by deserving victims."

David - 12/28/2003

I asked a previous poster about which "U.S. history" in the middle east had caused 9/11 and other islamic extremism; and in response I got everything from "Pinochet" to "the Shah" and the kitchen sink. I asked the question actually hoping for something new, perhaps paradigm shifting, but instead received the standard Leftist beef with U.S. cold War policies.

That's fine. It's not my intention to defend all U.S. policies because some were indefensible. But what these responses have done is not shed light on islamic extremism towards the U.S., but rather superimpose Leftist objections of the U.S. onto those of Osama.

Osama isn't driven by "mossadeq", and "Iran-Contra", etc. He is not driven by "Pinochet" and "Sukarno". He has never mentioned such things, and that's a hard fact. I challenge you to show me how Osama has even ALLUDED to such things. But he hasn't, so don't impose onto Osama your own objections to U.S. policies in the ME.

Osama is driven by a hatred of secularist governments in the ME, and the Great Satan that supports them. Osama is driven by the vision of a ressurected Caliphate that would restore sharia law to all the Ummah--a super theocracy a la Taliban throughout the entire middle east. Do you think Osama cares one whit about some socialist called Mossadeq? Osama would as soon cut off Mossadeq's head as he would Bush's.

Forgive me, but when I ask what the U.S. has done to earn AQ's hatred--and what it could do different--and I get the standard Leftist objections as a response, I know I'm not hearing anything knew, nor useful, nor informative.

Rick Perlstein - 12/27/2003

I remember being moved by this Hitchens piece, published a few months before 9/11--before, as it were, everything changed:


Entitled "Rogue Nation, USA," Hitchens there argued that the U.S. is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible nations in the world. I reproduce some salient excerpts:

"A small but interesting thing happened in the last year of the Clinton administration. The State Department decided to drop the term rogue state as applied to unpopular or unpleasant regimes, such as those in Libya or North Korea. This was a relief; a serious nation has no business employing cartoonish designations or schoolyard epithets. But one of the reasons for the decision, as I was told in confidence by a person at Foggy Bottom, was that the phrase could be too easily turned around on its author. Time and again, the United States exempts itself from the standards that it applies to others."


" The word for this might be unilateralism -- a superpower that openly proclaims that it recognizes no interests except its own. The so-called Powell Doctrine, named for Colin Powell himself, states with beautiful simplicity that the United States reserves the right to act only in its own interests, to do so with overwhelming force, and to disregard any tedious legalisms that might stand in its way. (This also exempts the United States from participating in bleeding-heart humanitarian missions it doesn't like.) Currently, a version of the same doctrine is being wheeled out in order to demolish the most important treaty that the United States actually did sign -- the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, forbidding the development of shields such as the Star Wars fantasy. Ah, say the Bush people, we didn't sign that treaty with Russia. We signed it with the Soviet Union! (And they like to mock Clinton's tricky way with words.) "


" One definition of a "rogue state" was that it engaged in the promiscuous sale of weapons. North Korea, it is true, does sustain its near-dead economy by this means. But the United States helps float a whole booming industry on the manufacture and sale of all kinds of weaponry, and is not in the least bit choosy about where it distributes the stuff. (The latest, and perhaps the worst, example of this involves the means by which Pakistan, our client in the Afghanistan nightmare, acquired the makings of a nuclear capability.) "

All intriguing points. They leave me with the same kind of questions I asked Christopher Hitchens around the time he began supporting the Bush administration on most major foreign policy matters. I agreed,in so many words, that a war to liberate the world from Islamofascism was on some level (to quote Oliver North, though in a different context, I think) a neat idea. But I wondered why we should trust the Bush administration to carry it out. I never got a satisfactory answer.

I would like to ask Hitchens what has changed, between the time he wrote the words above and now, to make the United States more worthy of the rest of the world's trust.

If he wishes to respond privately, I remain,
Rick Perlstein

S.A. Smith - 12/27/2003

"The point about Hitchens and the pseudo-Marxist/liberal swamp that embraced him in the 1980s was that their hatred of the U.S.S.R. expressed their underlying loyalty to "democratic" capitalism and U.S. imperialism."

Let me get this straight: Hitchens' hatred of the USSR expressed his hidden loyalty to "'democratic'" capitalism and US imperialism? How on earth would one follow from the other; and assuming that it could, what evidence do you present?

"Such ostensible "radicals" have (going back to the days of the renegade Kautsky) always viewed this system as fundamentally their own -- i.e. the accepted framework for their toothless "socialist" critiques."

It seems odd to me that you would take your nick name from a man who was once arrested for reading the Declaration of Independence in the context of organizing workers. Though I'm no expert on Frank Little, I am aware that he worked to improve the conditions of field workers in the San Joaquin Valley, where I currently reside and where my father labored in the field for much of his unfortunate childhood.

"This is a very different thing from a principled Marxist opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy, grounded in the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union and other deformed workers states against imperialist threats from without and capitalist restorationist forces within."

It seems to me that a more principled position would have been the unconditional right of formerly deformed worker states not to have been invaded by the Soviet Union.

"The marketing value of "true conversion" testimonials is considerable among the Christian fundamentalists, neo-cons and other rightwing circles where Hitchens now peddles his wares. This is why this whole canned 'debate' about this guy here in the last few days has the unmistakable whiff of an upcoming product promo."

Do you not understand that the next 9/11 might involve not 3,000 lives but 300,000? Your "al qaeda" is apparently global US-style capitalism. Hitchens "al qaeda" is al qaeda. In the nuclear age, the West has the weapons but refrains from using them, whereas al qaeda craves and schemes for these weapons (or biological or chemical) so that they can irradiate you, your children and as many other innocent people as possible. Put your workers paradise on hold and try not to alienate those who are predisposed to agree with you on the fundamentals. The fight against islamism is a fight against religious fascism. Hitchens is right. First things first.

Frank Little - 12/26/2003

The point about Hitchens and the pseudo-Marxist/liberal swamp that embraced him in the 1980s was that their hatred of the U.S.S.R. expressed their underlying loyalty to "democratic" capitalism and U.S. imperialism. Such ostensible "radicals" have (going back to the days of the renegade Kautsky) always viewed this system as fundamentally their own -- i.e. the accepted framework for their toothless "socialist" critiques.

This is a very different thing from a principled Marxist opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy, grounded in the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union and other deformed workers states against imperialist threats from without and capitalist restorationist forces within.

The marketing value of "true conversion" testimonials is considerable among the Christian fundamentalists, neo-cons and other rightwing circles where Hitchens now peddles his wares. This is why this whole canned 'debate' about this guy here in the last few days has the unmistakable whiff of an upcoming product promo.


jonnybutter - 12/26/2003

Of course Mr Hitchens, of all people, may have had opposing things in his head/heart at the same time. And of course he is allowed (!) to change his mind about anything whenever he will.

The reason people try to 'bust' him like this is that he himself rarely cuts anyone else much slack; if one of HIS victim's words or actions are deemed necessary for the polemic at hand, the attacks are withering, contemtuous of ambiguity, mocking, nasty, etc. I think, at base, what people like Mr Wilentz (and SO many others) are really upset about is the feeling that Mr Hitchens can 'dish it out but can't take it', that he can't admit error. I think there's some truth to that.

The problem is that being always 'right' is not really the primary service people like Mr Hitchens, or Orwell, or G. Vidal or any of the other hero-critics (I don't use the word 'hero' ironically) perform; these critics most of all understand the power of plain English to bolster and expand political freedom via freedom of thought. They 'plant a flag', clearly take a stand, have a considered opinion and vigorously defend it; it's enormously useful to everyone. I certianly don't always agree with Mr Hitchens, but he is always at the center of any argument he joins, always provokes real debate, always focuses the mind. His job is to TRY to be right, and that's enough (not to say that he ISN'T right lots of times). I know this formulation will seem simplistic to some, because after all it does MATTER what is 'right', but....not everybody's an Orwell. Not everybody (Orwell included) is the literary critic Hitchens is, either.

David - 12/26/2003

I too think Khawaja is beating the hell out of Wilentz, and anybody else who crosses his path. I'm quickly becoming a big fan.

Josh Greenland - 12/26/2003

I didn't spot that in his work, but poor guy. Keeping that in mind, Finkelstein's suicide remark is even more unpleasant.

David - 12/26/2003

Being anti-Soviet, and "virulently" at that, is a mark against Hitchens? Perhaps you're lost. Indymedia is thataway.

FYI, many Leftists were against Soviet communism. Study up a bit.

Jeffrey Bogdan - 12/26/2003

One thing's for sure. Irfan Khawaja beats the living daylights out of Sean Wilenz in polemics. Right or wrong, Khawaja's "nastiness," like Swift's (and like Hitchens', when he was good) is for the ages.

Having said that, I must add that the nuanced views (his own or those of others, sincere or made up out of thin air--I really don't care all that much at this point) that Hitchens expressed in the article quoted by Wilenz seem preferable to the his more recent views.

3000 is a large number of people to be murdered in one fell swoop, to be sure. But I really don't understand the attitude of the Wilenzes and the Hitchenses that 3000 American corpses cancels out all the other massacres in other places.

Several Salvadorans I've spoken to pointed out to me that they had something like 9-11 combined with something like the state-supported terror regime in the Deep South in the heyday of the Klan, for 12 whole years. Needless to say, courtesy of the United States government. Which also quietly defended Saddam Hussein during the worst years of his rule.

No doubt Islamo-fascism is real and it must be fought but the older kind of fascism is still alive, and it has too often been abetted by people living in Washington, DC who call themselves, and in some cases sincerely believe they really are, defenders of democracy. And there are also quite a few Washingtonians who barely pretend to an interest in democracy, although they, like the Soviets who re-named every country under their thumb "The Democratic Republic of Whatever", are often quite fond of the word "democracy." And they have to be fought, too.

When "You're either with us or against us" started appearing in the news I knew that I'd hear it before. Recently I was watching the Disney version of "Beauty and the Beast" with a small person--and there it was. "You're either with us or against us!" Spoken by the villain of the tale.

S.A. Smith - 12/26/2003

Hitchens was virulently anti-communist and anti-Soviet Union?

Correct me if I am wrong, but do you seriously mean to suggest that one cannot be both a sincere socialist AND hold anti-communist or anti-Soviet views?

You know, there are some people who believe that it was the Soviet Union and the affection of Western left-wing intellectuals and trade unionist for it that ruined the chances for a decent home-grown socialism in the US.

There's also the possibility that a person's views evolve over time. Mine have. Haven't yours?

Publius junior - 12/26/2003

you made my day - a nice slice, albeit hardly required for this ridiculously shabby exchange posing as a moral gordian knot - thank you

Publius junior - 12/26/2003

open argument about the credibility of a source is as close as we may ever come to workable truth - operating on feelings & taking things at face value is no substitute for asking hard questions. Expressing faith in or one's liking for Mr. D and a claim that Mr. F is "creepy" are poor contributions to the debate.

Publius junior - 12/26/2003

yes, yes - the more informed vituperative railing the better, that's what makes this interesting - let the academic princes of Princeton shudder - the good world is not as it seems. Ignorance will lash out at privilege - and can anyone tell me how many souls on the planet don't have indoor plumbing and how many have tenure?

Frank Little - 12/26/2003

Unctious indeed!

In fact one gets the feeling that the entire "exchange" here is part of some kind of marketing promotion for some forthcoming opus by this pompous windbag.

Hitckens' claim to any kind of 'radical leftist' past is threadbare at best; he's was apparently once a supporter of the virulent anti-communist group now known as the British Socialist Workers Party, whose calling card during the Reagan/Thatcher period was to bait these cold-warriors for being "soft" on the Soviet Union. This same Russia hating anti-communism was his entry ticket into the liberal "Nation" milieu in the U.S.. But come on, the official "enemy" of U.S. imperialism is now 'terrorism', not communism, so some serious payola is at stake.

The point is that Hitchens "conversion" from pseudo-leftist to unashamed boot-licker for the rulers of "the worlds only superpower" didn't really involve much of a 'transition' at all.


Mike Finley - 12/26/2003

I thought Kosinski suffered from chronic depression. It sure shows up in his work.

Mike Finley - 12/26/2003

The line on Horowitz is that he almost alone of American leftists was entranced of the appalling Black Panthers, who were so bullying and crypto-fascist as to soar beyond anything that aimed at progressivism at that time. Which males you wonder what the attraction was.

Mike Finley - 12/26/2003

I suspect Frank Little is referring to Hitchens' unctuous tone. It's not a good idea to always go by tone, but since Hitchens does, it's hard for the rest of us to ignore.

Irfan Khawaja - 12/26/2003

Yeah, and you're a real charmer, too, sweetie-pie. Actually, I've never met Christopher Hitchens. But I haven't met James Zogby, Lawrence Summers, Salman Rushdie, or Norman Finkelstein either, and I've defended all four of them against defamation in equally "nasty" terms. I have a real visceral aversion to defamation and to conspiracy theorizing. This is a moral principle--something I don't expect people like you to understand.

"Nastiness" is the only language that people like Wilentz and his buddies understand, and it's about time they got a dose of precisely the sort of thing they've been dishing out for so long. Maybe you should get off your high horse--not all that elevated, actually--and ask yourself where Wilentz gets off wrapping himself in the flag to accuse other people of being liars. Maybe the real question is not "Who is Khawaja" but just who does Sean Wilentz think he is? Why is it tiresome to read Khawaja's "nasty rants" but not tiresome to read Wilentz's? If Khawaja is Hitchens's "girlfriend," what does that make Wilentz? His ex-girlfriend?

And as for my "tiresome rants," pardon me for causing you such fatigue, but nobody's forcing you to read them.

David - 12/26/2003

The mujaheddin that we recruited against the Russian intervention in Afghanistan -- they're the ones.

We didn't recruit them. We supported them in their war against the Soviets and the communist government of Najibulah.

I think I begin to get some sense of your use of the word "islamofascist" from this post.

When I say 'islamofascist' I mean Al-Qaida, and in this case, their progenitors the Mujahedin.

David - 12/26/2003

Horowitz receives funding from a foundation? A "rightwing" foundation, no less.

The horrors !!!

Phil Davis - 12/26/2003

If David Horowitz did not receive a subsidy from wealthy right wing
sources his "Clairmont Institute" in California would be moved to
an empty fruit box on Venice Beach walk in Venice, CA where he
could give speeches to the people as they stroll by on rollerskates
on Saturday and Sundays.

David - 12/26/2003

It would be hard for Hitchens to defend himself from personal attacks without talking ABOUT "himself", wouldn't you agree?

Frank Little - 12/26/2003

Is this guy full of himself or what?

Michael Meo - 12/26/2003

Extending your idea, Publius, it was noted about the Presidential Address by G.W. Bush on the eve of our engaging in a voluntary war, that the speech contained no effort to engage the critics of the war in any reasoned way.

The commentator said that the reason for this lack is that in the U.S. we no longer engage in reasoned debate in public fora.

The age of responsibility is not this one.

Michael Meo - 12/26/2003

I think I begin to get some sense of your use of the word "islamofascist" from this post.

The mujaheddin that we recruited against the Russian intervention in Afghanistan -- they're the ones.

Well, if you ask us to let them speak for themselves, fair enough; but it's already difficult discerning what you have in mind at the moment.

Michael Meo - 12/26/2003

I am having difficulty with your terminology, David. Saudi princes are not Islamofascists, in your terms?

They don't send payments to the relatives of suicide bombers?

I suppose we could at least admit that they are fundamentalist Islamist. It comes down, I guess to whether running a country as your personal feifdom is feudal or fascist, in your terms.

David - 12/26/2003

...when most of the material she provides are primary sources. You can disagree with her conclusions, but like S.A. Smith said, your own opinions are neither here nor there.

Mike Almer - 12/26/2003

Who is this guy Khawaja? It's getting tiresome reading his nasty rants against anyone with any criticism of Hitchens. I suspect he is either Hitchen's girlfriend or his publicist. Only love or money can be feeding this fellow's frenzy of devotion. Take a breath.

S.A. Smith - 12/26/2003

Gary, you've got to stop going to bookreadings drunk. If you're drinking and Hitch is drinking you might end up thinking No One Left to Lie To is about Al Gore. You're still forgiven since Gore is a liar too. E-mail me, cuz: stellar_one@hotmail.com

S.A. Smith - 12/26/2003

David, you said it. Hitchens cannot be permitted to escape alive. Another useful metaphor is la cosa nostra and Stalin and his agents: a lesson must be sent loud and clear. Though one hopes Hitchens will escape the ice-pick in the back of the head.

What Wilentz offers is a toothpick in the toe, which is pretty good for a louse. One can sense that he's been scouring Hitchens' every word written or uttered for a moment to strike. Pathetic.

S.A. Smith - 12/26/2003

Since Horowitz is such a prolific liar perhaps you can name one or two.

The reaction of the leftist clergy to people like Horowitz and Hitchens (and Hitchens is nothing like Horowitz, who invites the animosity, whereas Hitchens is hated because he is a former big fish lefty--not to mention the attendent lesson: if Hitchens, then one day even me??? unthinkably, faiths are shaken) demonstrates a kind of Stalinist zealotry--almost christian in its lust for total vengeance.

S.A. Smith - 12/26/2003

Perhaps our bombing of christian serbs to save bosnian muslims was more than their tender hearts could stand.

S.A. Smith - 12/26/2003

I assume you're referring to the Democracy Now debate: I'm no fan of Dershowitz's, but Finkelstein didn't expose anything other than what a creepy guy he is. Pointing out that Dershowitz drew upon a very well-known writer on the subject for which she is well known. Whether you think she is credible or whatever your feelings about Israel are neither here nor there to the question of "plagiarism," a charge which I think he failed prove.

S.A. Smith - 12/26/2003

"Appalling" in what sense? There's something opportunistic of far-left Clinton suction cups like Wilentz (who, let's be honest, remembers Hitchens' attack on him several years back) to leap on Hitchens' early writings on 9/11. I thought Hitchens' writing was among the most sound and articulate of any I'd read.

Jelper - 12/26/2003

True, Finkelstein can be harsh. But his essay hit the bull's-eye. His exposure of Alan Dershowitz as a plagiarist who cribbed from the hoaxer Joan Peters is both informative and hilarious. So what if it's unpleasant? The truth often is.

Publius - 12/25/2003

Adults take responsibility for their actions. The meaning of what you do is the consequences and responses that you get. It's not what you SAY, or even what you THINK, it's how other people react to it. If you don't like the consequences, then change what you do. That is responsibility.

9/11 was a wake-up call for America-- but America instead pulled the covers over its head. THAT is cowardly. We simply labeled them "evil" and shut our brains off. And it's a suicidal mistake on our part.

What do those people THINK we did to them (nevermind whether we actually did it or not, or whether we want to admit it)? What are their grievances? Are any of them simple to reddress? What can we do to PUBLICLY at least acknowledge them, while privately and discreetly capturing the perpetrators and bringing them to justice?

Anyone who has children, a business, a management position, or a command, knows about the iceberg principle: for every one person willing to step up and complain, there are 10 or more beneath the surface, seething with anger. They also know that you can't slap down a grievance with force. It'll just come back-- with more force. We can't have peace or prosperity with that going on.

Adults solve problems. Children lash out in violence, because they haven't yet learned any better way. America's military response to the 9/11 attacks was just as childish and foolhardy as the attacks themselves.

Leave Hitchens alone. Sounds like he was about to wake up.. then went back to sleep again. Don't do what he did.

Josh Greenland - 12/25/2003

Thank you, Jelper. Here it is:


Unfortunately, Mr. Finkelstein is also not a real wonderful human being. I don't have any reason to disbelieve or disagree with what I read during a quick perusal of his Hitchens essay, but I have trouble with this part of the last paragraph:

"Hitchens resembles no one so much as the Polish émigré hoaxer, Jerzy Kosinski, who, shrewdly sizing up intellectual culture in America, used to give, before genuflecting Yale undergraduates, lectures on such topics as "The Art of the Self: the theory of `Le Moi Poetique' (Binswanger)." Translation: for this wanger it's all about moi. Kosinski no doubt had a good time of it until, outed as a fraud, he had enough good grace, which Hitchens plainly lacks, to commit suicide."

Based on this HNN discussion, I'm coming to believe that not only should Hitchens be avoided, but his friends and enemies as well.

Phil - 12/25/2003

Actually, if you had read his response, Commissar gave you a couple of examples in the Middle East. And my comment was prefaced by the fact that there are more examples beyond the Middle East. The gist is that one shouldn't be surprised that there is a lot of hatred of the U.S. out there, and it's not a mystery why, and no, it's not simply that they "hate our freedoms."
Now it still doesn't justify the atrocities of Bin Laden, Khomenei or their ilk, but as I mentioned in my earlier post, the recognition of the origins of a lot of the hatred and the condemnation of these animals are not mutually exclusive.

Jelper - 12/25/2003

... go to http://www.normanfinkelstein.com and check out the essay about Hitchens. Hitchens has become exactly the kind of neo-con blowhard he used to ridicule in The Nation. Watching him debase himself in right-wing magazines and web sites is like watching a washed-up actor slumming away on soap operas, slasher films or late-nite cable. Pathetic.

David - 12/25/2003

You loved him just fine before he left the Nation. Now, somehow, you know in hindsight he was just "second fiddle".

Regarding Cockburn, what's the big deal with with him? I've read his stuff before, and he impressed me as more a slogan monger than anything else. Very visceral, angry, and sarcastic. Maybe that's why he's such a hero to the Left. His style suits you.

Mr. Thomas - 12/25/2003

A good way to comprehend Hitchens is simply to know that he was a resentful second fiddle to Cockburn at the Nation for too many years before performing his apostasy of convenience and becoming the rightists' tiger beat fave counter-current lefty. As he notes, his Guardian article was just another piece of contrarian performance art from this misreader of Orwell (who LOATHED war), whose work is unkempt dictaphone jibber-jabber, if high end jibber and sometimes smart jabber.

David - 12/25/2003

I'm assuming you had a good reason to change the layout, but if you didn't, I'm hoping you'll switch back to the old layout.

David - 12/25/2003

Regarding Iran/Contra, sounds like another case of slim pickings regarding examples of U.S. "history" in the ME. Reagan sold missiles to release our hostages in Lebanon. Is that why the islamofascists hate us? Or were you just throwing anything out there with some connection to the middle east, regardless of it's relevance? Has you ever heard Osama bin Laden mention "Iran/Contra"?

The U.S. role in Iran was to oppose islamist ascendency. Are you aware that the islamist factions in Iran were just as involved in the overthrow of Mossadeq? It was a 3-way struggle. In fact, had not the Shah assumed power, the Ayatollah would have assumed power himself. Are you aware of that? Is that something you would have favored? Say it--the islamofascists would have been better than the Shah. Say it.

Regarding the CIA role in supporting the Baath party, they were definitely involved in that coup. We saw the rise of the Ba'athists as a way of replacing a pro-Soviet government with a pro-American one.

Again, are the islamofascists upset that we kicked the Soviets out of Iraq? Is that what motivates them? Is that the "history" to which you refer? Funny how the islamofascists favored our anti-Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, but not Iraq you say? I think you should let the islamofascists speak for themselves instead of putting words in their mouths, the way the Left has been doing since 9/11.

David - 12/25/2003

Commissar's comment pertained to U.S. history in the "iddle east." That's why I asked commissar to elaborate; and what do I get in response? "Pinochet" and "Sukarno". Nice dodge. Must be slim pickings if you had to reach into that bag.

And you'd be hard pressed to make a case that 9/11 and islamosfascist hate is related to "Pinochet" and "Sukarno".

So I guess I'm still waiting for a response to my question--to what U.S. "history" in the MIDDLE EAST are you referring to? (just facts please)

William Miller - 12/25/2003

I have to say, in casting my two cents' worth into this otherwise needless debate (Hitchens has obviously really pissed some people off; apostasy will do that, I guess) that, even without going back to check the record, I have a very clear memory of a fundamental disagreement arising shortly after the September 11th attacks between Hitchens and Noam Chomsky as to the geneses of the anti-American terrorism that showed its face on that horrible day.

Having been helped by Hitchens himself, through his columns in The Nation and elsewhere, to certain liberal positions (such as voting for Ralph Nader in 2000--Christopher, was that simply a misinformation plot designed to help GWB?), I found myself befuddled to witness, first, his excoriation of Chomsky for Chomsky's "blame America first" reaction to the atrocities of September 11th, and then to Hitchens' complete falling out with the left and a vicious exchange of mudballs among him, Alterman, Cockburn, and some others. This was coincidental with Hitchens' resignation from his position on The Nation staff.

I remain befuddled to this day, though perhaps that's because I simply don't read as much Hitchens as I used to and so haven't been able to keep up with his thinking on certain issues--except for the Iraq situation, where I cannot help but think he's out of his frigging mind for feeling anything but revulsion for the bloody antics of the Bush administration, despite the capture of Saddam Hussein. In this, I stand with Chomsky; friends of the devil are no friends of mine. I speak, of course, of Rumsfeld's hearty handshake of 1983.

This hardly seems the behavior of someone who "was thinking, in standard, knee-jerk anti-American terms, that America was largely to blame for bringing on the attacks," as Mr. Wilentz argues.

mark thompson - 12/25/2003

David Horowitz has never been "burnt at the stake". Mr. Horowitz is a simply a man who has discovered where the money is. Horowitz lies continuously and his only "valid" political point is that he is attacked when he lies.

Walter - 12/25/2003

Does the name "the Shah" ring a bell? A faux "monarchy" installed *by us*, with a horrific state secret police regime supported *by us* for decades.

Yes, Iran had a history before Ayatollah Khomeni, believe it or not. Of course than damn bloody Iranians messed it all up by having a revolution so they wouldn't have to live under an oppressive king any more (where have I heard that one before?) This, of course, left us no other choice than to arm Saddam Hussein to the teeth so that, with luck, he could kill as many of the damn uppity towelheads as possible.

Now, to head off the inevitable howls of "anti-American Khomeini lover" from my friends on the right, let me acknowledge that I was as horrified as every freedom-loving person at Khomeni's fatwa against Salman Rushdie over "The Satanic Verses", and I think the taking of the embassy hostages was an act of both terrible cruelty and monumental stupidity on the part of the hostage takers. (The cruelty should be obvious, the stupidity in the realpolitik sense that it gained their movement nothing and only served to further antagonism against them in the West. I mean really, if the above 2 incidents had not occurred, would most Americans have cared a fig who ruled some bunch of "ragheads" in a country they probably couldn't even locate on a map?) I would also have been pleased if the revolution could have been accomplished with less violence. But I can't fault the Iranian people for wanting something, *anything* other than the regime of the Shah, and I can't blame them for making the connection that if that regime was what the United States' foreign policy wanted them to live under, then the government making that policy was their enemy.

Josh Narins - 12/25/2003

Ah, the beginning was _probably_ Truman's efforts in Italy in 48, followed quickly by his anti-Democratic coup in Syria (49).
Then you have to remember that we might not know all of them yet.

We still deserved to beat the despotic Soviet Union, but some people in America are plenty pleased to make it a close call.

Mostly drooling right wing fascist robots.

Kathy Vullis - 12/25/2003

Christopher Hitchens has been fighting against Islamic fundementalism since the Ayotallah Khomeni marked Salman Rushdie for death many years ago. He is not a man in other words who sees root causes with regard to the kind of terrorism that occurred on 9/11. For anyone who wants to read a really funny and well written article by Mr. Hitchens I would direct you to "Ha Ha Ha to the Pacifists" which I believe also appeared in the Guardian in late 2001.

Andrew Ackerman - 12/24/2003

Yeah, there's nothing particularly appalling here. Hitchens' style is often intentionally obscure, though, so he isn't always explicit in what he means. But that's what makes him so unique and powerful at times. He's a highbrow journalist, and you need him along with the more mass-type pundits.

(ALSO... Some of the invective is entertaining here for folks with nothing better to do on Christmas eve than play in front of the computer. Irfan Khwaja's bit encouraging Professor Wilentz to retake the GRE was good. Vigorous vituperation is back, another highbrow columnist wrote earlier this year!)

Commissar - 12/24/2003

Hey Dave:

Oh, I'll name a few, but it is surprising that you are unfamiliar with them.

In 1953, Mohammed Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran was toppled with assistance from the CIA. The Shah was put into power, the same Shah notorious for torture, human rights abuses, etc. The US continued to sell his regime weaponry until 1979 (i.e. hostage crisis).

In the early 1963 the Ba'ath Party toppled the existing government with the assistance of the CIA.

You mention support of Israel. It's not just support - it's the use of our veto to exempt Israel from more than 40 UN resolutions (condemning, among other things, the occupation of Palestine and inexcusable treatment of those people) that were passed unanimously by the rest of the world. That makes us look like big fuckin' hypocrites when we puff out our chests and talk about human rights, the rule of international law, etc. It makes us look downright foolish when we get angry about a single veto threat from France, Russia and China, an option they rarely ever employ against us.

The US supports and continues to support the autocratic government of Saudi Arabia, with one of the worst human rights records on the planet. We don't just buy oil from them, Dave. We sell them some of the most destructive, sophisticated weapons in our inventory and train their National Guard (i.e. secret police). Again, this is a country that even in our own State Department report is notorious for torture, forced confessions, etc. Again, we look like big hypocrites when we support assholes like this on the one hand and talk about the importance of democracy and human rights on the other.

There simply comes a time, Dave, where words aren't enough. Where people recognize that it is your deeds alone that show what you REALLY believe. And based on our deeds in the middle east over the past half century, we emerge not looking so great at all.

weldon berger - 12/24/2003

Where to begin? Perhaps with the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup against Iran's Mohammed Mossadegh, leading to the return of that noted human rights exemplar, Reza Pahlavi, and thence to Pahlavi's even more unsavory successors.

Or perhaps with the 1963 CIA-backed coup by the Ba'ath party against Iraq's Abdel Karim Qassim, who had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt a few years earlier by a young Ba'athist officer named Saddam Hussein.

Or perhaps with Iran-Contra? So many choices, so little time.

One major difference between the US and, say, France and Britain in the Middle East is that the French and British presence was colonial and enduring, whereas we just meddled when it suited our purposes. Another is that those two countries lost much of their influence after World War II, whereas ours, and the USSR's, grew. As the dominant force in the region for some while now, we get the blame for most any little thing. And it isn't as though we're the only country with experience of Arab nationalist or Islamic fanatic terrorism.

Regardless, I don't really understand why a bunch of seemingly bright people are arguing over a guy, Hitchens, who has been reduced to studying chicken entrails for signs of good news.

Irfan Khawaja - 12/24/2003

Actually, I would be much obliged if Professor Wolin might pick out the passages in Hitchens's Guardian piece where Hitchens (a) offers a justification, sly or otherwise, of 9/11, (b) shows empathy for the attacks, or (c) raises US support for Israel as a justification for the attack. As I read the piece, there is no justification, no empathy, and no mention of Israel. But perhaps I am "misreading." Or perhaps the relevant text is just indiscernible to the naked eye.

As for Hitchens's unwillingness to condemn 9/11 unequivocally, I am still at a loss to see how Wolin squares this with Hitchens's other less contested essays of the same time, much less the enormous output of essays and speeches on the subject he's generated since that time.

As for Hitchens's "eventual change of mind," take a look at his Oct. 1989 essay "Siding With Rushdie," London Rev of Books (or "For the Sake of Argument" pp. 289-302), esp. the last paragraph, i.e., the one discussing "the confrontation" to be "fought out on every continent," and professing allegiance to the only "side to be on." I think the essay makes amply clear that no "change of mind" was necessary. Hitchens's readers knew where he stood on "the dangers of religious fundamentalism" more than a decade before 9/11.

Think it over, Professor Wolin: are you really so keen on defaming Hitchens that you insist on being pushed into the hopeless dialectical corner in which you find yourself? If so, that dreaded old question comes back like the return of the repressed: WHY?

dave - 12/24/2003

The lengthy and contorted apologetics for Mr. Hitchens' mythmaking are amusing. If he really was ambivalent at the time, he might have at least said so then.

Well, he wasn't yet certain which way the wind was blowing, paycheck wise...

dave - 12/24/2003

"Snitchens busted."

'nuff said!

Irfan Khawaja - 12/24/2003

There is much to be said in response to this ludicrous comment, but I would suggest that Professor Wolin read the following and follow suit:


David - 12/24/2003

So what IS our "history" in the middle east? No slogans please, i.e., "mass murder", "imperialism", "neocolonialism, etc, blah blah blah. Those don't impress. Just the facts please.

What is our history that you object so much to so much? Is it that we buy oil from Saudi princes instead of islamofascists perhaps? Is it that we support 6 million jews against a slaughter by 250 million arabs? Oh, the horrors!!!

Also, please distinguish our "history" from that of other nations, such as the French who broke the sanctions to prop up Saddam; or that of the Swedes, whose Bofors arms merchants made billions in the middle east; not to mention the Russians who built Saddam's arsenal, etc. You get the picture?

Dave Livingston - 12/24/2003

If the good Professor thinks Hitchins hasn't been as straight-forward as he thinks he should have been, perhaps for comparison he would be well served to check out the "FrontPageMagazine.com" article by Rick Parsons titled "The Year's Ten Worst Moments in Education." Talk about episodes of Orwellian expression, there they are noted.

Commissar - 12/24/2003

No, you're right Mr. Wilentz. The US was attacked because it is so free and good and has an unblemished record of supporting democratic movements in the Middle East, not propping up dictators, not selling weapons, funding war, toppling governments, supporting the Saudi Royal family, etc. etc.

Nothing excuses the murder of 3,000 people - but there is a context.

And until we take an honest look at our history in the Middle East over the last 50 years and quit this childish fiction that we were attacked because we are so noble, we will never begin to understand the hostility toward the US, some of which is legitimate for the reasons named above, among others.

grepthis - 12/24/2003

Hitchens is a pinhead.

His defenders are pinheads.

Enough already.

Irfan Khawaja - 12/24/2003

I thank Ralph Luker for his agreement, but as to the intensity and tone of my response to Wilentz, I think it is entirely the right one to take in response to someone who is accusing someone I respect of being a liar (what else is a 'revisionist about one's own history' but a liar?). Lay the blame at his door for the accusation, not mine for responding to it in kind.

But let me quote from the great man himself, who himself can be quite adept at *defending* liars when political expediency requires it. This is an article from a local (i.e., Princeton) newspaper about Wilentz's attempt to stave off the Clinton impeachment. And all I can say is that on this issue, Wilentz and I are in complete agreement:

"There's a certain kind of euphemism that is useful in politics and necessary for collegial and civil and cooperative governance, and I believe in that," he [Wilentz] said. "There is also a time, there are moments in a life of a nation where euphemistic civility actually hides the nature of that which is being discussed. I think this is one of those times and I'll go along with what Harry Truman said that you have to speak plainly, even if it's difficult for people to hear."
"I wouldn't change a word," he said.

(Jennifer Potash, "Princeton's Professor Wilentz defends anti-impeachment stance," Princeton Packet, Jan. 5, 1999.)

Tom estling - 12/24/2003

Can we please let this rest. Hitchins obviously suffers from the "black/white, good/evil" disease. There is no known cure for this malady. Neither exposure as a drug addict or gambling addict can cure the patient from this life-choking sickness. If you listen carefully you will hear him say things like "you are either with us or with the terrorists." In the later stages, he may mutter something akin to "we must stomp out the evildoers because they hate freedom." When it gets to this point there is no longer hope. The only thing to do is send him to the Heritage Foundation, try to keep him warm and make him comfortable. Show "Bedtime for Bonzo" and play soft refrains of "God Bless America."

Richard Wolin - 12/24/2003

Sean Wilentz is not the only one to have “misread” Hitchens’ remarks in his 9-13-01 Guardian article as a sly justification of the 9-11 attacks (or, at the very least, an expression of empathy with the killers’ motives, not to mention their heroic capacity for “self-immolation.” The al-Qaeda perpetrators come off as a bit less heroic when one realizes that the attacks, in addition to killing 2,400 Americans, resulted in the deaths of 548 foreign-born innocents – a pattern repeated in the horrendous October 2002 Bali night club attack. Let’s face it: this group isn’t really very particular about whom it kills . . .). At the time I posted a response to Hitchens (reproduced in part at the following link: http://squawk.ca/lbo-talk/0109/2372.html; the response was also published as a "letter-to-the-editor" in October 2001 in *In These Times*) that was widely circulated on the Internet. That the left – or a vocal segment thereof – could not bring itself to distance itself wholeheartedly and unequivocally from a mass butchery of innocents is pathetic and revealing.

Hitchens now claims that in the Guardian article he was parroting the words of others and that he condemned the attacks all along. I think that the moment of truth surfaces when he reveals in his recently posted remarks (#27036) that he merely provided Guardian editor Ian Katz with the copy he (Katz) desired. Contra Hitchens’ self-serving account, I don’t think for a minute he was writing “objectively” or as a “reporter” rather than as a “commentator.” A posture a bit more craven is at issue: he merely wrote what he thought his editor wanted him to write.

Nevertheless, I’d like to commend Hitchens for eventually changing his mind about the dangers of religious fundamentalism.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/24/2003

I disagree with the intensity and tone of Irfan Kawaja's criticism of Sean Wilentz, but I could not agree more with Kawaja's reply to Gary Smith, whoever he is. We pinheads were doing quite well without Smith, thank you.

mdmcclain - 12/24/2003

...is the death of intellectual honesty, left, right and center. From a cursory reading of this thread, it's clear to me that both parties are being a little disingenuous about the events in question, and that a charge of opportunism could be laid equally well at the feet of the principal parties in this dispute--Hitchens for the shift in position to score political points, and Wilentz for selective quotation to score political points. I could be mistaken in my impression, but rather opportunistically for my part, am willing to own up to that possibility.

Irfan Khawaja - 12/24/2003

Well, I guess we see that you're not deficient in the humor department--or at least the unintended humor department. As for the memory department: "No One Left to Lie To" is about the Clintons, not Al Gore. Now why don't you go back to the Eric Alterman site, where your rambling prose and pointless anecdotes are no doubt deeply appreciated, and leave us hapless "pinheads" to discuss the issues at hand?

Irfan Khawaja - 12/24/2003

Pray tell us, O Wise and Patriotic One: what was so "appalling" about the 9/13/01 Hitchens piece? I know we're supposed to be impressed that Todd Gitlin was "appalled" by it, but somehow that just isn't doing anything for me.

christopher hitchens - 12/24/2003

Gitlin could have answered his own question if he had followed the link offered by Irfan Khawaja. I was asked to write a fair bit in those early days and I can remember clearly that the Guardian offer was explicitly proposed as a "change of pace", as it were. At least somebody thought I was capable of containing multitudes...
Since everyone is so flatteringly interested in my exact state of mind at that moment, I can "share" two further recollections. A student at the college where I had been speaking let fall the expression "chickens coming home to roost" and I can remember the shudder of annoyance that went through me. I simultaneously thought, oh yes, I think I know what's coming from Noam and the rest. That would have been late on the day itself or early the following day - at any rate after I had sent my first article to the Evening Standard. The Daily Mirror later picked me up as an explicitly "hawk" commentator - perhaps two days later. You can check.
But I didn't display a flag or sing "God Bless America" because I didn't (and don't) think that this was the appropriate response, or the right kind of solidarity.

Lawrence L. Piper - 12/24/2003

This back-and-forth has demonstrated the maddening difficulty we have in communicating the various nuances with which our brains, (if we are blessed with really good ones), automatically, process the information received on any particular subject. It appears that many, who knows - maybe most, of the impressions we get from each other are just that, impressions, unfortunately colored by our preconceived notions about the person who's communication we are receiving. What is most important; what a person's cultural, philosophical, political leanings are, or; that which they are truly trying to convey to us? Shouldn't we listen first, then factor in our own as well as the speaker's agenda as best we can?

If we listen in this way, I think perhaps the personal jabs and nitpicking can be done away with, leaving the way open for discussions about individual interpretations pertaining to the subject at hand.

Personally, I find Mr. Hitchens too hawkish, too conservative, and yes, even a bit arrogant and self satisfied. However, he generally has valid points to make and is almost always quite interesting. Also, I find the writing abilities of all contributors to this discourse to be admirable. I think we just need to 'actually' communicate.

As far as the true causes and appropriate reactions to 9/11 goes, separating the facts from the appraiser's agenda is difficult. I do not believe anyone can be absolutely certain about any of this. I do believe, learning the actual motivations behind the perpetrators, and, most of all, their 'mentors' actions is paramount.

To mimic Rumsfeld, "We don't know what we don't know".

We sure need to learn.

Gary Smith - 12/24/2003

I got to this post from Eric Altermans blog. Jesus, what a bunch of pinheads are on this site. I once met Hitch at Elliot Bay Books here in Seattle after a reading of his book NO ONE LEFT OT LIE TO or such. It was about Al Gore. The thing I remember was his stilted reading of his own words and his utter lack of humor. The only thing interesting was his continueous chain smoking while reading in the smoke free bookstore. Looking back I think that single act was the highwater mark of Hitches ability to provoke...everything since has been second - rate!

Larry Talbot - 12/24/2003

I can't stand Hitchens. His embrace of the Bush regime and betrayal of previous principles is an example of political toadying at its worst. He has provided plenty of ammunition for those who wish to use his own words against him. But not here.
Wilentz's attack is nonsensical. Hitchens is correct in his assesment of the quoted material. Wilentz's description of it and the material itself bare little resemblence.

Larry Talbot

David - 12/24/2003

This isn't business, this is personal. Leftwing Fundamentalists don't suffer heresy, and apostates like yourself are burnt at the stake. You are no mere unbeliever who doesn't know any better. You are particularly despicable to the Leftwing Fundies because you've been inside their temple, enjoyed communion with them, and know it's inner workings. Ex-communist David Horowitz was burnt at the stake for the same reasons. I'm willing to bet you can't even throw back a pint with your old buddies. Like I said, it's personal.

Todd Gitlin - 12/24/2003

In his exercise in auto-revisionism Mr. Hitchens tells us: "I'd written a couple of denunciations of the attacks when Ian Katz of the Guardian called me up and asked me to contribute something, not about my own opinions, but about those of other people."

According to Nexis, the only pieces he published in major newspapers during the period Sept. 13-16, 2001, were the appalling Guardian piece Wilentz quotes and a piece that ran in the Independent on Sunday (9/16/01), The latter, if indeed written before the former, certainly condemns the attacks, but also presses the easy button by noting: "I am writing this in the temporary mental atmosphere of a one-party state. For the moment, every article and bulletin emphasises the need for unity behind our leader and for close attention to national security"--as if attention to national security at such a moment is prima facie evidence of craven conformism.

As for his Guardian piece, Mr. Hitchens now asks us to believe that he was merely, scrupulously, poker-facedly reporting the opinions of others when he turned to the subject of those who thought it "probably...indecent...to ask if the United States has ever done anything to attract such awful hatred," those who thereby imposed a "taboo" and enforced "the limit of permissible thought." Of how many turns is the ironic screw susceptible before it crumbles into a powder of rust?

Or does Mr. Hitchens mean that he published another piece (or more) elsewhere that week offering a different display of his analyses and/or opinions?

christopher hitchens - 12/24/2003

This comes up every six months or so, chiefly but not exclusively from my foes. It's susceptible of a ready explanation. I'd written a couple of denunciations of the attacks when Ian Katz of the Guardian called me up and asked me to contribute something, not about my own opinions, but about those of other people. (It may seem odd to some, but I do get asked occasionally to write as a reporter rather than a commentator.) This was the best shot I could give it, and to the extent that I tried to be objective about those whose opinions then differed from my own, I am not ashamed. I owed the Guardian the fairest account of those who thought differently, and of course I do understand why some people thought that way. Indeed, I may have succeeded better than I realized, since the views I cited are now attributed to me. That fallacy of attribution, which first-year students are taught to avoid, persists among some professors. Surprise! I knew that,too.
Anyone who cared enough to look up everything I wrote that week and in subsequent days would be able without any hand-holding to see the difference between analysis and opinion. I obviously cannot expect everyone to care to read everything I wrote. But anyone who scans my actual words in the Guardian and then presents them in this manner is open to the charge of being either a very poor reader or a good reader in bad faith.
The Orwell sneer is worth mentioning in parallel here. I take every chance I am offered to point out that there is no comparison between Orwell and myself, either as individuals or as writers, and that the contrast is fairly obviously in his favor. I don't mind it being said that I am an admirer or that he is an influence (who would?) Anyway, in The Road To Wigan Pier he did write that he, and many middle class people, had been brought up in the belief that "the working classes smell". He went on to say that body odor was inseparable from bad food, crowded lodgings and dirty jobs. The result? He was acuused until the day he died of saying that "the working classes smell". This was a Stalinist method then, and it is a Stalinist method now - even when deployed by fawning liberals.

Sean Wilentz - 12/23/2003

And I regret misspelling "correct" while correcting a typo. Enough!

Sean Wilentz - 12/23/2003

The correct date of Mr. Hitchens's Guardian article is September 13, 2001, not 2003 as originally posted. The corect date should have been evident from the rest of what I wrote, and I regret if the typo misled anybody.
The lengthy and contorted apologetics for Mr. Hitchens' mythmaking are amusing. If he really was ambivalent at the time, he might have at least said so then. He certainly should have said so in his current interview with FrontPage. What would Orwell do?

David - 12/23/2003

I would have expected more.

David - 12/23/2003

Based on the entirety of the Hitchens article from that date, it sounds like Wilentz was very selective in the passage he quoted; because the context in which the quoted passage is found suggests Hitchens was making an observation, not issuing a statement.

Josh Greenland - 12/23/2003

In my previous post,

"You said better than I could what I was thinking after reading Wilentz' piece."

should be replaced with

"You expressed better than I could the problems with Wilentz' (mis)treatment of Hitchens."

Josh Greenland - 12/23/2003

Thank you, Irfan Khawaja. You said better than I could what I was thinking after reading Wilentz' piece. I have no respect for Hitchens, but believe he should be pilloried for what he actually said and did. It isn't necessary to use logical fallacies or intentionally misunderstand his words to do that.

Irfan Khawaja - 12/23/2003

In reading this piece of tripe, I wonder whether Professor Wilentz ought to go back and re-take the GRE reading comprehension exam. And while he's at it, he might go and take some remedial courses in logic, as well.

Elementary logical point: If a person says "I was thinking X at time t," it is not exactly a counter-example to haul out an article that shows that (aha!) he once said he was thinking Y at time t. The person in question could have been thinking both things at once--remarkably, some brains are capacious enough to hold many thoughts. Since a single article in the Guardian is not meant to be an exhaustive catalogue of every thought one has had at a given time, I simply don't see the problem here.

Is the problem that the two sets of thoughts were incompatible? Well, I don't see the incompatibility, either. I, for one, had precisely the same combination of beliefs at precisely the same time as Hitchens (which is why I enjoyed reading Hitchens so much at the time). As my views are, I suspect, a tad more hawkish than Sean Wilentz's, I don't think I can justifiably be described as "anti-American." Just to be absolutely explicit: a person can lament the fact that no one is asking "What have we done to have attracted such hatred?" while also thinking "We are in a war to the finish with whoever hates us." If Professor Wilentz thinks there is an incompatibility, let him DEMONSTRATE it. So far, he hasn't done so.

Second point, on reading comprehension: the excerpted passage indicates the limits of permissible thought in the US at the time; it doesn't go on to endorse any thesis beyond those limits, much less a "blame America" thesis. To say that the analytical moment has been indefinitely postponed is not to venture a thesis right now but to postpone the venturing of one because now isn't the right moment to venture it. You'd think that a great mind like Sean Wilentz would be able to figure that out--right there in black and white--but no such luck. Incidentally, the fact that a country does "something" to attract hatred doesn't imply that the hatred it thereby attracts is justified (or that it justifies an attack like 9/11). There is a difference between a causal thesis about why the hatred is there, and a normative thesis to the effect that it ought to be there. But don't expect Sean Wilentz to grasp that subtlety, either. Never mind that Hitchens's subsequent columns in The Nation (and elsewhere) rejected the idea that the 9/11 attacks were justified as a response to legitimate grievances. Wilentz doesn't mention them. I'd like to see Wilentz reconcile Hitchens's "knee jerk anti-Americanism" with what he (Hitchens) wrote in "The Evening Standard" on 9/12/01 ("We're Still Standing Over Here"), or "American Society Can Outlast Or Absorb Anything" (Independent, 9/16/01). He doesn't mention them, either. But aren't they evidence for what Hitchens was thinking "at the time"?

If one goes back and reads the Guardian article, it quickly becomes clear that Hitchens is describing the mood in the US (warts and all), not indulging in any "knee jerk anti-Americanism." Anyone interested in Hitchens's thoughts around 9/11 will find them here (some links don't work):


The link for the Guardian piece is here:


But one has to read with a will to understand, not a will to defame. Not a motivation I easily think of when I think of Sean Wilentz. And as a Princeton graduate (1991), a decades-long resident of Princeton, and currently, a lecturer in the Politics Department there: trust me; I've had time to think about it. What a joke. And what a hack.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/23/2003

If I understand Wilentz and Hitchens here correctly and if the date in Wilentz's post is correct, I should think that he should be accusiing Hitchens of being two-faced, which is something different than being revisionist. Isn't it?

John Lederer - 12/23/2003

Generally it is desirable that a quote support the contention it is appended to.