December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949 – December 15, 2011

Christopher Hitchens was an extremist steeped in the refinements of London literary culture. He wrote well, especially in the key of opprobrium. He eviscerated Kissinger in print, and even took on recieved wisdom regarding Mother Theresa, complicating her sainthood with a contrary reading of her place in India.

Galvanized by their plight under Sadaam Hussein, Christopher Hitchens strongly favored the cause of the brutalized Kurdish people. It's a mugs game to pick sides in the Middle East, locus of the greatest concentration of aggrieved peoples per hectare in the world, and Hitchens saw the logic of his alleigance [sorry but i cant even spell the word —p.r.] put to the ultimate test in the runup to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He couldn't help but hope the despised Hussein would be removed, and favored the war. He didn't relent when the causus belli was shown to be so much whole cloth soon after the invasion, followed almost immediately by years of score-settling on the part of all the aggrieved of Iraq, whose balance sheets stretch continuously back five millennia in recorded history now, creating, for example, in that band of foothills sloping eastward from Asia Minor to Persia north of Mesopotamia a coherent swath of culture that flowered emphatically with Urartu all those long years ago and by virtue of the vicissitudes in that same place became what Hitchens cared to call the Kurds, holders of the debt owed to them by their history, aggrieved to this day by its denial, who may yet benefit from what's said to have ended yesterday. But still.

Public argument has long been an institution in London, and Hitchens was a master of argument there before his arrival in America. In public Hitchens spoke with lucidity and force. His rhetoric was full of the jugular-seeking barb. Speech for him was often enough an offensive weapon pointed at his opponent rather than the topic at hand.

He was not a fool. He was widely read and could write coherently about the books he confronted. He liked to drink and smoke. He became a U.S. citizen after long residence here persuing a career as a renowned journalist. Cancer of the throat killed him. He died yesterday.

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