Polemicist Who Slashed All, Freely, With Wit!
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, 1949-2011
Christopher Hitchens, a slashing polemicist in the tradition of Thomas Paine and George Orwell who trained his sights on targets as various as Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Teresa, wrote a best-seller attacking religious belief, and dismayed his former comrades on the left by enthusiastically supporting the American-led war in Iraq, died on Thursday in Houston. He was 62.
Justin Lane for The New York Times
Christopher Hitchens in Washington, D.C., in 1999.
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Christopher Hitchens a few hours after being released from the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston in October.
The cause was pneumonia, a complication of esophageal cancer, Vanity Fair magazine said inannouncing the death, at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Mr. Hitchens, who lived in Washington, learned he had cancer while on a publicity tour in 2010 for his memoir,“Hitch-22,” and began writing and, on television, speaking about his illness frequently.
“In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist,” Mr. Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair, for which he was a contributing editor.
He took pains to emphasize that he had not revised his position on atheism, articulated in his best-selling 2007 book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” although he did express amused appreciation at the hope, among some concerned Christians, that he might undergo a late-life conversion.
He also professed to have no regrets for a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking. “Writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that — or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation — is worth it to me,” he told Charlie Rose in a television interview in 2010, adding that it was “impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle.”
Armed with a quick wit and a keen appetite for combat, Mr. Hitchens was in constant demand as a speaker on television, radio and the debating platform, where he held forth in a sonorous, plummily accented voice that seemed at odds with his disheveled appearance. He was a master of the extended peroration, peppered with literary allusions, and of the bright, off-the-cuff remark.
In 2007, when the interviewer Sean Hannity tried to make the case for an all-seeing God, Mr. Hitchens dismissed the idea with contempt. “It would be like living in North Korea,” he said.
Mr. Hitchens, a British Trotskyite who had lost faith in the Socialist movement, spent much of his life wandering the globe and reporting on the world’s trouble spots for The Nation magazine, the British newsmagazine The New Statesman and other publications.
His work took him to Northern Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain and Argentina in the 1970s, generally to shine a light on the evil practices of entrenched dictators or the imperial machinations of the great powers.
After moving to the United States in 1981, he added American politics to his beat, writing a biweekly Minority Report for The Nation. He wrote a monthly review-essay for The Atlantic and, as a carte-blanche columnist at Vanity Fair, filed essays on topics as various as getting a Brazilian bikini wax and the experience of being waterboarded, a volunteer assignment that he called “very much more frightening though less painful than the bikini wax.” He was also a columnist for the online magazine Slate.
His support for the Iraq war sprang from a growing conviction that radical elements in the Islamic world posed a mortal danger to Western principles of political liberty and freedom of conscience. The first stirrings of that view came in 1989 with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwah against the novelist Salman Rushdie for his supposedly blasphemous words in “The Satanic Verses.” To Mr. Hitchens, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, confirmed the threat.
In a political shift that shocked many of his friends and readers, he cut his ties to The Nation and became an outspoken advocate of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and a ferocious critic of what he called “Islamofascism.” Although he denied coining the word, he popularized it.
He remained unapologetic about the war. In 2006 he told the British newspaper The Guardian: “There are a lot of people who will not be happy, it seems to me, until I am compelled to write a letter to these comrades in Iraq and say: ‘Look, guys, it’s been real, but I’m going to have to drop you now. The political cost to me is just too high.’ Do I see myself doing this? No, I do not!”
Christopher Eric Hitchens was born on April 13, 1949, in Portsmouth, England. His father was a career officer in the Royal Navy and later earned a modest living as a bookkeeper.
Rest in peace Christopher Eric Hitchens, and THANK YOU FOR YOUR BODY OF WORK!
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