Political views of Christopher Hitchens

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Hitchens, wearing a Kurdish flag pin (just behind his left index finger), speaking at the 2007 Amaz!ng Meeting at the Riviera Hotel, Las Vegas

Christopher Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was a British-American[1][2][3] author, polemicist, debater, and journalist. In his youth, he took part in demonstrations against the Vietnam War, joined organisations such as the International Socialists while at university,[4] and began to identify as a socialist. After the September 11 attacks, however, Hitchens no longer regarded himself as a socialist, and his political thinking became largely dominated by the issue of defending civilization from terrorists and against the totalitarian regimes that protect them. He nonetheless continued to identify as a Marxist, endorsing the materialist conception of history, but believed that Marx had underestimated the revolutionary nature of capitalism.[5] He sympathized with libertarian ideals of limited state interference but considered libertarianism not to be a viable system. In the 2000 presidential election, he supported independent candidate Ralph Nader. After 9/11, Hitchens advocated the invasion of Iraq. In the 2004 election, Hitchens very slightly favored incumbent Republican President George W. Bush or was neutral,[6] and in 2008 he favored Democratic candidate Barack Obama.[7]

Political orientation[edit]

First principles[edit]

Alexander Linklater has summarized Hitchens' basic intellectual outlook as follows:

One of [Hitchens'] old strongholds [was] the 17th-century contest between king and parliament of the English civil war. For Hitchens, the Cromwellian revolt represents not just the foundational struggle for parliamentary rule, but the great rejection of divine right. ... But he is no optimistic Enlightenment rationalist. He identifies himself with Thomas Paine's disillusion at the French terror, and Rosa Luxemburg's famous warning to Lenin about the inexorability of one-man rule. He retains, however, from his Marxist youth an intellectual absolutism and a disdain for liberal dilemmas and trade-offs – hence a brutal assault on Isaiah Berlin's genteel liberalism in a 1998 essay. He is incurious about what religious belief feels like, or what meaning it has for millions of people – even though, unlike his co-anti-religionist Richard Dawkins, Hitchens concedes that religious feeling is ineradicable.[8]

British republicanism[edit]

Hitchens was a vocal supporter of Republicanism in the United Kingdom, in 1990 publishing the book-long polemic The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain's Favourite Fetish.[9] His 1998 documentary Princess Diana: The Mourning After analyses how the British media played an essential role in creating a national, unchallengeable, and at times hysterical cult of personality surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, whereas previously they had been extremely critical of her and the monarchy after she had separated and divorced from Charles, Prince of Wales, and was having an affair with Egyptian billionaire son Dodi Fayed. The irrational behaviour of the public, many of whom Hitchens claimed appeared to not even know why they mourning, and the level of censorship against criticism of Diana and the monarchy, were scrutinised as well, but according to a review by The Independent, the latter topic is where the documentary exaggerated.[10]

Labour Party[edit]

In 1965, Hitchens joined the Labour Party on the very first day he was eligible to vote, but along with the majority of the Labour students' organization was expelled in 1967, because of what Hitchens called "Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam". Since then he stated he had "re-enlisted a few times" back into the Labour Party.[11][12] In a 2001 interview with Reason, he said that in 1979, that even though he was a member of the Labour Party, that he wasn't going to vote for the Labour Party, nor could he bring himself to "vote conservative." He didn't vote at all in that election. He also stated that by not voting for the Labour Party he was effectively voting for Margaret Thatcher to win, which he said he had "secretly hoped would happen."[13] In a 2005 Vanity Fair article, he endorsed Tony Blair in the 2005 general election, mainly due to his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[11] In a 2009 Slate article, he described that in the late 1970s the Labour Party moved to the right and stated that the downfall of the Labour Party was when Gordon Brown became the Prime Minister.[12]

Libertarianism and capitalism[edit]

In a 2001 interview with Reason, Hitchens said he had been interested in libertarian ideas when he was younger, but set aside those interests in the 1960s. He stated that capitalism had become the more revolutionary economic system, and he welcomed globalisation as "innovative and internationalist", but added, "I don't think that the contradictions, as we used to say, of the system, are by any means all resolved." He also stated that he had a renewed interest in the freedom of the individual from the state, but that he still considered libertarianism "ahistorical" both on the world stage and in the work of creating a stable and functional society, adding that libertarians are "more worried about the over-mighty state than the unaccountable corporation" whereas "the present state of affairs ... combines the worst of bureaucracy with the worst of the insurance companies." He also said that libertarians did not have a clear foreign policy stance.[13]

In a 2001 C-SPAN appearance, he told a caller:

If you are a libertarian you may find some nourishment in my book Letters to a Young Contrarian where I say that in the same breath as I-as I mourn the decay of some of my socialist allegiances that deep down I've always been a sympathizer of the libertarian anti-statist point of view. And one of the things that attracted me to socialism in the beginning was the idea of withering away of the state.[14]

Marxism and socialism[edit]

In a 2001 interview with Reason, Hitchens said he became a Marxist and a Trotskyist in his teens, beliefs that further developed during his time at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1966, he was demonstrating in Trafalgar Square against the Vietnam War. In 1967, he joined the International Socialists while at Balliol College, Oxford. Under the influence of Peter Sedgwick, who translated the writings of Russian revolutionary and Soviet dissident Victor Serge, Hitchens forged an ideological interest in Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist socialism. Shortly after he joined "a small but growing post-Trotskyist Luxemburgist sect".[15] He became a socialist "largely [as] the outcome of a study of history, taking sides ... in the battles over industrialism and war and empire." He was also drawn into the political left by his anger over the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, racism and "oligarchy", including that of "the unaccountable corporation." He also said in the same interview with Reason that he could no longer say "I am a socialist". Socialists, he claimed, had ceased to offer a positive alternative to the capitalist system.[13][16]

In the same interview, he opined that capitalism had become the more revolutionary economic system, and he welcomed globalisation as "innovative and internationalist", but added, "I don't think that the contradictions, as we used to say, of the system, are by any means all resolved." He stated that he had a renewed interest in the freedom of the individual from the state, but that he still considered libertarianism to be "ahistorical," both on a global scale and in the work of creating a stable and functional society, adding that libertarians are "more worried about the over-mighty state than the unaccountable corporation" whereas "the present state of affairs ... combines the worst of bureaucracy with the worst of the insurance companies."[17]

In 2006, in a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania debating the Jewish Tradition with Martin Amis, Hitchens commented on his political philosophy by stating, "I am no longer a socialist, but I still am a Marxist".[18] In a June 2010 interview with The New York Times, he stated that "I still think like a Marxist in many ways. I think the materialist conception of history is valid. I consider myself a very conservative Marxist".[19] In 2009, in an article for The Atlantic entitled "The Revenge of Karl Marx", Hitchens frames the late-2000s recession in terms of Marx's economic analysis and notes how much Marx admired the capitalist system that he called for the end of, but says that Marx ultimately failed to grasp how revolutionary capitalist innovation was.[20] Hitchens was an admirer of Che Guevara, yet in an essay written in 1997, he distanced himself from Che, and referred to the mythos surrounding him as a "cult".[21] In 2004 he re-emphasized his positive view of Che, commenting that "[Che's] death meant a lot to me and countless like me at the time. He was a role model, albeit an impossible one for us bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do—fought and died for his beliefs."[22]

He continued to regard Leon Trotsky and Vladmir Lenin as great men,[23][24] and the October Revolution as a necessary event in the modernisation of Russia.[13][15] In 2005, Hitchens praised Lenin's creation of "secular Russia" and his discrediting of the Russian Orthodox Church, describing the church's power as "absolute warren of backwardness and evil and superstition".[15]

According to Andrew Sullivan, his last words were "Capitalism, downfall."[25]

American presidential endorsements[edit]

Hitchens would elaborate on his political views and ideological shift in a discussion with Eric Alterman on Bloggingheads.tv. In this discussion Hitchens revealed himself to be a supporter of Ralph Nader in the 2000 US presidential election, who was disenchanted with the candidacy of both George W. Bush and Al Gore.[26]

Prior to 11 September 2001, and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, Hitchens was critical of President George W. Bush's "non-interventionist" foreign policy. He also criticised Bush's support of intelligent design[27] and capital punishment.[28]

Although Hitchens defended Bush's post-11 September foreign policy, he criticised the actions of US troops in Abu Ghraib and Haditha, and the US government's use of waterboarding, which he deemed as torture after he was invited by Vanity Fair to voluntarily undergo it.[29][30] In January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and four organisations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, challenging Bush's warrantless domestic spying program; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU.[31][32][33]

2000 United States presidential election[edit]

Hitchens speaking at a September 2000 third party protest at the headquarters of the Commission on Presidential Debates

Hitchens would elaborate on his political views and ideological shift in a discussion with Eric Alterman on Bloggingheads.tv. In this discussion Hitchens revealed himself to be a supporter of Ralph Nader in the 2000 US presidential election, who was disenchanted with the candidacy of both George W. Bush and Al Gore.[26]

2004 United States presidential election[edit]

Hitchens made a brief return to The Nation just before the 2004 US presidential election and wrote that he was "slightly" for Bush; shortly afterwards, Slate polled its staff on their positions on the candidates and mistakenly printed Hitchens's vote as pro-John Kerry. Hitchens shifted his opinion to "neutral", saying: "It's absurd for liberals to talk as if Kristallnacht is impending with Bush, and it's unwise and indecent for Republicans to equate Kerry with capitulation. There's no one to whom he can surrender, is there? I think that the nature of the jihadist enemy will decide things in the end".[34]

2008 United States presidential election[edit]

In the 2008 presidential election, Hitchens in an article for Slate stated, "I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that 'issue' I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity." He was critical of both main party candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, but wrote that Obama would be the better choice. Hitchens went on to call McCain "senile", and his choice of running mate Sarah Palin "absurd", calling Palin a "pathological liar" and a "national disgrace". Hitchens also wrote that "Obama is greatly overrated" and that the Obama-Biden ticket "show[s] some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience".[35]

The American Revolution[edit]

After his disenchantment with socialism, Hitchens increasingly emphasized the centrality of the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution to his political philosophy. As early as 2002, Hitchens wrote, "as the third millennium gets under way, and as the Russian and Chinese and Cuban revolutions drop below the horizon, it is possible to argue that the American revolution, with its promise of cosmopolitan democracy, is the only ‘model’ revolution that humanity has left to it".[36] His enthusiasm for the U.S. Bill of Rights contrasts with a dim opinion of constitutional politics on the other side of the Atlantic. Hitchens notes, "the utter failure [of the EU] to compose a viable constitution" and the "brevity of the British constitution, perhaps because the motherland of the English-speaking peoples has absent-mindedly failed to evolve one in written form".[37]

Foreign policy[edit]

Bosnian War[edit]

Hitchens cited the Bosnian War as something that monumentally changed his views on military intervention and that he for the first time found himself on the side of the neoconservatives. In an interview with Johann Hari he said:

That war in the early 1990s changed a lot for me. I never thought I would see, in Europe, a full-dress reprise of internment camps, the mass murder of civilians, the reinstiutution [sic] of torture and rape as acts of policy. And I didn't expect so many of my comrades to be indifferent – or even take the side of the fascists. It was a time when many people on the left were saying 'Don't intervene, we'll only make things worse' or, 'Don't intervene, it might destabilise the region. And I thought – destabilisation of fascist regimes is a good thing. Why should the left care about the stability of undemocratic regimes? Wasn't it a good thing to destabilise the regime of General Franco? It was a time when the left was mostly taking the conservative, status quo position – leave the Balkans alone, leave Milosevic alone, do nothing. And that kind of conservatism can easily mutate into actual support for the aggressors. Weimar-style conservatism can easily mutate into National Socialism. So you had people like Noam Chomsky's co-author Ed Herman go from saying 'Do nothing in the Balkans', to actually supporting Milosevic, the most reactionary force in the region. That's when I began to first find myself on the same side as the neocons. I was signing petitions in favour of action in Bosnia, and I would look down the list of names and I kept finding, there's Richard Perle. There's Paul Wolfowitz. That seemed interesting to me. These people were saying that we had to act. Before, I had avoided them like the plague, especially because of what they said about General Sharon and about Nicaragua. But nobody could say they were interested in oil in the Balkans, or in strategic needs, and the people who tried to say that – like Chomsky – looked ridiculous. So now I was interested.[38]

Hitchens argued that the choice in Yugoslavia was between a multi-ethnic plural democracy led by Muslim president Alija Izetbegović in Bosnia and a fascistic, nationalistically inspired ethnically-cleansed state driven by Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. He called Milošević a fascist and a "national-socialist",[39] and considered the Croatian nationalist president Franjo Tudjman "equally detestable".[40] In God Is Not Great, he wrote about Christian Orthodox Serbian and Roman Catholic Croatian nationalism- and religion-inspired crimes against the Muslim Bosnians, at the hands of proponents of "Greater Serbia" and Croatian "revived Ustashe formations" during this period which are "often forgotten".[41] He was highly critical of Western inaction in protection of the Muslims, partially blaming this on the Clinton administration and specifically Hillary Clinton.

In effect, the extremist Catholic and Orthodox forces were colluding in a bloody partition and cleansing of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were, and still are, largely spared the public shame of this, because the world's media preferred the simplification of "Croat" and "Serb," and only mentioned religion when discussing "the Muslims." But the triad of terms "Croat," "Serb," and "Muslim" is unequal and misleading, in that it equates two nationalities and one religion. (The same blunder is made in a different way in coverage of Iraq, with the "Sunni-Shia-Kurd" trilateral.)[42]

Gulf War[edit]

Hitchens deplored and opposed the 1990-91 Gulf War in which the US expelled Iraq from Kuwait after a seven-month invasion and occupation of its neighbor undertaken in an effort to absorb it as its 19th province. He contended that President George H. W. Bush’s supposedly principled enthusiasm for the “cause” of “liberating” Kuwait was nothing more than realpolitik. In the continuation of a national policy dating back to Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon in 1972, the latest “cause was yet another move in the policy of keeping a region divided and embittered, and therefore accessible to the franchisers of weaponry and the owners of black gold”.[43] After the war, Hitchens scolded those within the US who had opposed the war by observing that “the peace movement in this country in my opinion acted in a very narrow, isolationist, and almost chauvinistic way. It said that a war was more or less alright with it as long as it could be guaranteed in advance that American casualties could be kept low... I thought that was a dishonourably narrow way of approaching the question. ... When large numbers of Iraqis were turned into soap...and many others, as we’ve since found out, were bulldozed and buried alive and in other ways done away with and people don’t even want to think about the body count ...because they’re afraid of what they might find out.”[44]

Israeli−Palestinian conflict[edit]

Hitchens described Zionism as being based on "the initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land." He went further, saying "Zionism is a form of Bourgeoisie Nationalism" when debating the Jewish Tradition with Martin Amis at a Town hall function in Pennsylvania "[45] Hitchens supported Israel's right to exist, but argued that

Israel doesn't "give up" anything by abandoning religious expansionism in the West Bank and Gaza. It does itself a favor, because it confronts the internal clerical and chauvinist forces which want to instate a theocracy for Jews, and because it abandons a scheme which is doomed to fail in the worst possible way. The so-called "security" question operates in reverse, because as I may have said already, only a moral and political idiot would place Jews in a settlement in Gaza in the wild belief that this would make them more safe.

Of course this hard-headed and self-interested solution of withdrawal would not satisfy the jihadists. But one isn't seeking to placate them. One is seeking to destroy and discredit them. At the present moment, they operate among an occupied and dispossessed and humiliated people, who are forced by Sharon's logic to live in a close yet ghettoised relationship to the Jewish centers of population. Try and design a more lethal and rotten solution than that, and see what you come up with.[45]

On 14 November 2004, Hitchens noted that

Edward Said asked many times, in public and private, where the Mandela of Palestine could be. In rather bold contrast to this decent imagination, Arafat managed to be both a killer and a compromiser (Mandela was neither), both a Swiss bank account artist and a populist ranter (Mandela was neither), both an Islamic "martyrdom" blow-hard and a servile opportunist, and a man who managed to establish a dictatorship over his own people before they even had a state (here one simply refuses to mention Mandela in the same breath).[46]

Hitchens earlier had collaborated on this issue with Edward Said, publishing the 1988 book Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question.

Hitchens had said of himself, "I am an Anti-Zionist. I'm one of those people of Jewish descent who believes that Zionism would be a mistake even if there were no Palestinians."[47]

A review of his autobiography Hitch-22 in The Jewish Daily Forward refers to Hitchens "at the time [that he had learned that his grandparents were Jews, he had been] a prominent anti-Zionist" and says that he viewed Zionism "as an injustice against the Palestinians".[48] Others have commented on his anti-Zionism as well.[49] At other times for example speaking at 2nd annual Memorial for Daniel Pearl, and in print in an article for The Atlantic he had made comments against the terrorism against Jews in the Middle East. Hitchens stated "But the Jews of the Arab lands were expelled again in revenge for the defeat of Palestinian nationalistic aspirations, in 1947–48, and now the absolute most evil and discredited fabrication of Jew-baiting Christian Europe—The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—is eagerly promulgated in the Hamas charter and on the group's Web site and recycled through a whole nexus of outlets that includes schools as well as state-run television stations".[50]

In Slate magazine, Hitchens pondered the notion that, instead of curing antisemitism through the creation of a Jewish state, "Zionism has only replaced and repositioned"[51] it, saying: "there are three groups of 6 million Jews. The first 6 million live in what the Zionist movement used to call Palestine. The second 6 million live in the United States. The third 6 million are distributed mainly among Russia, France, Britain, and Argentina. Only the first group lives daily in range of missiles that can be (and are) launched by people who hate Jews." Hitchens argued that instead of supporting Zionism, Jews should help "secularise and reform their own societies", believing that unless one is religious, "what the hell are you doing in the greater Jerusalem area in the first place?" Indeed, Hitchens goes so far as to claim that the only justification for Zionism given by Jews is a religious one.[52]

In his 2006 debate with Martin Amis, Hitchens stated that "one must not insult or degrade or humiliate people"[45] and that he "would be opposed to this maltreatment of the Palestinians if it took place on a remote island with no geopolitical implications". Hitchens described Zionism as "an ethno-nationalist quasi-religious ideology" and stated his desire that if possible, he would "re-wind the tape [to] stop Herzl from telling the initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land".

He continued to say that Zionism "... nonetheless has founded a sort of democratic state which isn't any worse in its practice than many others with equally dubious origins." He stated that settlement in order to achieve security for Israel is "doomed to fail in the worst possible way", and the cessation of this "appallingly racist and messianic delusion" would "confront the internal clerical and chauvinist forces which want to instate a theocracy for Jews". Hitchens contended that the "solution of withdrawal would not satisfy the jihadists" and wondered "What did they imagine would be the response of the followers of the Prophet [Muhammad]?" Hitchens bemoaned the transference into religious terrorism of Arab secularism as a means of democratisation: "the most depressing and wretched spectacle of the past decade, for all those who care about democracy and secularism, has been the degeneration of Palestinian Arab nationalism into the theocratic and thanatocratic hell of Hamas and Islamic Jihad".[51] He maintained that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a "trivial squabble" that has become "so dangerous to all of us" because of "the faith-based element."[45]

Hitchens collaborated on this issue with prominent Palestinian advocate Edward Said, in 1988 publishing Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question.

Kurdistan[edit]

Hitchens was a longtime observer of the cruelty of Saddam Hussein and spoke publicly for his removal, albeit only beginning in 1998.[53] He spoke in favour of political autonomy, if not full independence, for the Kurdish people.

During the many years I spent on the Left, the cause of self-determination for Kurdistan was high on the list of principles and priorities – there are many more Kurds than there are Palestinians and they have been staunch fighters for democracy in the region.[54]

He also consistently wore a lapel pin with the Flag of Kurdistan on it, to show his solidarity with the Kurds.

War on Terror[edit]

September 11 attacks[edit]

Following the 9/11 attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of radical Islam and of the proper response to it. On 24 September and 8 October 2001, Hitchens wrote criticisms of Chomsky in The Nation.[55][56] Chomsky responded[57] and Hitchens issued a rebuttal to Chomsky[58] to which Chomsky again responded.[59] Approximately a year after the 9/11 attacks and his exchanges with Chomsky, Hitchens left The Nation, claiming that its editors, readers and contributors considered John Ashcroft a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden,[60] and were making excuses on behalf of Islamist terrorism; in the following months he wrote articles increasingly at odds with his colleagues. This highly charged exchange of letters involved Katha Pollitt and Alexander Cockburn, as well as Hitchens and Chomsky. Hitchens was also severely criticized by Norman Finkelstein, an American political scientist and Hitchens's former friend. Citing Hitchens's support for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, as well as Hitchens's critique of Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, Finkelstein called Hitchens a "model apostate," a "dirt bag," and a "showboat run amuck" who is "dying for the camera."[61]

Iraq War[edit]

Hitchens' employment of the term "Islamofascist" and his support for the Iraq War caused his critics to label him a "neoconservative". Hitchens, however, refused to embrace this designation,[62][63] insisting, "I'm not any kind of conservative".[64] In 2004, Hitchens stated that neoconservative support for US intervention in Iraq convinced him that he was "on the same side as the neo-conservatives" when it came to contemporary foreign policy issues, and characterized himself as an unqualified "supporter of Paul Wolfowitz."[65] He was also known to refer to his association with "temporary neocon allies".[66] In this period he opined that "the Bush administration...has redefined the lazy term 'conservative' to mean someone who is impatient with the status quo." [67]

In the years after the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie in response to his novel The Satanic Verses, Hitchens became increasingly critical of what he called "excuse making" on the left. At the same time, he was attracted to the foreign policy ideas of some on the Republican-right that promoted pro-liberalism intervention, especially the neoconservative group that included Paul Wolfowitz.[68] Around this time, he befriended the Iraqi dissident and businessman Ahmed Chalabi.[69]

Following 11 September attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of radical Islam and the proper response to it. In October 2001, Hitchens wrote criticisms of Chomsky in The Nation.[70][71] Chomsky responded[72] and Hitchens issued a rebuttal to Chomsky[73] to which Chomsky again responded.[74] Approximately a year after 11 September attacks and his exchanges with Chomsky, Hitchens left The Nation, claiming that its editors, readers and contributors considered John Ashcroft a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden, and that they were making excuses on behalf of Islamist terrorism; in the following months he wrote articles increasingly at odds with his colleagues.

Christopher Hitchens argued the case for the Iraq War in a 2003 collection of essays entitled A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq, and participated in public debates on the topic with George Galloway,[75] Scott Ritter,[76] and his brother Peter Hitchens.[77] In its obituary of Hitchens, The Economist wrote that, "on the most consequential political issue of the last decade of his life, the bullshit got him." [78]

Abu Ghraib[edit]

In a September 2005 article, he stated "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad."[28] Hitchens continued by stating that he

could undertake to defend that statement against any member of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, and I know in advance that none of them could challenge it, let alone negate it. Before March 2003, Abu Ghraib was an abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp. Now, and not without reason, it is an international byword for Yankee imperialism and sadism. Yet the improvement is still, unarguably, the difference between night and day.[28]

Haditha[edit]

In a 5 June 2006 article on the alleged killings of Iraqi civilians by U. S. Marines in Haditha, he stated that

all the glib talk about My Lai is so much propaganda and hot air. In Vietnam, the rules of engagement were such as to make an atrocity – the slaughter of the My Lai villagers took almost a day rather than a white-hot few minutes – overwhelmingly probable. The ghastliness was only stopped by a brave officer who prepared his chopper-gunner to fire. In those days there were no precision-guided missiles, but there were "free-fire zones," and "body counts," and other virtual incitements to psycho officers such as Capt. Medina and Lt. Calley. As a consequence, a training film about My Lai – "if anything like this happens, you have really, truly screwed up" – has been in use for U. S. soldiers for some time.[79]

Pre-war American and British Intelligence[edit]

In a variety of articles and interviews, Hitchens asserted that British intelligence was correct in claiming that Saddam had attempted to buy uranium from Niger,[80] and that US envoy Joseph Wilson had been dishonest in his public denials of it.[81] He also pointed to discovered munitions in Iraq that violated U. N. Security Council Resolutions 686 and 687, the cease-fire agreements ending the 1991 Iraq-Kuwait conflict.

On 19 March 2007, Hitchens asked himself whether Western intelligence sources should have known that Iraq had "no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction." In his response, Hitchens stated that:

The entire record of UNSCOM until that date had shown a determination on the part of the Iraqi dictatorship to build dummy facilities to deceive inspectors, to refuse to allow scientists to be interviewed without coercion, to conceal chemical and biological deposits, and to search the black market for material that would breach the sanctions. The defection of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law, the Kamel brothers, had shown that this policy was even more systematic than had even been suspected. Moreover, Iraq did not account for – has in fact never accounted for – a number of the items that it admitted under pressure to possessing after the Kamel defection. We still do not know what happened to this weaponry. This is partly why all Western intelligence agencies, including French and German ones quite uninfluenced by Ahmad Chalabi, believed that Iraq had actual or latent programs for the production of WMD. Would it have been preferable to accept Saddam Hussein's word for it and to allow him the chance to re-equip once more once the sanctions had further decayed?[82]

Saddam Hussein[edit]

In July 2007, the New Statesman printed selected portions of a 1976 piece by Hitchens which they claimed "took a more admiring view of the Iraqi dictator" than his later strong support for ousting Saddam Hussein.[83]

An Arab country with the second largest proven oil reserves, a fierce revolutionary ideology, a large and recently-blooded army, and a leadership composed almost entirely of men in their thirties is obviously a force to be reckoned with. Iraq, which has this dynamic combination and much else besides, has not until recently been very much regarded as a power. But with the new discussions in OPEC, the ending of the Kurdistan war and the new round of fighting in Lebanon, its political voice is being heard more and more. The Baghdad regime is the first oil-producing government to opt for 100-per-cent nationalisation, a process completed with the acquisition of foreign assets in Basrah last December. It was the first to call for the use of oil as a political weapon against Israel and her backers. It gives strong economic and political support to the ‘Rejection Front’ Palestinians who oppose Arafat’s conciliation and are currently trying to outface the Syrians in Beirut. And it has a leader – Saddam Hussein – who has sprung from being an underground revolutionary gunman to perhaps the first visionary Arab statesman since Nasser.

He also described the means through which the Baathist regime rose to power as similar to that of Iran: having crushed any political dissent and notions of an independent Kurdish state.

In their different crusades, both Iraq and Iran take a distinctly unsentimental line on internal opposition. Ba’ath party spokesmen, when questioned about the lack of public dissent, will point to efforts made by the party press to stimulate criticism of revolutionary shortcomings. True enough, there are such efforts, but they fall rather short of permitting any organised opposition. The argument then moves to the claim, which is often made in Iraq, that the country is surrounded by enemies and attacked by imperialist intrigue. Somewhere in the collision between Baghdad and Tehran on this point, the Kurdish nationalists met a very painful end.

War in Afghanistan[edit]

Hitchens strongly supported US military actions in Afghanistan, particularly in his "Fighting Words" columns in Slate. Hitchens had been a long term contributor to The Nation, where bi-weekly he wrote his "Minority Report" column.

Waterboarding[edit]

Hitchens was asked by Vanity Fair to experience waterboarding for himself at a U.S. Army training facility. In May 2008, Hitchens voluntarily underwent the procedure. Hitchens stopped the procedure after 11 seconds and subsequently endorsed the view that it was "torture." He concluded, "If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."[84][85]

Domestic policy[edit]

Hitchens actively supported drug policy reform and called for the abolition of the "War on Drugs" which he described as an "authoritarian war" during a debate with William F. Buckley.[86] He supported the legalisation of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes, citing it as a cure for glaucoma and as treatment for numerous side-effects induced by chemotherapy, including severe nausea, describing the prohibition of the drug as "sadistic".[22]

Civil liberties[edit]

Abortion[edit]

Hitchens stated, "[an] unborn child seems to me to be a real concept. It's not a growth or an appendix, You can't say the rights question doesn't come up. I don't think a woman should be forced to choose, or even can be." Although holding a personal pro-life position, Hitchens opposed the overturning of Roe v. Wade and instead hoped for science to develop new solutions to unwanted pregnancies "that will make abortion more like a contraceptive procedure than a surgical one." He strongly criticized the encouragement of sexual abstinence within the pro-life movement of the Christian right,[87] and the equating of contraceptives to abortion, as expressed by Mother Teresa and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.[88]

Capital punishment[edit]

In a 2001 interview with Reason, Hitchens stated that the very first issue he ever decided to take a stand in his teens, before he became a socialist, was on the issue of capital punishment. The reason for his opposition to capital punishment was that it was giving too much power to the government.[13]

Drug policy[edit]

Hitchens has called for the abolition of the "War on Drugs," which he described as an "authoritarian war" during a debate with William F. Buckley.[89] Hitchens favored the legalization of cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes, and said, "Marijuana is a medicine. I have heard and read convincing arguments and had convincing testimony from real people who say that marijuana is a very useful medicine for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and for glaucoma. To keep that out of the reach of the sick, it seems to me, is sadistic."[22][90]

Genital integrity[edit]

Hitchens was a notable genital integrity activist, strongly criticizing the tradition of both male circumcision and female genital mutilation. In collaboration with his antitheism, Hitchens described the tolerance of metzitzah b'peh (a Jewish tradition of sucking blood from the penis after the removal of the male foreskin) as "another disgusting religious practice".[91]

Gun rights[edit]

Hitchens philosophically supported gun rights and was generally opposed to gun control. On the subject of the second amendment, Hitchens argued that as both an outright ban on guns and relying on a citizen militia for the national defence were equally as idealistic and utopian, and that as gun control created a duopoly of force between the state and criminals, it would be more desirable to encourage training among average citizens so they might develop a better relationship with firearms.[92] Although Hitchens repeatedly stated a broad support for the right to keep and bear arms, he was not an enthusiastic advocate and he rarely publicly discussed his views.[93]

LGBT rights[edit]

Hitchens was a supporter of LGBT rights. He opposed sodomy laws and supported same-sex marriage. He argued that the legalization of same-sex marriage was the "socialization of homosexuality" and "demonstrates the spread of conservatism" among the gay community.[94][95]

NSA warrantless surveillance[edit]

In January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and four organizations, including the ACLU and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, challenging Bush's warrantless domestic spying program; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU.[96][97]

Voting rights[edit]

In March 2005, Hitchens supported further investigation into voting irregularities in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election.[98]

Northern Ireland[edit]

During a debate with George Galloway in 2005, Hitchens revealed that he was "a lifelong supporter of the reunification of Ireland," and was critical of Galloway's opposing views on the war, as well as his "insulting" attitude towards the U.S. Senate.[99][100] Many times, when discussing "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, Hitchens would refer to their location as simply "Ireland", rather than "Northern Ireland", as for example in an article written for Slate in 2007, discussing the power-sharing and devolved government in Northern Ireland and describing it as "an agreement to divide the spoils of Ireland's six northeastern counties".[101] During the IRA bombing campaigns on the British mainland, which began in the nineteen-seventies, Hitchens claimed that he had "kept two sets of books: I didn’t like bombs, I didn’t like the partition of Ireland."[53]

President Bill Clinton[edit]

Hitchens also became increasingly disenchanted by the presidency of Bill Clinton, accusing him of being a rapist and a liar.[102][103] Hitchens also claimed that the missile attacks by Clinton on Sudan constituted a war crime.[104]

Religion[edit]

At the New York Public Library in May 2007, Hitchens debated the Reverend Al Sharpton on the issue of theism and anti-theism, giving rise to a memorable exchange about Mormonism in particular.[105]

In God is not Great, Hitchens contended that,

above all, we are in need of a renewed Enlightenment, which will base itself on the proposition that the proper study of mankind is man and woman [referencing Alexander Pope]. This Enlightenment will not need to depend, like its predecessors, on the heroic breakthroughs of a few gifted and exceptionally courageous people. It is within the compass of the average person. The study of literature and poetry, both for its own sake and for the eternal ethical questions with which it deals, can now easily depose the scrutiny of sacred texts that have been found to be corrupt and confected. The pursuit of unfettered scientific inquiry, and the availability of new findings to masses of people by electronic means, will revolutionize our concepts of research and development. Very importantly, the divorce between the sexual life and fear, and the sexual life and disease, and the sexual life and tyranny, can now at last be attempted, on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse. And all this and more is, for the first time in our history, within the reach if not the grasp of everyone.[106]

Hitchens was accused of "anti-Catholic bigotry" by others, including Brent Bozell and UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge.[107] When Joe Scarborough on 12 March 2004 asked Hitchens whether he was "consumed with hatred for conservative Catholics", Hitchens responded that he was not and that he just thinks that "all religious belief is sinister and infantile".[108]

In 2005, Hitchens praised Lenin's creation of "secular Russia" and his destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church, describing it as "an absolute warren of backwardness and evil and superstition."[15] In an interview with Radar in 2007, Hitchens said that if the Christian right's agenda were implemented in the United States "It wouldn't last very long and would, I hope, lead to civil war, which they will lose, but for which it would be a great pleasure to take part."[109]

On 4 April 2009, Hitchens debated Christian philosopher William Lane Craig at Biola University on the topic "Does God Exist?" before both a live and closed circuit audience of over 15,000.[110]

Islamism[edit]

Hitchens was deeply shocked by the 14 February 1989 fatwa against his longtime friend Salman Rushdie.[111] He became increasingly critical of what he called "theocratic fascism" or "fascism with an Islamic face": radical Islamists who supported the fatwa against Rushdie and sought the recreation of the medieval caliphate.[citation needed] Hitchens is often credited with coining the term "Islamofascism", but Hitchens himself denied it, attributing its coinage to Malise Ruthven.[112][113]

Hitchens did use the term Islamic fascism for an article he wrote for The Nation, shortly after the September 11 attacks, but this phrase also had an earlier history. For example, it was used in The Washington Post on 13 January 1979; it also appears to have been used by secularists in Turkey and Afghanistan to describe their opponents.[citation needed]

The years after the Rushdie fatwa also saw him looking for allies and friends. In the United States he became increasingly critical of what he called "excuse making" on the left. At the same time, he was attracted to the foreign policy ideas of some on the Republican right that promoted pro-liberalism intervention, especially the neoconservative group that included Paul Wolfowitz.[68] Around this time, he befriended the Iraqi dissident and businessman Ahmed Chalabi.[69]

In February 2006, Hitchens helped organize a pro-Denmark rally outside the Danish Embassy in Washington, DC in response to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.[114]

Mormonism[edit]

Hitchens was extremely critical of the doctrinal claims of Mormonism[115] and opposed the candidacy of Mitt Romney.[116]

Other[edit]

Other issues on which Hitchens wrote included his support for the reunification of Ireland,[117][118] abolition of the British monarchy,[119] the establishment of a self-governing state for the Kurds[120] and his condemnation of the war crimes of Slobodan Milošević[121] in the Yugoslav Wars, and criticised Franjo Tuđman for colluding with Milošević on a partition of Bosnia and empowering Croatian war criminals.[122]

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External links[edit]