Christopher Eric Hitchens (born April 13, 1949) is a British author, journalist, literary critic and American citizen. Currently living in Washington, D.C., he has been a columnist at Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, World Affairs, The Nation, Slate, Free Inquiry, and a variety of other media outlets. Hitchens is also a political observer, whose best-selling books — the latest being God Is Not Great — have made him a staple of talk shows and lecture circuits.
Hitchens is a polemicist and intellectual. While he was once identified with the Anglo-American radical political left, he has more recently embraced some arguably right-wing causes, notably the Iraq War; the war has had the support of some liberal commentators of Hitchens' acquaintance in the UK and Canada. Formerly a Trotskyist and a fixture in the left wing publications of both the United Kingdom and United States, Hitchens departed from the grassroots of the political left in 1989 after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the European left following Ayatollah Khomeini's issue of a fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, but he has stated on the Charlie Rose show aired August 2007 that he remains a "democratic Socialist." The September 11, 2001 attacks strengthened his embrace of an interventionist foreign policy, and his vociferous criticism of what he calls "fascism with an Islamic face." He is known for his ardent admiration of George Orwell, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, and for his excoriating critiques of Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger, and Bill Clinton.
Hitchens joined the Labour Party as soon as he was eligible, in 1965, but was expelled in 1967 along with the majority of the Labour students' organization, because of what Hitchens called "Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam. Shortly thereafter, Hitchens joined "a small but growing post-Trotskyite Luxemburgist sect." He became a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism, which was published by the International Socialists, the forerunners of today's British Socialist Workers Party. This group was broadly Trotskyist, but differed from more orthodox Trotskyist groups in its refusal to defend communist states as "workers' states". This was symbolized in their slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism".
Hitchens left Oxford with a third class degree. His first job was with the London Times Higher Education Supplement, where he served as social science editor. Hitchens admits that he hated the job and was later sacked from the position, recalling that 'I sometimes think if I'd been any good at that job, I might still be doing it.' In the 1970s he went on to work for the New Statesman, where he became friends with, amongst others, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. At the New Statesman he became known as an aggressive left-winger, stridently attacking targets such as Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War and the Roman Catholic Church. After emigrating to the United States in 1981, Hitchens wrote for The Nation. While at The Nation he penned vociferous critiques of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and American foreign policy in South and Central America.
What a truly disgusting sack of shit Hitchens is [— a] guy who called Sid Blumenthal one of his best friends and then tried to have him thrown into prison for perjury; a guy who waited [until] his friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly; a guy who knows perfectly well the role Israel plays in U.S. policy but who does not scruple to flail Cindy Sheehan as a LaRouchie and Anti-Semite because, maybe, she dared mention the word Israel.Hitchens clarified his stance, stating that:
[i]n a recent effusion in the Huffington Post, Cindy Sheehan repeats the lie that her letter to ABC News Nightline was doctored, and says that a colleague of hers inserted the offending words in furtherance of his own "anti-Semitic" agenda. If she regards her own words as anti-Jewish, it's not up to me to correct her. I have not said that she is anti-Jewish, only that she shows a sinister ineptness in handling the wild idea of a PNAC/JINSA pro-Sharon secret government in the United States.
One of … [Hitchens’] old strongholds…[is] 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. And there is an undertow of violence in his arguments, an inability to empathise. He is, for example, 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.
Hitchens did use the term "Islamic Fascism" for an article he wrote for The Nation, shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, but this phrase also had an earlier history. For example, it was used in The Washington Post on January 13, 1979; it also appears to have been used by secularists in Turkey and Afghanistan to describe their opponents.
Hitchens also became increasingly disenchanted by the presidency of Bill Clinton, whom he had known at Oxford, accusing him of being a rapist and a liar. Hitchens also claimed that the missile attacks by Clinton on Sudan constituted a war crime.
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, especially the neoconservative group that included Paul Wolfowitz, whom he befriended. Around this time, he also befriended the Iraqi dissident and businessman Ahmed Chalabi. During a debate with George Galloway, Hitchens revealed he is a supporter of Irish reunification, and was critical of the politician's opposing views on the war, as well as his "insulting" attitude towards the US Senate.
Hitchens is seen as part of the "pro-liberation left" or "liberal hawks" comprising left-leaning commentators who supported the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. This informal grouping includes the British writers Nick Cohen, Johann Hari, David Aaronovitch, Norman Geras, Julie Burchill, and the Canadian Michael Ignatieff (see Euston Manifesto). Neoconservatives of the last decade are hesitant to embrace Hitchens as one of their own, in part because of his harsh criticisms of Ronald Reagan and his refusal to associate himself as such.
Despite his many articles supporting the US invasion of Iraq, Hitchens made a brief return to The Nation just before the 2004 US presidential election and wrote that he was "slightly" for George W. Bush; shortly afterwards, Slate polled its staff on their positions on the candidates and mistakenly printed Hitchens' vote as pro-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".
In the interview with journalist Johann Hari in 2004, in which Hitchens described himself as "on the same side as the neo-conservatives," he also states that he does not support George Bush per se (still less Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld) but rather allies himself with "pure" neo-conservatives, especially Paul Wolfowitz. Although Hitchens defends Bush’s foreign policy, he has criticized Bush's support of intelligent design.
In contributions to Vanity Fair, Hitchens criticised the Bush administration for its continued protection of Henry Kissinger, whom he called complicit in the human rights abuses of Southern Cone military dictatorships during the 1970s. In 2001, he had published a book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, on Kissinger's alleged role in the crimes of regimes in South America and Asia. In that book Hitchens accused Kissinger, first as National Security Advisor to President Richard Nixon, and then as Secretary of State to the same president, of either actively participating in or tacitly condoning decisions that would lead to the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities on Bengali Hindus and moderate Muslims in East Pakistan by Pakistani Islamist dictator Yahya Khan. He also asserts that Henry Kissinger, and by extension, the Ford administration, bore direct responsibility for the invasion of East Timor. Hitchens also asserted Kissinger and the Nixon administration's responsibility for the coup that resulted in the overthrow of the Allende government, and installation of Augusto Pinochet as president of Chile.
In his latest book, God is not Great, Hitchens contends 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. 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.
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. 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.
After he rejected the notion that waterboarding constituted torture, he was asked by Vanity Fair to experience it for himself. After the experience he fully changed his opinion. He concluded "if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.
Hitchens has been accused by William A. Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Liberties of being particularly anti-Catholic. Hitchens responded, "when religion is attacked in this country […] the Catholic Church comes in for a little more than its fair share". Hitchens has also been accused of anti-Catholic bigotry by others, including Brent Bozell, Tom Piatak in The American Conservative, and UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge. When Joe Scarborough on March 12, 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”. Piatak claimed that “A straightforward description of all Hitchens’s anti-Catholic outbursts would fill every page in this magazine”, noting particularly Hitchens' assertion that U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts should not be confirmed because of his faith.
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.
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).
"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."
"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."
Following the 9/11 attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of radical Islam and of the proper response to it. On September 24 and October 8, 2001, Hitchens wrote criticisms of Chomsky in The Nation. Chomsky responded and Hitchens issued a rebuttal to Chomsky to which Chomsky again responded. 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, 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.
His employment of the term "Islamofascist" and his support for the Iraq War have caused Hitchens' critics to label him a "neoconservative". Hitchens, however, refuses to embrace this designation, insisting that "I am not a conservative of any kind". 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. He has also been known to refer to his association with "temporary neocon allies".
[t]he 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?
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.
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.
In 2007 Hitchens' work for Vanity Fair won him the prestigious National Magazine Award in the category "Columns and Commentary" . He was a finalist once more in the same category in 2008 for some of his columns in Slate but lost out to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone Magazine .
He is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.
Hitchens received the 1991 Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.
Rush Limbaugh is an admirer of Hitchens' writing, of whom he said "He’s misguided sometimes, but when you read him, you finish the whole article.
In a column he wrote for the Los Angeles Times on February 9, 2006, Hitchens wrote, "my grandmother told me as an adult that both she and my mother were Jewish, and it sent me looking for my forebears on the German-Polish border". Peter Hitchens disputes that the brothers have significant Jewish ancestry, adding that "they are only one 32nd Jewish". Nonetheless, according to Halakha, Jewish maternal lineage guarantees one to legally be considered a "full-blooded" Jew, regardless of the father's ethnicity or religion.