Tomas's Reviews > Hitch-22: A Memoir

Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens
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Sep 10, 10

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Quotes Tomas Liked

Christopher Hitchens
“What do you most value in your friends?
Their continued existence.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Even if it were possible to cast my horoscope in this one life, and to make an accurate prediction about my future, it would not be possible to 'show' it to me because as soon as I saw it my future would change by definition. This is why Werner Heisenberg's adaptation of the Hays Office—the so-called principle of uncertainty whereby the act of measuring something has the effect of altering the measurement—is of such importance. In my case the difference is often made by publicity. For example, and to boast of one of my few virtues, I used to derive pleasure from giving my time to bright young people who showed promise as writers and who asked for my help. Then some profile of me quoted someone who disclosed that I liked to do this. Then it became something widely said of me, whereupon it became almost impossible for me to go on doing it, because I started to receive far more requests than I could respond to, let alone satisfy. Perception modifies reality: when I abandoned the smoking habit of more than three decades I was given a supposedly helpful pill called Wellbutrin. But as soon as I discovered that this was the brand name for an antidepressant, I tossed the bottle away. There may be successful methods for overcoming the blues but for me they cannot include a capsule that says: 'Fool yourself into happiness, while pretending not to do so.' I should actually want my mind to be strong enough to circumvent such a trick.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“What is your idea of earthly happiness? To be vindicated in my own lifetime.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of 'the flock.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
Your least favorite virtue, or nominee for the most overrated one? Faith. Closely followed—in view of the overall shortage of time—by patience.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“You should be nicer to him,' a schoolmate had once said to me of some awfully ill-favored boy. 'He has no friends.' This, I realized with a pang of pity that I can still remember, was only true as long as everybody agreed to it.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Since I speak and write about this a good deal, I am often asked at public meetings, in what sometimes seems to me a rather prurient way, whether I myself or my family have 'ever been threatened' by jihadists. My answer is that yes, I have, and so has everyone else in the audience, if they have paid enough attention to the relevant bin-Ladenist broadcasts to notice the fact.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“When the Washington Post telephoned me at home on Valentine's Day 1989 to ask my opinion about the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwah, I felt at once that here was something that completely committed me. It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying, and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humor, the individual, and the defense of free expression. Plus, of course, friendship—though I like to think that my reaction would have been the same if I hadn't known Salman at all. To re-state the premise of the argument again: the theocratic head of a foreign despotism offers money in his own name in order to suborn the murder of a civilian citizen of another country, for the offense of writing a work of fiction. No more root-and-branch challenge to the values of the Enlightenment (on the bicentennial of the fall of the Bastille) or to the First Amendment to the Constitution, could be imagined. President George H.W. Bush, when asked to comment, could only say grudgingly that, as far as he could see, no American interests were involved…”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“About once or twice every month I engage in public debates with those whose pressing need it is to woo and to win the approval of supernatural beings. Very often, when I give my view that there is no supernatural dimension, and certainly not one that is only or especially available to the faithful, and that the natural world is wonderful enough—and even miraculous enough if you insist—I attract pitying looks and anxious questions. How, in that case, I am asked, do I find meaning and purpose in life? How does a mere and gross materialist, with no expectation of a life to come, decide what, if anything, is worth caring about?

Depending on my mood, I sometimes but not always refrain from pointing out what a breathtakingly insulting and patronizing question this is. (It is on a par with the equally subtle inquiry: Since you don't believe in our god, what stops you from stealing and lying and raping and killing to your heart's content?) Just as the answer to the latter question is: self-respect and the desire for the respect of others—while in the meantime it is precisely those who think they have divine permission who are truly capable of any atrocity—so the answer to the first question falls into two parts. A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called 'meaningless' except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one's everyday life as if this were so. Whereas if one sought to define meaninglessness and futility, the idea that a human life should be expended in the guilty, fearful, self-obsessed propitiation of supernatural nonentities… but there, there. Enough.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“The clear awareness of having been born into a losing struggle need not lead one into despair. I do not especially like the idea that one day I shall be tapped on the shoulder and informed, not that the party is over but that it is most assuredly going on—only henceforth in my absence. (It's the second of those thoughts: the edition of the newspaper that will come out on the day after I have gone, that is the more distressing.) Much more horrible, though, would be the announcement that the party was continuing forever, and that I was forbidden to leave. Whether it was a hellishly bad party or a party that was perfectly heavenly in every respect, the moment that it became eternal and compulsory would be the precise moment that it began to pall.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with 'you' in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“I had become too accustomed to the pseudo-Left new style, whereby if your opponent thought he had identified your lowest possible motive, he was quite certain that he had isolated the only real one. This vulgar method, which is now the norm and the standard in much non-Left journalism as well, is designed to have the effect of making any noisy moron into a master analyst.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“[T]he very multiculturalism and multiethnicity that brought Salman to the West, and that also made us richer by Hanif Kureishi, Nadeem Aslam, Vikram Seth, Monica Ali, and many others, is now one of the disguises for a uniculturalism, based on moral relativism and moral blackmail (in addition to some more obvious blackmail of the less moral sort) whereby the Enlightenment has been redefined as 'white' and 'oppressive,' mass illegal immigration threatens to spoil everything for everybody, and the figure of the free-floating transnational migrant has been deposed by the contorted face of the psychopathically religious international nihilist, praying for the day when his messianic demands will coincide with possession of an apocalyptic weapon. (These people are not called nihilists for nothing.) Of all of this we were warned, and Salman was the messenger. Mutato nomine et de te fabula narrator: Change only the name and this story is about you.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“In a public dialogue with Salman in London he [Edward Said] had once described the Palestinian plight as one where his people, expelled and dispossessed by Jewish victors, were in the unique historical position of being 'the victims of the victims': there was something quasi-Christian, I thought, in the apparent humility of that statement.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“The one thing that the racist can never manage is anything like discrimination: he is indiscriminate by definition.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“I can claim copyright only in myself, and occasionally in those who are either dead or have written about the same events, or who have a decent expectation of anonymity, or who are such appalling public shits that they have forfeited their right to bitch.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“People spoke to foreigners with an averted gaze, and everybody seemed to know somebody who had just vanished. The rumors of what had happened to them were fantastic and bizarre though, as it turned out, they were only an understatement of the real thing. Before going to see General Videla […], I went to […] check in with Los Madres: the black-draped mothers who paraded, every week, with pictures of their missing loved ones in the Plaza Mayo. (‘Todo mi familia!’ as one elderly lady kept telling me imploringly, as she flourished their photographs. ‘Todo mi familia!’) From these and from other relatives and friends I got a line of questioning to put to the general. I would be told by him, they forewarned me, that people ‘disappeared’ all the time, either because of traffic accidents and family quarrels or, in the dire civil-war circumstances of Argentina, because of the wish to drop out of a gang and the need to avoid one’s former associates. But this was a cover story. Most of those who disappeared were openly taken away in the unmarked Ford Falcon cars of the Buenos Aires military police. I should inquire of the general what precisely had happened to Claudia Inez Grumberg, a paraplegic who was unable to move on her own but who had last been seen in the hands of his ever-vigilant armed forces [….]

I possess a picture of the encounter that still makes me want to spew: there stands the killer and torturer and rape-profiteer, as if to illustrate some seminar on the banality of evil. Bony-thin and mediocre in appearance, with a scrubby moustache, he looks for all the world like a cretin impersonating a toothbrush. I am gripping his hand in a much too unctuous manner and smiling as if genuinely delighted at the introduction. Aching to expunge this humiliation, I waited while he went almost pedantically through the predicted script, waving away the rumored but doubtless regrettable dematerializations that were said to be afflicting his fellow Argentines. And then I asked him about Senorita Grumberg. He replied that if what I had said was true, then I should remember that ‘terrorism is not just killing with a bomb, but activating ideas. Maybe that’s why she’s detained.’ I expressed astonishment at this reply and, evidently thinking that I hadn’t understood him the first time, Videla enlarged on the theme. ‘We consider it a great crime to work against the Western and Christian style of life: it is not just the bomber but the ideologist who is the danger.’ Behind him, I could see one or two of his brighter staff officers looking at me with stark hostility as they realized that the general—El Presidente—had made a mistake by speaking so candidly. […] In response to a follow-up question, Videla crassly denied—‘rotondamente’: ‘roundly’ denied—holding Jacobo Timerman ‘as either a journalist or a Jew.’ While we were having this surreal exchange, here is what Timerman was being told by his taunting tormentors:

Argentina has three main enemies: Karl Marx, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of society; Sigmund Freud, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of the family; and Albert Einstein, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of time and space.

[…] We later discovered what happened to the majority of those who had been held and tortured in the secret prisons of the regime. According to a Navy captain named Adolfo Scilingo, who published a book of confessions, these broken victims were often destroyed as ‘evidence’ by being flown out way over the wastes of the South Atlantic and flung from airplanes into the freezing water below. Imagine the fun element when there’s the surprise bonus of a Jewish female prisoner in a wheelchair to be disposed of… we slide open the door and get ready to roll her and then it’s one, two, three… go!”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Many governments employ torture but this was the first time that the element of Saturnalia and pornography in the process had been made so clear to me. If you care to imagine what any inadequate or cruel man might do, given unlimited power over a woman, then anything that you can bring yourself to suspect was what became routine in ESMA, the Navy Mechanics School that became the headquarters of the business. I talked to Dr. Emilio Mignone, a distinguished physician whose daughter Monica had disappeared into the precincts of that hellish place. What do you find to say to a doctor and a humanitarian who has been gutted by the image of a starving rat being introduced to his daughter's genitalia? Like hell itself the school was endorsed and blessed by priests, in case any stray consciences needed to be stilled.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
Where would you like to live? In a state of conflict or a conflicted state.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
Who are your favorite heroines in real life? The women of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran who risk their lives and their beauty to defy the foulness of theocracy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi as their ideal feminine model.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
The quality you most admire in a man? Courage moral and physical: 'anima'—the ability to think like a woman. Also a sense of the absurd.

The quality you most admire in a woman? Courage moral and physical: “anima”—the ability to visualize the mind and need of a man. Also a sense of the absurd.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
Your favorite virtue? An appreciation for irony.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
Which natural gift would you most like to possess? The ability to master other languages (which would have hugely enhanced the scope of these answers).
How would you like to die? Fully conscious, and either fighting or reciting (or fooling around).
What do you most dislike about your appearance? The way in which it makes former admirers search for neutral words.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“I am sometimes asked about the concept or definition of a 'public intellectual,' and though I find the whole idea faintly silly, I believe it should ideally mean that the person so identified is self-sustaining and autonomously financed. Susan was pre-eminently one such.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“[P]erhaps you notice how the denial is so often the preface to the justification.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“An old joke has an Oxford professor meeting an American former graduate student and asking him what he's working on these days. 'My thesis is on the survival of the class system in the United States.' 'Oh really, that's interesting: one didn't think there was a class system in the United States.' 'Nobody does. That's how it survives.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“When the late Pope John Paul II decided to place the woman so strangely known as “Mother” Teresa on the fast track for beatification, and thus to qualify her for eventual sainthood, the Vatican felt obliged to solicit my testimony and I thus spent several hours in a closed hearing room with a priest, a deacon, and a monsignor, no doubt making their day as I told off, as from a rosary, the frightful faults and crimes of the departed fanatic. In the course of this, I discovered that the pope during his tenure had surreptitiously abolished the famous office of “Devil’s Advocate,” in order to fast‐track still more of his many candidates for canonization. I can thus claim to be the only living person to have represented the Devil pro bono.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Never ask while you are doing it if what you are doing is fun. Don't introduce even your most reliably witty acquaintance as someone who will set the table on a roar.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Martin is your best friend, isn't he?' a sweet and well-intentioned girl once said when both of us were present: it was the only time I ever felt awkward about this precious idea, which seemed somehow to risk diminishment if it were uttered aloud.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“If you were offered the chance to live your own life again, would you seize the opportunity? The only real philosophical answer is automatically self-contradictory: 'Only if I did not know that I was doing so.' To go through the entire experience once more would be banal and Sisyphean—even if it did build muscle—whereas to wish to be young again and to have the benefit of one's learned and acquired existence is not at all to wish for a repeat performance, or a Groundhog Day. And the mind ought to, but cannot, set some limits to wish-thinking. All right, same me but with more money, an even sturdier penis, slightly different parents, a briefer latency period… the thing is absurd. I seriously would like to know what it was to be a woman, but like blind Tiresias would also want the option of re-metamorphosing if I wished. How terrible it is that we have so many more desires than opportunities.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“One also, in our milieu, simply didn't meet enough Americans to form an opinion. And when one did—this was in the days of crew-cuts and short-legged pants—they, too, often really did sport crew-cuts and trousers that mysteriously ended several inches short of the instep. Why was that? It obviously wasn't poverty. A colleague of my father's had a daughter who got herself married and found that an American friend she had met on holiday had offered to pay the whole cost of the nuptial feast. I forget the name of this paladin, but he had a crew-cut and amputated trouser-bottoms and a cigar stub and he came from a place called Yonkers, which seemed to me a ridiculous name to give to a suburb. (I, who had survived Crapstone… ) Anyway, once again one received a Henry Jamesian impression of brash generosity without overmuch refinement. There was a boy at my boarding school called Warren Powers Laird Myers, the son of an officer stationed at one of the many U.S. Air Force bases in Cambridgeshire. Trousers at The Leys School were uniform and regulation, but he still managed to show a bit of shin and to buzz-cut his hair. 'I am not a Yankee,' he informed me (he was from Norfolk, Virginia). 'I am a CON-federate.' From what I was then gleaning of the news from Dixie, this was unpromising. In our ranks we also had Jamie Auchincloss, a sprig of the Kennedy-Bouvier family that was then occupying the White House. His trousers managed to avoid covering his ankles also, though the fact that he shared a parent with Jackie Kennedy meant that anything he did was accepted as fashionable by definition. The pants of a man I'll call Mr. 'Miller,' a visiting American master who skillfully introduced me to J.D. Salinger, were also falling short of their mark. Mr. Miller's great teacher-feature was that he saw sexual imagery absolutely everywhere and was slightly too fond of pointing it out [...]. Meanwhile, and as I mentioned much earlier, the dominant images projected from the United States were of the attack-dog-and-firehose kind, with swag-bellied cops lying about themselves and the political succession changed as much by bullets as by ballots.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“I was near-delirious. Gazing up at the pillared skyline, I knew that I was surveying a tremendous work of man. Buying myself a drink in the smaller warrens below, in all their ethnic variety (and willingness to keep odd and late hours, and provide plentiful ice cubes, and free matchbooks in contrast to English parsimony in these matters), I felt the same thing in a different way. The balance between the macro and the micro, the heroic scale and the human scale, has never since ceased to fascinate and charm me. Evelyn Waugh was in error when he said that in New York there was a neurosis in the air which the inhabitants mistook for energy. There was, rather, a tensile excitement in that air which made one think—made me think for many years—that time spent asleep in New York was somehow time wasted. Whether this thought has lengthened or shortened my life I shall never know, but it has certainly colored it.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“A little later, the Apollo mission was consummated and there were Americans on the moon. I remember distinctly looking up from the quad on what was quite a moon-flooded night, and thinking about it. They made it! The Stars and Stripes are finally flown on another orb! Also, English becomes the first and only language spoken on a neighboring rock! Who could forbear to cheer? Still, the experience was poisoned for me by having to watch Richard Nixon smirking as he babbled to the lunar-nauts by some closed-circuit link. Was even the silvery orb to be tainted by the base, earthbound reality of imperialism?”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“How is the United States at once the most conservative and commercial AND the most revolutionary society on Earth?”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Americanism in all its forms seemed to be trashy and wasteful and crude, even brutal. There was a metaphor ready to hand in my native Hampshire. Until some time after the war, the squirrels of England had been red. I can still vaguely remember these sweet Beatrix Potter–type creatures, smaller and prettier and more agile and lacking the rat-like features that disclose themselves when you get close to a gray squirrel. These latter riffraff, once imported from America by some kind of regrettable accident, had escaped from captivity and gradually massacred and driven out the more demure and refined English breed. It was said that the gray squirrels didn't fight fair and would with a raking motion of their back paws castrate the luckless red ones. Whatever the truth of that, the sighting of a native English squirrel was soon to be a rarity, confined to the north of Scotland and the Isle of Wight, and this seemed to be emblematic, for the anxious lower middle class, of a more general massification and de-gentrification and, well, Americanization of everything.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Americans. They came right out with things. Hitchens family lore related the tale of how once, when I was but a toddler, my parents were passing with me through an airport and ran into some Yanks. 'Real cute kid,' said these big and brash people without troubling to make a formal introduction. They insisted on photographing me and, before breaking off to resume their American lives, pressed into my dimpled fist a signed dollar bill in token of my cuteness. This story was often told (I expect that Yvonne and the Commander had been to an airport together perhaps three times in their lives) and always with a note of condescension. That was Americans for you: wanting to be friendly all right, but so loud, and inclined to flash the cash.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“It doesn't happen to me anymore, because a fresh generation of Africans and Asians has arisen to take over the business, but in my early years in Washington, D.C., I would often find myself in the back of a big beat-up old cab driven by an African-American veteran. I became used to the formalities of the mise-en-scène: on some hot and drowsy Dixie-like afternoon I would flag down a flaking Chevy. Behind the wheel, leaning wa-aay back and relaxed, often with a cigar stub in the corner of his mouth (and, I am not making this up, but sometimes also with a genuine porkpie hat on the back of his head) would be a grizzled man with the waist of his pants somewhere up around his armpits. I would state my desired destination. In accordance with ancient cabdriver custom, he would say nothing inresponse but simply engage the stickshift on his steering wheel and begin to cruise in a leisurely fashion. There would be a pause. Then: 'You from England?' I would always try to say something along the lines of 'Well, I'm in no position to deny it.' This occasionally got me a grin; in any case, I always knew what was coming next. 'I was there once.' 'Were you in the service?' 'I sure was.' 'Did you get to Normandy?' 'Yes, sir.' But it wasn't Normandy or combat about which they wanted to reminisce. (With real combat veterans, by the way, it almost never is.) It was England itself. 'Man did it know how to rain… and the warm beer. Nice people, though. Real nice.' I would never forget to say, as I got out and deliberately didn't overtip (that seeming a cheap thing to do), how much this effort on their part was remembered and appreciated.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“British diplomats and Anglo-American types in Washington have a near-superstitious prohibition on uttering the words 'Special Relationship' to describe relations between Britain and America, lest the specialness itself vanish like a phantom at cock-crow.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“The fragility of love is what is most at stake here—humanity's most crucial three-word avowal is often uttered only to find itself suddenly embarrassing or orphaned or isolated or ill-timed—but strangely enough it can work better as a literal or reassuring statement than a transcendent or numinous or ecstatic one.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Hardest of all, as one becomes older, is to accept that sapient remarks can be drawn from the most unwelcome or seemingly improbable sources, and that the apparently more trustworthy sources can lead one astray.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Gore Vidal, for instance, once languidly told me that one should never miss a chance either to have sex or to appear on television. My efforts to live up to this maxim have mainly resulted in my passing many unglamorous hours on off-peak cable TV. It was actually Vidal's great foe William F. Buckley who launched my part-time television career, by inviting me on to Firing Line when I was still quite young, and giving me one of the American Right's less towering intellects as my foil. The response to the show made my day, and then my week. Yet almost every time I go to a TV studio, I feel faintly guilty. This is pre-eminently the 'soft' world of dream and illusion and 'perception': it has only a surrogate relationship to the 'hard' world of printed words and written-down concepts to which I've tried to dedicate my life, and that surrogate relationship, while it, too, may be 'verbal,' consists of being glib rather than fluent, fast rather than quick, sharp rather than pointed. It means reveling in the fact that I have a meretricious, want-it-both-ways side. My only excuse is to say that at least I do not pretend that this is not so.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Every November of my boyhood, we put on red poppies and attended highly patriotic services in remembrance of those who had 'given' their lives. But on what assurance did we know that these gifts had really been made? Only the survivors—the living—could attest to it. In order to know that a person had truly laid down his life for his friends, or comrades, one would have to hear it from his own lips, or at least have heard it promised in advance. And that presented another difficulty. Many brave and now dead soldiers had nonetheless been conscripts. The known martyrs—those who actually, voluntarily sought death and rejoiced in the fact—had been the kamikaze pilots, immolating themselves to propitiate a 'divine' emperor who looked (as Orwell once phrased it) like a monkey on a stick. Their Christian predecessors had endured torture and death (as well as inflicted it) in order to set up a theocracy. Their modern equivalents would be the suicide murderers, who mostly have the same aim in mind. About people who set out to lose their lives, then, there seems to hang an air of fanaticism: a gigantic sense of self-importance unattractively fused with a masochistic tendency to self-abnegation. Not wholesome.

The better and more realistic test would therefore seem to be: In what cause, or on what principle, would you risk your life?”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“In Sarajevo in 1992, while being shown around the starved, bombarded city by the incomparable John Burns, I experienced four near misses in all, three of them in the course of one day. I certainly thought that the Bosnian cause was worth fighting for and worth defending, but I could not take myself seriously enough to imagine that my own demise would have forwarded the cause. (I also discovered that a famous jaunty Churchillism had its limits: the old war-lover wrote in one of his more youthful reminiscences that there is nothing so exhilarating as being shot at without result. In my case, the experience of a whirring, whizzing horror just missing my ear was indeed briefly exciting, but on reflection made me want above all to get to the airport. Catching the plane out with a whole skin is the best part by far.) Or suppose I had been hit by that mortar that burst with an awful shriek so near to me, and turned into a Catherine wheel of body-parts and (even worse) body-ingredients? Once again, I was moved above all not by the thought that my death would 'count,' but that it would not count in the least.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“[I]n a place with absolutely no private or personal life, with the incessant worship of a mediocre career-sadist as the only culture, where all citizens are the permanent property of the state, the highest form of pointlessness has been achieved.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“I was taken to a villa to meet Sabri al-Banna, known as 'Abu Nidal' ('father of struggle'), who was at the time emerging as one of Yasser Arafat's main enemies. The meeting began inauspiciously when Abu Nidal asked me if I would like to be trained in one of his camps. No thanks, I explained. From this awkward beginning there was a further decline. I was then asked if I knew Said Hammami, the envoy of the PLO in London. I did in fact know him. He was a brave and decent man, who in a series of articles in the London Times had floated the first-ever trial balloon for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine. 'Well tell him he is a traitor,' barked my host. 'And tell him we have only one way with those who betray us.' The rest of the interview passed as so many Middle Eastern interviews do: too many small cups of coffee served with too much fuss; too many unemployed heavies standing about with nothing to do and nobody to do it with; too much ugly furniture, too many too-bright electric lights; and much too much faux bonhomie. The only political fact I could winnow, from Abu Nidal's vainglorious claims to control X number of 'fighters' in Y number of countries, was that he admired the People's Republic of China for not recognizing the State of Israel. I forget how I got out of his office.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“I got hold of a copy of the video that showed how Saddam Hussein had actually confirmed himself in power. This snuff-movie opens with a plenary session of the Ba'ath Party central committee: perhaps a hundred men. Suddenly the doors are locked and Saddam, in the chair, announces a special session. Into the room is dragged an obviously broken man, who begins to emit a robotic confession of treason and subversion, that he sobs has been instigated by Syrian and other agents. As the (literally) extorted confession unfolds, names begin to be named. Once a fellow-conspirator is identified, guards come to his seat and haul him from the room. The reclining Saddam, meanwhile, lights a large cigar and contentedly scans his dossiers. The sickness of fear in the room is such that men begin to crack up and weep, rising to their feet to shout hysterical praise, even love, for the leader. Inexorably, though, the cull continues, and faces and bodies go slack as their owners are pinioned and led away. When it is over, about half the committee members are left, moaning with relief and heaving with ardent love for the boss. (In an accompanying sequel, which I have not seen, they were apparently required to go into the yard outside and shoot the other half, thus sealing the pact with Saddam. I am not sure that even Beria or Himmler would have had the nerve and ingenuity and cruelty to come up with that.)”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“So, whenever the subject of Iraq came up, as it did keep on doing through the Clinton years, I had no excuse for not knowing the following things: I knew that its one-party, one-leader state machine was modeled on the precedents of both National Socialism and Stalinism, to say nothing of Al Capone. I knew that its police force was searching for psychopathic killers and sadistic serial murderers, not in order to arrest them but to employ them. I knew that its vast patrimony of oil wealth, far from being 'nationalized,' had been privatized for the use of one family, and was being squandered on hideous ostentation at home and militarism abroad. (Post-Kuwait inspections by the United Nations had uncovered a huge nuclear-reactor site that had not even been known about by the international community.) I had seen with my own eyes the evidence of a serious breach of the Genocide Convention on Iraqi soil, and I had also seen with my own eyes the evidence that it had been carried out in part with the use of weapons of mass destruction. I was, if you like, the prisoner of this knowledge. I certainly did not have the option of un-knowing it.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher Hitchens
“Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing. The only worthwhile miracle in the New Testament—the transmutation of water into wine during the wedding at Cana—is a tribute to the persistence of Hellenism in an otherwise austere Judaea. The same applies to the seder at Passover, which is obviously modeled on the Platonic symposium: questions are asked (especially of the young) while wine is circulated. No better form of sodality has ever been devised: at Oxford one was positively expected to take wine during tutorials. The tongue must be untied. It's not a coincidence that Omar Khayyam, rebuking and ridiculing the stone-faced Iranian mullahs of his time, pointed to the value of the grape as a mockery of their joyless and sterile regime. Visiting today's Iran, I was delighted to find that citizens made a point of defying the clerical ban on booze, keeping it in their homes for visitors even if they didn't particularly take to it themselves, and bootlegging it with great brio and ingenuity. These small revolutions affirm the human.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir


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