Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

Christopher Hitchens

My column last week was about how difficult we Americans find it to wait for what comes next, and how offensive both left and right commentators sound at this time. Their knee-jerk responses to this tragedy seem nothing short of indecent to me. While making my list of offenders, I read a letter by Professor Richard Wolin of the City University of New York, attacking an article by Christopher Hitchens in the Guardian (London) on Sept. 13, just two days after the tragedy. Hitchens criticized the language of the administration's response to the crisis and noted that the question of "how" had muted all discussions of "why." Professor Wolin took Hitchens to task for this: "By focusing on the purportedly profound question of 'why' Tuesday's events came to pass instead of the question of 'how' (as if this 'why' is a mystery to all but the 'enlightened' Hitchens), Hitchens suggests, via insinuation and innuendo, that in essence the United States brought this attack upon itself." I immediately went to Hitchens' article in the Guardian and read it in light of Wolin's comments, and agreed. So Hitchens, along with Chomsky, ended up on my list of knee-jerk leftists. As soon as the essay appeared, Hitchens' defenders took me to task, pointing to a new essay by Hitchens on The Nation magazine's Web site. This essay, called "Against Rationalization" (slated for print Oct. 8, I guess), made a very strong case against trying to explain this tragedy with conventional arguments and minced no words in condemning the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Hitchens wrote that "... the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it." So which one was the true Hitchens? I went back to the Guardian article and decided that Wolin's analysis (which conflated some earlier Hitchens views) was off the mark. Hitchens merely pointed out that no one could even ask "why" so soon after the tragedy, though the subtext was that the "why" was being suppressed. In this light, Wolin's letter only proved Hitchens' point that all discussion of cause and effect was impossible. Hitchens himself then threw his whole lot in with the majority mood and declared himself "against rationalization." I then heard from Christopher Hitchens himself, who is someone I like very much personally and enjoy reading. We met some years ago in Chicago, right after the Berlin Wall came down, and had an interesting conversation about it at the Chicago Museum of Art. Christopher wrote: "If it is true, as I have been told, that you bracketed me with Chomsky and the other left-liberal snivelers, I have to say that I am fantastically offended and also rather shocked. How could you cite me at 180 degrees of inaccuracy?" I immediately revisited all the material and decided that I'd been hasty. Emotions do run high these days, and I let mine get away at the expense of considered attention. So I am sorry for putting you in with a bunch of knee-jerk ideologues, Christopher. Now, as to the 5,000 things you've said that I heartily disagree with, we'll leave those for a calmer time. Perhaps Isaac Balbus, author of Marxism and Domination, put it best in a letter to his friends: "If we move too quickly from the experience of the loss to a political response to it -- whether that be a right-wing jingoistic response that seeks revenge for the loss or a left-wing theoretical response that seeks to understand the reasons for the loss -- we fail to honor the thousands of people who died and the hundreds of thousands more who lost friends and loved ones. Only if we open our hearts to the full horror of the loss can we ensure that our political response to it will be leavened with love rather than hate."

Add a comment