Hitchens's Pain Over Iraq

One of the darkest stains on Christopher Hitchens’s legacy is his support for the Iraq War. Andrew Sullivan, a close friend of Hitchens who also mistakenly supported the war, attended a memorial service for him and reported back:

[Martin] Amis spoke of Christopher’s private struggle with his embrace of the Iraq war. He never recanted as I did. Indeed, one of our more heated recent chats was over his enthusiasm for a new war against Iran. But the idea that he did not feel the pain of isolation, of misjudgment, that this humane man was immune to the suffering that this horrifying war entailed for so many innocents, and took no personal responsibility for it, is untrue. He told Martin that in the period when the war was at its worst, he was in a “world of pain.” Being a contrary public writer, being prepared to lose friends over principle, challenging one’s own “side”, and forever braced for battle, takes a toll. Hitch bore it with great aplomb. That does not mean he had nothing to bear.

And despite Sullivan’s Christianity, he expressed some sincere appreciation for the value of Hitchens’s attack on religion:

Of course, I do not believe Hitch has disappeared from reality. But even if he has, his example raises all our standards, and begs for us to follow him in slaying sacred cows with wit and merciless accuracy. He inspired love in so many for one reason. He was true to himself, and he loved the world. And what was so truly moving about his final years – especially in his campaign against religion – was how much, how overwhelmingly, so many who never even met him loved him, and I mean loved him, back.

Read more, including Hitchens’s last words.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Spirokeat

    I imagine he was in pain over Iraq and the multitude of wars and revolutions that he covered or studied in his life as a political journalist.

    I don’t see his support of the war as a dark stain and I suspect his mastery of history and political knowledge offered him a fairly unique insight into a situation like Iraq from which he built his views on support. It was also in almost direct opposition to his traditional leanings. I’d say thats a strength of conviction whether it was erroneus or not.

    I may not agree with him (I’m not saying I don’t either) but I respect his knowledge, opinion and strength. It outshines many of us.

    • http://www.jeremystyron.com Jeremy

      I tend to agree, Spiro. I have never heard Hitchens mention anything about WMDs as justification for the war in Iraq. Every speech or debate I have heard has focused on the ruthlessness and Saddam and his family and the totalitarian nature of the regime, which, as you say, was in lockstep with his view on religion: that if we can liberate millions someone from living under a brutal dictatorship, where there is no freedom, we should do so. Now, that said, it’s clear that Bush was completely incompetent and pushed the WMD thing on false pretenses, CIA intelligence was faulty and few, if any, knew what they were doing in trying to rebuild the nation.

  • The Vicar

    Bah, humbug.

    Hitchens’ support for the Iraq war was predicated on lies. He really bought into the idea that Osama bin Laden was buddies with Saddam Hussein, he believed that Iraq had WMDs, he believed that Iraq was a present danger to Europe, if not the U.S.. All of these not only turned out to be lies but were obviously lies at the time. He was a fool to believe these things.

    Further, and more disturbingly, Hitchens advocated war as a way of trying to dislodge Islam. Leaving aside any questions of justice, anyone with a reasonable knowledge of history knows that there are only two ways to destroy a religion by deliberate action:

    1. Tax members of that religion at a significantly higher rate than anyone else (that’s right: people’s devotions do not survive taxes)

    2. Kill absolutely everyone who even looks like they might be a member of that religion (if you let some of them live, killing a few just makes them dig in their heels)

    Now, either Hitchens didn’t know about the many examples of #2 in action (particularly the various religions which were persecuted with violence only to undergo resurgence as a result) in which case he was an incompetent moron, or else he did know, in which case he was a vile barbarian.

    In either case, the fact that he never recanted and even pushed for an extra, additional war shows that, contrary to his earlier claims, he was not actually a believer in evidence and proof.

    As an atheist, it is tempting to let this go. People want to say nice things about a famous atheist, why not let them? But right now, the same people who sold us the invasion of Iraq want to sell us a war with Iran. It is very important that they not succeed, and that means not forgetting how purely evil it was to go to Iraq in the first place.

    • Corey

      “there are only two ways to destroy a religion by deliberate action.”

      Do you have a source for that info? Has it been properly studied? Of course not– you pulled it right from your anus. In fact, the “new atheism” could be described as an attempt to deliberately destroy religion through ridicule, skepticism, and public discourse. You may not think it can work, but most of the dead gods are things that people now think are ridiculous. It is far too bullheaded to automatically presume that religion cannot be eroded in this way, given enough time and enough support.

      Hitchens never thought Iraq was a direct military threat to Europe. Wow. Humbug to you sir. You are truly full of it.

  • Stacy

    He really bought into the idea that Osama bin Laden was buddies with Saddam Hussein…he believed that Iraq was a present danger to Europe, if not the U.S.. All of these not only turned out to be lies but were obviously lies at the time.

    He did, and he never, to my knowledge, recanted any of it. He never said, “I was wrong.”* He continued to support the war with utterly unskeptical, increasingly tortured reasoning.

    So he felt bad about it all behind the scenes? Well, good. He should have. He certainly doesn’t get any brownie points for it from me.

    * He finally admitted the war was badly managed, but with his insight he should’ve seen that coming. On the contrary, he’d supported Bush.

    • ‘Tis Himself

      So he felt bad about it all behind the scenes? Well, good. He should have. He certainly doesn’t get any brownie points for it from me.

      Hear! Hear!

      It was obvious from very early on that Bush & Co. were lying about Hussein’s involvement with bin Laden and about the WMD. I suspect Hitchens was blinded by his dislike of Islam and his hatred of both Hussein and bin Laden. But even after the lies were exposed as lies, Hitchens never recanted, never admitted his error in believing the lies.

      That he was privately upset about the war and the suffering it caused earns him no brownie points from me either. He was the most visible Iraq War cheerleader from the left. He should have been equally visible admitting his mistake. He wasn’t.

  • mandrellian

    It was always baffling to me why someone as razor-sharp and insightful as Hitch would fall into neo-con lockstep and support, of all people, that fool GW Bush as he was led to Iraq by Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest of the PNAC, and lied to the planet in the process. It still baffles me that someone so deeply concerned with truth and justice would support a blatant war crime committed against a nation that had not attacked the US and did not possess any WMD (my guess is much of the Iraqi stockpile, purchased in part from Rumsfeld under Reagan, was used against Iran and the rest left to decay or be sold).

  • karla

    I never met him, but I loved him. I still do. And I miss him.

  • http://thouwinterwind.wordpress.com Winterwind

    He told Martin that in the period when the war was at its worst, he was in a “world of pain.”

    No, he wasn’t. Each Iraqi mother, father or child shot or blown to pieces was in a world of pain. Each Iraqi who survives having lost a friend or family member is in a world of pain.

    I could never “love” the Hitch. I could admire and respect his wit, eloquence and some of his arguments. But whenever he opened his mouth and said something pugnacious and stupid about women or war or wiping out other cultures, I despised him with every fibre of my being.

    • Dunc

      Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what I was going to say. “World of pain” my ass…

  • Dennis

    Many people who have nothing to loose in a war favor war as a diplomatic solution. Note, war is a failure of diplomacy, most of us understand this. I was one of the last draftees for the Vietnam war and spent 2 years in the Army but was not sent to “nam”. When I got out, I joined the Navy (my father was a senior Navy officer stationed in Japan). I was assiged to serve on the Gurke a destroyer in Japan (thanks dad). So, I went to war at the end of Vietnam, at sea. I was part of the Myuguez “rescue” and final assault by the North Vietnamese, and the Vietnamese evacuation. I personally fired 5″48 rounds at the enemy. I was an Interior Communications Electrician who shared a space with the Gunners Mates (GM) and I pulled the trigger doesens of times in combat. I was totally discconected from my target, a Gunners Mate was in the director pointing at the target, I pulled the trigger (beep beep (brige warning) Boom). The Gunners Mates joked once that they followed a “gook” riding a bycicle down a road landing rounds behind him to see how fast he could ride his bike. I hope I wasn’t part of that I wanted to kill “gooks”.

    “gooks” oops people who didn’t agree with me.

    I don’t think like that anymore

    • ‘Tis Himself

      I was also in the US Navy during the Vietnam War. However my experience was entirely different. I went into the nuclear field and spent over four years in a nuclear submarine, Gato (SSN 615), as a nuke Machinist’s Mate. I was in the Atlantic the entire time, staying well away from Vietnam. However we did have a collision with a Soviet Hotel class sub which was mildly exciting.

  • William Burns

    The fact that he never publicly expressed this regret over Iraq and that he could look at yet another war in the Middle East, this time with Iran, with “enthusiasm” makes his regret pretty meaningless, I think.


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