Love, Poverty and War

Journeys and Essays

by Christopher Hitchens

Paperback, 475 pages, Perseus Books Group, List Price: $18.95 | purchase

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Love, Poverty and War
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Journeys and Essays
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Christopher Hitchens

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Book Summary

One of the nation's great polemicists shares essays on a wide range of subjects, including President Clinton, Mother Teresa, Noam Chomsky, Mel Gibson, the Dalai Lama, and Michael Bloomberg, among others.

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Excerpt: Love, Poverty And War

Love, Poverty, and War

Journeys and Essays


NATION BOOKS

Copyright © 2004 Christopher Hitchens
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-56025-580-3

Contents

Introduction.....................................................xiI. LOVEThe Medals of His Defeats........................................3A Man of Permanent Contradictions................................29The Old Man......................................................43Huxley and Brave New World.......................................55Greeneland.......................................................69Scoop............................................................77The Man of Feeling...............................................87The Misfortune of Poetry.........................................99The Acutest Ear in Paris.........................................109Joyce in Bloom...................................................123The Immortal.....................................................131AMERICANAIt Happened on Sunset............................................143The Ballad of Route 66...........................................155The Adventures of Augie March....................................179Rebel Ghosts.....................................................191America's Poet? Bob Dylan's Achievement..........................201I Fought the Law in Bloomberg's New York.........................211For Patriot Dreams...............................................219II. POVERTYMartha Inc.......................................................229Scenes from an Execution.........................................235In Sickness and by Stealth.......................................247The Strange Case of David Irving.................................255Why Americans Are Not Taught History.............................265A Hundred Years of Muggery.......................................279Unfairenheit 9/11: The Lies of Michael Moore.....................289Virginity Regained...............................................301The Divine One...................................................305The Devil and Mother Teresa......................................309Blessed Are the Phrasemakers.....................................319Jewish Power, Jewish Peril.......................................323The Future of an Illusion........................................333The Gospel According to Mel......................................339III. WARBefore SeptemberThe Struggle of the Kurds........................................351Thunder in the Black Mountains...................................365Visit to a Small Planet..........................................373Havana Can Wait..................................................387The Clinton-Douglas Debates......................................397After SeptemberWe're Still Standing.............................................403The Morning After................................................407Against Rationalization..........................................411Of Sin, the Left, & Islamic Fascism..............................415A Rejoinder to Noam Chomsky......................................421Blaming bin Laden First..........................................429The Ends of War..................................................433Pakistan: On the Frontier of Apocalypse..........................437Saddam's Long Good-bye...........................................451A Liberating Experience..........................................463

Chapter One

The Medals of His Defeats

In the fateful spring and early summer of 1940 the people of Britain clustered around their wireless sets to hear defiant and uplifting oratory from their new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. On May 13, having just assumed the burden of office from a weak and cowardly Neville Chamberlain, Churchill promised a regime of "blood, toil, tears and sweat." On June 4, after the evacuation of the defeated British army from Dunkirk, he pledged, "We shall fight on the beaches." On June 18 he proclaimed that even if the British Empire were to last for a thousand years, this would be remembered as its "finest hour." Over the course of the ensuing months Britain alone defied the vast conquering appetites of Hitlerism and, though greatly outclassed in the air, repelled the Luftwaffe's assault with a handful of gallant fighter pilots. This chivalric engagement-"The Battle of Britain"-thwarted Nazi schemes for an invasion of the island fortress and was thus a hinge event in the great global conflict we now call World War II.

The foregoing paragraph could appear without much challenge in almost any English or American newspaper or magazine, and versions of it have recently seen print in the reviews of Churchill: A Biography, by the British Liberal statesman Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. One might, however, call attention to some later adjustments to this familiar picture.

The three crucial broadcasts were made not by Churchill but by an actor hired to impersonate him. Norman Shelley, who played Winnie-the-Pooh for the BBC's Children's Hour, ventriloquized Churchill for history and fooled millions of listeners. Perhaps Churchill was too much incapacitated by drink to deliver the speeches himself.

Britain stood alone only if the military and economic support of Canada, Australia, South Africa, India, and the rest of a gigantic empire is omitted. As late as October of 1940, furthermore, the Greeks were continuing to resist on mainland Europe and had inflicted a serious military defeat on Mussolini. Moreover, the attitude of the United States, however ostensibly neutral, was at no time neutralist as between a British versus a German victory.

The Royal Air Force was never seriously inferior, in either men or machines, to Hermann Göring's Luftwaffe, and at times outgunned it. British pilots were mainly fighting over home territory and, unlike their German opponents, could return straight to duty if they parachuted down. The RAF had the advantage of radar and the further advantage of a key to the Nazi codes. The Royal Navy was by any measure the superior of the Kriegsmarine, and Nazi surface vessels never left port without exposing themselves to extreme hazard.

The German High Command never got beyond the drawing-board stage of any plan for the invasion of Britain, and the Führer himself was the source of the many postponements and the eventual abandonment of the idea.

A close reading of the increasingly voluminous revisionist literature discloses many further examples of events that one thinks cannot really be true, or cannot be true if the quasi-official or consecrated narrative is to remain regnant. Against which nation was the first British naval attack directed? (Against a non-mobilized French fleet, moored in the ports of North Africa, with the loss of hundreds of French lives.) Which post-1940 air force was the first to bomb civilians, and in whose capital city? (The RAF, striking the suburbs of Berlin.) Which belligerent nation was the first to violate the neutrality of Europe's noncombatant nations? (The British, by a military occupation of Norway.) But these details, not unlike the navels and genitalia in devotional painting, are figleafed in denial. They cannot exactly be omitted from the broader picture, nor can they be permitted any profane influence on its sanctity. Meanwhile, who made the following broadcast speech to the British people in 1940?

We are a solid and united nation which would rather go down to ruin than admit the domination of the Nazis ... If the enemy does try to invade this country we will fight him in the air and on the sea; we will fight him on the beaches with every weapon we have. He may manage here and there to make a breakthrough: if he does we will fight him on every road, in every village, and in every house, until he or we are utterly destroyed.

That was Neville Chamberlain, who (albeit in his rather reedy tones) delivered the speech himself. And how many casualties did the RAF suffer during the entire Battle of Britain? A total of 443 pilots, according to official sources cited in Richard Overy's cool and meticulous revisiting of the story.

I was brought up on the cult of Winston Churchill. In the declining post-imperial 1950s and 1960s the Homeric story of 1940, and of its bulldog-visaged protagonist, was at once a consolation for many disappointments and an assurance of Britain's continued value to the world. Even then it was sometimes difficult to swallow Churchill whole, as it were. A sort of alternate bookkeeping was undertaken, whereby the huge deficits of his grand story (Gallipoli, the calamitous return to the gold standard, his ruling-class thuggery against the labor movement, his diehard imperialism over India, and his pre-war sympathy for fascism) were kept in a separate column that was sharply ruled off from "The Valiant Years." But even the many defeats and fiascoes and dishonors added in some numinous way to his stature. Here was a man who had taken part in a Victorian cavalry charge at Omdurman, in the Sudan, to avenge the slaying of General Gordon by a messianic mullah, and who had lived to help evolve the design and first use of thermonuclear weaponry. He was not a figure in history so much as a figure of history. (Invited by Adlai Stevenson to contribute something to the English-Speaking Union, he gruffly replied, "I am an English-speaking union." In anyone else this would have been solipsism, rather than charm commingled with truth.) And because in 1946 he had effectively founded the Anglo-American "special relationship" in its cold war form, at Fulton, Missouri, his enormous specter seemed to guarantee Britain a continued role as a junior superpower, or at least as a superpower's preferred junior.

In the early 1970s I was working at The New Statesman, in London, very near the Public Record Office, when a fresh tranche of Churchill's wartime papers was released. These covered the discussions between Churchill ("Premier," as the official papers called him) and Stalin about the future of postwar Eastern Europe. It was already known that Churchill had proposed, on the back of an envelope, a deal with Stalin for 90 percent British control of Greece in exchange for an equivalent communization of the Balkans. But it was not quite clear whether he had also deliberately traded Poland into Stalin's "sphere of influence." The matter had moral as well as historical importance, since it was in defense of Poland that Britain had finally declared war on Hitler, in September of 1939. A. J. P. Taylor prompted me to examine the documents, but the authorities informed me that the entries for Anglo-Soviet discussion of wartime Polish policy had been unaccountably mislaid. That sort of thing happens a lot in a state with an Official Secrets Act, but this was flagrant; and Poland had recently begun to stir and shift again as an actor for itself in European politics. "They always say that when it's important," Taylor told me about the "loss" of the critical records. I briefly considered titling my New Statesman article "The Churchill-Stalin Pact" but swiftly appreciated that this would make me look like a crank. There was no Churchill-Stalin Pact. There could not have been a Churchill-Stalin Pact. The necessary three words could not be brought into apposition. Heroic and improvised pragmatism-yes. Degraded and cynical statecraft? Not yet thinkable.

The Churchill cult in England, however, is mild and reflective in comparison with the Churchill cult in the United States. (I don't think any British school would be so artless as to emulate the Winston Churchill High School in the upscale D.C. suburb of Potomac, Maryland, which has a yearbook titled Finest Hours.) The aftermath of September 11 only reinforced a series of tropes that were already familiar to students of ready-made political rhetoric. "We will not waver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail," President Bush proclaimed as the bombing of Afghanistan began. "We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire," Churchill said-somewhat more euphoniously-sixty years before. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has outdone even his Churchill-obsessed predecessor Caspar Weinberger, announcing to the staff of the Pentagon on September 12, "At the height of peril to his own nation, Winston Churchill spoke of their finest hour. Yesterday, America and the cause of human freedom came under attack." Only a week earlier, this time speaking in favor of a missile-defense system, Rumsfeld had informed a Senate committee, "Winston Churchill once said, 'I hope I shall never see the day when the forces of right are deprived of the right of force.'" On September 25, asked whether the Defense Department would be authorized to deceive the press in prosecuting the war, he unhesitatingly responded, "This conjures up Winston Churchill's famous phrase when he said ... sometimes the truth is so precious it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies." Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, later to be described as an American Churchill, laid the groundwork for his own plaudits by announcing, just after the aggression of September 11 against his city, that he was reading a book about Churchill's wartime premiership "and nothing is more inspirational than the speeches and reflections of Winston Churchill about how to deal with that." Ronald Reagan hung a portrait of Churchill in the Situation Room of the White House soon after taking power; the first President Bush allowed Jack Kemp to compare him to Churchill during the Gulf War; the second President Bush asked the British embassy in Washington to help furnish him with a bronze bust of Churchill, which now holds pride of place in the Oval Office. The legacy-obsessed Bill Clinton can only whimper at the lack of Churchillian analogy to his own tenure, but the rest of us might wish that if the United States is going to stand for something, it (or its overpaid speechwriting class) would try to come up with some mobilizing rhetoric of its own.

This prevailing line, which teeters between grandeur and kitsch, is followed with reasonable fidelity by American historians and commentators. A few weeks before September 11 a fairly banal development earned a front-page story and an editorial in the New York Times. It became known that William Manchester, debilitated by two strokes, would not be completing his trilogy on the life of Churchill. This trilogy, generically titled The Last Lion, had run to two volumes, Visions of Glory and Alone. If these titles are insufficient to convey the flavor, one might cite, as did the New York Times in its editorial, the closing staves of the second and now-to-be final book: "And now, in the desperate spring of 1940, with the reins of power at last firm in his grasp, he resolved to lead Britain and her fading empire in one last great struggle worthy of all they had been and meant, to arm the nation, not only with weapons but also with the mace of honor, creating in every English breast a soul beneath the ribs of death."

Never in the field of human biography can metaphor have been more epically mixed. Yet the New York Times regarded the lack of a sequel as a cultural event worthy of reverent coverage and a deferential editorial. The latter, unsigned, described the incomplete work as leaving "Churchill somehow suspended, poised in the midst of a great arc whose outcome we know but whose details we would like to savor over again in Mr. Manchester's words." Or, to put it another way, there can never be too much reinforcement of a familiar and useful morality tale. In the quite recent past at least two books have been published to general acclaim-Churchill: A Study in Greatness, by Geoffrey Best, and Five Days in London, May 1940, by John Lukacs, which assist in this ramming home of an already near unassailable myth. And these, together with Lord Jenkins's tome, only continue a process begun by Churchill himself when he annexed the papers of his time in office to write his own version of events. He could emerge as a historic figure-as he put it in one of his many and likeable moments of self-deprecation-by making sure of writing the history himself. The names of his early research assistants and drafters-Alan Bullock, F. W. Deakin-are testimony in themselves to what might fairly be called a conscription of the historians' professional mainstream. Yet upon reflection one might perhaps decide that the term "conscription" is unfair. "Churchill the historian," said the late Sir J. H. Plumb, "lies at the very heart of all historiography of the Second World War and will always remain there." Donald Cameron Watt commented dryly seven years later, in 1976, "For the bulk of the historical profession in America, Sir Winston Churchill's view of British policy before 1939 has hardly required a moment's critical examination." It would be no insult, then, to describe certain authors not as conscripts hut as volunteers.

Manchester's series proposed itself modestly as only the condensed (or large-print) version of the ur-text of approved Churchilliana: the eight-volume official biography, by Sir Martin Gilbert, the doyen of Churchill historians. Unlike the grave and measured work of which it is the flickering Platonic shadow, Manchester's unfinished labor is overwrought in the sentimental, para-historical Camelot style that its author helped to originate. Once again, action is judged by reputation rather than reputation by action. In an extraordinary gesture Manchester rendered Churchill's wartime speeches as blank verse, with carefully incised line breaks and verse settings. This was to make explicit what had been latent heretofore, and it was also to pay Churchill the compliment he would probably have most valued and desired. (Remember that he received his 1953 Nobel Prize for literature.) In the English-speaking world, at any rate, his lapidary phrases and rolling flourishes have achieved the familiarity and renown enjoyed by some passages of the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the "kingship" plays of William Shakespeare.

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