Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Vanity Unfair?

Probably not very original or pithy of me to refer to Christopher Hitchens’s “Unfairenheit 9/11” attack on Michael Moore as such, but in this case both words do seem highly appropriate, and anyway, you started it with the clumsy, smartarse titles Chris. For some reason I ended up flicking through Hitchens’s “Love, Poverty and War” (a pompous book title if I ever heard one) the other day, upon which I noticed the following two passages, in two separate essays. First, regarding Michael Moore and Farenheit 9/11:

“We are introduced to Iraq, “a sovereign nation”… In this peaceable kingdom, according to Moore’s flabbergasting choice of film shots, children are flying little kites, shoppers are smiling in the sunshine, and the gentle rhythms of life are undisturbed. Then – wham! From the night sky come the terror weapons of American imperialism… I don’t think Al Jazeera would, on a bad day, have transmitted anything so utterly propagandistic”.

And in a later essay on the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

“…Local people are getting used to the sight of professional young American women, white and black and Hispanic, effectively on patrol… I ran into civilian advisors who were supervising voter registration and a census, rebuilding the electrical generators that now run at close to melting-point, reopening the long-closed Iraqi National Museum and irrigating the parched and drained habitat of the southern marshes, dried out and burned by Saddam Hussein in an ecocidal attempt to punish the stubborn resistance to his awful will… driving through Baghdad one day I was amazed to come upon a demonstration against pollution sponsored by the local Green Party. Perhaps Iraq will ratify the Kyoto Treaty before the United States… Wolfowitz’s convoy was attended by swarms of waving and cheering children wherever it went, and greeted by local councils who employed the word “liberation” without affectation or embarrassment. Who knows what the mood will be like a year from now?”

Well we all know now, don’t we Chris? Paradise on earth it is not. In fact is it not rather flabbergasting that Hitchens paints such a rosy picture given the daily death toll at the time this was written (October 2003), not to mention before or since? Does anybody seriously believe that a man of Hitchens’s intelligence really considered this to be a representative image of “post-war” Iraq? Propagandistic would seem something of an understatement. I’m not denying that any of the things Hitchens mentions actually happened, neither is it inconceivable that, even under Saddam’s murderous reign, some children flew kites and shoppers smiled in the sunshine. But whereas Hitchens elsewhere in the same collection of essays rightly slates that twat David Irving for the politically motivated “errors, omissions and unsupported assertions” which led to his courtroom debacle and comprehensively proved that he is not a historian but a Nazi propagandist, Hitchens can’t seem to apply such rigorous standards to himself.

The sad truth is that Hitchens, who has in the past produced some thoroughly entertaining and often painfully accurate, bombastic journalism – for example his devastating Trial of Henry Kissinger, or on a lighter note the hilarious kicking he dished out regarding all the sentimental bullshit surrounding Princess Diana’s death – has disappeared up his own arse and fallen into the same trap as Irving. Michael Moore too undoubtedly, but at least he still has a sense of humour, whereas these days Hitchens, who snipes at Moore’s lack of gravitas (is gravitas really the point with Moore?), is all sonorous bluster, and it’s an increasingly blunt instrument. I applaud him for admitting that he made an appalling mistake by defending Saddam’s regime back in 1976, but he’s now evidently so besotted with his own image as the enfant terrible of journalism, scourge of the unthinking Left etc. etc. that a repeat of such humility vis a vis the Iraq war, no matter how disastrous its consequences, seems unthinkable. Maybe his continued support for the Iraq war, as conservative republicans desert him in their droves, has its roots largely in Kissinger’s opposition to it, but I suspect vanity also plays a large part.

The result of all this hubris is that this once fine polemicist exposes himself to humiliation by rabble rousers like the ubiquitous George Galloway, a tawdry attention seeker with only a fraction of Hitchens’s intellect and integrity, who can, now that Hitchens has become such a lugubrious, bloated beast, out-smart him in public debates by playing to the gallery. How the mighty fall. I don’t doubt Hitchens’s sincerity or even his fundamental decency, but he has, as the quotes above show, succumbed to lazy hypocrisy. The mind is a terrible thing to waste, Chris. Wake up, grow up, and say it loud: Sorry!


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