Review of Christopher Hitchens' Memoir, Hitch 22

There's an old saying, probably accredited to Winston Churchill.

"If you're not a liberal when you're young, you have no heart. If you're still a liberal when you're old, you have no brain."

I first heard this from my dad, who I know for a fact was not trying to be condescending. That said, I imagine it's hard not to feel belittled when you hear this at any point during college.

Even when I saw it coming true during my late 20's, I always hated the phrase--despite (or maybe because of) its accuracy.

That all changed after Hitch 22.

The title itself refers to Hitchens' conundra as a proud left-winger and former communist revolutionary, being forced by his morals--and simply having seen too much--to endorse a war nearly unanimously condemned by people who aren't wealthy old war profiteers or other types of Republican Party line-toeers.


If you're going to get involved with Hitch 22, do yourself a favor and make it an audiobook. I'm not sure I would have finished it were it not read aloud to me by a mahogany British croon of the most stylish intellectual of the last century.1 This is almost a prohibitively intelligent text. You have to be much smarter than me to follow the entire thing, and--for certain stretches--twice as smart to care.

Like an after-last-call sunrise session with an old-timer who's had a legendary "paper route" (so to speak) it meanders and over-presumes the working knowledge of its readers with regards to Iraq and other clusterfucks. Hitch doesn't delve into his war stories with the self-aggrandizing history-nerd-porn he could stylishly and justifiably wield. In a painfully gentlemanly manner, he smudges over the bad-assery of his travels and seems only to mention--as if reluctantly--those expeditions into the shit which help him reiterate his various assertions and their rationale.

With the notable exception of helping hide Salman Rushdie in his basement and a few literary feuds with Noam Chomsky, there wasn't a glut of rote name-dropping towards tabloid intellectuals for Cliff Notes philosophy students like myself. Critics might disagree, but with every historical name tangentially dropped, you're left wanting a lot more. Bill Clinton eating pot brownies at a party at Cambridge? What's the rest of THAT story? 

It's really impressive, though, that a man obviously trying to protect his legacy is more interested in proving his moral and intellectual cogitations--or, in a few scarce cases, recanting them--than immortalizing his larger-than-life take-downs of Mother Theresa, Bill Clinton, God, and totalitarianism in all its forms.

If there was one take-away that really stuck with me, and which I suspect will stick with you, it was in a section towards the end in which he talks about the effect he had on the life and death of a young American soldier named Mark Jennings Daily. Daily had been inspired to enlist in the armed services by one of Hitchens' published articles in support of the war. (I was getting ready to "rip" the audio and post it with a "please do not sue" plea on YouTube, but much to my delight, someone had beaten me to it.)

Here it is. The pertinent selection is the first fifteen minutes or so. If you've been looking for a good cry or haven't felt particularly patriotic in a while (I mean genuine, authentic love of homeland, not that flag-wavy sports-arena bullshit) (no offense) then plug in some ear-buds and check this out.

For whatever it's worth, I followed up this memoir with a hefty scouring of the internet for Hitchens debates pertinent to the two gulf wars, and as much as this violates my previous worldview--and as badly as the situation was mismanaged--I can no longer say it was an unjustified war.

Hitch 22 has been a stumble off the wagon for my unsustainable catharsis addiction. But even when it's too smart for me to follow entirely, it's a huge refresher that there's so much more out there than I can even imagine.

1 Research pending.

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