Friday, December 16, 2011

St. Christopher's Mettle

David Frum on a great man of the middle:

If Christopher [Hitchens] quit the left...he never joined the right. Like his great hero George Orwell, he was a man whose most creative period of life was a period of constantly falling between two stools: his new hatred for George Galloway never dimmed his old animosity toward Henry Kissinger. He was for the Iraq war without ever much trusting or liking the leaders who led that war. The stock phrase of the 2000s on the right was "moral clarity." If moral clarity means hating cruelty and oppression, then Christopher Hitchens was above all things a man of moral clarity. But he was also a man of moral complexity, who would not submit to Lenin's demand that who says A must say B. Christopher was never more himself than when - after saying A - he adamantly refused to say B.

I wrote to Hitchens in June 2010, after I'd finished reading Hitch-22 and just before his cancer diagnosis. I never heard back. I'm not even sure I had the right address. Yesterday, before learning of his death, I'd been thinking of the e-mail as news came of the formal end of the U.S. war in Iraq:
Dear Mr. Hitchens:

Thank you for your wonderful memoir. I loved many things about it, but I'll confine my comments to some passages for which I was especially grateful.

As a seminarian, I preached a sermon about the Iraq war in the spring of 2003 (attached, not that you would possibly have time to read it) which, in our liberal Episcopal diocese, was viewed as bloodcurdlingly pro-war by virtue of not being antiwar. In the receiving line, a woman called me a liar for associating Saddam Hussein with Islamic totalitarianism. Since then, I've often wondered if I should've kept my intern's mouth shut, because of what our congregant said and also because of the way the war sometimes was going. Your summary of the evidence of Saddam's latter-day fundamentalism stanched one vein of second-guessing, and some patience about the ultimate outcome for the region and the people of Iraq should take care of the rest.

Thanks again.

Yours ever,

John Taylor

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