Hitchens at War
9:00 AM, Dec 17, 2011 • By AARON MACLEAN
If one wanted to be unkind to Hitchens, a claim could be made that, as a natural belligerent and contrarian, he was in the end drawn naturally to soldiers, whose aggressiveness and courage he admired. Less generous formulations of this argument can be encountered among his critics, but all versions of it are essentially false. It wasn’t so much the fighting which was the point, as the fact that there was so much for a free man—if he wanted to deserve the name—to fight against. If -others were unwilling to challenge the slavemasters of the world; well, then, as with Orwell before him, the willing slaves could come in for some rough treatment, too.
I remember that at our first meeting, a lunch in Dupont Circle shared while I was still a student, an old man came over to our table and hoarsely exclaimed the motto of the Greek Cypriot struggle: “eleftheria i thanatos”—freedom or death. (It isn’t every day . . . ) In the end, Hitchens went to war with death itself. Not just by means of his treatment—a delaying action which was destined to fail in the end—but, characteristically, by going to war in print with the sentimentality and dishonest fluff that attaches to the fact of death. Practicing his craft in a condition in which most of us would be content merely to continue breathing, he went on shattering icons and offending pieties even from his hospital room: a free man, telling the truth about one final tyrant.