Stephen Kahn

The whistle of bullets

In Bad news on September 6, 2011 at 4:46 am

At present I am reading quite a bit of Christopher Hitchens. I find some differences and some similarities between us. We are about the same age, so we are both contemplating our mortality. He has cancer of the esophagus, which may be a result of some hard drinking and hard smoking, or may be just bad luck of the draw. I am sore here and there, and my pulse is too slow, according to a couple of doctors, but I quite possibly may live for a few more years.

One difference is that Hitchens is about 10,000 smarter than I am, and about 10,000 times better informed on a variety of topics, and is at least a 100,000 times a better writer than I am, and probably has about 10,000,000 more readers, which is only appropriate.

One similarity is that we have both decided at an early age that we are not religious believers (so my religious readers may want to depart at this point). Another is that we have both mused on politics and on right and wrong, and have struggled with and bounced around such matters.

Although there are many other works I could refer to/quote, I will quote a bit from a chapter titled “Mesopotamia from Both Sides” starting on page 296 of his memoir Hitch-22.

Iraq and Saddam Hussein is probably old news at this point, but I think the following is still relevant.

“Other things—Bosnia, Rwanda—emerged to trouble the sleep of those who cared about human rights. But what I had learned in Iraq was working somewhere in my mind. I got hold of a copy of the video that showed how Saddam Hussein had actually confirmed himself in power. This snuff-movie opens with a plenary session of the Ba’ath Party central committee: perhaps a hundred men. Suddenly the doors are locked and Saddam, in the chair, announces a special session. Inside the room is dragged an obviously broken man, who begins to emit a robotic confession of treason and subversion, that he sobs has been instigated by Syrian and other agents. [I am omitting details of culling and killing by Saddam, eventually ending with the death of half the people on the committee in that room.]…I am not sure that even Beria or Himmler would have the nerve and ingenuity and cruelty to come up with that…”

Hitchens then discusses in bloody and horrible detail what he found out about Hussein and Iraq that led him to support the invasion of Iraq. As a very sad postscript to this chapter he tells the tale of Mark Daily, an idealistic American soldier, inspired in part by Hitchens’ writing, who died in Iraq, probably saving the lives of other American soldiers when he took the lead of a convoy (after noticing that the lead vehicle was not properly armored) and was then killed by an IED that blew up directly under his vehicle where no amount of armor could have protected him.

Neither Hitchens nor I have gone to war, though Hitchens in his travels has had a few close calls and a few bullets come close to his head. [I have had a few close calls, also, and at least one bullet coming close to my head, though that was from a careless deer hunter. Still a bullet in the head is a bullet in the head, whether it comes from a mad religious fanatic sociopath soldier or from a careless hunter.

  1. So Hitchens may have you on a few fronts, but I am absolutely convinved that you write better humor than he does! Don’t sell yourself short. Though I won’t argue the part about your fan base…Where is everybody?

  2. Pete, as always, thank you for commenting.

    We have a lot of eagles, hawks, coyotes, and especially owls in the woods near our house. Just the other day, a great horned owl caught a squirrel one day just in front of our house. The next day, it caught a rabbit in about the same spot. I suspect that they were fans of my blog. So to answer your question–“Where is everybody?”–the answer is: they are either in the grip of a great horned owl or hiding from a great horned owl. Best you be careful, also, especially if you hear great wings beating just above your head.

    It is interesting to me also that Christopher Hitchens has a brother, Peter. As with Christopher, Peter is very intelligent, and the author of several books, and has bounced around in his religious and political beliefs. As far as I can tell, they are on good terms with each other personally, but Peter has become a steadfast religious believer, and has written a book, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. In a sense (I have not read it, but looked at a few Amazon reviews), it seems to be Peter’s answer to Christopher’s God is Not Great..

    So in a sense, the Hitchens family seems to recapitulate (though at a much higher level of discourse) all of Worldmagblog’s discussions, just with these two brothers.

  3. I really was annoyed with Hitchens during the Iraq war, as I thought he slipped into dishonesty about the facts to support his desire to overthrow Hussein. As to religion — I share the view that organized religions are simply not credible. But I’m not against them to the extent Hitchens is. I think there is a spiritual part of life and so far most humans seem to need a religion to get them to connect to that. So I try to respect those who focus on belief as filling that non-material aspect of life; I see raw materialism as a belief system too — we don’t know, so any strongly held view of the world is taken on a modicum of faith. But I think organized religion is too easily abused and used to manipulate, and it also is caught up with old customs and morals that don’t translate well into modernity. So I prefer to explore the non-material side of life via philosophy, reflection, and playful speculation.

  4. Hitchen’s is a supporter of terrorism. Thousands of Iraqi children now have cancers and leukemia’s as a result of the chemical weapons that he supported the use of in the illegal invasion, destruction, and democide of Iraq. I have no sympathy for him despite the tragic illness he is suffering from. Obviously I will never be happy to hear that any human has to suffer cancer, but the evidence is abundant that he did share that concern when arguing the case for polluting a once magnificent, now destroyed country, and the millions and millions of good innocent people.


  5. ..did [not] share that concern*

  6. Thank you for your comments. The issue is a very difficult one. Imagine the following scenario. A group of crazed madmen is holding a group of hostages in a stadium. They are going to kill at least one hostage every 15 minutes unless their demands are met. A team of sharpshooters are aiming at the terrorists from a distance. If they start shooting, probably some of the hostages will be killed. If they don’t start shooting, probably some of the hostages will be killed. I am not going to defend Hitchens (who is perfectly capable of defending himself), nor am I going to attack him. Over the last year, and continuing at the present time, we have had difficult situations in areas such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and currently Syria. It is very likely that the Syrian people would benefit if the Assad family were removed from power in Syria. It is unlikely that the Assad family can be removed without the deaths of many Syrian people. Many Syrian people have died already. What a mess.

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