Remembering Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011
The death of Christopher Hitchens on Thursday night, of complications from esophageal cancer at the age of 62, ended one of the greater intellectual careers of the last 40 years. Born in Portsmouth, England, and educated at Balliol College, Oxford, Hitchens started his career as a Trotskyite at The New Statesman, working along with noted authors, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, who would become his lifelong friends. In the early 1980s, he moved to the United States, becoming a citizen in 2007, and began working for liberal magazine The Nation, writing some of his earliest attacks on the conservative government and American foreign policy.
A prolific author, Hitchens left behind a massive body of critical writing, with more than a dozen books and hundreds of essays targeting everyone from the British Monarchy to Bill Clinton to George Orwell to God, usually with wit and more often than not, vicious and cutting remarks. Even those who hated his politics could not help but admire his skill as a writer and ability to craft a sharp turn of phrase, and many called him a friend.
Perhaps his most famous book was The Missionary Position, a scathing attack on Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity church, an organization that he called a cult. Hitchens described Mother Teresa as a “fraud” and accused her of glorifying poverty to enrich herself and the Catholic church, rather than truly helping the poor. The book infuriated Roman Catholics around the world, as well as politicians and celebrities who he claimed had used the charity and her reputation to mask their own evil deeds.
A later work, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, accused the former Secretary of State of “war crimes,” and argued that Kissinger should be prosecuted for “crimes against humanity, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture” for his involvement in atrocities in Southeast Asia and Central America. As a critic of the Bush administration’s use of torture, Hitchens filmed himself being waterboarded to demonstrate the cruelty of the practice. Hitchens claimed that, “The official lie about this treatment … is that it ‘simulates’ the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning.”
Hitchens had an enviable career arc that began with his own brand of fiery journalism at Britain’s New Statesman and then made its way to America, where he wrote for everyone from The Atlantic and Harper’s to Slate and The New York Times Book Review. He was a legend on the speakers’ circuit, could debate just about anyone on anything and won innumerable awards.
Christopher Hitchens was a wit, a charmer, a troublemaker and was a gift, if it dare be said, from God.
Read much more about the life and enviable work of Christopher Hitchens in The New York Times here, in The Atlantic here and in Vanity Fair here.
The Immoral Rejoinders of Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens Gets Waterboarded
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