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Hitchens Backs Down

Just to remind you, before you read his letter to CounterPunch, here’s what I wrote about Christopher Hitchens in my CounterPunch Diary last weekend.

You can tell in five-minutes channel surfing how Cindy Sheehan frightens the pro-war crowd. One bereaved mom from Vacaville, camped outside Bush’s home in Crawford, reproaching the vacationing President for sending her son to a pointless death in Iraq has got the hellhounds of the right barking in venomous unison.

Christopher Hitchens attacked Cindy Sheehan, of course. Called her a LaRouchie! Why? No reason given. He obviously reckons “LaRouchie” is one of those let-her-deny-it slurs, like “anti-Semite”. Let’s suppose Hitchens was writing in similarly nasty terms about Hitchens. He’d probably remember that in 1999 Edward Jay Epstein publicly recalled a dinner in the Royalton Hotel in New York where Epstein said Hitchens had doubted the Holocaust was quite what it’s cracked up to be. In Epstein’s memory Hitchens belittled the idea that six million Jews died, said the number was much less.

So, under Hitchens’ rules of polemical engagement, was does that make Hitchens? A holocaust denier, a guy who has Faurisson and David Irving’s books under his pillow. A Jew hater, or if you believe his sudden discovery (privately denied by his own brother on at least one occasion) at a mature age that his mother was Jewish a Jewish self-hater. Of course Hitchens revels in Cindy Sheehan’s denial that she said in an email that her son died in a war for Israel. Hitchens writes that this denial makes her “a shifty fantasist”. What would Hitchens, who’s an on-the-record admirer (“a great historian”) of the work of Nazi chronicler David Irving say about Hitchens’ shifty denial of Epstein’s recollection? What fun he would have with the witnesses the panic-stricken Hitchens, well aware that “holocaust denier” is not part of the resume of a Vanity Fair columnist, hastily mustered for his defense, a woman and a man present at that famous dinner in the Royalton. One his close friend, Anna Wintour, the present editor of Vogue and the other, Brian McNally, a longtime friend and business associate.

What a truly disgusting sack of shit Hitchens is. A guy who called Sid Blumenthal one of his best friends and then tried to have him thrown into prison for perjury; a guy who waited till his friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly; a guy who knows perfectly well the role Israel plays in US policy but who does not scruple to flail Cindy Sheehan as a LaRouchie and anti-Semite because, maybe, she dared mention the word Israel. She lost a son? Hitchens (who should perhaps be careful on the topic of sending children off to die) says that’s of scant account, and no reason why we should take her seriously. Then he brays about the horrors let loose in Iraq if the troops come home, with no mention of how the invasion he worked for has already unleashed them.

Now for Hitchens’ letter, with my point-by-point comments in red.

To CounterPunch:

The last time I can remember having contact with ALEXANDER COCKBURN was a little while ago, when I wrote him a note to encourage his defiance of all those who employed the innuendo of “anti-Semite” against him. This was a slander that was often used against both of us in the days when we defended the first intifadeh in the pages of The Nation and elsewhere.

So I’m a touch alarmed to see him so much disconcerted, by the realisation that Cindy Sheehan is a flake, as to try and turn this same hose of abuse on me. But a few swift points, if I may.

Extended search in the archives elicits no trace of this supportive letter. No matter. Let’s assume Hitchens sent it. It merely highlights his hypocrisy and opportunism in trying to smear Cindy Sheehan on this very charge. And why does he write that I think Sheehan is “a flake”, when I obviously don’t?

1) Edward J. Epstein himself gave the names of Anna Wintour and Brian McNally as the only witnesses he could recall, to a statement that I never made. And indeed, they were the only other guests I could remember at a dinner-table that he attempted to crash. So their affirmative statements on my behalf seemed to decide the matter.

On this point let me express my confidence in two things: Edward Jay Epstein’s powers of recollection and the loyalty to their pal Hitchens of both Wintour and McNally. As for Hitchens’ views on the Holocaust, last week one of the most adoring of his former claque, Dennis Perrin, publicly recalled Hitchens talking to him some years ago about the Holocaust: “Take the claim that gassed Jews were turned into soap and lampshades. ‘Stalinist fiction, my dear boy,’ he said with a smile.”

2) The same allegation surfaced a few years later, in the mouth of Henry Kissinger, and it has crossed my mind that Epstein may have been the foul-mouthed whisperer in that case also. Be that as it may, anyone with the patience to visit my website can read the ensuing correspondence between my lawyers and Henry Kissinger’s lawyers. They withdrew the allegation and promised not to repeat it. Cockburn’s standards are more relaxed: any old stick will do.

There’s no need for dramatic evocation of a”foul-mouthed whisperer”. When Epstein recalled Hitchens at the Royalton questioning the Six Million Dead, it was well covered in the press. Kissinger reads newspapers, same as other people. When he smeared Hitchens as a holocaust denier Hitchens got a good libel lawyer to write a threatening letter to Kissinger’s lawyers. Kissinger’s lawyers blinked, which was lucky for Hitchens who would have faced years of discovery and sworn depositions and mountainous legal bills. Of course these days Hitchens and Kissinger are on the same side, so they should shake hands and agree to forget all past unpleasantness. As for “relaxed’ standards, let me remind Hitchens that I prefaced my remarks about him with the sentence “Let’s suppose Hitchens was writing in similarly nasty terms about Hitchens”, as he did about Cindy Sheehan. Now that he’s felt its sting, maybe he should think twice about giving others the Hitchens treatment.

3) My long account of my view of, and experience of, David Irving is to be found in my latest collection, entitled Love, Poverty and War and published by Nation Books.

Who cares about long essays? In terms of the “Hitchens treatment”, his lauding of Irving as “a great historian” is the phrase that counts.

4) My account of the sordid discoveries I made about my former friend Sidney Blumenthal was printed at tedious length in the Atlantic Monthly when his own misleading memoir was published.

Nothing was more ludicrous that Hitchens’ post hoc efforts to lend a shimmer of moral principle to the squalid business of trying to get one of his closest friends in Washington thrown into prison for perjury.

No, I take that back. There WAS something more ludicrous, namely Hitchens’ hope that Sid Blumenthal would forgive him and they could be friends again. Not long after he signed the affidavit designed to put Blumenthal behind bars, Hitchens showed up at one Georgetown party and proclaimed loudly to a reporter that Blumenthal had given him the suspicion of a nod that might well have been friendly. Of course Blumenthal thought then what he thinks now: that Hitchens was and is a grade A dirtbag.

5) So was my review of the 25th anniversary re-edition of Edward Said’s Orientalism; a review determined by the book’s date of publication and not by the rhythms of Edward’s leukaemia. I had in the preceding years published a long disagreement with him in Salmagundi – that was on the Middle East – and another in my book on George Orwell. Both of these he disliked but was cordial and gruff about. I sent him an early copy of my review of Orientalism.

No one ordered Hitchens to write about Said’s re-edition as Edward went into his final decline. It was at the time when Hitchens was burnishing his credentials as the hammer of Islam, an activity he obviously reckoned to be far more important than an old friendship.

6) I have no idea where Cockburn derives his knowledge of my brother’s opinion, and I don’t have fraternal relations as close as he does, but I could prove by the birth and marriage certificates that my brother gave me that our matrilineal side is Jewish. Why I should have to do this in an exchange with Cockburn is beyond me. My brother is a Christian fundamentalist, a supporter of “intelligent design” theory, a strong opponent of Blair and Bush in Iraq, and a member of Pat Buchanan’s editorial advisory board at the American Conservative. He is, perhaps paradoxically, a strong pro-Zionist. But possibly he doesn’t wish to be Jewish. That’s his right.

You have to run awfully fast to keep up with the memory shifts and ideological gyrations of one Hitchens brother, so maybe the other is the same way. P. Hitchens certainly did tell a friend of mine a few years ago that C. Hitchens was talking rot about their mother.

7) In a recent effusion in the Huffington Post, Cindy Sheehan repeats the lie that her letter to ABC News Nightline was doctored, and says that a colleague of hers inserted the offending words in furtherance of his own “anti-Semitic” agenda. If she regards her own words as anti-Jewish, it’s not up to me to correct her. I have not said that she is anti-Jewish, only that she shows a sinister ineptness in handling the wild idea of a PNAC/JINSA pro-Sharon secret government in the United States. All I could do – see my latest Slate column and its sidebar – was to prove that her denial of her original words was 100% false. But perhaps to a “Mom”, all things are pardonable. Cockburn wasn’t always this mushy.

Gee! Hitchens attacks Cindy Sheehan for “paranoid anti-Zionism” and makes sure he gets her name in the same paragraph as David Duke’. Then he says piously “I have not said that she is anti-Jewish”.

8) On consideration, I would take back the word “LaRouchie”, which I applied not to her but to the words she said she didn’t utter (but did). I was looking for a general phrase that united a pseudo-Left rhetoric with a rightist one. It is David Duke and Patrick Buchanan, as much as CounterPunch, who speak so hotly about her “groundswell”. But let us by all means guard against guilt by association – even when the association is apparently welcome, or incited.

Six hundred and twenty nine words into a seven hundred and eighty-two word letter Hitchens addresses the very first point I raised, slipping us the news that he takes it back. Don’t you just love the way he manages to squeeze Duke’s name in again, before inveighing against “guilt by association”! And what’s this about “welcome, or incited”? Is Hitchens trying to hint that Sheehan welcomed Duke’s support?

In a way, Cockburn has the courage of his convictions (as well as, see above, the cowardice of them). I dare say he is annoyed to find “Cindy” crumbling under the first tough question she was asked. And he is welcome to describe me as a “sack of shit”, as well as to smear excrement all over the walls of his nursery. But the above remain the facts.

Fraternally Christopher Hitchens

Someone forwarded me an email he’d sent to Hitchens about the London bombings, along with Hitchens’ thoughtful response, to the effect that the e-mailer was “puke-covered”. I thought of calling Hitchens puke-covered, but in the end opted for sack of shit, on the grounds that the phrase evoked the core personality, rather than merely its superficial aspects.

I was surprised to see how many people wrote to CounterPunch after my remarks about Hitchens and his attack on Sheehan. Normally one can reckon that at least a couple of old Hitchens loyalists on the left side of the spectrum ­ not the scum he currently runs with ­ will try to defend the man. Not this time. Nary a pro-Hitchens email dropped into our inbox. With that Sheehan piece I reckon he lost the last of his former fans. Here, pure and crude, was Hitchens as White House hatchet man (no doubt getting his usual marching orders from Cheney aide Kevin Kellums), marching shoulder to shoulder with Limbaugh and O’Reilly, smearing a courageous and articulate woman.

There’s no useful debate to be had with Hitchens. The man’s been shipwrecked by reality, but on his fantasy Titanic Commodore Hitchens still paces the bridge, swearing against all the evidence that his ship’s on course. He urged a war which has plunged a country, Iraq, ever deeper into death and ruin. How long will he go on saying the attack was worth it and that America should stay the course. On “staying the course” the people of Iraq gave their view in the elections, which they hoped would spell swift American departure. Of course Saddam Hussein was a bloodthirsty tyrant who brought misery and death to the Iraqi people. What will it take beyond the present 100,000 dead Iraqis for Hitchens and those like him to concede that between Saddam or invasion and American occupation, the former, indubitably horrible, was the preferable option? 500,000 dead, a million, two million? And at what point will the hammer of “Islamo-fascism” concede that no greater boost was ever given to Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq than the American attack. Of course Hitchens has got too much invested in this war ever to concede any of this. I’m sure that he went about the dirty business of sliming Cindy Sheehan without the slightest twinge.

 

CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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