Christopher Hitchens: Drunken babbling on Bill Gate’s dime

The sodden and vaguely unsanitary Chris Hitchens weighs in on armchair generals over at Slate. As usual, he gets a lot wrong.

Continuing with the hidden vernaculars of “regime change” and hoping to build toward a Bierce-like series (last week the Straussian language of revolution from above and next week “terrorism”), one must pause simply to expel one term, to retire it, discredit it, and make its further employment an embarrassment to those who use it. The word is “armchair.”

You’ve heard it all right. The concept embodied in the contemptuous usage is this: someone who wants intervention in, say, Iraq ought to be prepared to go and fight there. An occasional corollary is that those who have actually seen war are not so keen to urge it.

The first thing to notice about this propaganda is how archaic it is. The whole point of the present phase of conflict is that we are faced with tactics that are directed primarily at civilians. Thus, while I was traveling last year in Pakistan, on the Afghan border and in Kashmir, and this year in the gulf, my wife was fighting her way across D.C., with the Pentagon in flames, to try and collect our daughter from a suddenly closed school, was attempting to deal with anthrax in our mailbox, was reading up on the pros and cons of smallpox vaccinations, and was coping with the consequences of a Muslim copycat loony who’d tried his hand as a suburban sniper. Should things ever become any hotter, it would be far safer to be in uniform in Doha, Qatar, or Kandahar, Afghanistan, than to be in an open homeland city. It is amazing that this essential element of the crisis should have taken so long to sink into certain skulls.

While being married to Hitch may be a dangerous proposition, what with the pools of vomit and shattered empties laying about the floor, I really don’t think living in a typical homeland city is more dangerous than being in Kandahar. Unless, of course, someone gives Laura Bush the keys to the jeep, then all bets are off.

Then Hitch makes his most ridiculous statement:

There are some further unexamined implications of this stupid tactic. It is said, for example, that someone like former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey has more right to pronounce on a war than someone who avoided service in Vietnam. Well, last year Kerrey was compelled to admit that he had led a calamitous expedition into a Vietnamese village and had been responsible for the slaughter of several children and elderly people. (He chose to be somewhat shady about whether this responsibility was direct or indirect.) Do I turn to such a man for advice on how to deal with Saddam Hussein? The connection is not self-evident, more especially since, as far as I am aware, Kerrey knows no more about Iraq than I know about how to construct a chess-playing computer.

No. But Kerrey knows about war and what can happen to those who serve and who get caught in the crossfire which is particularly apt in Baghdad. Hitch’s comments indicate that he is unable to understand the lesson of Kerrey’s story and of war in general. Like Michael Kelly, Hitch has seen war, albeit from a hotel room with a well-stocked, but soon to be depleted, mini-bar. Kerrey’s war stories are about mistakes and death and not throwing people’s lives away. Hitch’s are about empty ice machines and the problems with finding an inexpensive 14 year old hooker. Advantage Kerrey.


One hopes that the next implication is inadvertent, but the clear suggestion is that there ought not to be civilian control of the military. What—have callow noncombatants giving brisk orders to grizzled soldiers? How could Lincoln have fired the slavery-loving Gen. George B. McClellan, or Truman dismissed the glorious Douglas MacArthur?

As covered in the great Kelly Chickenhawk debate, Lincoln served in battle. Let’s give Hitch a D in American History since at least he knows who won in the Revolutionary War.

A related term is “chicken-hawk.” It is freely used to defame intellectual militants who favor an interventionist strategy. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska made use of the implication recently, when he invited Richard Perle to be first into Baghdad. Someone ought to point out that the term “chicken-hawk” originated as a particularly nasty term for a pederast or child molester: It has evidently not quite lost its association with sissyhood. It’s a smear, in other words, and it is a silly smear for the reasons given above, to which could be added the following: The United States now has an all-volunteer Army, made up of people who receive fairly good pay and many health and educational benefits. They signed up to a bargain when they joined, and the terms of the bargain are obedience to the decisions of a civilian president and Congress. Who would have this any other way?

Bzzzzt. Wrong. Again, like Michael Kelly, he chooses to misunderstand the term: “Chickenhawk”. A chickenhawk is someone who supports a war, then does everything possible to avoid fighting in it themselves. Years later, when yet another war rears it’s ugly little head, this same “patriot” advocates the fighting of it by others, since they themselves are in no danger of having to participate. That is a chickenhawk. Also implied is the fact that, hey, the all-volunteer military knows what they signed up for, so let’s get them all killed. A lovely conservative sentiment also heard from Andrew Sullivan. Jeez, those Brits are still steamed about the late 1700’s…

As an Orwell “scholar”, Hitchens knows exactly what he is doing. He is trying to make his case by changing the meanings of words. But he’s not the only one who read 1984, and an overview of his previous writing can only lead us to regard anything he says with more grains of salt than could fill a margarita pitcher.

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