Christopher Hitchens's critiques of public figures

Christopher Hitchens's critiques of public figures
Christopher Hitchens speaking at an engagement in 2007.

English-American author, journalist, and literary critic Christopher Hitchens (born 1949) is noted for his scathing critiques of public figures. Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Mother Teresa were the targets of Hitchens' book-length studies No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, and The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice respectively.

Hitchens has also written biographical essays about persons he greatly admires, namely Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America), George Orwell (Why Orwell Matters) and Thomas Paine (Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man": A Biography). However, the vast majority of Hitchens' noteworthy critiques take the form of relatively short opinion pieces. His 1993 collection "For the Sake of Argument" included a section called "Rogues' Gallery", in an interview Hitchens explained: "For a lot of people, their first love is what they'll always remember. For me it's always been the first hate, and I think that hatred, though it provides often rather junky energy, is a terrific way of getting you out of bed in the morning and keeping you going. If you don't let it get out of hand, it can be canalized into writing. In this country where people love to be nonjudgmental when they can be, which translates as, on the whole, lenient, there are an awful lot of bubble reputations floating around that one wouldn't be doing one's job if one didn't itch to prick."[1]


Jerry Falwell

When the controversial Southern Baptist televangelist Rev. Jerry Falwell died on May 15, 2007, Hitchens was interviewed on Anderson Cooper 360°. He argued that "the empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing: that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you'll just get yourself called 'Reverend'".[2] To bring his point home, Hitchens asked:

How dare he say, for example, that the Antichrist is already present amongst us, and is an adult male Jew, while all of the time fawning on the worst elements of Israel, with his other hand pumping anti-semitic innuendos into American politics, along with his friends Robertson and Graham... And encouraging the most extreme theocratic fanatics and maniacs on the West Bank and in Gaza not to give an inch of what he thought of was holy land to a people that already lived there, undercutting and ruining every democrat and secularist in the Jewish state in the name of God. He has done us an enormous disservice.[2]

On the following day, May 16, 2007, Hitchens appeared on the American television show Hannity and Colmes with Ralph Reed in which Hitchens called Falwell "a vulgar fraud and crook," and argued that "we have been rid of an extremely dangerous demagogue who lived by hatred and prejudice, and who committed treason by saying that the United States deserved the attack upon it and its civil society on September 11, 2001 by other religious nut cases like himself." At the very end of the interview, Hitchens concluded "If you gave Falwell an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox."[3]

George Galloway

In May 2005, British MP George Galloway entered into an argument with Hitchens before giving evidence to the United States Senate.[4] Galloway called Hitchens a "drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay," "[s]ome of which," Hitchens contended in a column, "was unfair."[5] A few days later, Hitchens wrote an article that attacked Galloway's political record, criticized his Senate testimony and made a case for Galloway's complicity in the Oil-for-Food scandal.[6] In this essay, Hitchens states that,

To this day, George Galloway defiantly insists, as he did before the senators, that he has "never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anybody on my behalf." As a Clintonian defense this has its admirable points: I myself have never seen a kilowatt, but I know that a barrel is also a unit and not an entity. For the rest, his defense would be more impressive if it answered any charge that has actually been made. Galloway is not supposed by anyone to have been an oil trader. He is asked, simply, to say what he knows about his chief fundraiser, nominee, and crony. And when asked this, he flatly declines to answer. We are therefore invited by him to assume that, having earlier acquired a justified reputation for loose bookkeeping in respect of "charities," he switched sides in Iraq, attached himself to a regime known for giving and receiving bribes, appointed a notorious middleman as his envoy, kept company with the corrupt inner circle of the Baath party, helped organize a vigorous campaign to retain that party in power, and was not a penny piece the better off for it. I think I believe this as readily as any other reasonable and objective person would. If you wish to pursue the matter with Galloway himself, you will have to find the unlisted number for his villa in Portugal.[6]

On September 14, 2005, Hitchens engaged in a formal debate with Galloway in New York City at Baruch College. This debate was continued on Real Time with Bill Maher on September 23, 2005. According to Hitchens, Galloway has stated that he will never debate with him again, to which Hitchens responded that he intends to write a review of Galloway's prison diaries one day.[7]

Henry Kissinger

The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001) is Christopher Hitchens' examination of the alleged war crimes of Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State for President Nixon and President Ford.

Mel Gibson

During an arrest for driving under the influence, Mel Gibson asked the arresting officer if he was Jewish and said that "fucking Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."[8] Hitchens decimated Gibson, stating,

Many conservative Jews, from David Horowitz to Rabbi Daniel Lapin, stuck up for Gibson as a man who defended family values against secular nihilism. I was just in the middle of writing a long and tedious essay, about how to tell a real anti-Semite from a person who too-loudly rejects the charge of anti-Semitism, when a near-perfect real-life example came to hand. That bad actor and worse director Mel Gibson, pulled over for the alleged offence of speeding and the further alleged offence of speeding under the influence, decided that he needed to demand of the arresting officer whether he was or was not Jewish and that he furthermore needed to impart the information that all the world's wars are begun by those of Semitic extraction. Call me thin-skinned if you must, but I think that this qualifies.[9]

In his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens describes Gibson as an "Australian fascist and ham actor" (page 110).

The 14th Dalai Lama

In 1998, Hitchens criticized Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama for a number of reasons, including: the Dalai Lama's acceptance of "45 million rupees, or about 170 million yen" from Shoko Asahara, the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult which released sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo Subway system; the Dalai Lama's proclamation that Hollywood actor Steven Seagal was a tulku and a reincarnated lama of Tibetan Buddhism; the persecution of followers of the Dorje Shugden deity whom Hitchens describes as having been "threatened with violence and ostracism and even death following the Dalai Lama's abrupt prohibition of this once-venerated godhead"; the Dalai Lama's specified sexual norms, which ban masturbation, oral and anal sex, and explain the proper way to pay for prostitution; and, most importantly, the Dalai Lama's support of India's Pokhran-II thermonuclear tests.[10]

Michael Moore

In June 2004, Hitchens severely criticized Michael Moore in a review of Moore's film Fahrenheit 911, concluding that

[I]f Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq. And Iraq itself would still be the personal property of a psychopathic crime family, bargaining covertly with the slave state of North Korea for WMD. You might hope that a retrospective awareness of this kind would induce a little modesty. To the contrary, it is employed to pump air into one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture. Rock the vote, indeed.[11]

Hitchens went further in his criticism of Moore on MSNBC's Scarborough Country television program:

But speaking here in my capacity as a polished, sophisticated European as well, it seems to me the laugh here is on the polished, sophisticated Europeans. They think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they‘ve taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities.[12]

Daniel Pipes

Hitchens severely criticized Daniel Pipes, upon Pipes' nomination to the U.S. government-sponsored U.S. Institute of Peace. Hitchens expressed "bafflement" at this appointment in a Slate essay entitled "Daniel Pipes is not a man of peace".[13] Hitchens claimed that Pipes "employs the fears and insecurities created by Islamic extremism to slander or misrepresent those who disagree with him," and that this contradicts the USIP's position as "a somewhat mild organization [...] devoted to the peaceful resolution of conflict." Hitchens concluded his opposition to Pipes' nomination by claiming that Pipes "confuses scholarship with propaganda" and pursues "petty vendettas with scant regard for objectivity."

Ronald Reagan

Two days after Ronald Reagan's death, Hitchens referred to the deceased President as a "cruel and stupid lizard" and stated that "this was a man never short of a cheap jibe or the sort of falsehood that would, however laughable, buy him some time."[14] However, Hitchens argued that

There was more to Ronald Reagan than that. Reagan announced that apartheid South Africa had "stood beside us in every war we've ever fought," when the South African leadership had been on the other side in the most recent world war. Reagan allowed Alexander Haig to greenlight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, fired him when that went too far and led to mayhem in Beirut, then ran away from Lebanon altogether when the Marine barracks were bombed, and then unbelievably accused Tip O'Neill and the Democrats of "scuttling." Reagan sold heavy weapons to the Iranian mullahs and lied about it, saying that all the weapons he hadn't sold them (and hadn't traded for hostages in any case) would, all the same, have fit on a small truck. Reagan then diverted the profits of this criminal trade to an illegal war in Nicaragua and lied unceasingly about that, too. Reagan then modestly let his underlings maintain that he was too dense to understand the connection between the two impeachable crimes. He then switched without any apparent strain to a policy of backing Saddam Hussein against Iran. (If Margaret Thatcher's intelligence services had not bugged Oliver North in London and become infuriated because all European nations were boycotting Iran at Reagan's request, we might still not know about this.)[14]

In his review of The Reagan Diaries, Hitchens would be more complimentary towards Reagan, albeit grudgingly so. Although he still criticizes Reagan as "sometimes... amazingly dumb" and "He was wrong on an amazing number of things, and he makes some astonishing admissions of incompetence and inattention," he also praises Reagan as being "oddly sharp" and "extremely serious about arms-control discussions with the Soviet Union."[15]

Mother Teresa

In 1992, Hitchens wrote an article[16] for The Nation in which he called Mother Teresa "The Ghoul of Calcutta". He later narrated and co-wrote Hell's Angel, a documentary broadcast November 8, 1994, on Channel 4 in Britain, and expanded his views in a 1995 book, The Missionary Position. He accused her of failing to treat people, particularly children, placed in her care, and criticized her strong religious views on contraception and abortion, the latter of which she described as "the greatest destroyer of peace today",[17] and her "acceptance" of poverty, which took the form of encouraging the poor to embrace their poverty.

Hitchens asserts that Mother Teresa had behaved like a political opportunist who adopted the guise of a saint in order to raise money to spread an extreme and aggressive version of Catholicism. He also criticized her for using contributions to open convents in 150 countries rather than establishing a teaching hospital, the latter being what he implies donors expected her to do with their gifts.

He also criticized her for her pursuit and acceptance of donations from third-world dictators, large donations accepted from Charles Keating, who was later convicted of fraud, racketeering and conspiracy, and the allocation of these donations away from treatment and towards furthering what Hitchens called fundamentalist views. Hitchens' writings have earned him the ire of Roman Catholics: for example, Brent Bozell, board member of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, called Hitchens and Aroup Chatterjee "notoriously vicious anti-Catholics".[18]

During Mother Teresa's beatification process, Hitchens was called by the Vatican to argue the case against her, in particular noting that her "miracles" were better explained through technology than divine intervention. He testified in Washington that his role had previously been known as the "Devil's Advocate", although Pope John Paul II had abolished that position. Hitchens has satirically referred to his work in the case as the person chosen "to represent the devil pro bono".[19]

Cindy Sheehan

In a column, Hitchens argued that Cindy Sheehan "has obviously taken a short course in the Michael Moore/Ramsey Clark school of Iraq analysis and has not succeeded in making it one atom more elegant or persuasive."[20] Hitchens commented on a Sheehan email featured on Nightline that said her son "was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel."

Hitchens also denounced Sheehan for what he called positing a "Jewish cabal" and for attracting the support of David Duke.


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