Watching Trumbo this past week, starring John Goodman, Louis C.K., as well as Bryan Cranston playing the titular role of the American screenwriter blacklisted due to his communist sympathies, I couldn’t help but think of the late Johnny Walker Black Label-imbibing, untipped-Rothman smoking, polemic-writing journalist and verbal sabre-rattling Trot Christopher Hitchens.
He came to mind because, before he became infamous for supporting the second Iraq war and famous for Hitchslapping God and religion, Hitchens was a leftist scribbler writing to a much smaller audience. Some of the powerful took notice though, as “Canadian” media-mogul Lord Conrad Black once threatened — and did — to buy out the London Spectator because Hitchens was writing there. Black, after rooting Hitchens out, even phoned up the next newspaper he joined to warn them about the anti-Reagan Marxist agitator.
I fittingly first learned of the Hitch in the offices of the University of Regina’s (independent) student paper, the Carillon, which I would soon steer at the helm as editor-in-chief. Hitchens, who died on Dec. 15, 2011, soon became a mental litmus test for me as I started to read his articles voraciously and binge-watch all of his videos on YouTube. (Believe you me, I’ve seen ‘em all.) A lot of the time, when I’m writing essays, about to give a witty retort, or contemplating politics, I run his arguments through my head. We often disagree, but he and his oeuvre are a constant challenge as well as an inspirational model.
Hitchens’ best journalism-proper is easily The Trial of Henry Kissinger, in which he incisively proves, through brave investigative journalism, the popularly accepted American demigod to be a savage war-monger. He wrote prolifically and eclectically (this column takes its name from a chapter in Arguably), as there’s only one or two topics I’ve Googled alongside his name that he hasn’t at least mentioned in if not written an article about. The British-born and eventually American citizen’s superior book, though, was his last: Mortality, written under the pressure of the supreme deadline.
This is not to say that the man to whom I ascribe a literary and journalistic envy was perfect. He got the second Iraq War completely wrong , he lived in a short-sighted way, and he was rather insensitive. (Why slander Princess Di on her deathbed, when there are so many better targets of his pen like Kissinger, William Jefferson Clinton, Saddam, and many more?) Although he certainly was polarizing, and I assure you that one can find many criticisms of him with a simple Google search, some critics of his are misguided, like those who accuse him of sexism: this the man who said the cure to poverty “is a rudimentary one, but it does work though, and it works everywhere for the same reason: it’s colloquially called the empowerment of women,” and this the man who novelist and friend Ian McEwan described as once bursting into the Atonement author’s house before a dinner to tell him that he, McEwan, and best friend Martin Amis had to go outside to fight a group of men 20 years younger than them for harassing a woman. And moreover, Amis also describes the time that Hitchens got routed trying to protect a woman from being beat up by her boyfriend.
Hitchens will be remembered for his eloquent writing, his fiery debating, and most likely his anti-theist polemics. He incurred the wrath of the powerful, he aimed his pen at worthy targets, he worked incredibly hard at his craft, and he had a zenithal joie de vivre the entire time. Journalism lost one of its titans, but luckily for the field, his work survives.