Out, Out Damn Spot
I know I’m supposed to loathe Christopher Hitchens, but he’s far too complicated a figure and too energetic and even occassionally brilliant a writer for me to quite let go of. Recently he found that his ceaseless advocacy for the war had helped convince a young idealistic man to enlist. Said enlistee was recently killed in Iraq and Hitchens contacted the family. In this piece in Vanity Fair he tries to sort it all out. I don’t know what to make of it, really. It brims with Cult of the Soldier kitsch and bathos-ridden self-pity. It is also, though, like everything Hitchens writes, emotionally honest in some infruriating affecting way. What comes through is the central psychological basis for his entire sad descent into war-mongering. Unlike Orwell, Hitchens never got his Spanish Civil War. His pen, it seems, is never quite enough, and yet he can’t quite bring himself to take up the gun. But this young soldier did.
I became a trifle choked up after that, but everybody else also managed to speak, often reading poems of their own composition, and as the day ebbed in a blaze of glory over the ocean, I thought, Well, here we are to perform the last honors for a warrior and hero, and there are no hysterical ululations, no shrieks for revenge, no insults hurled at the enemy, no firing into the air or bogus hysterics. Instead, an honest, brave, modest family is doing its private best. I hope no fanatical fool could ever mistake this for weakness. It is, instead, a very particular kind of strength. If America can spontaneously produce young men like Mark, and occasions like this one, it has a real homeland security instead of a bureaucratic one. To borrow some words of George Orwell's when he first saw revolutionary Barcelona, "I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for."
He goes on to quote Macbeth, but not, alas, the Lady, who nearly goes mad trying to wash the blood off her hands.