Blogs > Cliopatria > Barry Oakley: Review opf Christopher Hitchens's Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays

Dec 9, 2005 5:46 pm

Barry Oakley: Review opf Christopher Hitchens's Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays

THE Oxford-educated and Washington-based Christopher Hitchens combines two-fisted American punchiness with an English sense of style. Both are richly on offer in this collection of his journalism. You don't just read him, you watch him; he's a performer, contrary and pugnacious, a pit bull impatient with the proprieties of print.

The only people he'll let pat him are writers. ...

But once he breaks out of the literary parkland, Hitchens is at his teeth-baring best. He's especially good with minor figures, perhaps because they have the same stature as himself. He barks at Malcolm Muggeridge, leaves toothmarks on the portly person of Michael Moore ("Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness") and savages Holocaust-minimiser David Irving -- at the same time, with one extraordinary adverb, as giving him comfort. Some war historians, Hitchens claims, "point out, correctly, that the Nazis actually killed almost no Jews until 1941". This will be great posthumous news to the numerous Polish Jews who were killed by German soldiers and police not long after the country was invaded in September 1939.

But it's when he moves up to major figures that Hitchens is most disturbing. Put someone on a pedestal and he'll lift a leg and do his business. He takes great exception to Robert Dallek's judicious recent biography of John Kennedy, castigating him for failing to acknowledge that "in addition to being a moral defective and a political disaster, John Kennedy was a physical and probably mental also-ran for most of his presidency".

How could such a physiological and psychological cripple cope with the unimaginable strains involved in the facing down of Kruschev as Soviet missiles headed for Cuba? Don't ask.

Churchill, predictably, gets the same treatment. He's guilty, among other things, of rhetorical self-dramatisation when, in 1940, Britain stood alone against all-conquering Germany. Hitchens will have none of it.

First, Britain had the dominions, Australia included, to help it at the time. Second, the Royal Air Force "was never seriously inferior, in men or machines, to the Luftwaffe". This too will be posthumously welcomed by those hitherto overrated airmen when they thought the Battles and Blenheims and Whitleys they fought and died in were obsolete at the time. As for the numbers, Max Hastings in his definitive Bomber Command gives the official figures: "In September 1939, Britain entered the war with 608 first-line fighters against the 1212 of the Luftwaffe, and with 536 bombers against 2130."

Can we sink lower? We can. Some credulous fools have put Mother Teresa on a pedestal, but they're not going to get away with it. "The vast sums of money she raised were spent mainly on building convents in her honour ... the media herd had decided that she was a bleeding-heart compassionate type." For some inexplicable reason, this self-serving old bleeding heart has inspired 4500 Missionaries of Charity, who help the orphaned, sick and dying in refuges and hospices all over the world....

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