Maybe he's not as dumb as he writes...

>> Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Guardian UK is writing that Slate and Vanity Fair columnist--and "my (adopted) country right-or-wrong" Iraq War apologist--Christopher Hitchens actually put his money where his mouth is. Having written a column for Slate in which he attempted to argue that the United States hasn't been torturing anybody by using "coercive interrogation" techniques--i.e. waterboarding, Hitchens responded to critics who suggested he go try it himself by actually, you know, trying it himself.

Having done so, it appears that Hitchens reached the same conclusion as everyone else who has been waterboarded: yep, torture. And it appears he will be admitting as much in an upcoming Vanity Fair piece. Of course, one might have inferred as much from a look at the practice's history from the Spanish Inquisition to its use at the Khmer Rouge's Tuol Sleng prison and inferred the same thing--neither the Spanish nor the Khmer Rouge were exactly famous for their pony rides, ice cream parties and fantasy rock star camps featuring visits from real live members of Aerosmith. Still, I have to concede that if Hitchens's experience made him slightly wiser, it couldn't have happened to a more deserving man. Meanwhile, one continues to wonder what is wrong with the people who have to be waterboarded to get their heads around the notion that "simulated drowning" is a horrifying experience. Are they idiots, or merely in some kind of pathological denial. Oh, what the hell--can't we just say it's both and thereby duck the question?

3 comments:

Janiece Murphy Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 10:17:00 AM EDT  

What's the deal with you and Hitchens?

I've not read his books, but the (admittedly) few articles I have read seem to imply he's smart and does his homework.

Eric Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 3:31:00 PM EDT  

There's really two (mostly) separate issues with Hitch.

The first is that he's a neither smart or informed in his apologetics for the Iraq War (a lengthy series of which can be found in a regular feature titled "Fighting Words" in Slate). As far as Hitchens is concerned, there appears to be no question in his mind that the War was justified, was well-executed, that we're winning, and we should do whatever we want to in order to keep winning.

To this end, he ignores contrary evidence, refuses to concede the obvious (it's possible, tho' he's become muted on this specific issue, that Hitchens believes the Iraqi WMD program was viable and dangerous--despite a great deal of evidence that it was moribund and nearly nonexistent), fails to even acknowledge nuance (a reasonable supporter of the War might argue we were justified in removing Hussein but admit we botched the occupation), and frequently sets himself to bashing straw men with ludicrous aplomb (his "rebuttals" to "liberals" and the "critics of the war" rarely respond to anything anyone sensible has ever actually thought or said).

My second issue with Hitchens is that he is somewhat embarrassing to the so-called "new atheism." (I hate the term, but Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris are frequently cited as the superstars of the supposed movement, with PZ Myers getting the occasional honorable mention, so I feel obligated to use it in this context, a discussion of Hitchens.) As a "new atheist," Hitchens is slightly less-embarrassing than the hypocritical and arguably bigoted Harris: Hitch has a weird, irrational obsession with making personal attacks on Catholics (especially Mother Teressa; she may not have been a saint, ha-ha, but posthumous character assassinations are a bit distracting and pointless right now). His arguments are frequently, surprisingly superficial and based on apparent personal predjudices towards certain expressions of faith as opposed to an application of Reason. I don't find him a particularly good spokesman for my views--and yet the media has appointed him as such and he's seemingly thrown the mantle around his neck; he's not helping and I wish he'd stop.

So, yeah--not a fan.

The waterboarding issue is a huge concession for Hitchens--one that most of his detractors (myself included) didn't think he was capable of. His initial writings on waterboarding were flippant: it's not a big deal, it's harmless, opponents are full of it, and anything is justified to get information. (Concerns about the veracity of the information were hardly even on Hitch's radar--if he mentioned the issue, it was with a wave of the hand.) That he had to subject himself to the procedure to come around suggests a certain wrong-headedness, stubborness, and a refusal to do (or understand) the homework. (Waterboarding is an issue that appeared on my radar when I was in college and a studying the history of Cambodia; when it resurfaced this decade, I was already of the opinion my government shouldn't emulate the Khmer Rouge, and I didn't think that would be a controversial or even debatable proposition.)

So, that's sort of the deal with me and Hitchens.

Janiece Murphy Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 4:42:00 PM EDT  

Thanks for the synopsis - I appreciate it. I'll do some more homework of my own before I form an opinion of Mr. Hitchens.

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