"Cluster bombs are perhaps not good in themselves. But when they are dropped on identifiable concentrations of Taliban troops, they do have a heartening effect."
That was Christopher Hitchens' revised statement on cluster bombs, as he was under fire for his much more often quoted, gleeful and, to my ears, erotically enamored statement of their extensive killing capacity. I wasn't able to find any evidence that Christopher Hitchens, who was considered a journalist, after all, ever cared enough to research the topic of cluster bombs to find out that most of those killed by them, 94% are civilians, 40% of them, children, often years after the intended targets were gone, nor do I think he would have cared at all that they do. Yet he is adored by many an atheist on the internet and off because he's the man who kicked around a ... well, I'll quote his description of Mother Teresa, "A thieving, fanatical Albanian dwarf." "[She] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty." That was in his 1995 bestseller, Missionary Position. Five years later he endorsed George W. Bush for president of the United States. Three years later, as he was thick in his promotion of the Bush war in Iraq he said of her,
"Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions."
A few words and letters changed, instead of lying about a nun, he could have been giving an honest statement about George W. Bush and his administration, which he was endorsing to Hitchens' fame and fortune. And even as he was going on C-Span and the network shows to promote the disaster that the Bush Iraq invasion had turned into, he was also adored by hoards of atheists for saying that about a woman who, decades into her work for destitute people had accidentally been made a celebrity, something which she was totally unprepared for and the center of an international fundraising operation. Something I'm unaware of any atheist-based group ever doing. Hitchens harvested every possible thing about her he could make hay out of, coloring in what he couldn't find with his florid invective, his only real literary skill, and the atheists, including those who, as he was, allegedly of the left because that's really all there is to their ideology, hatred and glee in basking in their own self-announced superiority over the vast majority of humanity.
Not all atheists, Alexander Cockburn, a frequent critic of Hitchens, even as they had sort of parallel Brit columnist columns in The Nation, said this in his postmortem column,
I used to warn my friends at New Left Review and Verso in the early 90s who were happy to make money off Hitchens’ books on Mother Teresa and the like that they should watch out, but they didn’t and then kept asking ten years later, What happened?
Anyway, between the two of them, my sympathies were always with Mother Teresa. If you were sitting in rags in a gutter in Bombay, who would be more likely to give you a bowl of soup? You’d get one from Mother Teresa. Hitchens was always tight with beggars, just like the snotty Fabians who used to deprecate charity.
While Cockburn could, sometimes, say silly things he never, in my decades of reading him, ever said anything as clearly false and stupid and nothing as entirely corrupt as Hitchens did almost every time he approached a keyboard. One of the big differences is that Cockburn was entirely less of a snob and he wasn't as self-centered and greedy. I doubt he'd have sold out to the Republican right if he'd lived a thousand years. And, though he was an atheist who could, at times, be rather patronizing, I don't think it was ever a matter of hatred and contempt for the majority of people with him.
Hitchens knew the two audiences he was playing to, the totally amoral corporate-fascists and the equally amoral neo-atheists and he would say anything that he thought they would approve of. Even before he officially defected to the Henry Hyde* Republican right to aid its effort to impeach Bill Clinton (who Hitchens despised, for personal reasons) , before his false accusation for profit made against someone who had foolishly considerd Hitchens a friend, Sidney Blumenthal, even as he was still a columnist in the august The Nation, he was able to pen a billy-do to Margaret Thatcher as she was ousted by John Major. I had read his column every issue and I'd already realized I just simply didn't like the man, and that was before he endorsed the genocide against the native population of the Americas. That was, in fact, the decisive issue on which I judged his character and his journalism. His act having been one I'd seen in would-be intellectual fops my entire adult life, it was stale long before I read his version of it. I think Alice Roosevelt Long had pretty much said everything in it boiled down on her famous pillow encouraging malicious gossip.
But, getting back to those cluster bombs. One of the facile quotes of Hitchens that is often seen is "Religion Poisons Everything" the subtitle to his atheist catechism. Coming from his notoriously poison pen, that was rich. That it was a lie can be seen every day in the widely ignored work and struggle of religious people in religious based organizations, the kind of thing Mother Teresa did for decades before the BBC featured her in a TV show in Britain and made her internationally famous.
That won't ever be the case for many of those religion based groups whose campaigns endanger the profits of the corporate elites around the world. There are thousands of them, from nuns who disrupt the calm of shareholder meetings to elderly nuns and religious lay people who get sent to prison for pouring blood on nuclear weapons facilities and get the full weight of the Department of Justice thrown at them.
One of the groups which has been strongest in fighting for the banning and end of manufacturing and use of cluster bombs is the Catholic group Pax Christi, a group which has been a thorn in the side of the military-industrial-banking complex for decades.**
And it's not only cluster bombs that are the target of Pax Christi and other groups struggle against, the pollution that bombs enhanced with spent uranium is another of many issues that Pax Christi is active in. In his contention about religion poisoning everything as in so many other things, Hitchens was a liar.
What poisons everything are the science and technology and the investors, banks, industries, militaries and governments that use those products that Hitchens' "Enlightenment" has bestowed on the world, the people who Hitchens befriended in his last decades, even as he had to leave behind his former identity as a Trotskyite to make the complete conversion and the fame and fortune it brought. And the media of whom Christopher Hitchens was a darling, as he was spewing toxic lies and false invectives, their adoring obituaries, always mentioning occasions where the scribblers had rubbed elbows with him, the same media who had gone down on bended knee to George W. Bush, as it had his father, to Ronald Reagan and to other apparatchiks of the corporate elite who are, in fact poisoning everything.
And, I say the neo-atheists are a part of that. You can tell by how readily they took Hitchens to their bosom based on nothing more than his hatred of religion and his readiness to kick a little old nun around. Most of them don't know anything else about him. I've had atheist idiot fans of Hitchens online deny both that he'd ever been a Trot or a supporter of George W. Bush. Even as Hitchens was alive and supporting George W. Bush and his disastrous war and even more disastrous occupation of Iraq.
Until I started reviewing material and writing this piece, yesterday, I hadn't considered what a large role that may have played in my own conversion into an opponent of neo-atheism. I'm sure that any movement that could promote Christopher Hitchens as he was in the 2000s and after his death would have deserved my skepticism. As I learned more and faced the actual history of the atheist "left" I realized that atheists over the decades have earned far more than just mere skepticism, even a lot of those who didn't defect to the corporate right. The hold-out Marxist, Richard Seymour, one of the harshest critics of Hitchens, still supports an ideology that has produced an enormous mountain of evil, itself. Hitch, as a Trot, was a Marxist, of sorts, as well, before he followed the money and fame and adoration.
* Considering that, other than being a Catholic nun, a considerable part of Hitchens venom aimed at Mother Teresa was due to her conventional Catholic beliefs over contraception and abortion, his alliance, at exactly the same time with Henry Hyde, the author of the Hyde Amendment and a host of other Republicans whose position on reproductive rights was about exactly the same one as Mother Teresa's only heightens his hypocrisy for personal gain. The man had absolutely no honesty or integrity. I think the position you held on Hitchens in those years was a pretty good diagnosis of your honesty and integrity, as well. And it continues to be.
** I should disclose that I sent contributions to them and that my mother was a member of Pax Christi. They have been continually working on various issues against war and war profiteers for decades. I remember debating a fan of the Reagan terror wars in Central America who compared Pax Christi to the imperial Pax Romana, as if both names being in Latin and beginning with the word "Pax" made them equivalent when their means and results were entirely different.