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Letters submitted by our readers are read and published in the magazine.
Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, longtime contributor to The Nation, wrote a wide-ranging, biweekly column for the magazine...
Arthur C. Danto
Arthur C. Danto was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1924, and grew up in Detroit. After spending two years in the Army...

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HITCHENS--LOWER THAN A LIBERAL

 

Penn Valley, Pa.

Christopher Hitchens is "complacent" at my suggestion that he has moved to the "vital center, maybe further to the right, with termination point still to be determined" ["Minority Report," Dec. 17, 2001]. Actually, I understated the case. He now brags that back in 1979 he didn't vote for Labour against Margaret Thatcher, whose "intellectual and moral courage" and "revolutionary" policies he admires (Reason, Nov. 2001). He also supported her war against the Argentine fascists. Hitchens likes wars, against fascists, and it seems that anybody the United States or NATO-bloc powers take on are fascists.

So Hitchens has actually sunk below the class we may call "liberals," using the word in its best and traditional sense. As L.T. Hobhouse pointed out in his 1911 classic, Liberalism, "It is of the essence of liberalism, to oppose the use of force, the basis of all tyranny." He also spoke of the necessity of withstanding "the tyranny of armaments." Hitchens is enthused about the use of force--one of his accolades to Bush's war is titled "Ha ha ha to the pacifists" (The Guardian, Nov. 14, 2001), and in another he argued that the "danger" was that Bush was not acting with sufficient violence (The Guardian, Sept. 26, 2001). And Hitchens hasn't shown the slightest concern over the fact that his war is encouraging militarization and is feeding back on civil liberties and domestic programs at home.

Hitchens tells us now that Bush's war is doing wonderful things, not only for civilization but for Afghanistan as well--bombing it "out of the Stone Age"--with "no serious loss of civilian life" and "an almost pedantic policy of avoiding 'collateral damage.'" Marc Herold has calculated, on the basis of news reports alone, that more than 3,500 Afghan civilians have been killed by US bombs, more than in the Trade Center bombings, which Hitchens considered an extremely serious loss of human life. Hitchens ignores the effect of the war--and deliberate Bush actions denying food supplies--on a starving population, which has frightened all those working in food relief. Erwin van't Land, of Doctors Without Borders, stated in late November that "the situation deteriorated during the past two months of bombing, as large parts of the Afghan population dependent on international aid for survival [some 3.5 million people] did not receive it."

But Hitchens knows better, just as he knows that the kind and gentle Bush Administration is "pedantically" avoiding civilian casualties. Hitchens also knew back at the time of the Kosovo war that NATO--and his much beloved leader Bill Clinton--were driven to war by humane considerations, warring only "when the sheer exorbitance of the crimes in Kosovo became impossible to ignore" (The Nation, June 14, 1999).

In a November 27 talk at the University of Chicago, Hitchens explained that "Bush's war is our war," meaning the left's war. At this point in his political journey, we may have a long wait to find an imperialist war that Christopher Hitchens will not find to be a left's and just war.

EDWARD S. HERMAN

Edward Herman has requested space on our website for a longer version of this letter, below.

 

 



 

 

 

HITCHENS REPLIES

 

Washington, D.C.

I'm happy to let readers decide for themselves about my ideological character. But I don't mind having it said that I favor physical force against fascism, and even relish it. And I think Hobhouse is a dubious source for determining that liberalism equals pacifism. Whether Herman is a pacifist or not I neither know nor care: that he isn't an ally in battles against fascism is already notorious.

Shortly after September 11 he wrote that the attack on the World Trade Center was reminiscent of the methods employed by NATO to get Milosevic out of Kosovo. Now his dismal search for moral equivalence leads him to find serendipity in the apparent symmetry of casualty figures. Well it now looks as if--supposing his Afghan civilian numbers to be correct--there have been more people killed in Afghanistan than in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania combined. So perhaps his crass utilitarianism will lead him to announce that the coalition's counterstroke against the Taliban and Al Qaeda is not merely as bad as, but actually worse than, the September 11 aggression.

I, however, will continue to presume that it is obvious that those murdered in America on that day were not "collateral damage." Their murders were the direct object of the "operation." By contrast, we have had repeated and confirmed reports of frustration on the part of American targeters in Afghanistan, frequently denied permission to open fire because of legal constraints imposed by the Pentagon. This is actually a tribute to the work of the antiwar movement over the years; it seems paltry in more than one way to be sneering at it.

Since every member of Al Qaeda has to be counted as a potential suicide bomber, and since their Taliban protectors had created vast hunger and misery in Afghanistan, the true humanitarian cost of finding and killing them cannot be reckoned in Herman's simple arithmetic. Nor can his outdated and arcane citations alter the fact that aid of all kinds is now reaching those who most need it. The necessary condition for that was always a short and hard-fought war. Unless of course, for "humanitarian" reasons, one was prepared to leave the Taliban/Al Qaeda regime in place. I would not direct such a slur against Herman, even though I can't help noticing that General Galtieri, trainer of the contras, might still be in possession of both Argentina and the Malvinas if Herman's counsel had been heeded. The chances of that, however, have grown slimmer over the years and are now approaching the nonexistent.

Finally, when I spoke in Chicago I said that the war against Islamic fascism had been going on for some time before the Bush family joined in, that it involved and involves a confrontation with the oligarchies of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and that it was therefore more a question of whether he should be allowed to join our (not "my") war. Herman misses the point and the joke, and I would put this down to his customary sloppiness if it wasn't that, in his other misrepresentations of my published views on Ashcroftism, he seems to be actuated by malice as well.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS

See below for additional comments from Hitchens.

 



 

 

DANTO--ACCEPTS THE TAINTED DISH

 

Dallas

What is it about extraordinary statements that make journalists run with them without checking the facts? I'm referring to Arthur Danto's "quote" of Karlheinz Stockhausen in "Art & the Towering Sadness" [Nov. 12, 2001]. This severed quote keeps making the rounds because it "plays" well: shocking, audacious, great copy. Danto has accepted this tainted dish passed around the journalistic dinner table.

If a journalist interviews a creative artist about his ideas on the forces of good and evil represented in his work--"What do the concepts in Licht (Stockhausen's opera) mean to you?" "What do the main protagonists of Licht (Michael, Eve and Lucifer) mean to you?" "Are they simply historical figures of the past or do you feel that they still exist today?"--why should he be surprised when Stockhausen actually answers the questions? That yes, he does believe they exist today--for example, in the horrendous act in New York--and it could be seen as the "greatest work of art performed by Lucifer" (in other words, the absolute greatest of evils). And then why do journalists want to continue perpetuating this sham of a "story" or start throwing in even more spurious "quotes" (as in Anthony Tommasini's New York Times article)?

I suppose I wouldn't make it as a journalist, because I probably would've asked, "OK, maybe I'm hearing you incorrectly. Are you saying that this is the greatest work of art ever?" and I'd hear, "No! No! It was a horrendous act. I'm just answering your questions about its relation to the characters in my opera!" But alas, I wouldn't be considered beneficial to my newspaper because I wouldn't have found a way to excise the "good" parts and make it into a real story. Anyone who wants to go beyond the journalistic rhetoric and read the comments on what actually happened the day of Stockhausen's interview can check http://stockhausen.org/the_true_story.html.

ROD STASICK

 


 

 

DANTO REPLIES

 

New York City

Here is Karlheinz Stockhausen's reply to a question put to him regarding the attacks on the United States, as reported by Agence France-Presse and as published in the New York Times, September 19, 2001, page E3:

"What happened there--they all have to rearrange their brains now--is the greatest work of art ever.

"That characters can bring about in one act what we in music cannot dream of, that people practice madly for ten years, completely, fanatically, for a concert and then die. That is the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos.

"I could not do that. Against that, we, composers, are nothing."

If Rod Stasick feels Stockhausen's "severed quote" is mitigated by the amplification, he is entirely welcome to it. And if Stockhausen was merely elaborating on the relationship of the attacks to the content of his opera, why exactly did he "retract it at once, and ask that it not be reported," as the Times says he did?

The fact that Stockhausen is a creative artist hardly means that he is incapable of making an ass of himself. He has enjoyed the privilege accorded important creative artists by European reporters of being "deliciously outrageous" in interviews. He realized that he had said something disgraceful, but the good journalists of Agence France-Presse held him to his word. He was "reported to have left Hamburg"--where his concerts were canceled--"in distress." So far as I am aware, there has been no retraction of the statement, nor has suit been brought against the journalistic agencies by Stockhausen for malicious falsehood against his good name.

I am an art critic, not a journalist, and am entirely capable of getting facts wrong. My mistakes, however, rarely get past the relentless fact-checkers of The Nation. My assumption is that the fact-checkers of the New York Times are no less zealous for the truth. I am more inclined to trust the journalists who were there than a press release by an artist concerned to control the damage his reckless words did to his reputation.

ARTHUR C. DANTO

 



 

A LONGER VERSION OF HERMAN'S LETTER

Penn Valley, Pa.

Christopher Hitchens is "complacent" at my suggestion that he has moved to the "vital center, maybe further to the right, with termination point still to be determined" ("Minority Report," Dec. 17). Actually, I understated the case. Nation readers may be unaware of the fact that on BBC2 Newsnight (September 27, 2001), Hitchens simply denied that 500,000 children had died in Iraq under the sanctions regime, and he claimed that all the deaths that have occurred in Iraq since the Gulf War were solely the fault of Saddam Hussein. In the rightwing journals that are increasingly fond of his writings--his work now surpasses Clinton in its "triangulations"--he now expresses pride that back in 1979 he didn't vote for the Labor Party candidate against Margaret Thatcher, whose "intellectual and moral courage" and "revolutionary" policies he now celebrates (Reason, Nov. 2001). He also supported her war against the Argentine fascists. Hitchens likes wars, against fascists, and it seems that anybody the United States or NATO-bloc powers take on are fascists.

So Hitchens has actually sunk below the class we may call "liberals," using the word in its best and traditional sense. As L. T. Hobhouse pointed out in his classic Liberalism (1911), "It is of the essence of liberalism, to oppose the use of force, the basis of all tyranny." He also spoke of the necessity of withstanding "the tyranny of armaments." Hitchens is enthused about the use of force- -one of his accolades to Bush's war is entitled "Ha ha ha to the pacifists" (Guardian, Nov. 14), and in another he argued that the "danger" was that Bush was not acting with sufficient violence (Guardian, Sept. 26). And Hitchens hasn't shown the slightest concern over the fact that his war is encouraging militarization and is feeding back on civil liberties and domestic programs at home.

Hitchens tells us now that Bush's war is doing wonderful things, not only for the cause of civilization but for Afghanistan as well- -bombing it "out of the stone age"--with "no serious loss of human life" and "an almost pedantic policy of avoiding 'collateral damage.'" But for some strange reason the US government has tried as hard as it can to limit information about collateral damage (see Carol Morello, "Tight Control Marks Coverage of Afghan War," Washington Post, Dec. 7), and the war is still not over and the facts are hardly all in. Furthermore, there are extensive reports, mainly in the non-US media, of the bombing of villages and convoys with civilians, the use of fragmentation bombs, and many civilian casualties from US military operations. Mark Herold's careful study concluded that US bombs had killed at least 3,767 civilians in eight and a half weeks, which he explained as a result of the "apparent willingness of U.S. military strategists to fire missiles into, and drop bombs upon, heavily populated areas of Afghanistan."

Herold's total exceeds the World Trade Center toll, which Hitchens clearly considers a "serious loss of human life." And the Herold number does not include the greatly increased rate of deaths from starvation resulting from the war (and deliberate Bush actions denying supplies), which has frightened all those working in food relief. Erwin van't Land, of Doctors Without Borders, stated in late November that "The situation deteriorated during the past two months of bombing, as large parts of the Afghan population dependent on international aid for survival [some 3.5 million people] did not receive it." And other news headlines read "First snow warns of humanitarian disaster: Relief aid hampered by weather, bandits, and infighting" (Guardian, Dec. 4).

Erik Sorenson, the president of MSNBC, said recently about our knowledge of the war, "We'll find out in five or ten years what the real truth is." But Christopher Hitchens knows the truth now, just as he knows that the kind and gentle Bush adminstration is "pedantically" avoiding civilian casualties. Hitchens also knew back at the time of the Kosovo war that NATO--and his much beloved leader Bill Clinton--were driven to war by humane considerations, warring only "when the sheer exorbitance of the crimes in Kosovo became impossible to ignore" (Nation, June 14, 1999).

There are also compelling reports from Afghanistan that our proxy allies on the ground are not only killing large numbers of prisoners, they are also raping and killing and looting on a horrendous scale (e.g., Paul Harris, "Warlords bring new terrors," The Observer, Dec. 2, 2001). But for Hitchens any such matters like the "spotty human rights record of the Northern Alliance" are merely "the latest thing" that should not disturb our thanks at the liberation. "It remains" to reconstruct the battered country, he tells us, and Hitchens, with his faith in Bush and the NATO humanitarians does not doubt good things will happen. He seems unaware that Bush is already taking advantage of his new power position to cut back on civil outlays to his own non-elite citizens, which might suggest doubts about his willingness to aid poor and distant foreigners. Hitchens has also not paid much attention to actual post-US-intervention policy in Nicaragua, or Kosovo--in the latter case, where his war "has not solved any human problem, but only multiplied the existing problems" (according to Jiri Dienstbier, the UN rapporteur for human rights in Kosovo), and where his KLA friends were allowed to carry out "the largest ethnic cleansing in the Balkans [in percentage terms]," according to Jan Oberg, the director of the Swedish-based Transnational Foundation for Peace.

Hitchens is also now playing the role of an enforcer, berating opponents of the war for not seeing this one as just, in a familiar pattern. He joins forces in this service with David Horowitz, who recently issued a lengthy smear of Noam Chomsky that he distributes at his talks at various schools ("Think Twice...Before You Bring The War Home," Campus Broadside Series). Hitchens has had at least half a dozen venomous attacks on Chomsky in the past two years, and much of his journalism and speaking engagements are devoted to this kind of derogation effort. The Guardian in London was recently forced to apologize to both playright Harold Pinter and journalist John Pilger for indefensible smears by Hitchens, and in his "Against Rationalization" (Nation, Oct. 8), he clearly delegitimizes any opposing viewpoint by making it a "rationalization" rather than a different position.

His talk at the University of Chicago on November 27 explained that "Bush's war is our war," meaning the left's war. At this point in his political journey, we may have a long wait to find an imperialist war that Christopher Hitchens will not find to be a left's and just war.

EDWARD S. HERMAN

Back to Hitchens's reply for our print edition.

 



 

 

FURTHER COMMENTS FROM HITCHENS

 

Washington, D.C.

Readers of the website may not know that I generally don't reply to critical letters printed in the magazine. This is because I already have a whole twice-monthly page in The Nation, and think that the limited letters-space ought to be reserved for the readers. However, I do sometimes reply if I am directly slandered or misrepresented, and such is the case with what Herman says about me and the Guardian. The facts are these: while writing a column last fall I was shown a highly anti-American speech that had, I was told, been delivered by Harold Pinter the day after the September 11 attacks. I made a disobliging reference to Pinter in my piece, and then discovered before the deadline that the speech had actually been delivered the day before. So I telephoned the editors, asked them to remove the reference, and was assured that this would be done. However, a second reference lower down was mistakenly left in. So I wrote myself to apologize to Pinter, as did the editors, and wrote a letter of explanation which The Guardian duly published, along with another apology of their own. Excision of the second reference would also have removed my reference to John Pilger, to whom, for his consistently disgraceful and misleading coverage of the post-September events, I made, and make, no apology at all.

Herman can only say what he says if he was following the paper that week. But, if he was reading the Guardian with any care, he must know that what he asserts is false. Again, one can't be sure whether this is the consequence of incompetence or ill-will. But then, with him, one never can.

What I said on BBC Newsnight was that in the protected Kurdish autonomous areas of Iraq there is neither famine nor repression, and what I said the same week in The Nation was that this rescue operation might supply a model for Afghanistan (which it since has done). I make no apology for that, either. I have little patience with those who attribute the deaths in Iraq solely to Western policy: No children of army officers or Ba'ath Party officials are among the dead, either. Of course there are alternatives, as always. Saddam Hussein could be allowed to claim credit for getting sanctions lifted, and press on with his program of preparing for mass destruction of Kurds and others, including ourselves. Or, regarding sanctions as unduly indiscriminate, it could be decided to remove him by means of a preventive war. I can only imagine how upset Herman would be if that happened: he is still (in his spare time) in deep mourning for Slobodan Milosevic. The friends of Galtieri, Saddam Hussein, Mullah Omar and Milosevic make unconvincing defenders of humanitarian values, and it can be seen that their inept and sometimes inane arguments lack either the principles or the seriousness that are required in such debates.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS

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