WITHOUT A HITCH
No one is neutral about the departure from these pages of Christopher Hitchens. Below is a sample of the voluminous amounts of mail we’ve received–and are still receiving. –The Editors
Santa Margarita, Calif.
Say it ain’t so, Christopher. If Hitchens’s September 26 “Minority Report” is indeed his last, the nation, capitalized and not, will be poorer. Hitchens brings a singular voice to the discussion–incisive, articulate and erudite. His approach to the issues is usually discerning, often acute, sometimes infuriating, but it’s always worth the read, even–especially–if you don’t agree with him. That is the reason I’ve subscribed to The Nation for fourteen years. I don’t want to say “ditto” to everything I read. I don’t say “ditto” to every Hitchens column. But “Minority Report” has been a refreshing contrast to The Nation‘s increasing orthodoxy. The infamous Hitchens-Noam Chomsky “debate” last fall brought this into sharp relief. I won’t cancel my subscription, but for this reader, Hitchens’s departure will leave an irreplaceable gap. It’s a damned shame.
Good riddance to Hitchens. The few pearls found buried in his apologia for US imperialism were hardly worth suffering his arrogance and contempt for those who disagreed with his views.
Takoma Park, Md.
Where else will Hitchens find such editorial freedom and such an appreciative audience? He’s left because of a flawed premise, if his grievance is that the Nation crowd “believes John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden.” Ashcroft is not the greater menace but the greater disappointment. Bin Laden is not expected to enforce, or even comprehend, our Constitution; Ashcroft is. Both threaten our hard-won liberty, but we didn’t hire bin Laden to protect our liberty.
I was heartbroken when I read Hitchens’s last “Minority Report.” I had just gotten off a twelve-hour shift working at the Dallas Convention Center through my union, IATSE Local 127, hands covered in aluminum stains from hauling truss. I’d had to eat a late dinner in the company of a wealthy libertarian yahoo, trying to shut out his nonsense between bites of what I could afford. Then, tired beyond reckoning, I come home to find one of my all-time-favorite journalists has left my all-time-favorite publication!?
Excuse me, but what the hell is going on?! I’ve read the arguments against the war in Iraq, and I have to agree utterly with their reasoned interpretation of the facts. But I read Hitchens and I agree with him as well, maybe not always, but certainly insofar as this issue is concerned. I’m in the political wilderness out here in Texas, losing my mind from barrages of hate mail I received while penning a column for SMU’s campus newspaper. I’m still mourning the loss of my father, thrown away by the engines of corporate greed. And this is what I come home to? Two bastions of progressive thought and investigative journalism willing to turn away from each other in the times we need them the most?
JONATHAN “OZ” TRAMMELL
New York City
I have disagreed with virtually all of Hitchens’s Nation columns. His final one is no exception. He is flat-out wrong to resign. Precisely because he is outnumbered, his voice needs to be heard. But this incredibly smart writer seems to have written himself into a corner. Urge him to return. That way, I can continue to profoundly disagree with him.
CHURCH OVERCREDITS CHURCH
Forrest Church vastly exaggerates the role of organized religion in nurturing the American ethos [“The American Creed,” Sept. 16]. Liberty and equality surely are core American values. One can speak of them metaphorically, as Church does, calling them part of America’s “creed” or “soul” or “spirit” or even “faith.” But we let the metaphors run away with us if we imagine that Christianity, or religion in general, deserves the principal credit.
Most elements of our democratic value system arose among philosophers, political theorists and radicals. Many values now held dear were bitterly opposed by the churches of their day. Rousseau, Locke and Montesquieu were attacked by contemporaries as heterodox or irreligious; Rousseau’s Social Contract, surely one of democracy’s “sacred texts,” went on the Vatican’s Index of Forbidden Books just four years after its publication. Europe’s churches overwhelmingly defended divine-right monarchy against “heathen” reformers.
On American shores, organized religion would never wield less social influence than it did in the Revolutionary era. Many colonial churches were affiliated with the Church of England. Appealing principally to Tories, they left little mark on our democracy. By contrast, millions were swayed to the revolutionary cause by the utterly secular Common Sense. Its author, Thomas Paine, would also pen The Age of Reason, the eighteenth century’s most powerful anti-Christian polemic. The deism of Franklin, Jefferson and other Founders is well-known.
If our democratic values are so resoundingly of secular origin, why does religion seem credible when it claims them? American churches often internalize these values years after secular processes have rooted them in the culture. Abolitionism arose in the liberal churches but was no Christian innovation. Fifty years after the Revolution, a new generation of clerics simply took to heart the democratic doctrines their grandfathers had condemned. In the same way, the liberal clergy who so animated the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s simply followed a trail the heterodox Thoreau had blazed a century before.
Far from nurturing democratic values, churches tend to embrace them belatedly, often decades after their introduction by secular innovators. Take the Pledge of Allegiance controversy. The churches are almost unanimous in defending the phrase “under God.” Other, largely secular reformers recognize the emergence of unprecedented religious diversity. Ceremonial public language that invokes one religion’s deity, rebuffing those who worship other gods or no god, is no longer acceptable. Most of us who support altering the pledge do so because philosophical or ethical inquiry convinced us that it’s the American thing to do. Religion will catch up with us in forty years or so, but why wait?
Giving American religion undeserved credit for what is actually the secular “miracle” of our democracy, Church encourages progressives to look for reform in just the wrong places. Let’s not be fooled.
Council for Secular Humanism
New York City
Clearly the American Creed is far more indebted to Enlightenment thought than to organized religion. My point was simply that the nation is built on a spiritual foundation. By grounding liberty and equality in nature (or nature’s God), the founders remind us that though both liberty and equality may be abridged by government, such abridgment violates a higher moral law.
WAR, ‘REGIME CHANGE’ & ATTA
Lopez Island, Wash.
Re Stephen Zunes’s “The Case Against War” [Sept. 30]: Considering the threat to world peace, it seems to us that the most urgent need for “regime change” is not in Baghdad but in Washington.
OSCAR and ALIE SMAALDERS
The case against the war comes down to the following: The Bush Administration argument is weapons of mass destruction, “regime change” and gassing the Kurds. Weapons of mass destruction have been around since Cain murdered one-fourth of the world’s population. Nothing other than a Christian change of heart can offer a solution to the modern state that some biblical archeologists say is the land where the four rivers met that formed the Garden of Eden. “Regime change”? How? Military intervention, like violence, begets military intervention. Are we going to pressure Saddam to call for a general election? Perhaps if it’s too close, the US Supreme Court can cast the deciding vote. I think we have a precedent here. Gassing the Kurds is a horrible crime–and there is no “however” to qualify that. But if Saddam is brought to the dock, he might call members of the Reagan Administration to the stand as agents in that genocide.
New York City
There you go again! The Nation has taken to citing the FBI and the CIA as sources for its continuing campaign of misrepresentation concerning reports that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi diplomat in Prague before the attack. So perhaps it’s fitting to quote Ronald Reagan in response.
Stephen Zunes states that “investigations by the FBI, CIA and Czech intelligence have found no substance to rumors of a meeting in spring 2001” between Atta and Iraqi consul Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani. The assertion that the Prague meeting was a rumor without substance has been belied many times over. I have detailed numerous pieces of evidence that such a meeting may have taken place and sent it to The Nation, after reading a similar misrepresentation in a July Nation editorial, “War on Iraq Is Wrong.”
As I then noted, your statement that “the accusation that Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi diplomat in Prague before the September 11 attack appears to have no basis in fact” itself has no basis in fact–and may itself be the product of a US intelligence-inspired disinformation campaign. Space does not allow me to reiterate that abundant evidence here, but it is widely available, and I will be happy to furnish it upon request. Sure, “war on Iraq is wrong”–but in making “the case against war,” The Nation is also wrong in consistently attempting to twist the facts to support its thesis.
Our July editorial was based on published US news reports. On July 17 the Prague Post carried a front-page report in which the head of the Czech Republic’s foreign intelligence service denied that the service had any evidence of a meeting between Atta and anyone associated with Iraqi intelligence. That report informed Stephen Zunes’s statement. –The Editors