Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Err to Gore Vidal

In the February 2010 Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens cast his critical eye on Gore Vidal, a man whose “tough-mindedness” and “subversive wit” he greatly admired. When participating in a panel discussion on the life and work of Oscar Wilde, Hitchens recalled the moderator proposing that Vidal was the Oscar Wilde of our time, “and, really, once that name had been mentioned, there didn’t seem to be any obvious rival.”

If one had been looking for Gore Vidal’s successor, Hitchens didn’t have any obvious rival either, and even now, with his voice permanently stilled, no rival seems likely to emerge. Vidal himself once championed Hitchens as his heir, but then came 9/11. The attack on New York and Washington D.C. had many ramifications, the most serious of which - the shredding of the Bill of Rights and the shedding of blood in Iraq - Vidal addressed in his controversial pamphlets, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace and Dreaming War. One of its more frivolous results was the end of the two writers’ mutual admiration society.

Suddenly, Hitchens regarded Vidal as a “crackpot” for proposing that the Bush administration had advance knowledge of the attacks and took merciless advantage of them to justify an invasion of Iraq and the suspension of many of our civil liberties. Hitchens wrote that “if it’s true even to any degree that we were all changed by September 11, 2001, it’s probably truer of Vidal that it made him more the way he already was. . .” As an example, Hitchens referred to Vidal’s previously stated belief that Franklin Roosevelt ignored warnings that an attack on Pearl Harbor was imminent, knowing that such a tragedy would rally support for America’s entry into World War II.

Prior to 9/11, Hitchens was seemingly on the political left, contributing to such progressive publications as The Nation. A closer look at some of his activities suggests that the heart of a right winger was beating in his chest years before that day in 2001. While the left marched in step, supporting Bill Clinton even as he was impeached for lying under oath in the Monica Lewinsky case, Hitchens joined the conservative choir, admirably so in my view, by condemning him, writing a book, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton.

Hitchens didn't really change after 9/11. As he said of Vidal, “it made him more the way he already was . . .” Hitchens' words, which I replaced with an ellipsis - “and accentuated a crackpot strain that gradually asserted itself as dominant” - perfectly describe Hitchens himself who told USA Today that 9/11 was “an attack on America and its ideals.” George W. Bush had said that the terrorists “hate our freedom.” Different words expressing the same ridiculous sentiment.

Hitchens, the self-described contrarian, became an unofficial publicist for the Bush administration and its policies. Since he wasn’t on the government’s payroll, he was free to make statements that were more inflammatory, such as his description of the enemy as “Islamofascists.” Hitchens, like most Bush cheerleaders, failed to acknowledge that U.S. involvement in regions where we have no business being involved was, as Patrick Buchanan has stated, asking for trouble.

It’s a pointless argument, however, since the facts support the claim made by Vidal and others that the Bush administration had prior knowledge of the attacks. Of course, Hitchens, like others in the mainstream media, ridiculed such beliefs as unworthy of anyone but a “crackpot.”

Hitchens appears to have been something far more dangerous than a crackpot. He was a disinformation specialist. They come in all shapes and sizes, all colors and creeds, and can be found on the left, right, and in the center of every political party. Hitchens, I stated previously, “wasn’t on the government payroll,” but many journalists are secretly employed by the CIA, and have been since the days of the company’s forerunner, the OSS. In a 1977 article in The Washington Post, Carl Bernstein reported that the CIA’s “assets” included employees of virtually every major newspaper, magazine, and TV network, all of whom could be called on to do their bidding. Whether or not Hitchens was one of them, he certainly supported their agenda, something the true contrarian, Gore Vidal, never did.

In attempting to explain why Hitchens demoted him from idol to crackpot, Vidal told an audience that “I didn’t die. I just kept going on and on and on.”

And on he goes, a man without an heir, but he never really had one in Hitchens. Sure, they were both witty and had a gift for words, but Hitchens worked hard to counter Vidal’s most important message. Perhaps when Vidal called Hitchens his heir, he forgot to use the spellcheck. He may have meant “err.”

© 2011 Brian W. Fairbanks


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