Tag: Christopher Hitchens

Churchill flirted with Basic English

Wednesday, 14 August, 2019

In the early 1920s, a rather eccentric Cambridge academic named C.K. Ogden came up with the idea of “Basic English“, which reduced the language to 850 words. One can imagine Winston Churchill, then in his mid-forties, having been shocked by such an idea, but circumstances change cases and, astonishingly, the great orator and author of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples found that Basic English had its war-time merits. The first recorded mention of his support for the notion dates from an Anglo-American summit with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Quebec in August 1943, when he was proposing a closer union between Britain and the United States. Eight months later, in April 1944, having heard nothing from Washington, Churchill wrote to Roosevelt stating: “My conviction is that Basic English will then prove to be a great boon to mankind in the future and a powerful support to the influence of the Anglo-Saxon people in world affairs.”

Filled with enthusiasm for the idea, Churchill formed a Cabinet committee on Basic English and appointed Leo Amery, then Secretary of State for Burma, to chair it. Amery had been a close friend of Rudyard Kipling, a great writer as well as a stout imperialist and, as the late Christopher Hitchens put it in Blood, Class and Nostalgia, “It is hard to think of a man less likely to acquiesce in the reduction of English to 850 words.”

Eventually, Roosevelt replied. Snippet:

“Incidentally, I wonder what the course of history would have been if in May 1940 you had been able to offer the British people only ‘blood, work, eye water and face water,’ which I understand is the best that Basic English can with five famous word.”

Thus, with a deft jab of WASPish sarcasm, Basic English was banished forever from the “Special Relationship”. Curiously, George Orwell was also an early fan of Basic English, but he turned against it and used the concept as the basis for the dreaded Newspeak of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Churchill


The mystery and mysteries of Gatsby

Friday, 31 August, 2018

Why is The Great Gatsby great? Why do some people never tire of re-reading it, no matter how many times they’ve read it already? The answer is that it’s the kind of book that nurtures you as you turn each page, and with each page, one is struck by something new, and this discovery creates a virtuous chain of reactions involving memory and pleasure and poignancy. How did the young Fitzgerald capture and record so memorably the mysteries of life? In pursuit of that mystery, one must keep reading and re-reading the novel.

“The track curved and now it was going away from the sun, which as it sank lower, seemed to spread itself in benediction over the vanishing city where she had drawn her breath. He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Let’s leave the last word to the late, lamented Christopher Hitchens, who read Gatsby closely and critically and admiringly:

Fitzgerald’s work captures the evaporating memory of the American Eden while connecting it to the advent of the New World of smartness and thuggery and corruption. It was his rite of passage; it is our bridge to the time before “dreams” were slogans. He wanted to call it Among the Ashheaps and Millionaires — thank heaven that his editor, Maxwell Perkins, talked him out of it. It was nearly entitled just plain Gatsby. It remains “the great” because it confronts the defeat of youth and beauty and idealism, and finds the defeat unbearable, and then turns to face the defeat unflinchingly. With The Great Gatsby, American letters grew up.

That’s the annual re-reading done. Until next August, then, God willing.


The indispensable Hitchens

Saturday, 16 December, 2017 3 Comments

What a tragedy that Michael Moore has been spared and Christopher Hitchens has not. The great contrarian died six years ago yesterday and his loss is more acute with each passing day. Speaking once about Moore, Hitchens said: “Europeans think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they’ve taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities.” Here’s the late, great Hitchens in full flight.

“There is a widespread view that the war against jihadism and totalitarianism involves only differences of emphasis. In other words, one might object to the intervention in Iraq on the grounds that it drew resources away from Afghanistan — you know the argument. It’s important to understand that this apparent agreement does not cover or include everybody. A very large element of the Left and of the isolationist Right is openly sympathetic to the other side in this war, and wants it to win. This was made very plain by the leadership of the ‘anti-war’ movement, and also by Michael Moore when he shamefully compared the Iraqi fascist ‘insurgency’ to the American Founding Fathers. To many of these people, any ‘anti-globalization’ movement is better than none. With the Right-wingers it’s easier to diagnose: they are still Lindberghians in essence and they think war is a Jewish-sponsored racket. With the Left, which is supposed to care about secularism and humanism, it’s a bit harder to explain an alliance with woman-stoning, gay-burning, Jew-hating medieval theocrats. However, it can be done, once you assume that American imperialism is the main enemy. Even for those who won’t go quite that far, the admission that the US Marine Corps might be doing the right thing is a little further than they are prepared to go — because what would then be left of their opposition credentials, which are so dear to them?” Love, Poverty and War, Christopher Hitchens (13 April 1949 — 15 December 2011)

Hitchens


Hitchens on the North Korean necrocracy

Wednesday, 9 August, 2017 0 Comments

When North Korean media declared Kim Jong-il to be the reincarnation of Kim Il Sung, the late, great, greatly-missed Christopher Hitchens said there never had been “such a blatant attempt to create a necrocracy, or perhaps mausolocracy, in which a living claimant assumes the fleshly mantle of the departed.” In Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays, Hitchens was typically acerbic about the hideous Kim cult:

“The fervor and single-mindedness of this deification probably have no precedent in history. It’s not like Duvalier or Assad passing the torch to the son and heir. It surpasses anything I have read about the Roman or Babylonian or even Pharaonic excesses. An estimated $2.68 billion was spent on ceremonies and monuments in the aftermath of Kim Il Sung’s death. The concept is not that his son is his successor, but that his son is his reincarnation. North Korea has an equivalent of Mount Fuji — a mountain sacred to all Koreans. It’s called Mount Paekdu, a beautiful peak with a deep blue lake, on the Chinese border. Here, according to the new mythology, Kim Jong Il was born on February 16, 1942. His birth was attended by a double rainbow and by songs of praise (in human voice) uttered by the local birds. In fact, in February 1942 his father and mother were hiding under Stalin’s protection in the dank Russian city of Khabarovsk, but as with all miraculous births it’s considered best not to allow the facts to get in the way of a good story.”

Where now? Well, we know that sanctions have never brought down a single tyrant in the history of their use. In fact, as Cuba demonstrates, they provide a substantial prop for power based on impoverishment. On the other hand, the idea that no North Korean provocation, however outrageous, can be confronted, lest it provide a pretext for the “Mount Paektu Bloodline” to do something truly insane cannot be tolerated much longer. “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last,” Churchill said about a different, but similar, madman.


Christopher Hitchens on the Castro Dynasty

Sunday, 27 November, 2016 1 Comment

“If we cannot yet say that Castro is dead and we cannot decently say ‘long live’ to the new-but-old Castro, we can certainly say that the Castro era is effectively finished and that a uniformed and secretive and highly commercial dictatorship is the final form that it will take.”

So wrote the late, great and greatly-missed Christopher Hitchens in August 2006. The focus of “The Eighteenth Brumaire of the Castro Dynasty” was Raúl Castro’s fatigued take over of the family enterprise: Cuba. “The even more grotesque fact that power has passed from one 79-year-old brother to a ‘younger’ one who is only 75 may have assisted in obscuring the obvious,” noted Hitchens, acidly, and added, “As was once said of Prussia, Cuba is not a country that has an army but an army that has a country.”

As the world waits for the final form of this commercial dictatorship to pass let’s recall what W. C. Fields said: “All roads lead to rum.”

Bacardi rum


9/11 at 15

Sunday, 11 September, 2016 0 Comments

For the people who went to work in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on the morning of 11 September 2001 and were mercilessly slaughtered; for the firefighters and the police who gallantly responded to the calls for help and were obliterated; for the passengers on the planes and the flight crews whose lives were extinguished in a terrifying moment, this poignant memorial is dedicated to you and yours.

“Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.” — Christopher Hitchens


Evil is neither awful nor tragic. It is the enemy.

Tuesday, 26 July, 2016 0 Comments

Another day, another dreadful deed: Nineteen residents at a Japanese care centre for people with mental disabilities killed in a knife attack. Police have arrested a former employee. He is reported to have said he wanted people with disabilities “to disappear.”

The number 19 was central to another report, one equally dreadful, which went under-reported at the time, perhaps because the source was the Iranian Shia Ahlolbayt News Agency. “ISIS burns 19 Yezidi girls to death in Mosul” was the headline. After reading it, William Dalrymple, the English writer and historian tweeted yesterday, “This is so awful and tragic.” His choice of words was criticized by some who felt that “awful and tragic” were timid synonyms for such a monstrous crime.

Quite simply, “awful and tragic” do not cut it when we’re talking about deeds that “constitute a direct negation of human liberty, and vent an undisguised hatred and contempt for life itself.” So said the late Christopher Hitchens in The Enemy, his meditation on the death of Osama bin Laden.

According to Hitchens, “this force”, the one we have seen at work recently in Sagamihara, Ansbach, Nice, Mosul, Orlando, Brussels, Paris… “absolutely deserves to be called evil.” Here’s the full quote:

“I thought then, and I think now, that Osama bin Laden was a near-flawless personification of the mentality of a real force: the force of Islamic jihad. And I also thought, and think now, that this force absolutely deserves to be called evil, and that the recent decapitation of its most notorious demagogue and organizer is to be welcomed without reserve. Osama bin Laden’s writings and actions constitute a direct negation of human liberty, and vent an undisguised hatred and contempt for life itself.” — Christopher Hitchens, The Enemy

UPDATE: In Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, two IS adherents murder Fr Jacques Hamel, 84, by slitting his throat while he was saying Mass. Evil is now ascendant in Europe.


7/7: A decade later

Tuesday, 7 July, 2015 0 Comments

The sworn enemies of civilization attacked London on 7 July 2005. On that day, four Islamist suicide bombers carrying rucksacks of explosives killed 52 people in the worst single terrorist atrocity on British soil. In the decade since, the adherents of the barbarian ideology that inspired the London bombers have shown that they are willing to use any means to murder the young, the old and the innocent. Regardless of class, faith or colour, the killers strike again and again. Being in the wrong place when the time comes, on a beach in Tunisia, say, does not shield one from those who violate every human norm in pursuit of their caliphate dreams. Being human is sufficient guilt for the death sentence carried out by the jihadist.

In June 2007, the late Christopher Hitchens wrote a column for Vanity Fair titled Londonistan Calling in which he explored the racist fanaticism that had taken hold in many of London’s mosques and schools. Snippet:

“It was argued for a while that the 7/7 perpetrators were victims of unemployment and poverty, until their remains were identified and it became clear that most of them came from educated and reasonably well-off backgrounds. The excuses then abruptly switched, and we were asked to believe that it was Tony Blair’s policy in Iraq and Afghanistan that motivated the killers. Suppose the latter to be true. It would still be the case that they belong to a movement that hates Jews and Indians and all kuffar, or ‘unbelievers’: a fanatical sect that believes itself entitled to use deadly violence at any time. The roots of violence, that is to say, are in the preaching of it, and the sanctification of it.”

It is cold comfort today to ponder the thought that the roots of Islamist violence are in the preaching of it, and the sanctification of it, but it is remains the bitter truth.

07/07 London terror victims


Hitchens on Hillary: The case against drama

Wednesday, 11 March, 2015 0 Comments

Hillary Clinton went on a First-Lady tour of Asia in April 1995. Along the way, she visited Nepal and was introduced to Sir Edmund Hillary, of Mount Everest fame. Thereupon, she announced that her mother had actually named her for the great mountaineer. This assertion ended up a decade later in her husband’s memoirs.

Fact: Hillary Clinton was born in 1947, and Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did not climb Mount Everest until 1953. Jennifer Hanley, a spokeswoman for Mrs Clinton, put it like this in October 2006 after the fiction had been exposed: “It was a sweet family story her mother shared to inspire greatness in her daughter, to great results I might add.”

All of this, and more, can be found in “The Case Against Hillary Clinton” by Christopher Hitchens, which appeared seven years ago in Slate. His conclusion was devastating: “Indifferent to truth, willing to use police-state tactics and vulgar libels against inconvenient witnesses, hopeless on health care, and flippant and fast and loose with national security: The case against Hillary Clinton for president is open-and-shut.” And, as the 2008 campaign record shows, the primary voters responded accordingly.

Incidentally, the Slate sub-heading on the Hitchens article was “Why on earth would we choose to put the Clinton family drama at the center of our politics again?” and Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo places “drama” at the heart of his take on the latest Hillary theatre. In “The Joy and the Drama” he observes, wearily, “The Clintons are great. But there is always something. Always. Always a dance, always drama.”

The case against Hillary Clinton remains conclusive. Martin O’Malley offers less drama.


How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized

Sunday, 11 January, 2015 0 Comments

Under the slogan Tous Unis!, the Socialist government of President Hollande has called for a show of national unity today in Paris after three days of Islamist bloodshed. Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Matteo Renzi, Mariano Rajoy, Petro Poroshenko — among 30 world leaders in all — will walk from Place de la République to Place de la Nation in one of the most iconic public events in the history of postwar France. The signal that needs to go out to the world today from these leaders is this: There is a price for living in a free society, and all citizens must pay it. The following aides-mémoire should help them formulate their message:

“The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.

How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.” — Salman Rushdie

“What matters is abuse, and how it is anchored in a religion that denies women their rights as humans. What matters is that atrocities against women and children are carried out in Europe. What matters is that governments and societies must stop hiding behind a hollow pretense of tolerance so that they can recognize and deal with the problem.” — Ayaan Hirsi Ali

“Now is as good a time as ever to revisit the history of the Crusades, or the sorry history of partition in Kashmir, or the woes of the Chechens and Kosovars. But the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there’s no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about ‘the West,’ to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don’t like and can’t defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state.” — Christopher Hitchens


Christopher Hitchens on Charlie Hebdo

Friday, 9 January, 2015 1 Comment

In February 2006, the late, much lamented Christopher Hitchens addressed the “international Muslim pogrom against the free press”. In light of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, his words are need re-reading today:

“When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, he did so in the hope of forwarding a discussion that was already opening in the Muslim world, between extreme Quranic literalists and those who hoped that the text could be interpreted. We know what his own reward was, and we sometimes forget that the fatwa was directed not just against him but against ‘all those involved in its publication,’ which led to the murder of the book’s Japanese translator and the near-deaths of another translator and one publisher. I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun.”