Christopher Hitchens died Thursday at the age of 62 after battling esophageal cancer, and though his prolific and enlightening work belongs to the world, he did make an Orange County connection late in life.
Hitch-22: A Memoir (2010) includes a chapter based on Hitchens having contacted an Irvine family whose son had volunteered to fight in Iraq and was killed near Mosul.
Hitchens reached out to the family after a friend sent him Army Second Lt. Mark J. Daily's obituary, which included the passage: "Writings by author and columnist Christopher Hitchens on the moral case for war deeply influenced him."
The British-born author underwent, as his longtime readers know, a profound transformation, spending time early in his writing career as a correspondent for the Socialist Workers Party's International Socialism magazine and, after 9/11, arguing with Noam Chomsky and others who blamed U.S. foreign policy for the attacks, supporting the Iraq War and backing George W. Bush's 2004 re-election.
Not that Hitchens--whose titles include The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Is Christianity Good for the World?--A Debate--would be invited to any Religious Right barbecues down in Crawford. (And yet, the self-described "conservative Marxist" died in a Texas hospital. Hmmm . . .)
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"Humanity has lost a powerful stalwart for atheism," says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, in a statement sent over this morning. "Christopher Hitchens changed the discussion about religion and non-belief by championing public criticism of theology." Hitchens was, according to the association, "one of a group that became known as The Four Horsemen" (the others being Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris).
Hitchens was the keynote speaker at the 2008 World Humanist Congress in Washington, D.C. Due to his declining health, he had to pull out of a scheduled appearance at April's American Atheist Convention, instead sending a letter that stated, "Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death." He ended in typical Hitch fashion: "And don't keep the faith
What we will mostly miss, of course, are those stunning verbal and written assaults on his philosophical and ideological foes, who have included Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger, Dalai Lama, Michael Moore and Jerry Falwell--and if you can establish a through-line from those names, good fucking luck. Two days after Ronald Reagan died, Hitchens described him as a "cruel and stupid lizard. Hitch referred to Bill Clinton as "a cynical, self-seeking ambitious thug."
Amid the collateral damage, many fired back. A former friend called Hitchens "a lying, opportunistic, cynical contrarian." One critic described him as "a drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay." Bombastic? You betcha. But, God, a lot of us will miss the godless bastard.