by Christopher Hitchens
Twelve, 448 pp.,$26.99
On September 10, 2001, Christopher Hitchens woke up early and boarded a flight for Seattle. The day went swimmingly. He was upgraded at the airport, enjoyed a good book on the plane, and occasionally glanced out his airplane window to enjoy the glorious American scenery below.
What’s more, he was excited to land in Washington state and deliver a paid speech that evening at Whitman College in Walla Walla attacking one of his least favorite people, Henry Kissinger. He even carried with him a scoop to share with the audience. He had learned that the next day the family of a murdered Chilean general would be permitted to file suit against the former U.S. Secretary of State in federal court and the Washington Post would even feature the story on its front page.
“So, comrades and friends, brothers and sisters, we shall be able to say,” Hitchens concluded his speech, as he recounts in his recently released memoir “Hitch 22:” “September 11, 2001 will long be remembered as a landmark day in the struggle for human rights.”
September 11, 2001 did indeed become a historic day. But not in the way Hitchens had imagined the day before.
Throughout “Hitch 22,” readers learn many new details about the contentious British-born polemicist and essayist — from the parents that reared him to his activist Oxford days to his deep friendships with some the most celebrated men of letters — but Hitchens’s political journey after the 9/11 attacks is one of the most captivating parts of his tome.
Before September 11, Hitchens was idealized on the left. Gore Vidal had anointed him “his successor, an inheritor, a dauphin.”
But 9/11 changed things for Hitchens as he witnessed his old comrades justify the brutal attacks on America. America may have had its faults, but Hitchens didn’t believe it deserved what it got on that calm September morn.
“Before the close of the day,” Hitchens writes, “I had deliberately violated the rule that one ought not to let the sun set on one’s anger, and had sworn a sort of oath to remain coldly furious until these hateful forces had been brought to the most strict and merciless account.”
Soon after the towers fell, Hitchens writes he “could suddenly visualize, with an awful and sickening certainty, what we were going to be getting by way of comment from Noam Chomsky and his co-thinkers in the coming days.”
As Hitchens witnessed many of his old ideological colleagues proffer the morally repugnant line that America got what it deserved, he knew he could not stand with them.
“Regarding almost everything since Columbus as having been one continuous succession of genocides and land-thefts,” Hitchens writes of the MIT linguist and left-wing polemicist Noam Chomsky, the lead promoter of the chickens coming home to roost thesis of the 9/11 attacks, “he did not really believe that the United States of America was a good idea to begin with.”