By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

When Christopher (maybe) met Henry

I did not realize until reading one of the many obituaries about Christopher Hitchens that he’d written a short book about Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man.” I think I’ll make it my next read.

There are a lot of well-deserved tributes to Hitchens today. I was especially moved by Ian McEwan’s in the New York Times. Turned out Hitchens was a man who faced death with bravery and even scorn right up to the end.

In March of 2001, I wrote an overview for the Boston Phoenix of Hitchens’ devastating portrayal of Henry Kissinger, first published in Harper’s and later turned into a book titled “The Trial of Henry Kissinger.”

Which calls to mind my one and only Hitchens anecdote. I can’t remember where I picked it up, and it has the ring of something that ought to be true rather an actual occurrence. But, supposedly, Hitchens was once introduced to Kissinger at a party. Kissinger’s eyes narrowed while Hitchens waited nervously to see what the former secretary of state would say.

“So, you called me a war criminal,” Kissinger told Hitchens.

Hitchens averred that, yes, he had, but that he’d also called Bill Clinton a war criminal because of his air strikes in the former Yugoslavia.

“Bill Clinton,” Kissinger was said to have replied, “doesn’t have the moral courage to be a war criminal.”

If it didn’t actually happen, it damn well should have.

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  1. There are a number of things Hitchens said that I found offensive, but on balance I was a fan. The next revisions of all dictionaries should have his picture next to the word “iconoclast”.

    I wish I could believe this story, but I just can’t see Hitchens being nervous.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Deb: Well, he was in the presence of a war criminal.

  2. Bob Gardner

    I think Alexander Coburn pretty much got Hitchens right with his article in Counterpunch this week.

  3. Christian Avard

    Like others, I enjoyed Hitchens writings. His caustic criticisms of Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton were spot on. I even agreed with him re: Islamofascism and that it was a true national security threat. But a journalist I know who was friends with Hitchens said (Hitchens) turned into a really angry person after Sept. 11, even to the point where he thought Hitchens was xenophobic. No matter how witty, pithy, and clever he was, Hitchens’ contributions were oftentimes venomous, condemning, or destructive. Agree?

    The other thing was that Hitchens could be downright sexist. We can’t deny that. It was a part of him. Sady Doyle, the Twitterer who held Michael Moore accountable for calling Assange’s rape allegations “hooey,” was pointing out some of the rotten things he said about women. Fox example, Doyle said that Hitchens once called the Dixie Chicks “fat slags.” Sigh …

    Hey, I’ve said dumb things myself. I’m no slouch. But every once in a while I take a step back and think, this guy made a living off being a well-spoken bigot and we liked him for it.

    Just a thought.

    • Dan Kennedy

      And just in terms of accuracy, two of the three Dixie Chicks are really skinny.

  4. Christian, just for the record, the bigotry was what I found offensive. That’s usually enough for me to throw someone under a bus, but then I’d have missed his takedown of Churchill, among other things.

    And Dan, yes, I suppose he might be nervous around a war criminal.

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