The Hitch

Radical or neocon? Same old or sold out? Christopher Hitchens has things both ways.

In the last third of the collection, Hitchens's self-portrait snaps into focus with a defense of his political evolution. "I deliberately put in my earliest response to 9-11 because some people have accused me of being inconsistent on this point," he says. "I printed my raw reaction." He's attempting to explain the historical basis of his current political convictions, drawing the line between how he sees Iraq and how he sees the fight against "fascism with an Islamic face." One piece in particular is invaluable in understanding his sympathies: "The Struggle of the Kurds," a report from northern Iraq written for National Geographic in 1992. He traveled among these long-oppressed people for months, and was won over by their history and struggle. How could he not get their backs?

"An antique saying has it that a man's life is incomplete unless or until he has tasted love, poverty, and war," he writes in the book's introduction. He's not boasting a complete life, so much as presenting the most complete self portrait possible from his essays and journalistic dispatches.

"The most dismal test you can apply to a writer is to know what his political allegiances are," he says, referring, ostensibly, to Kipling—another British expat who saw the benefits and cruelties of empire. It's not that Hitchens shies away from his political allies, but just that he has a story he'd like to share about the time he sat down with Jorge Luis Borges at his home in Buenos Aires in 1977, where he shared "long, long sips" of Poe with the writer (who had been blind for years) and discussed what "a true gentleman" Augusto Pinochet was. Political allegiances, argues Hitchens, don't come close to telling the complete story.

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