Thursday, 19 August 2010
Hitchens unbowed, never being boring
The other night I watched an interview posted online at the Charlie Rose talk-show website, wherein the masterful conversationalist Rose (we have no-one quite like him in this country, strangely) talks to Christopher Hitchens partly about his recent memoir but mainly about his recently diagnosed cancer of the oesophagus, for which he’s receiving chemotherapy, looking as drained by the ordeal as one would expect, but remaining as thoughtful, articulate and incisive as ever was. He's reading the letters of Saul Bellow, who once wrote that awareness of death is the dark backing a mirror needs in order that it truly reflect.
The interview is full of good meat, but I think many will find special interest, given Hitchens’ history of invective against phoney, cowardly, sinister and corrupt politicians, in his response to the question of which political figures, if any, he has admired. I daresay if Rosa Luxemburg had ever attained democratically-elected office he’d have talked about her, but in any case his pick was Tony Blair. The moment comes at 37:14 in the link above.
I remember once hearing Blair as PM, circa 2006, getting one of those famous ‘grillings’ from John Humphrys on the Today programme, and thinking to myself, ‘Christ, you need to pack this in...’ But Mr Humphrys is still in that job, and indeed several others, giving out in the amusedly irritable manner for which, clearly, he’s loved by many. It seems that Humphrys also writes a weekly-or-so column for YouGov on a big issue of the moment, and the other day it was Tony Blair’s donation to the British Legion. Weirdly Humphrys seems as keen as others in the BBC to quote in seriousness the risible views of those clapped-out old SWPers who believed that public opposition to the ousting of Saddam Hussein was the mass-radical 'anti-imperial' moment they'd waited all their lives for. The trope of these columns, which YouGov presumably asked for, is to conclude with a long list of opinion-poll style questions. These are those asked in respect of Blair:
“Do you think Mr Blair’s gesture is a genuinely selfless gift or do you think it is self-serving? Do you think the reputation he has gained since leaving office for being too interested in money is fair or not? Do you think he should feel guilty or not about the money he has made? Should he feel guilty or not about his decision to invade Iraq? Did he deceive the country or not? Do you think he has a criminal charge to answer or not? What do you make of the ‘blood money’ charge? Should the case of David Kelly’s death be reopened? And will you be buying Tony Blair’s memoirs?”
For what it’s worth, my answers are: Nothing in life is selfless, but it is a huge gift, likely given for complex motives, the merits of it obvious; He’s as interested in making money as the rest of us; As before; No feeling human escapes remorse over any part in the loss of innocent life; Blair clearly believed, like David Kelly, that some WMD capacity remained; No, can't see it; Bereaved parents of servicemen and women are, very obviously and profoundly, more than entitled to this opinion, though some hold it more impressively than others; No, still looks like suicide to me; and Yes, unless it's bought for me.