Christopher Hitchens: You ask the questions

(Such as: so, Christopher Hitchens, are you a role model for the Englishman abroad? And what's your next feud going to be?)

Wednesday 06 March 2002 01:00 GMT

Christopher Hitchens was born in 1949 in Portsmouth. He took a degree in philosophy, politics and economics at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1970 and began his journalistic career as a staff writer with the New Statesman. Shortly after moving to America in the 1980s, Hitchens defiantly remarked on the right-winger William F Buckley's television programme that he'd "rather be Red than dead". He has gone on to become a widely respected political commentator on both sides of the Atlantic, and has written his wide-ranging, bi-weekly column for The Nation since 1982.

Luminaries who have come under fire from his vitriolic pen include Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton and Tom Wolfe. His books include The Trial of Henry Kissinger and, the latest, Letters to a Young Contrarian. Hitchens is currently a contributing editor on Vanity Fair and lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Carol Blue. He has three children, two from a previous marriage.

You were famously alleged to have served as one of the models for Peter Fallow in The Bonfire of the Vanities. In what other literary characters do you detect similarities to yourself?

Kevin Muir, London

Peter Fallow is a drunk and a social climber and a gossip writer, so he's obviously not based on me. Anthony Haden-Guest was the model. However, I was the cause of the quarrel between him and Tom Wolfe and that's why, as an ex-friend, Anthony was represented like that in Bonfire of Vanities.

I think I'm to be found in the character of Colin Thinwall in Clive James's Brilliant Creatures, although I can't think of myself as a Colin, I have to say. And in Martin Amis's Money there are some experiences that we both had that occur to poor old John Self. The humiliations of a brothel visit in New York, the Happy Isles, I still can't read without wincing and practically dying of laughter.

Have you ever been sued?

Richard Poole, Bath

Yes, several times but never successfully. I tried to get Kissinger to sue me and he wouldn't for the understandable reason that he'd have to defend his own record in court. So, to cheer myself up, I sued him instead for calling me an anti-Semite, and got him to withdraw it, which was my high point of last year.

You were once a Trotskyist. How do you describe yourself politically now?

Lucy Smith, Bournemouth

I'm an unaffiliated radical. I don't particularly like to make a point of saying I'm not a socialist because I don't like to be confused with the professional recanters and ex-leftists. I don't take anything back of what I've said and I feel it like a missing limb. But saying you are a socialist is no longer an intelligible or challenging thing to say. I am still a great admirer of the life and work of Trotsky.

What was the last demonstration you went on? Did you have a banner?

Charlotte Hunter, by e-mail

I really had to rack my brains about this. It was against the Gulf War, in Washington, with a reservation that could not be inscribed on a banner. I was more opposed to Saddam Hussein than Bush was, but I was sure that the war wasn't being fought for the advertised reason. It was being fought to show who was boss, not to liberate Iraq or Kurdistan.

Is there any public figure you would be wary of criticising?

Tim Sutcliffe, Hertford

No. How dare you ask.

Do you see yourself as a role model for the Englishman abroad?

William Harris, Brighton

No, nor at home either. Role model is on my list of banned expressions. It's partly new-age gunk and partly celebrity culture. I never use the term and I don't trust anyone who does.

You have spearheaded the case for the prosecution against Kissinger and Clinton. Why are you now a leading member of Bush's defence team?

Fiona McEwan, by e-mail

I'm not. I'm just glad the Bush family has belatedly joined the struggle against religious fascism. But they need watching. I'm one of their watchers.

What do you consider to be the "axis of evil"?

Colin Mathers, Birmingham

Christianity, Judaism, Islam – the three leading monotheisms.

Do you think the West can win the war on terror?

Susannah Forbes, by e-mail

I think that we mustn't lose and that the other side is doomed to lose. They are crippled by their primitive religious ideology, and if they ever looked like winning they would start cutting each other's throats. Such has been, and will be, the fate of all jihads.

Your right-wing brother Peter is called "Bonkers". What would you call yourself?

Sasha Millar, Hull

Deceptively charismatic.

Have you decided on your next feud yet?

Alex Brown, Glasgow

I think the current one against theocratic fascism will run and run.

You're a highly-paid newspaper columnist. How do you square this with your left-wing leanings?

Jo Spencer, Leeds

Nothing's too good for the working class.

More people have died in the bombing of Afghanistan than died in the 11 September attacks. Why isn't your heart bleeding?

Neil Wright, by e-mail

It's not true, or hasn't been proved. It's hard to compute the humanitarian value first of removing the Taliban, whose rule would have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and the enslavement of 50 per cent of them. It's impossible to compute the humanitarian value of breaking up the al-Qa'ida network, every member of which was potential suicide murderer. My heart bleeds for their victims not the perpetrators.

Now you've moved over to the right, can we expect you to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee?

Liam Jones, Manchester

I was a republican during the last Jubilee in 1977, when being a republican was a fringe belief. I'm a republican even more now and it's now a mainstream belief. In another 25 years, the British, who've already outgrown the monarchy, may've found the nerve to outlive it. On Jubilee Day, I will, as a famous trade-union leader once said of an offer made to his members, treat it with a complete ignoral.

Who has made the worse contribution to the world, Henry Kissinger or Mother Teresa?

Kelly Rider, by e-mail

With Kissinger, you can tell how many people he killed. With Mother Teresa, who only preached surrender to poverty, disease and ignorance and against family planning, we can't be sure of the figures. But together they certainly make two out of the four pale riders of the Apocalypse.

'Letters to a Young Contrarian' is published by the Perseus Press, £16.99

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in