Christopher Hitchens, who died just over a year ago after a stoic and very public struggle with esophageal cancer, wasn’t one to pull punches on fools, saints or the recently departed. When Jerry Falwell died, Hitchens went on national television to express his satisfaction that a man he regarded as a traitor and charlatan was no longer with us. He memorialized the 2003 death of Bob Hope with an essay ending with the line: “Hope was a fool, and nearly a clown, but he was never even remotely a comedian.” For those he found dangerous, despicable or merely wanting, death offered no quarter.
That one of his many detractors would now seek to put him on trial seems entirely fair. And what a fascinating proceeding it could be. The accused was a British-born Trotskyist who spent the last decade of his life as a propagandist for the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the neoconservative worldview from which it sprang. He had been unflinching in his prosecution of those he saw as standing on the side of tyranny and totalitarianism, but he targeted not just obvious choices such as Henry Kissinger, Nicolae Ceausescu and Osama bin Laden, but unexpected onesuch as Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. He was enormously gifted as a speaker, writer and provocateur, but was sometimes impaired by intellectual certainty and an ultimately fatal overindulgence in wine, whiskey and smokes. Rakish and infuriating, a charismatic purveyor of impolite arguments, Hitchens is a most intriguing defendant; in the hands of a forthright, talented and fair-minded prosecutor, his intellectual trial could be the stuff of greatness.