Host: Brian Lamb
April 22, 2009
3:00 p.m. EST
BRIAN LAMB, CHAIRMAN AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, C-SPAN: Christopher Hitchens, what’s it feel like to be 60?
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, AUTHOR & JOURNALIST: Very much the same as it did, to be 59. These are arbitrary dates in a way. Edmund Wilson wrote an article called ”The Author at 60.” He wouldn’t even say myself at 60 or Edmund Wilson at 60 or (INAUDIBLE) to be The Author at 60, which I am going to read later on this week.
LAMB: Your just days into the 60th year, what’s life like?
HITCHENS: I suppose I would add one thing. I mean, since you do ask. In a funny way, I never expected to live this long.
HITCHENS: And the even more strange thing about this is. Well, I can remember when 30 seemed very old to me and I was probably in the early 20s then and that thought kept on decade by decade. And also I didn’t use to get the blues as some people do as decades turned.
With 60, the risk of it is you say, ”Ah! I remember the first time I met Brian Lamb and came on C-SPAN. That was 28 years ago.” And you think, ”Ah! I may not have another 28 to come.” That hits you bit more than it did when you were 40 years, right.
LAMB: What is life like for you?
HITCHENS: At present?
HITCHENS: Well, I am writing a memoir, so I am having to go through all this anyway. And again, great stretches of time are involved and the realization of this. First, I’ve seen more days, than I’m going to see, seen more sunsets and dawns than I’m going to see. I can live with that. I always knew that was true. No point being in denial there.
But if I didn’t have children to take things by, I think it would seem very arbitrary. But what makes it real, is the is realizing that I have a son, who once was on the show with me, remember?
LAMB: I - he was 10-years old.
HITCHENS: Who will be a quarter to century old next month.
LAMB: He will be 25 years old. What’s he doing?
HITCHENS: He is working for a think tank in London called the Center for Social Cohesion, bit of a mouthful name but it’s essentially says that religious groups shouldn’t make special claims. That there should be a national and common citizenship without being denominated by faith.
LAMB: You have two other children.
HITCHENS: I do have two daughters in fact the present, I can say I am the father of two teenage girls. But that will change in September when Sophia will become 20. And perhaps even more dramatically Antonia will become 16.
LAMB: So what has been your this is not heavy duty policy I know, but what has been your kind of mission with those three kids. How have you what kind of father have you been to them?
HITCHENS: Pretty different I suspect. I mean I always feel that I get better with children the older they get. I think it’s pretty true with alot of men. Their wife would like to see children majority, I don’t know why they try and do that, but a striking thing about women is about both my wives is that they know what to do when babies come. And so they know what to do.
Very few men do, but I think somehow it seems to be female thing when they are little. And when they are growing, I think it’s pretty true from that abnormal extent with me, as it was with my own father.
You hardly barely noticed them until you’re a bit older. And so what I hope to do to redeem how little I was involved in the infancy is to be a power and a prop and a stay and a force as they become older. It’s I think worked so far.
LAMB: Go back to the memoir for a moment (ph)?
LAMB: Where are you in that? When its due and how much time have you spent on it and what’s your approach to it?
HITCHENS: I spend all my time thinking about, and quite a lot of my time writing about it. afterall, it’s about me. So, I can always spare the time. And with luck, it will be turned into my publisher in the fall, and that will mean it will be published sometime in the spring or early summer of next year.
LAMB: So, give us the approach you’re making. Tell us one thing that’s going to be in there that we don’t know.
HITCHENS: Well, I couldn’t tell you just one. The theme is that of divide itself. I haven’t got a title for it yet, but if it was a pop song title. It will be called Both Sides Now, I suppose, something like that.
I have often felt myself exactly split down the middle and able to see, which is an advantage, both sides of every question. Able also to take one side and take it strongly. But sometimes feel the temptation to see it from the other as well, and this has been the case with other aspects of my life, finding out late in life that my mother was Jewish, for example, had a second identity, spending quite a little time with a wife who was Greek and trying to become, in part, a member of another society, language and culture. Another - looking for another second identity, taking pleasure in, in - if you like, having it both ways, which maybe would be a good title for the book.
LAMB: Your first wife, you were married to her for how long?
HITCHENS: Don’t let me hesitate unduly, because I was with her for longer than we were married, if you know what I mean. And when we got married the year, I moved to United States, which would be ’81. And we’d been a team for longer than that, for a couple of years or more. And we were separated in ’89 and fully divorced the year after.
LAMB: And where does she live today?
HITCHENS: in London.
LAMB: Your second wife, Carol Blue
HITCHENS: Ms. Blue.
LAMB: You met her where?
HITCHENS: In Los Angeles, her native city.
LAMB: And what were the circumstances?
HITCHENS: I was on a book tour, where people say to me just what I think about this, the thought we were just having.
People say isn’t it a bit early to be doing your memoirs because I am only 60. And as you haven’t said yet, I don’t look it. But I know you were going to say that. You certainly think, yes, maybe it is early, but you can’t wait till it’s too late. So, if you’re ever going to do it, then have to do it now.
LAMB: I want to raise speaking of how you look, I am going to go back to ’83, our first interview on book notes together in ’83.
HITCHENS: Do you have this?
LAMB: Yeah, I want you to see what you look like. Let’s run this.
HITCHENS: In case I am accused of concealing it, let me say it now. This if I haven’t said it already. I have always said I was a member of the Labor Party in Britain. The Labor Party is a member of the Socialist International. And that’s the the family of the socialist parties that comprises of regional, the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua, and the British Labor Party and the Swedish Socialist Party and many others.
I still consider myself a member of that political family, and I don’t feel that coming out of it on the air as if it were a confession it’s just an affirmation. If I had known you were so interested in my private political views, I’d put them near the top of the show.
LAMB: I said that was BookNotes it wasn’t it was a call-in show.
LAMB: And that was one of the first times we talked about the Socialist
HITCHENS: So let me clear away my French (?), having looked at that deplorable young man. What does that mean by saying private political view? Surely, I should have been saying there is nothing private about them. And there is a slip involved there, a funny one. Sorry, you were saying.
LAMB: No I just I do have a bone to pick with you.
HITCHENS: Woof, that’s a shock to the system.
LAMB: You promised me I haven’t seen you in a long time. You promised me that when you became an American citizen that we would go to Monticello and I would interview you there in Thomas Jefferson’s home. And I never heard from you. And you ended up where did you go?
HITCHENS: I was very lucky I was invited to take my oath of citizenship at the Jefferson Memorial by the Tidal Basin. On his birthday, the April 13th, which is also my own though actually because he was born under the old calendar, so by the time he died his birthday was April 13. It’s also the birthday of (Shamus (perhaps?) Heney), (Hedrow Welsh).
And I took a representative group of Americans along there but I thought it was for you to call me not me to call you. Well, it’s not too late, I’ve been invited to give the Jefferson lecture at Monticello I have been a couple of times since I wrote my book about him.
LAMB: Why ...
HITCHENS: I hope I really really like to take you up on that.
LAMB: Why are you an American?
HITCHENS: Well, for long time, I lived here with a green card the platinum green card actually, one of the old ones that never ran out, so I didn’t have to renew it. I had a European Union passport. I had three American children, American wife, all this. I thought I don’t need to no one needs to change this.
I got to the point where when I came back to Dulles airport, and went through immigration and went and joined the white line, citizens and residents, they would say, ”welcome home.” And that’s what I felt.
It was after 9/11 that I began to feel that I hadn’t paid the full price of the ticket. That I was in a way cheating on my dues and that’s for two reasons. One, at that point and afterwards, the United States began to be subject to a fantastic campaign of slander and defamation. People would say, it’s not true that United States was attacked, but the American Jews blew up, all the Israeli Jews blew up the World Trade Center, or the Bush administration did. The country is run by cowboys and thugs, and Jewish neocons.
I began to feel really protective of the United States and I was I’m not going to hear you say this. It’s my country you are talking about, now I suddenly thought that’s actually true.
So there was that and then I thought, because we are now going to have to talk about war and about fighting and fighting back, if I am going to stand up and say that I think that we ought to be sending our armed forces overseas, I think I probably should be someone who could in the last resort at least be so called upon to do so, actually you can be drafted if you’ve got a green card. You can. But it felt a little more solid to me to be of course no one is going to the army hasn’t been found yet that we draft someone like myself.
You are not even the good soldier, but as a matter of principle and also that I should be voting and eligible for jury duty and all the other both in duties and entitlements. So I didn’t feel comfortable so I got that gun.
LAMB: Did you vote in this last election?
HITCHENS: I did. I turned up early.
LAMB: Want to tell us who you voted for?
HITCHENS: I voted for the senator from Illinois.
HITCHENS: Well, I am not any longer registered member of any party and don’t have any ideological allegiance any longer, but in a way McCain’s position on the war was more close to mine. But I thought Obama would learn more about the war than McCain had. McCain’s position was actually rather an eccentric one about Afghanistan and about Iraq.
I thought Obama should start doing the right stuff on this. I have to say as an admirer of Senator McCain’s, I thought he was too how do I put this without being impolite. I mean too exhausted to be running for anything, frankly.
And that his choice of running mate was quite simply ridiculous. No, much worse than ridiculous, insulting. Not serious I didn’t think a serious vote could be cast with a Republican ticket on the schedule. So that may that bit easy.
And then, I suppose I thought for a long time, the United States has been ready for ages to prove that its, will vote for a qualified black candidate. Let’s get this done. I didn’t think there was anything very surprising about it. I mean all through the year people were saying things like, ”Oh, the Bradley effect will kick in. Even if the Bradley effect doesn’t, the polling machines will be fixed. If the polling machines aren’t fixed then someone will take a rifle and take the brother down. So no, no, no, no, no.”
Very interesting and impressive to see how easily it got done and how natural it seemed what it was. And though I didn’t get as emotional and moist about that as some people did, it was an ingredient to making it a pleasure to vote for him.
That plus I like him as writer I should say. I like the way he talks. I like the way he writes. I am impressed by his just command of English which is the thing that matters to me the most.
LAMB: Did you read his two books?
HITCHENS: I did, yes.
LAMB: What do you think of them?
HITCHENS: Well, I thought the first one was much better because it was written when he didn’t know he was going to be a politician. And the second one is written under the awful knowledge that he is now in play.
But even given that, you can tell he has written it himself. He is taking the risks of making those commitments he’ll have to live up to. And he’s got a sense of humor, sense of irony, and a really very really admirable grasp of the language that means the most to me.
LAMB: The day we’re recording this, your name came up on the morning call-in show.
HITCHENS: It did?
LAMB: Before we show the clip, I don’t think I’d ever expected you to be a fellow at the Hoover Institution. How did that happen at Stanford? And politically, how did that happen?
HITCHENS: Well, the Hoover Institution is very, very, very serious about war and revolution. That’s what it’s founded to consider. And war and revolution, war and counter-revolution are the great subjects at present or among them. Well, they were never not, but they are particularly salient now.
And I’ve taken I don’t think a very forward position with a very determined one that we are at war and that we are war with the totalitarian enemy. And that part of our study must be how to train, not just soldiers but citizens and how to fight in this war.
LAMB: Are you still a fellow there?
HITCHENS: I am what they call a media fellow, I mean it’s it is the Roger Mertz visiting fellow, which means that I go and talk to potential journalism students. I talk about literature with people there, if you had to say about politics too. But, I’m regarded as one of the academic and intellectual arsenals of the country.
LAMB: Here Marc Thiessens, Hoover Fellow, let’s listen to what he said about you this morning.
MARC THIESSEN: He underwent waterboarding to see what it feels like to prove that it was a torture. In so doing, he proved it was not torture. A common sense definition of torture is if you are willing to try it to see what it feels like, it’s not torture. So if I told that Christopher Hitchens, I am going to pull your teeth out with a plier, see what it feels like, would you try it?
He wouldn’t try it. I said I am going to pull your finger nails off to see what it feels like. Would you try it? No, he wouldn’t try it. I am going to put electrodes on your body and put a few 100,000 volts through your body. Would you try it? No.
HITCHENS: Yes, I know what he means. I mean there is another trap door if you like underneath my journalistic investigation of self investigation of waterbording, which is I knew when I went in that I could stop it at any time by making a special signal to my torturers and so.
But there was any one way I thought I could advance the argument, which is to see roughly speaking what it’s like. And for example, it looks like Mr. Thiessen, I would say, ”You have heard this said I am sure and waterboarding simulates drowning. So the feeling of drowning doesn’t do that at all. You are being drowned, just in slow motion. Everything in you immediately rebels against that.” It’s a survival question.
LAMB: Where is that?
HITCHENS: Is that the porpoise-like figure of
LAMB: That is you.
HITCHENS: That is somewhere in the mountains of Eastern North Carolina with a group of people who a team of people who have had, let’s say, field experience at this.
LAMB: What this feel like right here when they are pouring water down?
HITCHENS: Well, it feels as if your last breath is about to be drawn. And the whole you don’t really have any choice in the matter. you have to, everything rebels. You have to make it stop as fast as you can.
My second reply to Mr. Thiessen would be
LAMB: It is now saying, I’ve had enough.
HITCHENS: I think that’s pretty it. They say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed lasted for something like 90 seconds. I’d be very surprised if that was true, unless he was trying to get us to kill him.
LAMB: And they also say they did it hundreds of times.
HITCHENS: Yes. That’s remarkable. The other reply made for Mr. Thiessen on this point, because he is making a very serious one. After all, I was ready to do it again, and because I felt so bad about having lost at so little, I felt any Hitchens, any son of Commander Hitchens of the Royal Navy should be able to stand up a bit more than that.
So I made them do it to me again, and I lasted a bit longer this time. But, you could say again, ”Well, if you could stand it for two times, it is not torture.” But the United States has always said, ”Any regime that uses it on an American, that it is torture. And that if we catch the person who did it or ordered it, we’ll seek the death penalty, and has done so several times.
So, that it’s not a matter of whether it’s medieval or not; finger nail pulling, the rack and so forth. Because if you allow these things, and if you say, you must do them because there is a ticking bomb, or if you allow this thing, excuse me, you must do it because there is a ticking bomb , the guy the terrorists then what’s to stop you saying well bring on the red hot pokers or the pincers..
LAMB: So, put all this in the context right now, what do you think of where the Obama administration is on this, the memos, and what would you do about the past and
HITCHENS: Well, I at the same time I was taking my oath at the Jefferson Memorial to become an American citizen. I was a member of and by the way, with me was a young Marine as a witness I wanted him ,a friend of mine who had been in Anbar province, crushing the life out of Al-Qaeda. It turned out to be successful campaign. Very proud to have been a supporter of it and the General Petraeus
At the same time, I was a member a named member of a lawsuit probed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the National Security Association, that’s the NSA, and a legal watch-out. And I was one of the eight plaintiffs.
And it seems to me that’s what it is in a way to be an American, that you have the right to, in fact the duty to do that and to question the way the government is fighting your war or treating you as a citizen, even if you are strongly in favor of every measure that’s taken to resist and combat terrorism, islamization and the totalitarian regimes that have in the past supported or underwritten it.
LAMB: So right now, should what should this town do about what happened in the Bush administration?
HITCHENS: Well, I mean I’m not a friend of the CIA, as you know and that would have been the young Hitchens who you just saw back there, the one with the French (fringe? perhaps?)and The Socialist International.
LAMB: The kid?
HITCHENS: Yeah, the kid. I’m proud of what he was saying about the Central Intelligence Agency. This is an agency that gave away Nelson Mandela’s whereabouts and identity to South African police when they couldn’t find him, led him in for 25 years of imprisonment. That was, say, murdered the elected helped to murder the elected President of Chile.
Countless other horrible crimes in Greece, Uruguay, Cyprus, elsewhere. Not only that, these are criminal things, but repeatedly told us that the Soviet Union was an economic superpower right up through ’89, that it was entering its golden age. And so it’s a fantastically successful country when it was falling to pieces.
George Tenet on the day of 9/11 said to Senator former Senator Boren, the first thing our Head of Intelligence said on that day was looking at the towers go down and the planes fly in, he said it’s quoted in Woodward’s book directly. He says, ”I hope it’s not those guys from the flight schools in the Midwest” who he knew about and hadn’t done anything about.
So they try and cover their traces and their failures and their betrayals by torturing people. So they can say, ”Hey, we got results at last.” This will not do. We can’t have that. So, someone has to go down for this I think. The one I think the CIA should be closed and padlocked anyway and should be restarted. I don’t think it’s even susceptible to reform. And I think that’s been proved by all (inaudible) tried to run it since Tenet.
And then I I think I have a special hatred for the shady lawyers who try to think of excuses, try to think of half-bait legal reasons why we shouldn’t honor the Geneva Conventions and have those passed on to men in the field who are under orders.
But I want to clarify it and come down. I’ve been to Guantanamo, and I’ve been to Abu Ghraib. Abu Ghraib was much worse under Saddam Hussein I know. And there were many worse Cuban prisons on the other side of the line in Cuba, in Guantanamo. There is a political prison there too. But that doesn’t excuse us.
LAMB: I want to go back to and this program is not meant to have any major theme. It’s just two snapshots of Christopher Hitchen’s life in preparation for the memoir. We got this off of YouTube. You were on Scarborough Country a couple years ago at the night time show. And let’s watch this and get your reaction.
SCARBOROUGH: Let’s bring a little light to this. Instead of all heat, let’s bring a little light to this conversation.
HITCHENS: Light comes from heat
SCARBOROUGH: Talk about trends
HITCHENS: Light only comes from heat
SCARBOROUGH: OK. Thank you so much. But first hold on. Guys stop. God bless us all, just stop and let’s have a meaningful conversation instead of people talking on top of each other.
HITCHENS: Don’t invite me on and tell me to keep quiet. Don’t do that.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, Christopher, why don’t you let other people talk for a second, OK? OK.
HITCHENS: You invited me to hear my opinion, not to listen to yours
SCARBOROUGH: So (INAUDIBLE) OK. Well so anyway Matt Well you know what, Christopher, I’ll never make that mistake again.
HITCHENS: Fair enough
SCARBOROUGH: Matt (ph), here is the question. OK?
HITCHENS: Merry Christmas.
SCARBOROUGH: Merry Christmas and good night.
LAMB: Your reactions seeing yourself.
HITCHENS: I think I left that one. I actually walked out of that one. I thought, look, either have me on and ask my view or don’t, but don’t tell me what to say or don’t tell me what you think all the time. I actually corrected Mr. Scarborough. I think I improved him slightly as a host. And as a talk show person he made an obvious mistake. And everyone gives themselves permission to behave absurdly when religion is mentioned. He is just another one of those who do. By the way, when are we going to mention my new paperback (inaudible perhaps mentioned the title) When are you going to put the title and everything on the screen? When are we going to say find bookstores everywhere?
LAMB: We’ll do it shortly. We’re going to go back to ’98. I want you to see
HITCHENS: I haven’t thought of it till now.
LAMB: One of a relative of yours. Let’s watch this.
LAMB: On C-SPAN’s Washington Journal the Hitchens brothers are back, one on the right coast, one on the left coast. We will start here on the right coast with Peter Hitchens. What do you make of all of this?
PETER HITCHENS: Well, apart from all of the laughing I’ve been doing, I am beginning to feel that I’ve come out here perhaps a little too soon. It doesn’t seem to be developing as fast as everyone in London thought it would.
HITCHENS: It’s filled me with a new respect for the American right. I had up til now thought of them as a rather unpolished crew, the sort of people who tore the country calling for sexual abstinence among teenagers for example. But now it seems that they can infiltrate a well-healed liberal babe from Beverly Hills into the White House.
Get her in to see the president on this just as he has come from church with his daughter. Get her in to see Vernon Jordan just the day before she signs an affidavit and get him to get her in to see Revlon just a day after she signed on the dotted line. This is genius.
LAMB: Talking about Monica Lewinsky that’s your brother Peter.
HITCHENS: Yes, well, apart from the tie, which I’ve it’s better not to wear one than wear one right now. I think that’s me at my best actually, I mean saying OK. If you believe the liberal theory that Clinton was setup and Monica Lewinsky with his stalker that’s the sort of stuff you are going to have to believe.
LAMB: What’s your relationship with your brother these days?
HITCHENS: Not bad. He’,s like all Hitchens’s, a man of principal, able to turn a phrase and print and on the air. The main difference that we have is that he is a, I wouldn’t say born again, he is a very decided fundamentalist Christian, not of a fanatical sort, but of a very decided, very determined Episcopalian conservative sort. And with people like that I can never be completely at ease, I just can’t.
LAMB: And, he lives where?
HITCHENS: He lives in Oxford, in England. But he commutes regularly. He lives between Oxford and London, where his media base is.
LAMB: And what was his reaction when you found out that your mother was Jewish?
HITCHENS: Well, we found out partly because our grandmother, my mother’s mother had outlived both of my parents, lady went to great age. And because Peter had married a Jewish wife, when he took her to meet my grandmother, my grandma, my grandma said, ”Oh! She is Jewish, isn’t she”, and Peter sort of bridled a bit and my grandma having no reason to keep the family secret any longer said, ”well I’ve got something to tell you.” So it was Peter who brought me the news.
I think I was I don’t why I say this, but I have feeling I was just very slightly more, more pleased and interested than he was.
HITCHENS: Well, among other things he and his Jewish wife both converted to Christianity. So, it was a bit more turning over the luggage in their hold than it was in mine.
LAMB: So your grandmother was Jewish
HITCHENS: My wife was Jewish also.
LAMB: But your grandmother’s Jewish and then that would make your mother Jewish and then
it’s handed down to the next mother.
HITCHENS: Yes, indeed. If you believe in Mosaic Law, the Law of Return and the Nuremberg Laws and I have problems with all these three laws, but yes, it’s a matralinial succession and I would not I would certainly never if I was asked about Jewish, whether the turn of voice was friendlier or hostile, I will never say no. Would never be able deny it, or want to.
LAMB: We will get closer to you book on this clip with Anderson Cooper, when you appeared on there and talked about the death of Jerry Falwell, I don’t know if you remember this one.
HITCHENS: I remember the event quite well, yes.
LAMB: Here it is.
ANDERSON COOPER: Christopher, I am not sure if you believe in heaven, but if you do, do you think Jerry Falwell is in it?
HITCHENS: No, and I think it’s a pretty (Elizabethian hell) to go to.
COOPER: What is it about him that brings up such vitriol?
HITCHENS: The empty life of this ugly little charleton proves only one thing -- that you can get away with the most extraordinary offences to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend.. Who would, even at your network would have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September 11 were the results of our sinfulness and was God’s punishment.
If they hadn’t got some kind of clerical clarification, people like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup.”
I don’t know why I was so lenient on the little ratback.
He said he came on the television while the -- downtown Manhattan was still smoldering. There was sulfur and screeching under the rubble and people still alive and he said this is because we’ve had divorce and homosexuality, to hell with him.
LAMB: You know
HITCHENS: what I went on to say is that if he could have been given an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox. And that’s what I didn’t get time to say on Mr. Cooper, but I got time to say later on. That’s what I meant to say.
LAMB: How much of what you say is calculated?
HITCHENS: None. I mean, it’s meant in a sense it’s not done for effect, if that’s what you mean. I don’t say that no it’s a very good question. I ask myself it all of the time because I’m often on the telly, and on the radio, and often have a book to sell. So I don’t want to suspect myself of just been doing things for effect. If I ever go further than I mean to, and I say something that is cheap or overstated, I always will try and come back and correct myself and say OK, maybe that was, I don’t do things just for you’re pursing your lips Mr. Lamb.
LAMB: No, I was just actually wanted to
HITCHENS: I’d like to find a gifted phrase if I can and try and make it stick, make it memorable.
LAMB: I really want to ask you though, when there was an occasion where you and someone else really were I don’t the word mad doesn’t describe it, but you are furious with one another or you really had a confrontation that was personal and serious and deep.
HITCHENS: On the air or
LAMB: Anybody any. You know just in life, I mean people that watch television never know how much of it’s a gimmick.
HITCHENS: Exactly. And that’s what that’s where one wants to suspect one’s own motives. This will seem odd, but I’ll answer it like this. I am reviewing a book at present of essays by Henry Farley (ph). Perhaps you remember him quite good. English born essayist often in The New Republic especially in the 80s, 90s.
He was a great writer and a great polemiscist (?). I used to think that sometimes he would feign his anger. He would think I need to get a piece. I need to get paid. I need to I need to get an article done. He would invent a subject to be annoyed about and I just think that that will always show.
So, I suppose I have to submit myself in answering your question, not my own verdict but your inviting (ph) but to safekeeping of the good taste of the audience. I mean, if you will read me and watch me, if they think I am doing this because I just want to make splash, well, they are entitled to think that and I would obviously suffer a decline in respect. I don’t think, in fact, I give off the impression that I do this for effect.
LAMB: But back to the other part of the question though, what’s the biggest, most serious feud you’ve had with any individual? And it was real, I mean that they weren’t phony and you weren’t phony and it was
HITCHENS: I guess it would be with Henry Kissinger and his defenders. What I can call to mind is the recent past. I wrote a book saying that, I thought he should be arrested and put on trial and that if he was, he’d be convicted for crimes against humanity and for war crimes.
And he made a very crude reply to me on television, as a point of fact, saying that I was everything from a holocaust denier to a person who trashed Jackie Kennedy. In fact, on both those charges as you know I can’t be indicted, but I eventually got his lawyers to issue an apology about this. And I took it very seriously indeed, and I hated him, hate him, and I hate the toadies in the press, and in the academy, and in publishing who’ve helped to smooth his path.
LAMB: You hate him.
HITCHENS: Hate them. Hate him. I can’t I mean I feel it’s an insult that such a person is around, is deferred to, is consulted, is treated with politeness in the academy and by our profession, and in the publishing industry.
LAMB: Have you ever met him?
HITCHENS: Yes. I met him two or three times. He has never been induced to speak to me, but he sometimes had to be in the same room with evident Bill Grace (ph). I think that’s probably been for me the most long-lasting and deep-going and most hate-based relationship I’ve had with anybody.
LAMB: You asked about this book, we did not actually ask you on the program to talk about this.
HITCHENS: I know you didn’t, but I am not going to let you get away.
LAMB: That fine. No, I just it’s how many copies of hardback have you sold?
HITCHENS: A lot. About 350,000.
LAMB: And the title is, ”God Is Not Great,” is now in paperback, and what kind of sales do you expect of this?
HITCHENS: Oh, I would hope even larger, because the subject has become even more acute then when I didn’t broach it, I mean it broached itself. The battle between civilization and civil society and theocracy is becoming every day much more intense and much more urgent. And the number of people who will come now to public debate on this, I go to do this kind of debate about twice a week now -- is growing all time. and the audience, for the argument is enormous.
HITCHENS: Well, I think for two reasons. One is religion is the most interesting subject of all. If you have a friend or acquaintance you know an awful lot about them depending on where they attribute their presence in the studio to the laws of biology, laws of nature, laws of evolution by natural selection or if they think that they are here because of divine power. It’s a big difference philosophically, morally. And so going into this means you raise all the most interesting, all the most fundamental basic questions. That’s the first thing. So it’s never a boring discussion.
And second, well, it shouldn’t be. And the second is that, at the moment if you open the newspaper and see how the parties of god are behaving around the world, everywhere from Russia to Iran to even certain parts of the United States where they think they ought to influence the education system. That people I think are becoming fed up with being pushed around by ordinary mammals who think that they are better than us because they have God on their side.
Enough with this. It’s very insulting. It’s very threatening. It’s very stupid. And it’s becoming and now we have the chance that the Apocalyptic weaponry will forge the hands of Masonic states or organizations, Armageddon type forces and clear and present danger.
LAMB: Did you ever believe in God?
LAMB: Did your parents?
HITCHENS: Yes. They must have done at some point. But I think my father probably must have done. I don’t know this, because of course I always have this doubt about people who even affirm that they believe in God.
Do they believe in it all the time? Do they believe in it everyday? Do they never have crisis of faith? Why do they have to keep on going to church to prove that they believe? Why isn’t it simple to them?
LAMB: Well, would you say that
HITCHENS: Because I mean my father came from a very strong Baptist family. He must when he was young. I think of been a believer.
LAMB: What about your children?
HITCHENS: I wouldn’t ask them, nor hope would they want to ask me. I mean they shouldn’t obviously my children do now know, they have to know what I think, because it’s well known. But I would prefer that they did not.
LAMB: do you never talk to them about it..
HITCHENS: I think children should be able to make up their minds about this world. I mean my daughter, my youngest daughter, for example, younger I mean to say, goes to a Sidwell private school where they’re not made to be Quaker, where they are taught about other faiths so that they can make up their own minds. That’s what I want for them.
I would never dream of imposing it on them, and they really ought not to know what my beliefs are, at least until they’re both at the age of reason. It’s repulsive to me to hear people saying or to see in the newspaper, a Muslim child was killed or a Catholic child was killed in Northern Ireland or a Protestant child.
How do we know this about them? What choice did they have in the matter? What I mean is a child victim of a filthy religious war was killed.
LAMB: I want to show you a picture of that. It was in our first booknotes (ph) book right here.
LAMB: I don’t know if you remember that.
HITCHENS: When I was still a smoker. Yes, that’s in Timberlake Spire (ph).
LAMB: It is near DuPont Circle. And if you’ll notice, this is in the middle of the day. You’ve got your computer there. You’ve got a martini on the bar and you’ve got a cigarette in your mouth.
HITCHENS: And a gut like I don’t know, sumo wrestler as well.
LAMB: Would you do that today?
HITCHENS: No, I had to give up smoking. Well, I didn’t have to, but I made myself give up about two years ago.
LAMB: What about the drinking?
HITCHENS: And with the booze, I find it’s a better servant than a master.
HITCHENS: Well, actually I say that in that tense, I have always thought that it’s very important that it be a master/ servant relationship. In other words, that you should get more out of it than it gets out of you.
I found alcohol interesting. It makes other people less boring, that’s a great recommendation in-house. Some people can’t write or talk, or do anything much when they’ve had a few drinks. I without boasting, I can say that I can, sometimes that I want to, right? It can be an inspiration to me. And I know that it can, I know this from friends and from relatives and from quite a few episodes in my own life, it can be very bad to have had to much to drink.
But I have it, as I still think as a friend and an ally and not as a boss or a foe.
LAMB: How do you this is almost a question for a classroom, but how do you make your money? On a in other words, if somebody is watching saying, ”Boy, I’d love to live the life of Christopher Hitchens.”
HITCHENS: They must be.
LAMB: Now, when they you know I’d love to have that life of word, and writing and speaking and all that, how do you and can you make a decent living doing what you do?
HITCHENS: You can if it’s all you want to do; in other words, once you’ve decided that all you want to be is a writer and once you have learned that all you need really as a writer is to be able to talk, to speak, to have a voice.
Many of my students say, ”is that all you need?, you just have to be able to talk?”, and I say, yes. But how many of you can? How many of your friends do you enjoy listening to, really? Do you enjoy listening to yourself? Do you try and talk in sentences. Then they realize it’s not so easy.
But once you have discovered the joy of that or in my case just the fact that I knew that’s all I could do and always wanted to do, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t mind when I first came on your show and made a few hundred bucks out of it. But I knew that I was doing what I wanted to do.
LAMB: You didn’t make a few hundred bucks coming on our show. You made a few hundred bucks out of writing
HITCHENS: No I know, I made nothing out of your show. Actually until this day, you used to not even pay for my cab. But no, but I knew that I was making a few hundred bucks out of writing, because it was what I wanted to do. So, it was nothing to now, I do better. But if you want to know exactly how I do it, it’s this.
Vanity Fair, the best magazine in the country and in the world, in the English-speaking world, pays me a monthly retainer to write in a column about 10 out of 12 months. And so, I know I’ve got that much. It’s not a fortune at all, but it’s pretty generous. And I can count on it.
The contract is renewed over a couple of years or so. And they’re fairly decent about letting me write for other people, book reviews and so forth. And then it’s got to the stage now where people will actually pay me to come and talk to them, which is better than I ever expected. And I am going to be talking anyway, so to be paid for it is pretty amazing.
LAMB: How many speeches a year would you give?
HITCHENS: Well, since the religion debate got really going and became a big national argument now, a big cultural question, I would say it’s probably twice a week. And I do pro bono speeches, of course, for good causes. The Liberation of Iraq, for example, I spend a lot time arguing in public in favor of the (INAUDIBLE) for Saddam Hussein. I didn’t get paid for that.
LAMB: If there are 300 some thousand copies of this and you pick up two, three bucks a copy, that’s pretty good money. Is that
HITCHENS: I didn’t some of my books have done OK, but I used to be box office poison for publishers. I mean I wrote some books that I was quite proud of, ”George Orwell” was one I remember and it didn’t really sell at all, except to my Orwell fans.
LAMB: This one, right?
HITCHENS: And then I yes, thank you.
LAMB: I actually found this on the remainder table, I’m sorry to tell you
HITCHENS: As long as it doesn’t have an inscription from me inside saying
LAMB: It does not
to Angelo with undying love or something, I mean, I hate it when that happens.
LAMB: What about your book I am sure that it causes controversy where you go on Mother Teresa, did that sell?
HITCHENS: Oh, that’s sells a lot, especially at Christmas time.
LAMB: Christmas time?
HITCHENS: Yes, ex or lapsed Catholics give it to their families for Christmas on a regular basis, every year. It’s the gift that he keeps on giving. And then I teach, I teach at Hoover and I’m a visiting professor at the New School in New York. I love doing that. I really do. I learn a lot from teaching, that’s the whole point. You go through a book with your class, you think you’ve read it 50 times. The 51st time, you will always still notice something that you wouldn’t have noticed before. You never do read the same book twice. It helps you to write, helps you to think.
LAMB: Does your wife work?
HITCHENS: I wish it paid more, teaching was better paid than it was, because all that I had didn’t had three children, because I’d love to spend more time teaching and less time just feeding the beast.
LAMB: Does your wife work?
HITCHENS: She is a screen writer. Which as you know means that you are never quite sure whether you have sold the script or not and you say the thing is always in play. She is an Angelina (ph).
LAMB: I have a question, I know you are not expecting this
HITCHENS: I wasn’t expecting any of them.
LAMB: I know.
HITCHENS: None of this was contrived.
LAMB: It sure isn’t, but have you ever gotten on your Wikipedia site?
HITCHENS: No. You mean have I ever looked myself up? No.
LAMB: The Christopher Hitchens Wikipedia site? You have never looked at it?
HITCHENS: No. I don’t surf much anyway.
LAMB: I just want to I got on it and it’s 20 pages long and you know how this works?
HITCHENS: No, this is an area, I am very poor on. But there are several Web sites I know about me, I guess it was a Wikipedia one. There is a Web site, there was, called ”Hitchens watch” or something that is unfriendly to me. There is another one that is more friendly. I don’t have time for this, to be honest.
LAMB: The reason I ask you this is because when you Google the name Christopher Hitchens, or you Google anybody’s name, more than likely the first couple of places to go is Wikipedia. And Wikipedia is written by, almost, anonymously by maybe in your case hundreds of people.
LAMB: I got I found your first Wikipedia site. And you were first up, at least according to what I could find on the records, in 2003. Wikipedia is seven years old. I just wanted you to hear what people said seven, six years ago. May 18, 2003, first item, Christopher Hitchens. See, we as readers don’t know who wrote this, but it’s a
HITCHENS: Just before we go on, I would say that when I look at Wikipedia myself on a topic I know something about, I generally find it, so maybe giving a hostage reporting (ph) again. I generally found it amazingly reliable.
LAMB: It’s not a question of reliability, it’s a question that they can characterize you here and I just want I want to read back in 2003 what they said? What they, whoever they are. ”Christopher Hitchens is a British born, American journalist, author and self-proclaimed political gadfly.”
HITCHENS: That’s not true.
HITCHENS: I am not a self-proclaimed gadfly.
LAMB: OK. But here we are
HITCHENS: I never said the word gadfly
LAMB: This is this week in Wikipedia.
disowned the word gadfly. So they are wrong right there.
LAMB: OK. Then well, this is changed since
HITCHENS: Well, how does one get it corrected?
LAMB: Well, let me read you what is today. That’s wrong, let’s go back and say. Today it says, Christopher Eric Hitchens, born April 13, 1949 is an author, journalist and a literally critic. How we doing?
HITCHENS: Well, boring but uncontroversial.
LAMB: I know. Currently living in Washington, D.C., he has been a columnist at Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, World Affairs, The Nations, Slate, Free Inquiry and a variety of other media outlets. And it goes on and this is it talks about your book God is not Great and all that. But then it gets down and says in 2009, Hitchens was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the ”25 most influential liberals in U.S. media.”
The same article noted though that he would ”likely be aghast to find himself on this list” and that he ”styles himself as a radical”, not a liberal. How are we doing?
HITCHENS: This is all right, but it is getting to the point where you are getting publicity for getting publicity, which is to me slightly boring. I mean it is too much of this stuff now. And we will it is all sort of reputation about your reputation.
LAMB: Often Wikipedia has nothing to do with been exciting or boring, because there are so many people get their hands on the pie on this, but it surprised you.
HITCHENS: They say they might as well say there is a perception there rather than the following is the case.
LAMB: Well because if they
HITCHENS: I didn’t know I can’t see why there is so much of this stuff. Though I know there is.
LAMB: It goes on forever and ever and I just was interested in one of those.
HITCHENS: Well, so will I forever, if allowed
LAMB: They have the different categories, literary review, Hitchens and the Nation staff and then they quote one of your old friends, Alexander Cockburn , what’s your relationship with him now?
HITCHENS: I haven’t seen Alexander since his beautiful niece’s wedding where he officiated a little while ago. We used to see a lot of each other, but we live on remotely opposite coasts now. He is in North California and I am in Washington, DC.
LAMB: On about the third page of Wikipedia, fourth page it says, among his most severe critics is one time colleague and friend Alexander Cockburn, a weakly contributor to The Nation. On August 20, 2005 Cockburn wrote, ”what a truly disgusting sack of you know what. Hitchens and there is another four letter word. The guy, who called Sid Blumenthal one of his best friends and then tried to have him thrown into prison for perjury, a guy who waited until his friend Edward Said was on his deathbed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly, a guy who knows perfectly well the role Israel plays in U.S. policy, but who does not scruple to flail Cindy Sheehan as a, LaRouchie and an anti-Semite, because maybe she dared mentioned the word Israel.”
HITCHENS: He really he’s really right about that. I mean, the sack off et cetera, et cetera is anyone’s opinion but on the criticism about Said I didn’t publish them when he was on his deathbed, except in that I kept on publishing, and we had he and I had a couple of longstanding disagreements, and those didn’t change when he was ill. And they didn’t indeed change after he died when I published the sort of, estimates of him.
I thought very generous of me, which include the criticisms. It’s actually rather silly of Alexander to say that I think, because if you look at his journalism, he would rightly be proud of saying that he’s often written counter-obituaries of people who’ve been over-praised and chosen precisely the moment when the this is always sentimental garbage being published to say, ”Come on, this guy wasn’t so great.” So it’s silly of him. He gives a hostage to fortune in saying that.
LAMB: And it
HITCHENS: Cindy Sheehan, I caught out in a lie on Slate. You can check it out. It was exhaustively done with all kinds of threat. She had said, she thought her son was killed in a pro-Israeli war Jewish war, a war for Israel. She later tried to pretend she hadn’t said this, any of that. And so I caught her twice.
I think it’s beneath Alexander to be defending someone as cheap and demagogic as her. I mean, who remembers now the Cindy Sheehan campaign honestly. And what if we’d listen to her? What if we listened to her and pulled out our troops as a result of her hysteria, Iraq would now be run by Al-Qaeda. And Al-Qaeda could have claimed to have driven us out and hidden many in shame instead of which Al-Qaeda has been defeated and humiliated.
And Iraq is at least on course to become many shoals ahead of it a decent society. No one can possibly wish that Cindy Sheehan had been listened to
LAMB: By the way I would be glad that I just see this is 20 pages long, one of the longest that I have seen in Wikipedia. So they are defining you and when you go out to speak, you would be surprised how often you might be introduced with information that’s contained in it.
HITCHENS: Yes, well, I’ll bear it in mind. But now that’s the duty of (INAUDIBLE). It’s hopeless to even want to and fortunately, I don’t want to have any control over one zone in it.
LAMB: Let me ask now in time remaining.
LAMB: What in you’re a historian, you talk about the world, where do you fit 9/11 and events that have happened in world history? I mean how would how is this going to fit 25 years from now?
HITCHENS: I think it will fit with a couple of other events. One that to me, gets more and more significant as time goes by where you also very kindly had me on, 14th of February 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie. There is a new book by a man called Kenan Malik, author in Britain, about the fatwa against Rushdie and it’s called ”From Fatwa to Jihad.”
And I think the hinge moment in history, the time when things were turning in a major cultural way, historical way is somewhere between ’89 and 2001, when a wind of Islam (INAUDIBLE), a certain arc of the Muslim world decided that it was a war. And then it took a little time for us to discover that we were at war, too.
But history does turn a bit more slowly than that. When you have a moment like Sarajevo in 1914, say, or some apparent flash, or the Bastille in 1789 or Lexington. What these flashes illuminate is a scene that’s already been prepared, already been set. And that’s the way I think to be a historian the way to look at things. .
LAMB: One of the questions that I know I used to love to get the audiences’ reaction to is on our call-in show ”Is America the greatest country in the world?” How would you answer?
HITCHENS: Well, Spiro Agnew is supposed to have said it’s the greatest nation in the country, something like that. Gore Vidal has a wonderful take on this. It’s something to be proven rather than stated, it seems to me, seems to be demonstrated rather than affirmed.
But, yes, I would say in this sense that someone who used to take pride in being called a revolutionary, maybe sometimes for good and sometimes for the slightly callow reasons, but anyway I’m not ashamed of it.
Where’s the Russian Revolution?. Now it’s gone. Where’s the Chinese Revolution? Now its mutated into something completely opposite, different from itself. Cuban Revolution is more abandoned at the best. The French Revolution, well, it did have a great effect on the Latin (ph), but it was a and I wouldn’t denigrate it it’s French.
The American Revolution, the one that says, build your Republic on individual rights, not group rights. Have a bill of rights that inscribes these and then makes them available and legible to everybody. Separate the church from the state, separate the executive, the judicial and the political branch. Do all these things. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really a very revolutionary idea. There is hardly a country in the world that wouldn’t benefit from adopting those principles. I think that gives United States a very good claim to be a revolutionary country as well as, of course, paradoxically, it’s a very conservative one. Certainly, makes me very glad, very proud to have become a citizen of it.
LAMB: What’s the flag in your lapel?
HITCHENS: That is the flag of Kurdistan, the Kurdish people are the largest people in world, largest ethnic group if you like, largest nation. And they don’t have a state. The Qatari and Kuwaiti royal families have a seat, a vote in the United Nations.
The Kurdish people who are perhaps as many as 35 to 40 million don’t have any diplomatic representation at all, but they are a big part of free Iraq. And so I wear the flag as a sign of solidarity with the revolutionary outlets. The removal of Saddam Hussein, defeated Al-Qaeda, and is trying to build a republic.
LAMB: We’ve got just about a minute left. You always travel, where is your next trip?
HITCHENS: I don’t know. Sorry for such a boring answer. My last trip was to Athens, maybe that’s a better answer, I’ve just come back. I am trying to write something about the New Acropolis Museum, the greatest new museum for a long time in Europe.
Be opened on 21st of June. It will contain all the sculpture and treasury of the Parthenon and the other temples of the Acropolis, and it has room for all the stolen sculpture taken by British imperialists quite a while earlier to be given back. So, they can see how all that sculpture is symmetrical and supposed to be seen at the same place at the same time. And I have done a piece in Vanity Fair about how wonderful it will be when we can see it up.
LAMB: I suppose I had better mention this book one more time.
HITCHENS: If you would.
LAMB: God is Not Great: How Religions Poison Everything by Christopher Hitchens. We are at a
fine book stores everywhere.
LAMB: And I thank you for joining us.
HITCHENS: It was a pleasure, as always.