I would have posted a memorial of the late, great Christopher Hitchens earlier, had I not been wrapped up in reading-- enviously-- the words of those lucky enough to have known him personally. To say that I admired the man is a massive undersell. He was unafraid to challenge any position, however well-accepted, that tripped his keen bullshit detector. He didn't shy away from showing his anger where it was warranted, though he tempered it with humor. He didn't let his work get in the way of his lust for life, nor his fun keep him from producing brilliant work. All of those are qualities that I aspire to embody (and seeing how long it's been since I've last written anything, I have plenty of work to do)  As it happens, Kim Jong Il has fallen now as well. The reflex to check Slate to get Hitch's take was still there when I first heard the news. Luckily, Slate readers were thinking along the same lines and the most recent piece on North Korea was trending.

The North Korean regime has been grinding its people to dust for over 60 years now in the service of its military machine, in the hope that one day they may reunite the peninsula by force, and help themselves to the prosperity won by their cousins to the South. Or at least, that's the tale told by those who hold the whips. The real grift lies in leveraging that military might-- combined with legitimate concern that the batshit supervillain calling the shots is just sick enough to like his chances against the combined forces of South Korea and the United States-- into food aid to keep alive the slaves who toil every day to keep the Inner Party in golden waterslides and congac. And we give them food despite knowing the game-- despite knowing that each bag of rice stamped with the stars and stripes is being distributed to the people as it were a tribute paid by a conquered foe. We do this because that's the only fucking thing we can do for those unfortunate enough to be born in what I'm sure Tolkien would recognize as a modern Mordor. If the prison camps where dissidents are sent to work until they die aren't persuasive, the overhead view of the peninsula at night ought to be.

It's impossible to know how sincerely the North Korean people are mourning the pathetic, vain, and evil man who they called Dear Leader, or "Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love," or any of the other 50+ titles his personal army of press flacks came up with for him. For now, the disposition of Kim Jong-un, the nominal Great Successor, or his uncle and probable regent Chang Sung-taek is equally unknowable. If the acts of state terrorism perpetrated on South Korea were the artifact of a regime desperate to show strength as its leader's health deteriorated, then there is much cause for concern in the ascendance of a young novice to the seat of power. But even if no more shells fly in the near future, and even if the North's nuclear capabilities never become a credible threat, the enormity of the regime's grip on its people remains a seemingly immutable fact.

Our soft power has been hampered by the feckless self-interest of the Chinese government. Using our hard power would doom millions to the benefit of no-one but those paid to make the bombs and the body bags. There is no Korean Spring in the offing. It is difficult to imagine what the path to a better future for the people of North Korea would look like. But what is certain is that we of the Free World cannot forget their suffering. We cannot allow the world to ignore the plight of the denizens of the dark half of the Korean peninsula, as well as those suffering similarly unforgivable atrocities. And in the absence of Hitch, the rest of us have a lot of slack to pick up. Amid  the heartwarming anecdotes of his dear friends,  the Youtube videos of particularly brilliant polemics, and the exhortations of the lame-brained fundamentalists-- too timid to have contended with the man while he still drew breath-- shouting triumphantly that the outspoken atheist has now been chastened in the presence of their Invisible Man,what ought to ring most clear is this: The mind is a weapon, and the call to arms is eternal. One cannot do justice to the memory of a man like Christopher Hitchens without answering it.


  1. I was out of contact with the Internets and news for a couple of days and missed the fact that Hitchens had passed. I've yet to catch up on all the essays or articles regarding him. This was a nice tribute. I disliked him for his pompousness and disagreed with him on many things.As I aged  my admiration grew.

  2. His pompousness is a large part of what I loved about him. It made him entertaining when he was right and vulnerable when he was wrong.

  3. Thank you.

    I actually liked his pompousness. It made it more entertaining when he was right and made it easier to show it when he was wrong. Even if it could at times be irritating

  4. I just left this long comment and my computer crashed.
    To answer Cooper--the older you the more you can appreciate somebody so seemingly pompous, argumentative in an interesting way, and with opinions that didn't necessarily match. Or agree with mine. Iraq? But then he let himself be waterboarded and had to stop almost immediately
    I loved the piece by Christopher Buckley. I miss Hitchens and didn't know him except through his writing.