Hitchens was a fair-weather foe of the U.S. for most of his punditry career, who famously, and in gleaming contrast to his fellow leftists, became a foul-weather friend after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He never seemed to entirely let go of his love for Red revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who would probably not have been one whit less bloody a dictator than Lenin was. But he did back off one of the main axioms of progressives, which is to refuse to find value in the present. ("I pledge allegiance to the United States that can be...") The horrors of 9/11 and the fight against The Jihad which ensued anew thereafter impressed upon him that the free democratic West, in its imperfect Here And Now, was worth fighting to preserve.
I've been aware of him since the late 80s, I suppose. I remember him downplaying Stalin's terror famine of the early 30s, by suggesting that it was mostly Ukrainian Nazis who wanted to inflate the casualty count. I remember his post-election analysis when the Sandinistas were voted out of power in Nicaragua, mentioning his fear that "the news would not be good" before he opened the newspaper that morning. I even wrote an Amazon review of his biography of Thomas Jefferson. But I, like so many other conservative consumers of political commentary, perked up my ears after 9/11.
Members of the left, along with the far larger number of squishy "progressives," have grossly failed to live up to their responsibility to think; rather, they are merely reacting, substituting tired slogans for thought. The majority of those "progressives" who take comfort from [Oliver] Stone and Chomsky are not committed, militant anti-imperialists or anti-capitalists. Nothing so muscular. They are of the sort who, discovering a viper in the bed of their child, would place the first call to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Watching the towers fall in New York, with civilians incinerated on the planes and in the buildings, I felt something that I couldn’t analyze at first and didn’t fully grasp ... until the day itself was nearly over. I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that this was a feeling of exhilaration. Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.
Compare that to the contemptible sight of Katha Pollitt, his stablemate at The Nation, refusing to let her daughter display an American flag after the atrocity.
I don't kid myself that I could ever hope to hold up my end of a conversation with him, of course. I'm content to groove to the commentary, have my beliefs challenged, and not infrequently learn something. Still, I think that if there had been no 9/11 and no counter-attack against The Jihad, his career would have followed the trajectory of so many other leftists. He would have simply talked himself out, and ended up exemplifying V. S. Naipaul's observation:
Always out there, the United States, an unacknowledged part of the world picture of every kind of modern revolutionary: the country of law and rest, with which at the end of the day a man who had proclaimed himself to be on the other side–in politics, culture, or religion–could make peace and on whose goodwill he could throw himself.
–V.S. Naipaul, Beyond Belief, 1998
It's good that the past terrible decade has prompted him to genuinely appreciate America, or should I say appreciate her more profoundly, rather than arrogantly taking her blessings for granted. Here's wishing him & his family and friends the best.