• Random Quote

    We should stop going around babbling about how we’re the greatest democracy on earth, when we’re not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic.

    — Gore Vidal

Triumph of the Shrill – Christopher Hitchens vs. Michael Moore on 9/11

Another Hitchens’ technique used to belittle the anti-war “nut bags” is guilt by association. Hitchens declared that both Henry Kissinger and Ariel Sharon were against the war, and this, astoundingly, somehow proved the venture’s nobility. The argument, as a crude syllogism, went something like this: Kissinger is a criminal; Kissinger opposes the war; therefore, opposing the war is criminal. Employing this sort of Hitchensian logic, one might argue: Hitler was evil; Hitler was a vegetarian; therefore, vegetarians are evil. This bogus pre-Aristotelian logic, fit perhaps to inspire a Neanderthal raiding party, Hitchens gleefully applied in his essays. Another teeny-weeny problem with this stunning case, aside from its logical absurdity, was that it was, in fact, false: both Sharon and the opportunistic Kissinger, ultimately, snuggled up with Hitchens in the war party.

“Yet Moore is a silly and shady man who does not recognize courage of any sort even when he sees it because he cannot summon it in himself.”

“But I offer this, to Moore and to his rapid response rabble. Any time, Michael my boy. Let’s redo Telluride. Any show. Any place. Any platform. Let’s see what you’re made of.”

Hitchens accuses Moore of cowardice. Why? Perhaps because Moore, rather than savaging Mother Theresa, only strolled into the saloon to face down the head honcho of the American Empire. Hitchens, in a bit of bombastic chest-thumping, wants to challenge Moore, man to man, to a debate. This is a rather listless call to arms, and I’m confident Hitchens can do us much better. In the great battle against militant Islam, Hitchens has proclaimed, “Here is a war I can devote the rest of my life to.” Not exactly Sir Winston stuff but still baldly stated.

George Orwell, Hitchens’ patron saint, made the same commitment in his battle against fascism. Orwell trekked to Spain with other volunteers and fought for the Republican cause against Franco’s fascists backed by Hitler, Mussolini, and the Catholic Church. Fighting on the side of anarchists and socialists, Orwell took a bullet in the throat for his heroism. The conflict also hardened his distrust of the Stalinists who claimed to fight fascism but spent much of their efforts undermining the Republican cause on orders from Moscow.

Pat Tillman, the football player who walked away from millions, to fight and die in Afghanistan, joins George Orwell to show Christopher the he-man’s path to fighting the  Islamo-fiends. Debate Michael Moore, any time, any place, bah! Any cross-eyed Girl Scout with retainers and asthma could do that. Our boy is going to show the cowardly Michael Moore that he is no chicken-hawk windbag tossing hand grenades from a barstool at the imperial court, vicariously ordering others off to fight and die. Inspired by the Lincoln Brigades, Chris is going to head up the Hitch Liberation Front! (Maybe he can get Andrew Sullivan, William Kristol, and the other right-wing war cheerleaders to enlist!)

Hitchens, I’m sure, will look ruggedly masculine in Kevlar and leather boots, swinging his manly M-16; and camouflage and night goggles are, indeed, tres chic. I’d make a donation to see Hitchens parachuted into Arghandab or perhaps a night drop in Ramadi; let’s show those Saddam dead-enders and bearded bin Ladenists that talk is cheap. I don’t speak for Moore, of course, but I feel on firm footing here, that with all the loot Michael has made on F. 9/11 he will contribute generously (very generously) to make sure that Hitchens sees lots of combat. Michael may have to forgo that macho debate but we all have to make sacrifices to see Hitchens fulfill his dream of devoting the rest of his life to this war.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” — Dwight David Eisenhower

“At no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort to be objective. At no moment does he pass up the chance of a cheap sneer or a jeer. He pitilessly focuses his camera, for minutes after he should have turned it off, on a distraught and bereaved mother whose grief we have already shared.”

Bush is, far and away, the most powerful man in the world. Freeze on that frightening thought. Based on the bleating from much of the corporate media and right-wing Bush apologists, you might think that Moore had mugged a blind octogenarian and beaten him half to death with his own crutches. Again, Moore has, relatively speaking, in taking on Bush, the resources of a butterfly slamming into an Abrams tank. This is why all the accusations against Moore for bias and manipulation are ludicrous and bankrupt.

George W. Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and their legions of well-connected supporters have boundless opportunities to repeat their propaganda for the ‘war on terrorism’ almost without challenge. From major TV networks and radio through books, newspapers, and magazines, dedicated specialists echo and amplify the Administration’s message 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They have unlimited access to the most sophisticated mass propaganda system in the history of the world. Relentlessly, their case for the invasion of Iraq blanketed the mass media in the U.S., Britain, and much of the world.

Yet Michael Moore, a maverick documentary filmmaker, rattles the world’s most overwhelming nexus of state, military, and corporate power. A lone gun prankster against a veritable army of state apologists, scribes, and apparatchiks, and somehow he is the one condemned as unfair and propagandistic. Why are they so afraid of Michael Moore? Why is Hitchens driven close to hysteria? Because many, many people realize that, the ‘evil-doer smashing’ rhetoric is dangerous pabulum; because they know they’ve been bombarded with mendacities and ‘thought control’ gimmicks to justify the Iraq invasion and they’re desperate for someone with the opportunity and guts to challenge the architects of deception. Moore provides a booming voice.

At least Moore and Hitchens have risen on talent and ambition, as opposed to uncurious George, royal offspring, born with a silver spoon up his nose, frat boy writ large, who was handed wealth and power on a conveyer belt of aristocratic connections. The Pantagruelian Bush, a smirking dunderhead who asserts a direct hotline to God, claims that he doesn’t need to read history because he makes history. (Terrifyingly, he does.) In an actual meritocracy, without his family ties to the stratosphere of the ruling class, Bush is, at best, a Central Texas College grad with an AA in business who might manage, say, a used car dealership in Houston. One would assume, in his merited career, that he would not have killed anyone by now—at least not while sober.

Ah, we now come to Orwell, one of the moral lodestars of the 20th century. Orwell’s legacy has been the centerpiece of an intense tug of war. Although he was a life long socialist who even flirted with anarchism in his youth, conservatives and reactionaries, much like the pod aliens in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, have a compulsion to assimilate him to their cause. Dreadful right-wing grave robbers such as Norman Poderhetz have exhumed Orwell’s cadaver, stuffed it full of encomiums to Reagan, Thatcher, and the Cold War, and displayed him as one of their own. Hitchens himself noted that Orwell rejected reactionary politics. He cites an incident in late 1945 at the start of the Cold War in which the Duchess of Atholl asked Orwell to speak at a meeting of her League for European Freedom protesting Communist brutality in Yugoslavia. Orwell responded:

“…I cannot associate myself with an essentially Conservative body which claims to defend democracy in Europe but has nothing to say about British imperialism…. [O]ne can only denounce the crimes now being committed in Poland, Jugoslavia etc. if one is equally insistent on ending Britain’s unwanted rule in India. I belong to the Left and must work inside it, much as I hate Russian totalitarianism and its poisonous influence…”16

Orwell’s updated lesson is clear: we must reject American Empire as well as all the toxic Fundamentalisms—whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim—that spring up like toadstools in its shadow.

Orwell was a man of the left whose biggest boosters since his death in 1950 have been on the right, and whose biggest critics have been on the left. Both the boosters and critics have a lot invested in the notion that 1984 was only a satire of the East—despite the fact that Orwell explicitly denied this, more than once. This lie—this appropriation of a socialist, anti-colonialist writer in the interests of empire—can be termed the Orwellian manipulation of Orwell.17

Orwell loathed fascism and totalitarianism, and he denounced Stalinism as a perversion of socialism. He risked his life, volunteering to fight with the POUM in the Spanish Civil War.18 What was Orwell’s position on pacifism and anti-war movements? Orwell is piously trotted out by a rat bag of war enthusiasts ranging from the glib Hitchens to the succubus of American crypto-fascism, Anne Coulter, to justify this war. Orwell developed his own views in lengthy debates during the Second World War with pacifists such as George Woodcock, Julian Symons, and Alex Comfort. Here is the most common Orwell line evinced by the War Party to justify their martial ends:

“Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside of such a war as the present one.”        Partisan Review, Aug-Sept 1942

Notice, first off, that Orwell says “such a war as the present one,” referring to the war against Hitler and fascism. Nazi Germany was a juggernaut that swept over Europe, threatened Africa and the Middle East, and nearly crushed the USSR. Hitler, at the height of his power, looked indomitable; England, in contrast, was vulnerable and isolated. Under such circumstances, Orwell could not brook pacifists who argued against the war effort. It cannot be repeated too forcefully, however, when poor old Orwell is disinterred to justify another war: An illegal invasion of a strangled, disarmed country based on lies and propaganda, no matter how repulsive its thuggish leader, is not the equivalent of England facing off against the Nazi war machine.

Hitler, by the way, used ‘self-defense’ arguments to justify his designs on Czechoslovakia and his invasion of Poland as both countries supposedly ‘threatened’ Germany. Certainly, those nations posed far more legitimate threats to Germany in 1938-39 then Iraq has ever posed to the United States. Hitler adored the concept of “preemption”—attacking enemies before they attacked him. He announced the invasion of Poland as a “counterattack.” Precisely the reason that preemption and military invasion were condemned at Nuremburg by American jurists as the ultimate war crime.

Orwell’s anti-pacifist remarks could be dragged out dishonorably to justify any war. After all, Hitler and Tojo, as Orwell conceded, could use precisely the same ammunition against pacifists in Germany and Japan. Did Orwell support all wars? Of course not. Did he, in retrospect, support the First World War? No. Did he support imperial wars for markets or natural resources such as oil? Absolutely not. Orwell, in fact, believed that the war against fascism would produce the victory of socialism in England and elsewhere. He had argued vigorously against war throughout the 1930s.

 

Woodcock wrote an excellent book on Orwell -- The Crystal Spirit

George Woodcock — Anarchist, pacifist and friend of Orwell

His anti-war agitation centered on two principles: first, a war against a foreign country only happens when the wealthy class expect to profit from it. (Sound similar to any of the points Moore made in his film?) Second, Orwell argued that every war is presented as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac. (Gee, now where have we heard that one lately?) Orwell, by the way, developed close friendships with pacifists such as Woodcock (who wrote a biography of Orwell) and Symonds. Throughout his life Orwell rejected imperialism and condemned colonial wars to crush ‘uppity natives’ and their national aspirations. He died in January 1950 of tuberculosis but there is not a speck of evidence that he would have supported the Vietnam War or the U.S. attacks against Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, or the invasion of Iraq.

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