Postscript: Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

December 16th, 2011

The New Yorker
By Christopher Buckley
Dec. 16, 2011

We were friends for more than thirty years, which is a long time but, now that he is gone, seems not nearly long enough. I was rather nervous when I first met him, one night in London in 1977, along with his great friend Martin Amis. I had read his journalism and was already in awe of his brilliance and wit and couldn’t think what on earth I could bring to his table. I don’t know if he sensed the diffidence on my part—no, of course he did; he never missed anything—but he set me instantly at ease, and so began one of the great friendships and benisons of my life. It occurs to me that “benison” is a word I first learned from Christopher, along with so much else.

A few years later, we found ourselves living in the same city, Washington. I had come to work in an Administration; he had come to undo that Administration. Thirty years later, I was voting for Obama and Christopher had become one of the most forceful, and persuasive, advocates for George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. How did that happen?

In those days, Christopher was a roaring, if not raving, Balliol Bolshevik. Oh dear, the things he said about Reagan! The things—come to think of it—he said about my father. How did we become such friends? I only once stopped speaking to him, because of a throwaway half-sentence about my father-in-law in one of his Harper’s essays. I missed his company during that six-month froideur (another Christopher mot). It was about this time that he discovered that he was in fact Jewish, which somewhat complicated his fierce anti-Israel stance. When we embraced, at the bar mitzvah of Sidney Blumenthal’s son, the word “Shalom” sprang naturally from my lips.

A few days ago, when I was visiting him at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, for what I knew would be the last time, his wife, Carol, mentioned to me that Sidney had recently written to Christopher. I was surprised but very pleased to hear this. Christopher had caused Sidney great legal and financial grief during the Götterdämmerung of the Clinton impeachment. But now Sidney, a cancer experiencer himself, was reaching out to his old friend with words of tenderness and comfort and implicit forgiveness. This was the act of a mensch. But then Christopher was like that—it was hard, perhaps impossible, to stay mad at him, though I doubt Henry Kissinger or Bill Clinton or any member of the British Royal Family will be among the eulogists at his memorial service.