Stalin, Hitler, Guilt, Finger-Pointing And Friendship:
September 5, 2002 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Stalin, Hitler, Guilt, Finger-Pointing And Friendship: Timothy Garton-Ash reviews, a trifle superciliously but fairly, a very lively and soul-searching polemic between two consummate, consuming and irresistible writers, Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens - who also happen to be old friends. Funnily enough, I'd suggest reading Hitchens's review in the Atlantic Monthly first; then the three [1] extracts from [2] Amis's book [3] and, finally, Hitchens's reply to them. All in all, it's that rare thing: a long, juicy, well-written and passionately argued polemic with plenty of insights into how generations come to terms with the honest indiscretions and oversights of their youth. Oh and there's a lot about communism, nazism, totalitarianism and the Sixties too...
posted by MiguelCardoso (15 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Great post, Miguel. I've been following this humerous little sniping match. More on the feud here and here.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:36 AM on September 5, 2002

can someone clue me on why Amis attacks James Fenton?
posted by clavdivs at 8:43 AM on September 5, 2002

One more take:
What is grimly funny about Amis's condemnation of laughter is that he doesn't appear to know that it is not only Utopianism which makes revolutionaries and reformers but a revulsion against the injustice of their world. He can't allow himself to know because knowledge would force him to examine the injustices which provoked yesterday's Bolshevism and today's protesters; force him to admit that there may be practical reasons for opposition, which aren't always millennial dreaming.
And this week's Craig Brown 'Diary' in Private Eye is a screamingly funny parody of Amis:
It was not until the year AD 2000 that I discoverbubbled exactly how wrong Hitch was, and that Iosif Stalin -- Walrus Whiskers -- was in fact not nice at all.
Let me repeat that.
posted by riviera at 8:44 AM on September 5, 2002

The Black Book of Communism sparkled a similar debate abot 5 years ago. And then of course there is The Gulag Archipelago from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 9:28 AM on September 5, 2002

As someone who feels physically ill at the sight of some goofball in a Mao T-shirt, I have to say that I like the cut of Amis's jig. As I see it, the heart of the problem is this sentiment: (from the Ash article)

Communism was originally a noble, emancipatory ideal, of a better world equally open to all human beings. Nazism never was.

With the point being that communism was all about brotherhood and love and wavy gravy but somehow -- whoops! -- a couple million people got lost along the way.

Both communism and Nazism had twisted visions of paradise, and both of them faced "human obstacles" on their stairway to heaven. For Hitler, the problem was non-Aryans; for communists it was priests, capitalists, landowners, etc... Both were exclusionary, and both necessarily led to human suffering.
posted by Ljubljana at 9:54 AM on September 5, 2002

I don't always agree with Hitch and I'm sure I'll disagree with him again in the future; but if I could be half the writer he is, I'd be a happy man. Thanks for the links.

Next: Adrian Mole: The Ex-Communist Years.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:06 AM on September 5, 2002

I was thinking about Mao Zedong too, wait till Martin Amis finds out about all the stuff he's done. He might have to write another book saying everyone is ignorant of that. Think anyone's mentioned it to him yet?
posted by bobo123 at 10:17 AM on September 5, 2002

That Hitchens piece in the Guardian actually brought a tear to my eye. I don't know enough about the politics of the sixties to know whether he's right or not, but it seems to me when it comes to power politics, left and right doesn't mean much where the propogation of evil is concerned. Former enemies and the politically opposed often climb into bed together when it's convenient. Hitler had a pact with Stalin once, Saddam was supported by the West. Western communists are accused of ignoring Stalin's atrocities, the left now is accused of having supported the Taliban in the name of multi-culturalism. I know that the latter claim rewrites history to a great extent.
posted by Summer at 10:19 AM on September 5, 2002

-- whoops! -- a couple million people got lost along the way.

Ten million. Not a couple.

but if I could be half the writer he is, I'd be a happy man

Forget the writing: if you drank as much as he does, you'd be happy too. Or, at least, you'd be in a better mood
posted by matteo at 10:37 AM on September 5, 2002

Ten million. Not a couple

Matteo - I think it's more like twenty million. Though this number thing does tend to remind one of Stalin's brutal but pertinent comment that "one death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic" (or something like that).

It's just an excuse to introduce Charles Taylor's very interesting, critical piece on Salon.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:53 AM on September 5, 2002

Summer: Hitchens is quite right, both about the politics of the '60s (I was there) and about the left opposition to Stalinism. Hitchens has been pretty annoying lately, but he performs brilliantly here.

Ljublana: It's the cut of one's jib, not jig. A jib is the big triangular sail at the front of a ship, and sailors used to use the look of it to make a quick judgment about another ship. Of course, it was a pretty rough-and-ready judgment, which is what you're going to get if you judge people by whether they're willing to make a properly violent condemnation of Communism.
posted by languagehat at 12:09 PM on September 5, 2002

Great post. I'm especially grateful to have been brought back to Hitchens' work; I've been ignoring him since I was turned off by the tone (but not the sense) of "The Trial of Henry Kissinger", and even more by the inanity of his self-aggrandizing "feud" with Chomsky. Thank you for reminding us that there is a genuine intellect behind the posturing or poseurism or whatever you call it.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 4:31 PM on September 5, 2002

i guess noone knows who Fenton is.
posted by clavdivs at 8:05 AM on September 6, 2002

clavdivs: Fenton was part of the 1970s New Statesman crowd which included Amis, Hitchens and Julian Barnes. Amis writes about it well in his memoir, Experience, which I'd recommend to you. Hitchens also mentions it briefly here.
posted by riviera at 11:39 AM on September 6, 2002

Thanks Riv. I knew he had the chair (poetry) at oxford and his reporting and poetry on Cambodia is impressive, plus his role in the "martian school" is well known.
(whens Raine gonna release a new book?)
posted by clavdivs at 12:00 PM on September 6, 2002

« Older Shift Magazine Turns 10   |   Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments