Christopher Hitchens: 1949-2011

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Ben Cohen
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Christopher Hitchens

I was not a fan of Christopher Hitchens by any means, but his passing due to esophageal cancer marks the end of a truly enigmatic figure and intellectual powerhouse.

Never at a loss for words, Hitchens was one of the most quote worthy public figures in history. His one liners and ripostes were the stuff of legend and watching him engage in debate was like watching a champion prizefighter engage in combat. Unfortunately for his adversaries, Hitchens was almost always a class or two above, and first round knockouts were a common theme in his lengthy career under the lights. His friend Martin Amis once said:

Towards the very end of the last century, all the greatest chessplayers,including Garry Kasparov, began to succumb to a computer (named DeepBlue); I had the opportunity to ask two grandmasters to describe theDeep Blue experience, and they both said: "It's like a wall coming atyou." In argument, Christopher is that wall. The prototype of Deep Bluewas known as Deep Thought. And there's a case for calling ChristopherDeep Speech.

Hitchens also did some incredibly brave reporting early on in his career, hounding Henry Kissinger for his role in escalating the Vietnam war and opposing the first war in Iraq. However, Hitchens lost many supporters with his unexpected support of George W Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq leaving him a mixed legacy that will be debated for years to come. Hitchens spent much of his last years attacking religion, making enemies of all faiths and provoking uproar wherever he went. While one may disagree with his tactics, his arguments were compelling, forcing religious scholars and intellectuals to defend their beliefs vigorously and seriously.

Whatever one thinks of Hitchens as a person or a writer, he brought a great deal of interest to public debate and always provided entertainment that was sorely missing from American intellectual life.

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