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Sad thoughts about the war, from an unlikely source

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Oct. 8th, 2007 | 09:02 am

We've been at war for four and a half years now. although we're all aware of the daily tragedies in Iraq that make this war increasingly indefensible, detailed accounts of the American causalities are not much discussed anymore, at least not by the press I read. It's too easy for tributes to sound mawkish, too uncomfortable to laud heroism so wretchedly misused and misplaced (not by the soldiers, but by those who have kept them there). We fear dishonoring the dead if we remain critical of the war itself even as we value their contribution to it, and fear tacitly supporting the war if we do not. We avoid this awkwardness by focusing on issues and political commentary, and leave the personal profiles and public interest stories to Fox News.

That's why my daily online reading session was so utterly disrupted by this astonishing piece: A Death in the Family.
If you despise Christopher Hitchens, you will find all of his trademark habits demonstrated in this article--his romanticizations of some antiquated ideal of masculinity and the image of the stalwart soldier, his obsessive worshiping of Orwell (Hitchens' secular deity), the pretentious quoting of dead white men he read at Oxford, the faux humility ("Abruptly dismissing any comparison between myself and one of the greatest poets of the 20th century..."), and his unmentioned but still clearly committed support of this war--support that's now tempered with dash a pessimism and sense of tragedy, only four years behind schedule. With that said, this is an earnest and beautiful account of a life lost in the war, a really genuinely good person who enlisted for reasons we can't easily dismiss, and whose death we can't easily forget. I haven't been so struck, so jolted back into *feeling* something visceral and agonizing about the war, since the NYTimes op-ed back in August, The War As We Saw It, by seven soldiers in Irag, two of whom are now dead and one critically injured.

What I appreciate about Hitchens is that he is willing, much more so than any other political commentator I know, to abandon any sense of journalistic detachment in his writing when the content demands it, when the story would be demeaned by anything less than poetry, anything less than Yeats and Shakespeare. Despite being regularly infuriated by him, I have always admired Hitchens as an honest and emotional writer and never more so than today. He has provided very, very sad reminder of what we have lost in these four years.

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