Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Hitchens v Hitchens, but not what you'd expect in the battle over Iraq

By Stephen Barton - posted Thursday, 22 May 2003

War and politics have always led to strange bedfellows and even stranger progeny. Civil war leads to further misalliances. Passionate belief in working for a greater good can create affiliations of those who agree on the end but not the means.

From the Lawrence brothers' squabbles in 1849 over Punjab law reform - Henry for working within the existing system and John for externally imposed modernisation - to the first and second Gulf wars we have seen those who passionately believe in their country disagreeing vehemently over the way to further its interests.

Military intervention in Iraq has thrown the Right into an intellectual civil war, with the most cogent and forceful arguments against the intervention seeming to come from the conservative heartland. Demarcation lines between Left and Right within the conservatives has led to some unlikely alliances - those of the Left who supported the intervention, like David Aaronovitch of The Guardian and Christopher Hitchens (playing John Lawrence to his brother's Henry), moved across the demarcation line between Left and Right and camped with the squabbling conservatives and liberals for the duration of the conflict.


Peter Hitchens wrote in The Spectator before the war began, "There is nothing conservative about war. For at least the last century war has been the herald and handmaid of socialism and state control". War, Hitchens seems to say, is the product of grand ideas, and perhaps that includes boastful American liberalism. Hitchens feared the destructive power of the not-so-quiet American, "for the attacker war is no longer terrible enough. Some people have grown too fond of it. They are not conservatives in any serious meaning of the word".

Mathew Parris, former Conservative MP and journalist, shared this melancholy yet correctly predicted in mid March that the Allies would win the war, quickly and with minimum casualties. He wrote, "Those who, like me, remain unconvinced of the case for war should prepare for a spell of unfashionability". With victory inevitable, Parris likened the actions of Bush and Blair to that of a wayward brother who bet the family fortune on a racehorse and won. Parris' anxiety centred on the "wayward brother's next investment". Victory would "only send him back into the betting shop for an even bigger flutter".

For both Parris and Peter Hitchens, war in Iraq could only be the harbinger of further calamity. They were suspicious of Blair's chariots of fire approach to foreign policy. The implicit question was: are British, indeed Western, interests served by such a course of action? Is Iraq worth the bones of one British squaddie? Not surprisingly we find here a similarity with Enoch Powell's arguments against the first Gulf War.

Powell argued that any talk of appeasing Saddam was "nonsense", continuing:

Saddam Hussein may not be nice and his form of government not to our taste. That is no business of ours nor of the United States … The world is full of men engaged in doing evil things. That does not makes us policemen to round them up nor judges to find them guilt and to sentence them … we as a nation have no interest in the existence or non-existence of Kuwait. I sometimes wonder if, when we shed our power, we omitted to shed our arrogance.

Powell places the same emphasis on interests rather than ideas, and we also see the conservative's mournful pessimism on the character of man and his works.


In an interview with the Atlantic Monthly, Stephan Schwartz, author of the Two faces of Islam, typifies the position that Peter Hitchens and Parris react against.

We are going to help the Arab and Muslim nations find their own way to democracy, prosperity and stability on their own terms … If I'm proven wrong and in the end we do stick by the reactionary wing of the Saudi regime, then I guess I'll have to admit that I was wrong in trusting our leaders, and I have to go back to the left … I truly and with absolute sincerity believe that Dr Wolfowitz is on the same page with me on this ... He is a supporter of world-wide democracy … I want America to be the powerful nation that brings democracy and freedom to those oppressed. I want America to be the liberator.

Such a comment would leave some conservatives both in the UK and the US profoundly shaken. What is curious is that people like Schwartz have heard in Republican George W Bush a call to arms. When George W Bush spontaneously called to rescue workers on the rubble of the World Trade Centre on 14 September, "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people … And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon", he set the scene for this unlikely alliance.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Article edited by Jenny Ostini.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Stephen Barton teaches politics at Edith Cowan University and has been a political staffer at both a state and federal level. The views expressed here are his own.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Stephen Barton
Related Links
Issues Brief - The War in Iraq
Other articles by Stephen Barton
Photo of Stephen Barton
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy