Stewart Donovan

Pax AmericanaBlood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies by Christopher Hitchens. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990.

In a relatively short time Christopher Hitchens has achieved the status of being England's preeminent journalist, and with his recent appointment as Washington editor for Harper's Magazine many would argue that he also deserves to hold that title for America.1Blood, Class and Nostalgia (his seventh book) does much to support the case for Hitchens as our generation's Muggeridge2 or, as some would have it, Orwell. The book is a critical survey of the historical, social, political and cultural relationship that existed and exists between Britain (large and small b) and America (small and large A). What Hitchens illustrates most of all in this work is his ability to do what many of the historians warn us not to do generalize and judge. Here he is on a period of history that is of some interest to us at the moment:

The period of decolonization and receivership,
which saw the United States take over the 
former position of the Belgians in the Congo, 
the French in Indochina, the Dutch in 
Indonesia, and the British in
the Mediterranean and the Middle East ... At 
such times, there was liable to be grumbling
about American "imperialism" from the British
Establishment and sanctimony about British 
"colonialism" from the Washington side.... As
in the case of the Churchill-Roosevelt 
correspondence on Iranian and Saudi oil, both 
nations rightly suspected the other of 
self-interested designs. (United Fruit 
lobbyists in Congress had played on this 
memory artfully, pointing out that British 
oil assets were being menaced by 
nationalization in Iran, that American assets
in Iran might be I next, " and that the habit
of nationalization should not be allowed to 
spread to or from Guatemala.  If they could 
see the connection, so could others.) Iran 
was to be the alternative scenario in the 
drama of "receivership."

In a chapter entitled Greece to Their Rome Hitchens remarks that the ' literary mirror is often the most precise." And it is the sections of the book in which he discusses Edmund Wilson, Evelyn Waugh, Henry Adams, Henry James and especially Kipling and Mark Twain - that show us his extraordinary erudition and insight into British and American culture:

When Kipling aimed for the sublime, 
he always stuck at the imperial.  This 
Was a form of temptation which Twain, 
as it turned out, was well able to resist.  
When, a decade or so later, Kipling became
the semi-official laureate of the 
Roosevelt-Lodge set, with his verses 
urging white solidarity and the conquest 
of the Philippines, Twain emerged as the 
greatest and most scornful opponent of the
new imperialism.  Striking at the very 
point that Kipling had made his own - the 
emulation by Americans of the trailblazing 
British - he wrote witheringly that his 
fellow countrymen should "let go our 
obsequious hold on the rear-skirts of the
sceptred land thieves of Europe."

Hitchens the cultural and literary historian is no less perceptive than Hitchens the contemporary journalist. He describes the night in Washington when the Churchill Club had Prince Philip invest Ronald Reagan with the silver medallion and chain of the award.

The occasion draws to a surreal close 
with the singing of Rosemary Clooney, 
whose evocations of Killarney and 
Cloghamore have reduced many a St. 
Patrick's night to maudlin and lachrymose
demonstrations.  The Irish-American community 
has been the slowest to succumb to the general
insipid Anglophilia (being one of the few 
ethnic American groups polled, for instance, 
that did not instinctively side with Britain 
in the Falklands conflict).  But tonight Ms. 
Clooney eschews the green in favor of what 
looks like a jacaranda tent, and when she does 
sing of Cloghamore there is nothing in her 
rendition to discompose the Crown.  Faced by
an alliance between "the quality" from both 
sides of the Atlantic, even Fenianism succumbs
to sentimentality.

One could argue that this is comedy but Hitchens has real moments of comic brilliance. His report on the correspondence between Evelyn Waugh and William F. Buckley is a case in point.

Shortly before the showing of Brideshead,
Mr. Buckley had printed a defense of his 
own close relations with Evelyn Waugh, and
a reply to the detractors and mockers of 
those relations, in the National Review
of November 14, 1980.  His indignation had 
been aroused by a review of Evelyn Waugh's 
Letters written by John Kenneth 
Galbraith.  Galbraith had made much of the 
fact that in 1960 Waugh wrote to his old 
schoolmate and friend Tom Driberg as follows:
Can you tell me: did you in your researches
come across the name of Wm.  F. Buckley Jr.,
editor of a New York, neo-McCarthy magazine 
named National Review?  He has been 
showing me great and unsought attention 
lately and your article made me curious.  
Has he been supernaturally "guided" to bore 
me?  It would explain him.

There is much more comedy in Hitchen's work, as Gore Vidal and others have pointed out, but these are grim times. As I write, America and Britain have all but bombed Baghdad and Iraq out of history.3 At present there is more "blood" than class or nostalgia in these Anglo-American ironies.

On April 19, 1988, Hitchens flew to Yorktown and boarded the USS Iowa. The enormous Second World War battleship "named for America's most pacifist and isolationist state." The ship had been recommissioned by the Reagan-Weinberger rearmament administration and was returning from a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf:

Amid the Iowa's array of martial 
features is one incongruity.  The admiral's 
quarters boast a large, luxurious sunken bath.
This fitting, which is found on board no other
ship, was installed for the comfort of the 
disabled Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  In 
November 1943, he boarded the USS Iowa
and steamed at top speed across the Atlantic 
and through the Mediterranean to meet Winston
Churchill.  Their first place of rendezvous, 
ironically enough, was Tehran.  In those 
days, Persia was a semi-colony of the British,
and in 1944 it became the site of a squabble 
between Churchill and Roosevelt over competing
British and American oil concessions.  Later, 
in the 1950s, it became the site of an 
Anglo-American cooperative covert operation 
to overthrow a nationalist government and 
secure the Pahlavi [the Shah of Iran] dynasty.
It was to deal with the direct consequences of
that folly that the USS Iowa and her sister 
ships had again been seen in Middle Eastern 
waters.  The USS New Jersey had spent 
some days off the coast of Lebanon in 1984, 
tossing shells as heavy as Volkswagens from 
her sixteen-inch muzzles at the supposed 
positions of Iranian sympathizers.  I wasn't 
the only person to be reminded, by this 
classic gunboat demonstration, of Joseph 
Conrad's bizarre evocation in 
Heart of Darkness:
Once, I remember, we came across a 
man-of-war anchored off the coast.... 
In the immensity of earth, sky and water,
there she was, incomprehensible, firing 
into a continent.

Later Hitchens is given a personal demonstration of the old ship's power, a demonstration that Iraqi men and boys have been experiencing for the past few weeks:

As the huge, beautiful ship cut its way 
through the water toward its new home 
port on Staten Island, I stood on the 
bridge to watch a few demonstration 
broadsides (saying a silent valediction 
to those faraway Druze villages, as the 
gigantic shells went screaming off toward 
the horizon) and talked with Seth Cropsey,
Under Secretary of the Navy and an occasional
defense essayist for Commentaty, The Public 
Interest, and other organs of neoconservative
reflection.  "I think you'll find," he said,
"that most of our people have studied and 
admired the British example."

Hitchen's book should be standard reading for every American, British and Canadian student.
Heart of Darkness, indeed!


1. Hitchens also has a tentative connection with Canada. The Canadian businessman Conrad Black recently bought The Spectator so he could personally fire Hitchens. Hitchens had been writing nasty things about Black's friend, Ronald Reagan. Black, as it turns out, was just too late in acquiring The Spectator as Hitchens had already moved on to another paper.

2 . Like Muggeridge, Hitchens has taken on the cult of the Monarchy in England. His book, The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain's Favorite Fetish, has not brought him the kind of hate mail that Muggeridge had received from an earlier generation.

3. The impact of the bombing of Iraq upon the American psyche has yet to be calculated, but we might do well to remember the American poetiames Merrill who talked about the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in his poem The Changing Light at Sandover. Merrill, who expressed a belief in the transmigration of souls, felt that the souls of'those in the two bombed-outjapanese cities had been so annihilated that they were not reusable in the cycle of reincarnation.