By Lloyd, John
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 131, No. 4578
Writers--Beliefs, Opinions and Attitudes
Intellectuals--Beliefs, Opinions and Attitudes
Military Intervention--International Aspects
Amis, Martin--Beliefs, opinions and attitudes
Hitchens, Christopher--Beliefs, opinions and attitudes
Rushdie, Salman--Beliefs, opinions and attitudes
"I had," said Martin Amis, "been a bit more cautious about the war to begin with. I thought that the old response, with the cruise missiles operation, was not right. I thought it should be more of a financial and an intelligence operation. But it now seems to me that a show of force was necessary."
Prominent writers, such as christopher Hitchens and Salman Rushdie, have shocked some sections of the European left by their stance on 11 September and on the events that followed it. The shock is all the greater because, like Amis, they come from a left generation that bitterly opposed US intervention, overt and covert, in such countries as Vietnam and Chile. Much of the intellectual left in Europe cleaves to a view of America as the largest danger in the modern world. It sees those from the '68 generation as supportive of a Republican president - and thinks that, since they regard terrorists as enemies just as Bush does, these writers should be damned as heretics. Their reasons are barely attended to.
For Hitchens, more than Amis, the war appears to have sharpened his thinking on the nature of the divisions in the world. Speaking from his home in Washington, Hitchens said: "I do think America is a great idea. I think the American revolution is the only one which has lasted, the only one left. It still has a dynamic. It is the only one capable of a universal application." I said that this brought him close to the position of Francis Fukuyama, in his End of History and the Last Man -- that the values derived from the American revolution represent the highest achievement of political economy and that there can now be no credible challenge to them. "A much underrated writer," said Hitchens.
His concern, after 11 September, was not that the US would lead a war on terrorism, but that it would fail to do so. "I had a real fear," Hitchens said, "that the Bush people wouldn't fight. Even later, I thought that the 'axis of evil' phrase [used by President George Bush in his State of the Union address] could be a way of changing the subject."
Both Amis and, more polemically, Hitchens believe that the war has exposed a division in Europe's left: between the decent left, which is on the side of those willing to fight Islamic fascism, and the rigidly anti-American left. The latter is willing to push all else aside in order to give free way to a refurbished critique of imperialism, in which the US plays the dominant role, dragging servile satraps such as Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroder and Vladimir Putin in its wake.
Rushdie - who, like Amis and Hitchens, now lives in the US - wrote in the Guardian a month ago that "America finds itself facing an ideological enemy that may turn out to be harder to defeat than militant Islam: that is to say, anti-Americanism, which is presently taking the world by storm".
Rushdie said that, on a recent visit to the UK, he was "struck, even shocked, by the depth of anti-American feeling among large segments of the population, as well as the news media.. . The attacks on America are routinely discounted ('Americans only care about their own dead'). American patriotism, obesity, emotionality, self-centredness: these are the crucial issues." Hitchens, on a visit to the UK last month, expected leftist scorn, but was less prepared for the reaction from other quarters. "I did one phone-in show and it became quite obvious that people in the upper social echelon thought that the US was being too self-righteous."
The American left - powerful in intellectual, cultural and media circles, if not in politics - is either for the war, or silent, according to Hitchens. An exception to this is Noam Chomsky, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, who sees in the war a new chapter in a long work of US imperialism and racism. "Chomsky is just plain wrong," said Martin Amis, speaking from Ecuador, where he has been writing a book on communism which has clearly caused him to refine his world-view. …