Hitchens’s revolutionary movement (International Socialists) led to many adventures in world travels. 1968 saw him on the revolutionary-tourist road to Cuba, where he found that the heralded revolution was anything but “a brave departure from the grim, gray pattern of Soviet socialism.” As he and his comrades heard the news about the Soviet invasion of Prague from Havana’s shores, they expected that Cuba, a small country fighting for its own path in the shadow of the American empire, would reach out to and support the Czech rebels. They were quickly to learn that Fidel Castro heartily endorsed the Soviet invasion. While his Cuban comrades immediately changed their position to match that of Castro, Hitchens stood firm, only to be denounced for the first time as a “counter-revolutionary.” It was the first in a long series of attacks from the political left. But he still believed, as he put it, that his comrades could clear “the way for a ‘real’ and authentic Left to emerge at last.” (As he admits, “I was still somewhat imprisoned within the jargon of Left sectarianism.”)
It would take many more years for Hitchens to shed that last illusion. This, in a way, is the major theme that runs throughout this memoir. In Portugal covering the attempt at revolution in 1975, he found himself in bed with those he used to see as the wrong kind of people: anti-Communists of the social-democratic Left. This pushed him over the edge and forced him to formally leave the ranks of the International Socialists, which he had to acknowledge had become a “party-line sect.” By then, he had even come to appreciate Margaret Thatcher, whom he praises for “terminating the long reign of mediocrity and torpor.” After that, he would leave for the United States, of which, decades later, he would become a citizen.
One of the frustrating things about Hitchens’s reevaluations, however, is that on many of the key issues of the Sixties and Seventies, he has not really managed to rethink old views. For him, the Vietnam War was immoral, unnecessary, and part of the American empire’s forward march. Thus he can call the Vietnamese National Liberation Front “the valiant guerrillas of the Vietcong.” In Central America, he insists that the Sandinistas were heroic, and refers to their opponents as “the homicidal contras.”
Still, Hitchens began to move away from old friends like Vidal and Chomsky. Once a fierce defender of Chomsky’s intellectual assault against the U.S. war in Vietnam, he grew to have doubts about the basis of Chomsky’s analysis. He also came to find a “deep division” regarding America. Chomsky, Hitchens writes, sees “almost everything since Columbus as having been one continuous succession of genocides and land-thefts; he [does] not really believe that the United States of America was a good idea to begin with. Whereas I had slowly come to appreciate that it most certainly was.”
Yet, in his troubling chapter on “the Jewish Question,” he applies precisely the same Chomskyan logic to the existence of Israel. For Hitchens, the establishment of Israel was just the Jews’ colonialist land grab in Palestine, similar to those of the Turks and the British. And it was ironic, he says, that they became “colonizers at just the moment when other Europeans had given up on the idea.” The very idea of a Jewish state seems to enrage him. He neglects to mention, however, that unlike in the case of America, Palestine had actually been the newcomers’ ancestral home for millennia, that they had kept a small presence there, and that they longed someday to return — hence, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”