The Corner

“A Death in the Family”

Hitchens in Vanity Fair:

I was having an oppressively normal morning a few months ago, flicking through the banality of quotidian e-mail traffic, when I idly clicked on a message from a friend headed “Seen This?” The attached item turned out to be a very well-written story by Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times. It described the death, in Mosul, Iraq, of a young soldier from Irvine, California, named Mark Jennings Daily, and the unusual degree of emotion that his community was undergoing as a consequence. The emotion derived from a very moving statement that the boy had left behind, stating his reasons for having become a volunteer and bravely facing the prospect that his words might have to be read posthumously. In a way, the story was almost too perfect: this handsome lad had been born on the Fourth of July, was a registered Democrat and self-described agnostic, a U.C.L.A. honors graduate, and during his college days had fairly decided reservations about the war in Iraq. I read on, and actually printed the story out, and was turning a page when I saw the following:

“Somewhere along the way, he changed his mind. His family says there was no epiphany. Writings by author and columnist Christopher Hitchens on the moral case for war deeply influenced him … “

I don’t exaggerate by much when I say that I froze. I certainly felt a very deep pang of cold dismay. I had just returned from a visit to Iraq with my own son (who is 23, as was young Mr. Daily) and had found myself in a deeply pessimistic frame of mind about the war. Was it possible that I had helped persuade someone I had never met to place himself in the path of an I.E.D.? Over-dramatizing myself a bit in the angst of the moment, I found I was thinking of William Butler Yeats, who was chilled to discover that the Irish rebels of 1916 had gone to their deaths quoting his play Cathleen ni Houlihan. He tried to cope with the disturbing idea in his poem “Man and the Echo”:

Did that play of mine send out

Certain men the English shot? …

Could my spoken words have checked

That whereby a house lay wrecked?

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