Christopher Hitchens’ Most Famous Feuds (Photos)

From Mother Teresa to Henry Kissinger and even God, see the biggest fights that Christopher Hitchens picked.

By Jimmy So and Josh Dzieza

"Hitch," as he was affectionately known, didn't care so much for the affections of public figures as he took on Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, and even God, but always with a rush of wrathful passion for justice and the truth. It's as if he couldn't help it—it's almost in his blood, as he explained in an interview in 1993: "For a lot of people, their first love is what they'll always remember. For me it's always been the first hate, and I think that hatred, though it provides often rather junky energy, is a terrific way of getting you out of bed in the morning and keeping you going." Here are the great polemicist's most righteous feuds.

Plinio Lepri / AP Photo

Mother Teresa

Who would dare take on a likely saint and a Nobel Peace Prize winner? Toward the end of her life, Mother Teresa incurred the wrath of Hitch, who described the nun as a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and an opportunist in his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, published in 1995. Hitchens details Mother Teresa's relationship with the rich, powerful—and corrupt—including Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, and showed letters that she wrote to a judge on behalf of disgraced financial executive Charles Keating, who gave millions to her Missionaries of Charity organization. (He wrote about her letters in Newsweek in 2007.) Hitchens said that Mother Teresa supported and indulged the rich while preaching resignation and fundamentalism to the poor, and failing to provide adequate medical care to her patients. Through careful reporting and acidic assertions (he noted that Mother Teresa always received world-class medical attention), Hitchens got many to begin examining a hitherto untouchable saint, and to question whether it was all a guise—or even a cult. "A fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud," he called her after she was beatified in 2003.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

Bill and Hilary Clinton

Someone else he found to be opportunistic was Bill Clinton, but that should come as no surprise. What he couldn't stand was what he considered to be a complete lack of shame and moral integrity. In his book, No One Left to Lie to: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, he charged that Clinton was unwilling to save a mentally retarded black man from execution (Ricky Ray Rector) to appear tough on crime, but willing to pander when he needed the black vote. He couldn't stand that Clinton used military airstrikes liberally but weaseled his way out of the draft. And on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Hitchens thought that the sex was just another sign of a complete breakdown of character. He would be slightly and begrudgingly more admiring of him in this Newsweek piece in 2009, but only because he was writing about Clinton's former roommate, friend, and adviser, Taylor Branch, who seemed to have asserted a positive influence on the president. Hitchens was no kinder to Hillary, whom he faulted for supporting the Iraq War, which he also did, for entirely arrogant and absurd reasons. Hitch thought that her claim that she could tell that Saddam Hussein was a “threat” because she had foreign-relations “experience”—by going on banal trips as first lady—was ridiculous, arrogant and dishonest, kind of like her husband.

Steffen Schmidt, Keystone / AP Photo

Henry Kissinger

Hitchens reserved his greatest moral outrage—and some of his most intrepid reporting—for Henry Kissinger. Published in two parts in Harper's and as a book in 2001, The Trial of Henry Kissinger was even made into a documentary film a year later. Hitchens first set out to chronicle how Kissinger and presidential candidate Richard Nixon sabotaged Lyndon Johnson's 1968 Paris peace negotiations with Vietnam. "The means they chose were simple," Hitchens wrote. "They privately assured the South Vietnamese military rulers that an incoming Republican regime would offer them a better deal than would a Democratic one." The tactic worked, and the peace deal was destroyed on the eve of the election. The bloody war was therefore prolonged for four more years, senselessly and needlessly. He goes on to detail further alleged war crimes in Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus, and East Timor in what Hitchens hoped would be a public trial, bringing evidence forth that would be considered in an international tribunal. But Kissinger today remains not only a free man but a respected statesman.

Hussein Malla / AP Photo

The Left

Although Hitchens joined the political left during the '60s, and was a self-described Trotskyist—an anti-Stalin socialist—it seemed that what he saw as the hypocrisy of the pro-Clinton "New Democrats" fully disillusioned him, though he was already critical long before. But by Sept. 11, 2001, he was furious with a left that would see the war against terrorism as a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden. In a series of stinging back-and-forth commentaries in the pages of The Nation between him and Noam Chomsky, two of the most recognizable public intellectuals of our time, Hitchens became increasingly at odds with people he viewed as making excuses on behalf of Muslim fundamentalists. He was a writer at the magazine then, and he left one year later, in 2002. He also famously supported President George W. Bush in the Iraq War. In a series of articles he wrote for Slate from 2002 to 2003, he ran the whole gamut from making "the case against the case against 'regime change' in Iraq" to lashing out against "people who prefer Saddam Hussein to Halliburton." The essays would become the book A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq. Perhaps rather ironically, given his hatred of Kissinger, Hitchens remained unapologetic about his support for the invasion. "How Did I Get Iraq Wrong?" he asked in 2008. "I didn't."

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Yes, he took on God. Rather, since he didn't believe He exists, he took on the belief in God and the organization of religion. If he only drove people up the wall before, he really sent them crashing right through with God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. A courageous and straightforward case against supernatural beliefs (he doesn't think "Eastern" religions are any better), the book made him a celebrity of the "New Atheism" movement, and might become what he is best remembered for. The evolutionary biologist (and crystal-clear writer) Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, wrote this about his friend: "Christopher Hitchens is a giant of the mind and a model of courage." Newsweek and The Daily Beast contributor Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, offered this: "My friend Christopher Hitchens is a writer of truly incandescent of the best writers to ever draw breath."


Yup, he took on women, too. Whether he was trying to inflame as many people as possible (more than half of the world) or he just couldn't help saying what he felt, the Vanity Fair piece unequivocally titled "Why Women Aren't Funny" really jammed his email box. "Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about," he wrote, in an instant appeal to unfiltered honesty—or stereotype and conditioned perceptions, take your pick. He enlisted the help of a Stanford University study, as well as two of the funniest women—and human beings—alive: Fran Lebowitz and Nora Ephron. They backed him up, but readers didn't exactly buy his assessment. He did, however, lay some of the blame on men: "it could be that in some way men do not want women to be funny. They want them as an audience, not as rivals."

Dave Hogan / Getty Images

John le Carré

Hitchens was as fast to join spats as he was to start his own. In 1997, he came to Salman Rushdie’s aid in a spat with John le Carré in the pages of The Guardian. When The Guardian excerpted a speech by le Carré in which he complained of being labeled an anti-Semite in The New York Review of Books, Rushdie wrote in to say that le Carré is in no position to complain, considering he joined those attacking The Satanic Verses for being anti-Islam. Le Carré denied the charge; Rushdie fired back. Then Hitchens: “John le Carré's conduct in your pages is like nothing so much as that of a man who, having relieved himself in his own hat, makes haste to clamp the brimming chapeau on his head.”

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Gore Vidal

Hitchens showed no mercy to the novelist Gore Vidal, his former friend, when he accused him of losing his mind after the Sept. 11 attacks. “However, if it’s true even to any degree that we were all changed by September 11, 2001, it’s probably truer of Vidal that it made him more the way he already was, and accentuated a crackpot strain that gradually asserted itself as dominant,” Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair. As for Vidal’s claim that Hitchens had appointed himself Vidal’s literary heir, Hitchens said it was the other way around, that Vidal wrote him unsolicited and appointed him his heir. “I don’t in the least mind his clumsy and nasty attempt to re-write his history with me, but I find I do object to the crank-revisionist and denialist history he is now peddling about everything else, as well as to the awful, spiteful, miserable way—'going on and on and on,' indeed—in which he has finished up by doing it. “

Ross D. Franklin / AP Photo

John McCain

Early in the 2008 presidential campaign, Hitchens wondered whether John McCain “has his tray table in the fully locked and upright position, whether he lives happily or unhappily in his own ZIP Code, whether there are kittens in his granary or bats in his belfry, and whether his elevator goes all the way to the top.” But he was still somewhat neutral in the election. Months later, he was far less elliptical, calling the Republican candidate “weird” and “borderline senile” and urging readers to vote for Obama.

Steve Helber / AP Photo

Jerry Falwell

Hitchens took it upon himself to rain on Jerry Falwell’s funeral procession, going on cable-news shows to verbally abuse the late reverend and taking to Slate to celebrate his death. Asked how he felt about the passing of Falwell, Hitchens told Anderson Cooper, “The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing: that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend. “ On Fox News, he said that if you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox.

Bikas Das / AP Photo

Dalai Lama

The avowed enemy of all religion made no exception for the Dalai Lama. Indeed, the fact that Western media so often does treat the Tibetan leader exceptionally well caused Hitchens much outrage. “The entire Western mass media is uncritically at the service of a mere mortal who, at the very least, proclaims the utter nonsense of reincarnation and who affirms the sinister if not indeed crazy belief that death is but a stage in a grand cycle of what appears to be futility and subjection,” Hitchens wrote in Salon. Eager to disabuse readers of their illusions, Hitchens goes on to list the Dalai Lama’s faults, from his support for India’s nuclear-weapons program to his endorsement of Steven Seagal.