- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Theres a French phrase that describes the Christopher Hitchens syndrome: "epater le bourgeois." It means, by my updated definition, to publish outrageous smears against famed individuals so as to dazzle ordinary mortals and draw mouth-agape attention to oneself as a moralizing prophet and readable syndicated columnist. Gore Vidal, the novelist, the America-hating moralist and friend of Timothy Mcveighs, is another such "epatiste."
(The "epater le bourgeois" metaphor was born in 19th-century France, where intellectuals like Charles Baudelaire and Gustave Flaubert crusaded against the hated middle class. Karl Marx, of course, transformed his hate into a politico-moral crusade with catastrophic consequences.)
In his attempt to dazzle the "bourgeoisie," Mr. Hitchens recently singled out one of the best known personalities in the world, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whom he has indicted in a recent book, "The Trial of Henry Kissinger," as a "war criminal."
In American history, no secretary of state has ever achieved the fame (or notoriety) that Mr. Kissinger has. (There are many public figures with doctorates but only Mr. Kissinger is referred to respectfully as "Doctor.") In the 20th century plus, there have been 29 secretaries of state. None, from John Hay in 1901 to the present Colin Powell, seems to have had influence, power and visibility comparable to that which Henry Kissinger accumulated under two presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford from 1973 until 1977. Few secretaries of state, with the possible exception of Dean Acheson, retained in their post-government careers a measure of influence and, certainly, visibility equal to Mr. Kissingers for more than a quarter-century. In fact, most secretaries of state sink into a merciful obscurity upon retirement (not of course Alexander Haig or George Shultz).
For his efforts, Mr. Hitchens has been vigorously attacked in the London Times and in Torontos National Post, the leading Canadian daily. But before I go into details I should, in the interest of full disclosure, point out that I myself have been a severe critic of Mr. Kissingers tenure as national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon-Ford years, particularly for his erroneous assessment of the Soviet Union. I criticized him particularly in print and, most courteously, to his face for preventing Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian dissident and Nobel Laureate, from being received at the White House. I shared in print then AFL-CIO President George Meanys opinion to a Senate committee that "Dr. Kissinger has presided over an era which has seen a decline of American strength military, economic and moral, of unprecedented proportions." For me, I wrote, detente was appeasement of the Soviet Union.
I could cite other instances of what seemed to me misguided examples of Kissinger diplomacy. But thats a far cry from accusing him of being a war criminal, as Mr. Hitchens has done in his book "The Trial of Henry Kissinger." Ignoble behavior is not criminal behavior. Mr. Hitchens blames the tragedies of Vietnam, East Timor, Cyprus, East Pakistan on Mr. Kissinger. Once you begin indicting politicians and statesmen as war criminals, there is no end. For example:
By the Hitchens standard of evidence, one could make a case against Winston Churchill as a war criminal for coming to the aid of the U.S.S.R. on June 23, 1941, the day Adolf Hitler invaded the land of his former ally. As H.R. Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre) has written (Encounter, Dec. 1989, page 10): "In a crisis we accepted the alliance of Stalinist Russia, whose criminal record at that time was worse than that of Nazi Germany." With the Katyn massacre, the killing by Josef Stalin of some 15,000 Polish officers, which Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt both covered up, the Soviet criminal record grew even worse.
Once you be- gin extending the concept of "war criminal" then any statesman involved in war or putting down a rebellion becomes a war criminal. It becomes playing with words like transforming the meaning of genocide into a tendentious metaphor such as "cultural genocide." What Mr. Hitchens has done, to extrapolate from Kenneth Minogues analysis of "the fashionable idea of national guilt," has the appearance of "intellectual profundity, but its real effect is to destroy moral judgment."
So I say to Mr. Hitchens in the words of Hilaire Belloc from his "Cautionary Verses":
Weve have quite enough
Of this horrible stuff
And we dont want to hear any more.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution Research Fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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