Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011: Remembering famed author's visit to O.C.

Editor's note: Michael Miller wrote this article on author and columnist Christopher Hitchens when he visited Newport Beach in 2005. Hitchens died Thursday at age 62.

This time last year, Christopher Hitchens was in Kabul, Afghanistan, checking up on the country's progress since the overthrow of the Taliban. Despite the ongoing violence in that impoverished nation, the British author and columnist found at least one thing to cheer him.

"The first thing I did was go to a bar," Hitchens told a crowd of high school students Saturday at Newport Beach Public Library.

Remembering the days when alcohol, among other things, was banned by the totalitarian government, Hitchens saw the new industry as progress indeed.

An outspoken critic of Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger and many others, Hitchens has never been shy about supporting the war on terrorism. Even as many pundits began to call the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan a quagmire, he continued to trumpet the Bush administration's policies.

So when Hitchens met with a gathering of young people Saturday, his message was this: Don't always trust the mainstream media.

Hitchens was the final headliner in this year's Martin W. Witte Distinguished Speakers Lecture Series, a program presented by the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation. In between public lectures on Friday and Saturday, the guests meet with a high school audience on Saturday morning.

The appearance of a previous speaker in the series, "Reefer Madness" author Eric Schlosser, caused local controversy when a number of parents objected to his views about U.S. drug laws.

The week before Schlosser came to the library, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District announced that it would not permit fliers advertising his lecture to be displayed at its campuses. When Schlosser met with the high school crowd on April 16, however, the room was filled to capacity.

Hitchens' appearance, which incited no protests, drew a smaller crowd.

Jacob Silverman, a 10th-grader at Newport Harbor High School, said after Hitchens' speech that he found the author's views more provocative than Schlosser's.

"I thought it was really interesting," said Silverman, 15. "It was interesting how last time there was so much controversy. I thought this guy was more controversial."

In his speech, Hitchens spoke about political concerns, lambasting Michael Moore and other popular left-wing writers.

Elsewhere in his speech, he said that after Sept. 11, "It seemed to me that it was absolutely necessary for the U.S. to intervene in the civil war that's going on over Islam."

When taking questions from the students, however, Hitchens spoke just as much about the writing process and his own experiences as a professional author. He noted that as the son of a British naval officer, he grew up in a house with few books and that public libraries had given him a large part of his education.

Martha Topik, an English teacher at Newport Harbor High School who attended the lecture with several of her students, said afterward that Hitchens' passion for his craft was a good model for young writers.

"I think it's important for them to hear that writing is something you do beyond school," she said. "It's how you engage with the world."

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World