Short Breaks in Mordor – Peter Hitchens


For many in the Western world, hating Peter Hitchens is easy.

At least he thinks so.

As an anti-drug, anti-abortion, and vehemently Christian journalist, his opinions are increasingly seen as out of the mainstream. Furthermore, his small c conservative politics, paradoxically, anger many politicians on his side of the political spectrum. This is different from his late brother Christopher, who after an unexpected pitch for the 2003 Iraq war, still found Leftist support in attacking organized religion. Simply listening to Peter is a good way to glean his anomalous view and appreciate his sardonic wit. However, it is his journalism that has been lauded with awards such as the Orwell Prize.

Thus Living with Literature seeks to better understand Peter, and his unique brand of conservatism, with 2014’s Short Breaks in Mordor.

Short Breaks in Mordor is a chronicle of Peter Hitchens’ most tumultuous years as a foreign correspondent. The time spans from the fall of the Soviet Union, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and beyond. Despite the typical perception of Peter as personified English snobbery, his reporting is not from the proverbial ivory tower. Locations include Chinese human-rights abusing mines in Africa, stategy-less American and British missions in the Middle East, and run-ins in with the KGB. Hence, invoking Tolkien’s hellish inferno in The Lord of the Rings, Peter gives readers a detailed and personal glimpse of experiences in a non-fiction Mordor.

The world of geopolitics is predominately brushed off by the general public. Topics are seen as too convoluted and complex to understand. Even those dedicated to comprehending popular international questions, such as the Palestine-Israel conflict, are confronted with an increasingly literal mountain of treaties and history. Knowing this, Hitchens consolidates knotty geopolitical conflicts into pithy and personal passages. Not only are the situations made simple for the reader, but they are accented with biting grace.

“In the days of Soviet power, [the African National Congress] happily supported every grotesque show trial, Red Army invasion, and KGB repression that was available and would have supported more if asked. Its complete devotion to the Kremlin, and its leading position in the ANC, was one of the main reasons for the long survival of the repulsive Apartheid system. Western powers feared that the end of Apartheid would necessarily mean the establishment of a Soviet satellite on the strategic southern tip of Africa, in possession of its gold and diamond fields and much else besides. That is why the USSR had to fall before Apartheid did.”

George Orwell’s debut novel Burmese Days highlights British imperialism in South Asia by the then-expatriate writer. Naturally, these depictions of the world are a product of personal bias. As Orwell demonstrates, one can condemn imperialism while also appreciating its benefits. Hitchens engages in a similar style. For example, while realizing that North Korea is undoubtedly a police state, the author believes that Western policy should dissuade authoritarianism rather than demonize it. This nuanced approach allows readers to understand that such geopolitical distinctions must be made at a microbial level. Especially when delicate countries like North Korea are concerned:

“But where Orwell’s [Ministry of Truth] was a glittering white, the abandoned Ryugyong Hotel is a dingy dung-brown, its hundreds of glassless windows like sockets gazing at what its maker, the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, has wrought. And what he has wrought is hopeless failure, a long, grim joke that has yet to reach its punchline. Kim’s city is the capital of a state that is far more of a danger to its own people than it is to the rest of the world. I think the evidence is sketchy that North Korea has a nuclear bomb. What is certain is that it has almost nothing else. It cannot any longer even fake success at its very heart. Its great propaganda festival, the Arirang Games where thousands of young Koreans create vast pictures with eerily synchronised movements, is a pathetic remnant. It is the only show I have ever been to where the cast is far bigger than the audience.”

Being the loudest anti-drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll voice of the U.K. (and likely the Western world), it is expected that the personal views of the author occasionally permeate the text of Short Breaks in Mordor. Yet Hitchens’ is under no false assumption that his politics appear contemporarily unfashionable. He has even gone so far as to title himself ‘Britain’s obituarist‘. Despite holding to such traditional sentiments, Hitchens is cynical about and begrudgingly acquiescent to the changing world.

“Until [Fidel] Castro, communism was about tanks crushing romantic revolts in the streets, and dreary, potato- shaped, middle- aged men in hats and overcoats saluting rockets on Red Square. After Castro it was about romantic revolts and guerrilla bands, featuring young bearded heroes and smoldering, beautiful revolutionary women, overthrowing corrupt dictatorships in a festival of the oppressed. And it began in Havana, Ernest Hemingway’s ‘great white city on the bay’, perhaps the most perfect backdrop on the world with its happy music, its picturesque, easygoing people, its enjoyably grotesque mobster hotels, its cigars and rum. Marx and Lenin, dressed up in fatigues, were suddenly fun and sexy, freed from the Kremlin puritans. Castro was to revolution what Mick Jagger was to rock, and his image (and Guevara’s) had a lot to do with the strange student revolt that destroyed Charles de Gaulle’s conservative France in 1968, and with the wave of cultural revolution that changed the morals and attitudes of the Western world and has now subsided into the weary swamps of political correctness. Interestingly, the student revolutionaries who loved Castro and Guevara got Fidel wholly wrong. He loathed rock music as degenerate and only in recent years has he recognized it as an ally, permitting a John Lennon memorial park in Havana. They got a lot of other things about him wrong, too.”


While Peter Hitchens may be a ‘Burkean‘, or paleo-conservative conservative, cultural relevance fails to avoid his work and voice. This is likely why he appears regularly on television and engages in various Twitter fights. His encounters in Short Breaks in Mordor contain as much apocalyptic excitement and tension as any espionage novel. Albeit a post-colonial one. His political sentiments too, when presented, beg for a counter-argument. I’ve referred to Peter as Britain’s answer to William F. Buckley. Why? The sentiments may not be agreeable, but the razor-sharp analysis is important for Left (and Right) to reckon with. As well as read.

‘The Turner Diaries’ – William Luther Pierce 

IMG_0192Contemporary literary culture has little acceptance for novels that outright condone a race war between White and minority populations. Neither did the 1978 canon, as White Nationalist leader William Luther Pierce’s, alias Andrew Macdonald, novel The Turner Diaries failed to make The New York Times’ Best Seller list. In fact, the book was only available by mail-order (through Pierce’s National Alliance magazine) until Lyle Stuart had it re-published in 1997. The F.B.I. declared the novel as the ‘Bible of the Racist Right’ and allegedly served as the ‘blueprint’ for the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1991. Now there is speculation that the novel was an influence on Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. In an effort to understand the literature behind the pathology, Living with Literature decided to review The Turner Diaries.

The Turner Diaries opens in the year 2099. Author Andrew Macdonald informs readers it is the centennial of the Great Revolution. A century prior, a White-supremacist militia, known as ‘The Order’, took control of world power and ousted any and every minority. The Introduction concludes with the publication of the recently discovered diary of Earl Turner, a  guerrilla fighter in the Great Revolution. What follows is a journalistic chronicle of ‘The Order’ and their fight against the “liberal-Zionist” government known as ‘The System’.

When approaching an ideological-driven novel like The Turner Diaries, it is important to investigate the roots underpinning the motivation. In this case, what elements fuel the prejudice. To Earl Turner, and by proxy William Pierce, Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics are unsavory ancillary components of a base cause. That is, as professed at length in the novel, Judaism and the Israeli state. The diary-structured manifesto argues that Jews condone race mixing and thus can be guilted for nearly every ill plaguing the United States and Western society.

“And is that not key to the whole problem? The corruption of our people by the Jewish-liberal-democratic-equalitarian plague which afflicts us is more clearly manifested in our soft-mindedness, our unwillingness to recognize the harder realities of life, than in anything else.”
While followers of Judaism and Zionism are attributed fundamental blame, the Diaries slanders America’s Black and Hispanic population for quotidian crimes. In the mind of Turner and Pierce, if an interracial relationship occurs, it is undoubtedly against the will of a (predominately female) caucasian. The lack of prohibition against these ‘crimes’, the author argues, is as much a consequence of the ‘liberal Zionist agenda'(e.g.’Cohen anti-gun bill’) as the White population’s fear of being labeled a ‘racist’:

“I have been surprised to see how callous our volunteer Blacks are toward their own people. Some of the older Blacks, who haven’t been able to fend for themselves, are obviously near the point of death and starvation and dehydration, yet our volunteers handle them so roughly and pack them so tightly into the cars that it makes me flinch to watch them. When one overloaded Cadillac started onto the eastbound freeway with a lurch this morning, an ancient Negro lost his grip and fell off the roof, landing headfirst on the pavement and crushing his skull like an egg. The Blacks who had just loaded the car roared with laughter; it was apparently the funniest thing they’ve seen in a long time.”

The most intriguing feature of The Turner Diaries is the representation of the past. Like in this world, history has heavily effected the alternative future of the novel. There is little surprise that Turner and Pierce believe Nazi genocide in the 1940’s was a noble cause. However, this ignores many of the other conspiratorial and complex elements cited in the novel’s neofascist historical lens. This misunderstanding of history by the general public, the novel argues, is precisely what Pierece and followers of the movement feel legitimize their convictions and ambitions for various forms of ‘re-education’:

“But it was immediately apparent to the Revolutionary Command – and it soon became apparent to everyone else – that a new element had entered the picture. From our contacts inside one of the Federal police agencies we learned that our people are being killed by two groups: a special Israeli assassination squad and an assortment of Mafia ‘hit men’ under contract to the government of Israel. Where both these groups are concerned, U.S police have been given a hands off order by the FBI. (Note to the reader: The Mafia was a criminal confederation composed primarily of Italians and Siclians but usually masterminded by Jews, which flourished in the United States in the eight decades prior to the Great Revolution. There were several half-hearted government efforts to stamp out the Mafia during this period, but the unrestricted capitalism then flourshing provided ideal conditions for large-scale , organized crime and its concomitant political corruption. The Mafia remained in existence until virtually all its membmers – more than 8,000 men – were rounded up and executed in a single, massive operation by the Organization during the mopping-up period which followed the Revolution.)”

The difficultly with The Turner Diaries is categorization. Despite the alternative future, it does not read like a science fiction novel. Nor is it ‘dystopian’, as that leads the reader to believe there is a protagonist whom beats the injustice or becomes a maytr during the attempt. Instead, Pierce conceives a blueprint on how to achieve his vision of utopia. While politically opposite, the pyschological passages in ‘The Turner Diaries’ correspond most with the wildly influential pan-Africanist advocate writer Frantz Fanon. One supposes the most appropriate label for this vein of writing would be ‘racially-conscious’ literature.

The Turner Diaries
has been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and many others. Author and Dr. William Luther Pierce has likewise been a persona non grata since leaving his Oregon State University teaching post in the 1970’s to become an outspoken white supremacist. This is, as contemporary culture deems, as it should be. In fact, most readers cringe and cower at the idea of reading such a vitriolic, yet undoubtedly important novel. However, for a culture supposedly so entrenched in socially-progressive initiatives, at least relative to genocide-supporting neofascists, why is there a fear of investigating the designated enemy? This is not a call for compulsory reading of The Turner Diaries. Or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Or any other neofascist literature. Rather, it is a call for social awareness to rationally and intellectually reckon with deeply-rooted prejudice as a way to, hopefully, prevent future tragedy.

Burmese Days – George Orwell (1934)

0108_Burmese_days__Penguin_book_cover_-_1969_with_borderThese days the term Orwellian is overused and almost without meaning. So much so that conspiracy-minded thinkers could develop a theory that the term has acquired mainstream usage and thus dissuades further investigation into authoritarian political action. Nevertheless, the term Orwellian was not born with the publication of 1984. Nor should the radical politics and writings of George Orwell be solely subject to the contemporary news cycle. So, in an effort to better understand the man and etymology behind the term Orwellian, Living with Literature is looking at Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days.

Burmese Days examines British imperialism in the Burmese town of Kyauktada. The story centers around the lonely English expat John Flory and the nasty domestic politics which ensnare him. While power is predominately designated to the ruling British, a corrupt local Burman named U Po Kyin seeks to aggrandize his personal authority within the country’s existing bureaucratic structure.. His method? Pit the virulently racist British in Burma against Flory and the growing Nationalist movement that he (unassumingly) represents. Ironic and paradoxical? Yes, but so is the world of Burma under British rule.

The most obvious characteristic in Burmese Days is the transparency in Orwell’s motives of criticism and themes. Empire. Imperialism. Power structure. The characters in the novel are important, yes, but in the same way chess pieces are important to the player. Orwell, who spent five years as a police officer in Burma, translates this reality without regard for nationality or personal association:

“Since then, each year had been lonelier and more bitter than the last. What was at the centre of all his thoughts now, and what poisoned everything, was the ever bitterer hatred of the atmosphere of imperialism in which he lived. For as his brain developed — you cannot stop your brain from developing, and it is one of the late tragedies of the half-educated that they develop late, when they are already committed to some wrong way of life — he had grasped the truth about the English and their Empire. The Indian Empire is a despotism – benevolent, no doubt, but still a despotism with theft as the final object. And as to the English of the East, the ‘sahiblog’, Flory had come so to hate them from living in their society, that he was quite incapable of being fair to them.

In one of the (highly recommended) Arena episodes chronicling Orwell’s life, a friend mentions that while the writer despised imperialism, he saw it as a necessary evil to educate primitive cultures. An argument can be made to substantiate that such sentiments were had. However, such a thesis is still too elementary to detail Orwell’s understanding and vicarious connection with native Burman life. While the friend continues to detail the writer’s problem with ‘ridicule from Buddhist monks’, passages in Burmese Days illustrate such conflicts were unavoidable as a result of imperialism — and that the culture can be appreciated despite of them:

“‘I knew this would interest you; that’s why I brought you here. You’ve read books and been in civilized places, you’re not like the rest of us miserable savages here. Don’t you just think this is worth watching, in its queer way? Just look at that girl’s movements — look at that strange, bent-forward pose like a marionette and the way her arms twist from the elbow like a cobra rising to strike. It’s grotesque, it’s even ugly with a sort of willful ugliness. And theres something sinister in it too. Theres a touch of the diabolical in all Mongols. And yet when you look closely, what art, what centuries of culture you can see behind it! Every movement that girl makes has been studied and handed down through innumerable generations. Whenever you look closely at the art of these Eastern peoples you can see that – a civilization stretching back and back, practically the same, into times when we were dressed in a woad. In some way that I can’t define to you, the whole life and spirit of Burma is summed up in the way that girl twists her arms. When you see her you can see the rice fields, the villages under the teak trees, the pagodas, the priests in their yellow robes, the buffaloes swimming the rivers in the early morning, Thibaw’s palace.'”

What Orwell obviously understands is power. Whether it be from his English home or as a Burmese transplant, how to achieve and keep control over others is his grand thesis in Burmese Days and (from what I’ve read) his other literature. As many have read in 1984 and Animal Farm, it is not through kind motives that such control is implemented. Rather, in Orwell’s view, it is through fear and manipulation:

“U Po Kyin had even sent one of his anonymous letters to Mrs. Lackersteen, for he knew the power of European women. Dr. Veraswami, the letter said, was inciting the natives to abduct and rape the European women – no details were given, nor were they needed. U Po Kyin had touched Mrs. Lackersteen’s weak spot. To her mind the words ‘sedition’, ‘Nationalism’, ‘rebellion’, ‘Home Rule’, conveyed one thing and one only, and that was a picture of herself being raped by a procession of jet-black coolies with rolling white eyeballs. It was a thought that kept her awake at night sometimes. Whatever good regard the European might once have had for the doctor was crumbling rapidly.”


Labeling an act as Orwellian is, of course, citing an example of arbitrary power. However, contemporary usage forgets the depth of the man behind the label. Orwell did not simply see and describe dystopian socialist worlds as a malignant display of power. Rather an accurate use of Orwellian would encompass the entire scope of social injustice, from individual to institution, the bad as well as the good. Anything else is a rewriting of biography.