David Brooks writes in the NY Times today about the best essays of 2007.
He begins with the following words about an essay by Christopher Hitchens:
Several months ago, Christopher Hitchens was sent an article about a young soldier, Mark Jennings Daily, who had been killed in Iraq. Daily was improbably all-American — born on the Fourth of July, an honors graduate from U.C.L.A., strikingly handsome. He’d been a Democrat with reservations about the war. But, “somewhere along the way, he changed his mind,” the article said. “Writings by author and commentator Christopher Hitchens on the moral case for war deeply influenced him.”
His essay in the November issue of Vanity Fair is a meditation on his own role in Daily’s death, and a description of the family Daily left behind. Hitchens asks painful questions and steps on every opportunity to be maudlin, and yet for all its tightly controlled intellectualism, the essay packs a bigger emotional wallop than any other this year.
Daily took books by Thomas Paine, Tolstoy, John McCain and Orwell to Iraq.
“Anyone who knew me before I joined,” Daily wrote from the front, “knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience, then consider me the exception (though there are countless like me)... . Consider that there are 19-year-old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.”
Hitchens spent a day with the Daily family and then was asked to speak at a memorial service. He read a passage from “Macbeth” and later reflected: “Here we are to perform the last honors for a warrior and hero, and there are no hysterical ululations, no shrieks for revenge, no insults hurled at the enemy, no firing into the air or bogus hysterics. Instead, an honest, brave, modest family is doing its private best.”