Monday, July 11, 2016

Short Breaks into Mordor: Dawns and Departures of a Scribblers Life by Peter Hitchens

Listening to Public Radio.  Liszt's Totentanz, a piano and orchestra theme and variations of the ancient Gregorian chant Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) is playing.  Here is a link for the interested.,204,203,200_.jpg
Many people know who the late Christopher Hitchens is, but not many, at least in the U.S., know he had a brother who is also a writer.  Peter Hitchens is a writer for The Mail, a British newspaper that can be read online.

He complied a number of his essays, written both for The Mail as well as an American magazine and put them together to comprise a Kindle book called Short Breaks into Mordor:  Dawns and Departures of a Scribbler's Life.

Each essay is about a country he visited over the past ten or so years and the impressions he received there.  Most of the countries are under oppressive regimes, such as North Korea, Eastern Europe, different African countries and China.  He offers much thought-provoking insight to each country.

Even Japan, which, we don't consider to be repressive, is in its own way.  Once a manufacturing powerhouse in the late seventies and eighties, Japan has fallen under anxious times.  College students prolong graduation, taking class after class, sometimes doubling the college career life-span due to the lack of jobs in the work place.  For every job there are hundreds of new graduates applying.

Hitchens notes that racism and ethnic purity is a strong motivating force to the Japanese culture and as entrenched as cement.  Even Japanese who migrated back from South America (at the encouragement of the Japanese government in an attempt to increase their dwindling population) are treated differently and lead poor, unemployed lives, thus adding to the problem rather than helping it.

I have observed that this has become an unforeseen problem globally in first world countries and some third.  Remember all the panic-inducing stories by Paul R. Ehrlich, Kirk Vonnegut and other dystopian writers of the fifties and sixties?  Remember Solyent Green?  A world overpopulation explosion was going to cause mass starvation and chaos.  Now what do we find?  Countries with zero population growth, are suffering from an elderly-heavy population that is becoming increasingly hard to sustain by the ever-shrinking youth population.

This leads us to another essay by Hitchens:  China.  China is suffering not only from an growing elderly population but also an acute female shortage due to their one-child policy and their citizens' propensity to kill baby girl fetuses in order to try again.  China now has 130 boys to every 100 girls.  This has also led to unexpected consequences.

One of them is kidnapping of young girls and selling them as brides to rich families for their sons.  In some villages, according to Hitchens, this has become so dangerous that girls cannot leave the house unaccompanied and, even worse, are kept in bolted cages during the day when both parents have to work.

China, however, is the leading employer of Africa.  Do they exploit and pay slave wages?  Yes.  Are there not reparations for frequent injuries and Africans of all ages, including very young children who work in extremely dangerous mines and other hard labor?  No.  (Lewis Hine must be rolling in his grave). 

Why?  Beats starving.  I am old enough to remember when Mandela was supposed to change South Africa and allow all races equal opportunity.  Mandela is dead, but the government of South Africa, as well as every other African country is run by Tribal Africans, but poverty has not been much alleviated.  Where are all the sanctions- rights activists of the eighties and nineties now?  Have they lost interest because they no longer perceive the politics in Africa as a Civil Rights issue?

Let's move on to Eastern Europe, Hitchens describes the aftermath of the fallen Soviet Empire as leaving such a moral vacuum that the current corruption in former Soviet governments make the Old regime ever more appealing to its citizens. 

And finally, North Korea.  Surely the mother of all repressive regimes.  Look at a global map made by a satellite at night.  South Korea is lit up but North Korea is all darkness.  I think that is a fit description of the way of life conducted there.
You can see a photo here.

Peter Hitchens said it was hard to see anything authentic because their visit was so scripted, down to their hotel lights, which went off as soon as they left and came on when they returned.  Once he caught a glimpse of a man lying on the ground.  Was he drunk?  Was he dead?  He never got to find out because immediately a group of men and women circled around the prostrate man, cutting him off from view.

On a lighter note, he witnesses a daily ritual between India and Pakistan.  A highly elaborate border closing ceremony where soldiers of both sides take down their respective flags, shake hands at a gate that stands between the two countries before slamming said gate shut on each other, before opening it again the next morning.  Hitchens  wryly compares it to the navies of France and England meeting in the middle of the English channel and mooning each other.  You can watch this highly interesting- and not a little amusing- ritual here.

I do not agree one hundred percent with all of Hitchens' views.  He is, after all, British and is not necessarily  pro-American policies ( he was as adamantly against the Iraqi war as his brother Christopher was in favor of it).  But his writing is highly engaging, witty and extremely interesting.  

I'm rather jealous of someone who has been afforded the opportunity to travel as he has and get paid for it besides.

There are many other countries.  I haven't touched upon South America or North America.  I'm not sure which continent Hitchens hasn't visited, perhaps Antarctica.  But he has literally seen hundreds of countries and with an adept pen ( or computer) describes them all in vivid terms.

For those of you interested in further information here are a couple of links to Hitchens.  One is a debate with his brother and the other is an interview with Eric Metaxas, the author of Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Peter Hitchens and Eric Metaxas 

Peter Hitchens vs Christopher Hitchens debate


  1. This sounds so good. Hitchens has visited so many dark places that we here so little about.

    The way that you describe the segment set in Japan is surprising. I knew that they had run into economically slower times. I did not know that it was that bleak.

    Indeed the, 1970s dark visions of the future were off base in a lot of ways.

    1. Hi Brian! Hitchens has written many books and this is the second that I have read. I intend to read more. He has rare insight into a lot of current issues.

      I was also surprised about Japan. I remember when America was emulous of the system. I hope their situation improves.

      About the "prophecies" of the past. One never knows which way the path turns. Both Europe and China are rethinking their population policies. European countries are now trying to pay people to have babies so there will be enough people in the work force in fifty years.

  2. Oh, duh! I did not even connect Peter with Christopher.

    Very interesting topic.

    That map of N. Korea is depressing. You can find the same with Cuba - complete darkness! It makes me so MAD!!!!

    1. Hi Ruth! So you've heard of Peter Hitchens before? He's a recent discovery for me. I really like how well he articulates his opinions. It's interesting how one brother became a Christian and the other remained an atheist.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.