Throughout history, there have been countless high-profile debates that exemplify the innovation and mastery of discourse rhetoric. These iconic volleys encapsulate some of the most significant issues and conflicts in history, portraying a variety of views and interpretations that are thought-provoking and, at times, harrowing in their delivery.
Here is a summary of one such debate, a semi-recent meeting between politician George Galloway and writer Charles Hitchens.
Often considered the best debate of modern times, Galloway and Hitchens met at Manhattan’s Mason Hall in 2005 to debate the War in Iraq. What followed was a heated and captivating display of eloquent discourse. Galloway opposed the United States’ invasion of Iraq, calling for an end to US involvement to spare the lives of both US soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Additionally, he interpreted the US’s presence as a magnetizing force for terrorist groups, asserting, “there were no Al Qaeda in Iraq before Bush attacked it, and now every Islamist in the world is either on his way or dreaming of being on his way, descending like spores of anthrax on the gaping wounds in Iraq created by your war.”
Galloway also accused Hitchens of hypocrisy, stating that Hitchens, who “cried tears for the American army in Iraq” had previously opposed US involvement in Vietnam and supported those fighting against it.
Hitchens, on the other hand, advocated for the war, citing moments such as the capture of Saddam Hussein as justification for US intervention. He argued that it would be worse, at that point, to pull US troops out of Iraq and “abandon Iraqi democrats and trade unionists fighting for their lives against an unholy murderous alliance of Ba’athists and Bin Ladenists.”
The debate took several intense turns, including a moment where Galloway implied that the United States had brought the 9/11 attacks on themselves by helping to breed a “swamp of hatred” aimed at western policy. “It won’t matter how many fly swats we invest in, how many patriot acts we pass, how many anti-terrorist measures we pass,” Galloway said, “if you live beside a swamp, no amount of fly swats will protect you from the monsters that come out of that swamp.”
This moment further divided the already polarized audience, which reacted with a mixture of passionate cheers and boos. Hitchens responded, “I think you may have noticed, Mr. Galloway, that you picked the wrong city to say that in.”
The “winner” of this debate is debated, in itself, to this day. Some could argue that Hitchens had been left off balance in the latter moments of the debate, backed into a corner by Galloway’s aggressive rhetoric. Others may suggest that Galloway’s entire argument — a lack of support for US involvement in Iraq — could be interpreted as a lack of empathy for those being subjected to genocide, leaving Hitchens the more sensible of the two.
Regardless of the debate’s “winner,” the Galloway V. Hitchens debate reflected arguably the most important discourse topic of the early 2000s, touching on a variety of contributing and subsequent historic moments in US history (9/11, the capture of Saddam Hussein, etc.). Many of these topics are still heavily debated to this day, but this particular “meeting of the titans” stands as one the most comprehensive and effective conversations rooted in them all.