One of the most vile individuals to ever befoul the United States, Henry Kissinger is dead. A man responsible for the deaths of millions of people around the world and yet the most respected man within the American foreign policy community for decades, Kissinger’s sheer existence exposed the moral vacuity of Cold War foreign policy and the empty platitudes and chummy gladhandling of the Beltway elite class that deserves our utter contempt.
Born in 1923 in Bavaria to a Jewish family, Heinz Kissinger and his family fled the Nazis to the United States in 1938. Kissinger went to high school in Washington Heights in Manhattan. He entered City College to become an accountant. If only that had been his fate. Imagine how many people around the world would still be alive if Kissinger had been a bookkeeper somewhere. Sigh.
But he was drafted into the U.S. Army in World War II. He became a U.S. citizen while stationed in South Carolina in 1943. He was a smart guy—and Henry would never let you forget that—and did well on standardized testing. So the Army sent him to Lafayette College in Pennsylvania to study engineering. Once again, here was another career path for the man. Sometimes we romanticize the roads not taken. But sometimes, we realize that any other road literally could not be worse than one the path taken. That’s certainly true in this case.
The Army ended up having a higher use for Kissinger as the war came to its conclusion. Military Intelligence grabbed him due to his fluency in German and accompanied the military on its march through western Europe in the war’s last year. He rose quickly in the military and in June 1945 was made commander of a group in Hesse for deNazifying the district. In 1946, he had orders to teach at the European Command Intelligence School and he started expressing interest in being a global citizen, using his intelligence to impact foreign policy. Unfortunately.
Kissinger returned to the United States and, under encouragement from his mentors, applied to Harvard. How could a not rich immigrant kid go to Harvard? The GI Bill! Kissinger was part of the first generation to benefit from that massive social welfare program. He learned not a thing from the experience, spending his life calling communist any nations who tried to create similar social programs. He received his BA from Harvard in 1950, his MA in 1951, and his PhD in 1954. He moved easily in the social circles of the early Cold War and made himself useful to the foreign policy community. In 1955 and 1956, he was study director in nuclear weapons and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He directed the Harvard Defense Studies Program between 1958 and 1971. Through his elite connections, Kissinger aligned himself closely with the Republican Party and served as an advisor to Nelson Rockefeller, supporting his repeated presidential bids in the 1960s.
When Richard Nixon became the Republican nominee in 1968, Kissinger immediately made a close connection with him. In fact, they had a lovely thing to bond over: committing treason in defense of Nixon’s presidential ambitions. After Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for reelection, he hoped to end the Vietnam War. Nixon feared doing this would undermine his chances to win that fall, especially after LBJ announced the moratorium on bombing Hanoi. Luckily for Nixon, Kissinger agreed. Kissinger was serving Johnson as his advisor on the Vietnam peace talks. He let Nixon know that a peace treaty was imminent. This allowed Nixon to use his own connections in the Thieu government in Saigon to tell them he would recommit the U.S. to the war and thus they should refuse to agree to peace. This worked. Thieu boycotted the peace talks and nothing happened. Saving millions of Vietnamese lives and tens thousands of American lives had little meaning compared to the noble goal of getting Nixon elected to the presidency. Nixon repaid him by naming him National Security Advisor. Between 1968 and Kissinger’a “peace at hand” statements shortly before the 1972 elections, 20,000 American soldiers died. Thanks Hank and Dick.
On the traditional fronts of the Cold War, Kissinger was reasonably effective. Certainly his negotiations with the Soviet Union that resulted in SALT I and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty were positive in placing controls on the destructive arms race. His work to open China to the United States is also important for a number of reasons. It’s hard to believe now that early Cold War analysts legitimately believed that all communism was controlled out of Moscow, but that’s how uninformed, native, and ideologically blinded they were. Kissinger finally brought what should have been the obvious recognition that China and the USSR really did not like each other and that the U.S. could use this to their advantage.
But let’s not overstate the positives of Kissinger. The man was an absolute monster. Kissinger was the architect of Nixon’s policy of bombing Cambodia and the 1970 invasion that led to the biggest protests against the war and the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State University. The bombings of Cambodia killed up to 150,000 people between 1969 and 1973 and destabilized that already struggling nation, helping to usher in the Khmer Rouge, while also not doing anything at all to win the war in Vietnam that we should not have been fighting in to begin with. Kissinger told his assistant Al Haig that Nixon “wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves.” And Kissinger and Haig made sure that happened. Kissinger then went on to be supportive of the Khmer Rouge! He saw Pol Pot as a counterweight against the real enemy: North Vietnam. He asked Thailand’s foreign minister to tell the Khmer Rouge, “we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs, but we won’t let that stand in our way. We are prepared to improve relations with them.” Luckily, the Vietnamese themselves finally put an end to the genocide in Cambodia, with no thanks to Henry Kissinger or the United States.
But hey, the Vietnam War ended while Kissinger was in charge of American foreign policy. Amazingly, revoltingly, using his magic voodoo that has fooled “respectable” people for a half-century, Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, the same year he approved the coup in Chile. This was for his role in ending the Vietnam War, which he had of course extended five years earlier. Never has the Nobel committee undermined their own credibility like this.
Clearly Kissinger deserved said Nobel Prize, as he proved yet again in his actions in East Timor. Kissinger, now Secretary of State, and President Gerald Ford met with the Indonesian dictator Suharto on December 6, 1975. On December 7, Suharto invaded East Timor. At least 102,000 people in East Timor died directly due to war between the beginning of the invasion and the end of the war in 1999. In the first three months, between 50,000 and 80,000 East Timorese died. For years, Kissinger lied about knowing about the invasion beforehand. But declassifying archives from the National Security Archive at George Washington University demonstrated this was false.
We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action,” Suharto opened bluntly. “We will understand and will not press you on the issue,” Ford responded. “We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have.” Kissinger was even more emphatic, but had an awareness of the possible “spin” problems back home. “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly,” he instructed the despot. “We would be able to influence the reaction if whatever happens, happens after we return…. If you have made plans, we will do our best to keep everyone quiet until the President returns home.” Micromanaging things for Suharto, he added: “The President will be back on Monday at 2 pm Jakarta time. We understand your problem and the need to move quickly but I am only saying that it would be better if it were done after we returned.”
Well, that’s pretty damning!
Kissinger committed massive crimes against humanity, even if you only consider his actions in Chile. First, Kissinger neither knew anything about Latin America nor cared. He thought the region utterly irrelevant. He once rejected the offer of a childhood friend who became an official at the Inter-American Development Bank to provide information about the region by responding, “If I need any information on Latin America, I’ll look it up in the Almanac.” He later stated, “Nothing important can come from the South. The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington, and then goes to Tokyo. What happens in the South is of no importance.”
In this worldview, Latin America only existed to serve U.S. interests. Salvador Allende’s socialist and democratic government was outraged Nixon and Kissinger. That Allende was elected democratically despite massive CIA interference in 1970 to defeat him only outraged them more. So they sought to undermine him at every opportunity. Nixon famously ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream” in order to destroy Allende’s government. The AFL-CIO joined Nixon, Kissinger, and the CIA in this project by funding anti-Allende union movements to engage in widescale strikes against socialism. In a letter to Nixon, Kissinger wrote, “Allende is now president. The State Department thinks we can coexist with him, but I want you to make sure you tell everybody in the U.S. government that we cannot, that we cannot let him succeed, because he has legitimacy. He is democratically elected. And suppose other governments decide to follow in his footstep, like a government like Italy? What are we going to do then? What are we going to say when other countries start to democratically elect other Salvador Allendes? We will—the world balance of power will change “and our interests in it will be changed fundamentally.”
Well, we wouldn’t want any more democratic elections that might lead to social justice! Plus Allende was extra scary—he followed the Chilean constitution! A democratic socialist? Nope, better to overthrow the government. Allende’s demise was from a combination factors that are not possible to sort out and pin on a single issue. The economy declined and one of the opposing parties that was in his coalition quit, but the economy tanked in no small part because of Kissinger’s machinations. The CIA spent around $8 million in the effort to eliminate Allende. The Chilean military was previously non-political and poorly paid, but its officers began imbibing in extreme anti-communism and had training at the notorious School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. When General Augusto Pinochet rose to prominence and eventually overthrew Allende in a violent coup, Kissinger was behind him every step of the way. The CIA and Kissinger knew of the coup head of time and had ongoing relationships with people such as Pinochet, not to mention had previously supported an attempt for a coup in 1970. The horrifying aftermath, with torture and killing abounding, hardly quieted Kissinger’s ardor for Pinochet. By 1976, Kissinger was Ford’s Secretary of State. When Pinochet ordered the assassination of dissenter and former U.S. ambassador Orlando Letelier on U.S. soil, blowing up his car in Washington, Kissinger was totally fine with it.
Of course, the bombing itself was done by anti-Castro Cubans, who Kissinger also loved. Anyway, President Jimmy Carter sought to prosecute those responsible for this crime on American soil. In 1978, three Chilean intelligence agents were indicted by federal prosecutors. Carter demanded their extradition. This infuriated Pinochet and his fascist supporters who were used to working with friends in the White House. Pinochet refused Carter’s request. Kissinger met with the Chileans and told them they were doing the right thing and how to undermine Carter. He told them to treat the Carter administration “with brutality” as it “is the only language they understand.” In having this conversation, Kissinger told the Chileans to hold on until 1981 when a Republican would regain the White House, be their friend, and in the head of this massive egoist, he would of course be named Secretary of State again. Reagan didn’t reward Kissinger in this way, but he did revoke the trade restrictions Carter had placed on the Chilean regime. And once again, like in 1968, Kissinger had intervened to undermine the U.S. government and ensure more death and repression around the world.
He took a similar role in Argentina as he did in Chile, supporting the 1976 coup that overthrew the elected government of Isabel Perón by a right-wing military regime that then disappeared its opponents through such lovely methods as throwing them into the ocean from airplanes. Kissinger was completely fine with all of this. He told them about murdering leftists, “the quicker you succeed, the better.” His primary admonition to the Argentine junta was to warn them that Congress might consider sanctions if they continued with these things and so advised them maybe to stop such obvious tactics. Very compelling. Kissinger tried to intervene to stop the Carter administration’s actions against Argentina beginning in 1977. He also wanted to bomb Cuba in response for its actions in Angola, but for once, the monster was stopped.
Kissinger was also complicit in the Greek coup in Cyprus that led to the Turkish invasion. He was informed beforehand that the coup was going to take place. He had the State Department provide a rote warning against it that everyone knew meant nothing. The Greeks believed that Cyprus was Kissinger’s Vietnam (as opposed to actual Vietnam, evidently) and saw him specifically as the villain. Meanwhile, Kissinger supported the Turkish invasion and parroted the Turkish line that there was no conflict on the island. Kissinger became hated in Greece for all of this, as he should be everywhere.
On top of all of this, there is Pakistan. Kissinger completely supported the military junta in Karachi using extreme genocidal force to force East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, to stay in that nation. In 1971, the Pakistani military invaded its restive eastern province. The death toll was shocking. The CIA estimate is 200,000. The Bangladeshi government estimates the deaths at 5 million. The number is almost certainly closer to the Bangladeshi estimate. Ten million refugees fled into India. Kissinger and Nixon basically agreed to stand aside. They issued a couple of broad admonitions not to fire on civilians, but threatened no pulling of aid and used no leverage at all to ensure that Pakistan did not massacre people. Even after the massacres were known, Kissinger and Nixon threatened no sanctions, no loss of aid, no consequences at all. Nixon’s tapes recorded both the president and Kissinger sneering at the Bangladeshis and making fun of people who felt bad for them. When Kenneth Keating, a former Republican senator from New York who was the consul general in Dhaka, wrote to Kissinger of the horrors, the administration had him removed from his position. That’s the most concrete action it took in this genocide.
I’m going to say something marginally positive about Kissinger for a second. Please forgive me. His role in getting Ian Smith to give up on minority rule in Rhodesia was undoubtedly a good thing, whatever it led to in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. So he deserves a little credit there. And that’s all he’s going to get.
All of these war crimes made Kissinger persona non grata, right? Of course not! Very little speaks more to the festering wound that is “respectable” Beltway culture than the bipartisan adoration to the monster that is Kissinger in his retirement. For decades, he appeared on Charlie Rose whenever he wanted. Hillary Clinton’s embrace of Kissinger during her campaign was utterly grotesque. In 1977, Kissinger was given an endowed chair at Columbia University, despite significant students protests against making the monster a home there. He taught at Georgetown for several years in the late 70s and early 80s as well. He served on the board of directors for a raftload of companies, all of whom use his endless connections to promote their business interests.
Kissinger also cashed in. His many conflicts of interest hardly got in the way of his media appearances and policy pronouncements. Most notoriously, he shilled for the Chinese government after Tiananmen Square on ABC News while sort of forgetting to mention his close work with the Chinese Communist Party on the China International Trust and Investment Corporation that worked to build trade relationships between the two nations. Kissinger supported the Chinese government in its violent actions to repress its democratic movement. Shocking I know.
I think approximately zero people were shocked when the day after Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, there was a media event in the Oval Office with Kissinger sitting next to Trump, given that the man is drawn to right-wing authoritarianism like a moth to a flame. This was after Kissinger had suggested to the Nobel Peace Forum in Oslo that they needed to give Trump a chance. They should listen to his actions and not his “campaign rhetoric.” That worked out well!
Kissinger’s late life continued to be a deep dive into supporting the scummiest leaders of the world. That included Vladimir Putin. Kissinger found the need to intervene in Putin’s imperialist war in Ukraine in 2022 to support the idea that the West should bully Zelensky into giving up a bunch of territory to the Russians. He used his typical language of realpolitik to do so and as usual, it demonstrated a complete indifference to justice and death in favor of playing up to one of the most violent leaders in the world.
Occasionally there has been talk of holding Kissinger accountable for his lifetime of horrors. In 2001, the family of Chilean general René Schneider filed a lawsuit against Kissinger for his complicity of his death in 1970, when he would not go ahead with a military intervention against Allende’s election. The documentation over Kissinger’s direct involvement seems unclear, but what exists suggested he and Nixon actually joked about the CIA’s incompetence in the operation more than directly it themselves. The CIA did pay the people involved on the ground $35,000 to keep it secret. In any case, a U.S. district court threw out the case.
Well, he never was prosecuted. Kissinger died as he lived, without any consequences for his horrors. But at least he’s dead. What a total and complete monster.