Sun, Jul

Don't Just Blame Kissinger for His Amoral, Genocidal Life and Acts


R.I.P. - Nothing notable distinguished the birth of Heinz Alfred Kissinger on 27 May 1923 to a German Jewish family in Furth, a city in Bavaria, who died on Wednesday at the age of 100.

In 1938, when he was 15, he and his family fled Nazi Germany to New York before Kristallnacht. When the adolescent Heinz became Henry in the US, while retaining his heavy German accent, no one could have predicted that he would order the murder of hundreds of thousands of people as an adult, and become a millionaire as a result.

In 1943, at the age of 20, Kissinger was drafted by the US Army. He became naturalised as a US citizen the same year. He served in the army intelligence division on account of his German fluency and was put in charge of a team in US-occupied Germany in charge of de-Nazification.

After the war, Kissinger attended Harvard, graduating with a BA in political science in 1950 and a PhD in 1954. While still at school in 1952, he worked for the US government’s Psychological Strategy Board, formed by the White House in 1951 to propagandise against communism in support of the US and “democracy”. This was during the US invasion of Korea when US forces killed millions of people.

'Everything is destroyed'

As US Air Force commander Major-General Emmett O’Donnell put it at a Senate hearing at the time: “Everything is destroyed. There is nothing standing worthy of the name… there were no more targets in Korea [to bomb].” US psychological warfare still refers to US genocidal crimes in the Korean peninsula as the “Korean War”.

Kissinger insisted that the legitimacy of the international order only required the agreement of the great powers. As for morality, he argued that it was irrelevant

At the Harvard International Seminar, which he helped found as a summer programme that convened young future leaders from around the world, Kissinger volunteered to spy on attendees for the FBI and on his Harvardcolleagues.

In his academic work, Kissinger insisted that the legitimacy of the international order only required the agreement of the great powers. As for morality, he argued that it was irrelevant. As Thomas Meaney explains in the New Yorker, for Kissinger, “moral indeterminacy was a condition of human freedom”.

In 1952, Kissinger ran an article in the journal Confluence, which he edited, by Ernst von Salomon, a convicted murderer for his participation in the assassination of the foreign minister of the Weimar Republic. German Jewish emigre contributors to the journal, including Hannah Arendt and Reinhold Niebuhr, were not pleased. Kissinger joked with a friend that the article was considered “a symptom of my totalitarian and even Nazi sympathies”.

Nuclear policy

He was also study director in nuclear weapons and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in 1955-56, and published his book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy in 1957, arguing that the US should use tactical nuclear weapons on a regular basis in war to ensure victory. Critics would later parody him as “Dr Henry Killinger”, as the cartoon show Venture Bros did in the 2000s.

His right-wing authorised biographer, Niall Ferguson, states that the argument of Kissinger’s book “might very easily be presented as evidence” that he was “the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove”. Kissinger finally received tenureat Harvard with the support of the dean, McGeorge Bundy, despite faculty objections that his book on nuclear weapons was not scholarly.

He did not limit himself to academe, but became a consultant to politicians and presidential candidates, such as Nelson Rockefeller. When Bundy became President John F Kennedy’s national security adviser in 1961, Kissinger joined him as an adviser, a position he would retain under Lyndon Johnson.

In light of Kissinger’s sympathy for the use of tactical nuclear weapons, he was invited to visit Israel in 1962, and again in 1965, most likely by Israel’s architect of the country’s nuclear program, Shimon Peres.

Recent documents reveal that in his report to the US embassy in Tel Aviv in 1965 based on meetings with Israeli officials and scientists, he already believed that Israel was developing nuclear weapons, a program he looked upon with “great understanding, if not sympathy”. This would lead him in 1969, as Nixon’s national security advisor, to broker the understanding of the Nixon administration for Israel’s already developed nuclear weapons program.

Even though Kissinger believed in the futility of the US war in Vietnam, he conspired with Richard Nixon’s electoral campaign in 1968 by leakinginformation to it from the Paris Peace Talks to prolong the war, lest the Democrats win the elections. Once Nixon was elected, Kissinger came on board as national security adviser in January 1969, a position he occupied until 1975.

Nixon referred to him as “Jew boy”, but it seems right-wing antisemitism never bothered him, as he had been a lifelong conservative Republican. He also served as secretary of state from September 1973 until January 1977.

Ruthless Cambodia campaign

Determined to defeat the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front and North Vietnam, Kissinger decided to intensify the secret tactical bombing of Cambodia, which had started under Johnson in 1965, into a ruthless campaign of carpet bombing that continued until 1973.

In early March 1969, Kissinger told Nixon: “Hit them!” By 1973, between 150,000 and half a million Cambodians were killed. Kissinger callously described the excessive bombing by saying: “We would rather err on the side of doing too much.”

Kissinger personally supervised the schedules of the bombing runs and the allocation of planes from one area to the other. He reportedly loved playing “bombardier”. When he and Nixon started to bomb North Vietnam again, Kissinger was most excited at the “size of the bomb craters”. In keeping with his support for the use of nuclear weapons, he devised a plan to nuke North Vietnam in 1969 as part of an operation called Duck Hook.

While some in his social circles referred to him as “cuddly Kissinger” and he was described in women’s magazines as “always friendly, particularly with women”, his sweet-tongued persona seemed nowhere in sight when he spoke of those women he hated, such as former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, whom he called a “bitch” and a "witch", while “the Indians” were “bastards”.

Indeed, Christopher Hitchens asserted, regarding Kissinger’s popularity among the elite, that “Kissinger is not invited and feted because of his exquisite manners or his mordant wit (his manners are in any case rather gross, and his wit consists of a quiver of borrowed and secondhand darts)”, but rather because he exuded raw power. Kissinger was less like Dr Strangelove and more like the fictional character Dr Evil in the Austin Powers films, though with much less charm.

Coups and white supremacy

In 1971, Kissinger backed former Pakistani President Yahya Khan’s genocidal campaign against East Pakistan (Bangladesh), and in 1975, he endorsed the Indonesian dictator Suharto’s genocidal war on the people of East Timor, in which a third of the population was killed. Suharto had come to power through a US-supported coup in 1965 that unleashed massacres against up to one millionIndonesians as suspected communists. As for the 200,000 dead in East Timor, Kissinger was unmoved: “I think we’ve heard enough about Timor.”

When, in 1970, the socialist Salvador Allende was popularly elected as president of Chile, Kissinger commented: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” He pushed Nixon to organise a violent coup against Allende, subjecting the country to fascist rule for the next decade and a half, with thousands killed by the US-supported military junta.

All the imperial murderous policies that Kissinger pursued did not deviate from US foreign policy before or after him

It was also Kissinger who advocated the “tar baby” option of strengthening US ties with the white supremacist settler-colonies in South Africa, Rhodesia, and the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola.

As for the Middle East, aside from strengthening ties with the Zionist settler-colony of Israel, which became a major US ally during the Nixon and Ford years, Kissinger armed Israel to the teeth during the 1973 war in order “to prevent an Arab victory”. His emergency military help to Israel during the war reversed the early victories of the Egyptian and Syrian armies and ensured that Israel won the war. He also ensured that no US relations could be established with the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

In September 1975, Kissinger signed a “memorandum of understanding” with the Israelis committing the US not to recognise or negotiate with the PLO unless it recognised Israel’s “right to exist” as a racist, Jewish-supremacist state. Former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat would finally do so in 1988 in Geneva, and again in 1993 with the signing of Oslo.

Horrifying record

In effect, Kissinger ensured the perpetuation of Israeli colonisation of Palestinian lands for decades to come. He was the architect of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s surrender to Israel and selling out of Palestinian rights at Camp David, and designed the so-called American-sponsored “peace process”, which has defined US policy towards Palestinians and Israel and has since brought about the ongoing calamities in much of the Arab world.

Amid all of Kissinger’s war-mongering around the world, helping fascist dictators come to power and supporting white supremacy in settler-colonies in southern Africa and Palestine, he is also credited with pursuing detente with the Soviet Union and opening diplomatic relations with China. He even received the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating “peace” with North Vietnam amid his savage bombing of Cambodia.

Kissinger would go on to advise subsequent US presidents and support their wars, including Ronald Reagan and George W Bush. In 1982, he established his own consultancy firm, Kissinger Associates, with a highly secretive client list, to advise US and European imperial corporations and banks, Third World western-supported dictators, and white supremacist settler-colonies. His last reported net worth was around $50m.

Kissinger’s horrifying record, however, has endeared him to many US liberal politicians. The Clintons loved him dearly and attended his birthday parties. Hillary Clinton could not stop praising him for the advice he had given her when she served as secretary of state, insisting that “Kissinger is a friend”.

Former President Barack Obama cited Kissinger as supporting his own views on Iran during the 2008 presidential campaign, but Kissinger rebuffed him. In 2010, Obama’s administration used Kissinger’s murderous policies in Cambodia to justify Obama’s own murderous drone killings of American citizens and non-Americans around the world.

No maverick

In 2016, Obama’s defence secretary gave the accused war criminal an award “honouring Dr Henry A Kissinger for his years of distinguished public service.” In the last few years, he has been invited by several liberal US universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale and New York University, which marked the 45th anniversary of his receiving the Nobel prize. It was mostly socialists who protested him.

In April 2018, Kissinger was a guest at Trump’s first state dinner at the White House, alongside Trump’s billionaire friends. He would even weigh in on the war in Ukraine, about which he changed his mind several times.

In his book about Kissinger, Hitchens charged him with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and offences “against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture”. Hitchens, however, did not seem to realise that Kissinger was no maverick, and each of those crimes should be levelled against the US government more generally.

Indeed, all the imperial murderous policies that Kissinger pursued did not deviate from US foreign policy before or after him. It is that which accounted for his popularity among the American business and intellectual elite, liberals and conservatives alike.

As Meaney put it, blaming one man for the country’s sins serves everyone: “Kissinger’s status as a world-historic figure is assured, and his critics can regard his foreign policy as the exception rather than the rule.”Kissinger’s amoral, genocidal crimes are no more monstrous than the crimes of the US since its establishment. If anything, Kissinger was but a faithful representative of the criminal US elites whom he served all his life—and who guaranteed him a long life of fame, wealth and luxury.

Kissinger died at his home in Connecticut on 29 November 2023, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

(Joseph Massad is associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. This article was featured in CommonDreams.org.)