When I was an undergraduate, a mediocre academic named Henry Kissinger taught a seminar that was attended by my late friend Perry Bullard, a fellow of infinite jest, who delighted in reciting for us at dinner Kissinger’s pomposities and ponderous platitudes on politics. Perry particularly enjoyed the graduate assistant who aped Henry’s mannerisms — black suit, black attache-case, and black horn-rimmed glasses — and followed him about, the two of them looking Perry said like a small family of penguins. But he also said, altering Shelley a bit, “I met Murder, as it were: / He had a mask like Kissinger.”
(Perry, after exiting the military to which he was indentured by a Naval ROTC scholarship — and in which he “rigged” Russian ships in Haiphong harbor, by flying as close as possible to their superstructures — remained a scornful critic of the activities of the Kissingers of the world. He was for many years a liberal gadfly in the Michigan legislature, representing Ann Arbor. During the war, he sent me a saffron-robed Buddhist monk from Vietnam; but that, as they say, is another story.)
As national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations (1969-77), Kissinger oversaw a murderous American foreign policy, particularly in Latin America and in southern Asia, from Israel to Vietnam and Indonesia. “Foreign policy is not missionary work,” he is reported to have said as he delivered up a no longer useful population (in this particular case, Kurds) to be slaughtered.
Kissinger still enjoys the media’s fawning regard as a “foreign policy expert”: he wrote complacently at the outset of his government “service” that an expert was someone who articulated the consensus of the powerful. Such an expert in power is a minion of dominant social groups and commits crimes in their name. Kissinger’s crimes are cataloged in the recent book, _The Trial of Henry Kissinger_ by Christopher Hitchens, who finds him “expert in all those paltry skills of the courtier.”
*In Vietnam, after the US was compelled by business and popular pressure in 1968 to negotiate and end the regular bombing of North Vietnam, Kissinger and Nixon shifted the bombardment to Laos and Cambodia and extended the war throughout the Nixon administration.
*In the Middle East, Kissinger undermined the international consensus for a settlement in the early 1970s by supporting Israel’s intransigence, the result being the 1973 war and the wretched situation that continues to this day.
*In Chile, Kissinger engineered the overthrow an elected government in 1973 and installed the dictatorial Pinochet regime. (During the coup, the CIA turned over to Pinochet’s torturers a classmate of Perry’s and mine, Charles Horman, a independent journalist who knew about US involvement; he was in fact tortured and killed, as were thousands of others.) Kissinger defended these enormities by announcing that the “contagious example” of a social democratic Chile would “infect” not only Latin America but even Europe: Chileans had to be murdered to teach Italian voters that democratic social reform wouldn’t be allowed.
*In Indonesia, Kissinger presided over a massacre of Timorese from 1974 on that was proportionally more devastating than Pol Pot’s contemporaneous murders in Cambodia.
Today, for a new generation, the ideological disciplines — principally the worst joke amongst them, “political science” — programmatically misrepresent the politics of Kissinger’s time. A fatuous new book by an academic called Larry Berman — _No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam_ — argues that if Kissinger had only had more resolve, the US could have kept its Latin American-style dictatorship in South Vietnam. (He doesn’t seem to realize that the US war was always against the people of South Vietnam: three-quarters of the firepower the US used in the Vietnam War was expended on the South, an amount equal to twice what the US used in all of World War II — because the South Vietnamese refused to accept the government we’d picked out for them.)
It is necessary to examine the historical record accurately and recognize the Kissingers and the Pinochets, the Kennedys and the Reagans, as the war criminals they were. It has been rightly said that if the principles of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials of 1945-6 had been enforced in the US, every President since then would have been hanged.
But there is more evil in the world than can be accounted for by private malice. If that were not so, evil would be much easier to deal with: we could identify the evil people, line them up, and shoot them. But that’s been tried, with at best indifferent success, showing that the theory is wrong: in fact, we’re all in this together. There are, unfortunately, two, three, many Kissingers in Washington today, and only the better angels of our nature can successfully oppose them, by refusing to accept the murderous policies pursued by both political parties, to please their corporate masters. CP