America Keeps Honoring One of Its Worst Mass Murderers: Henry Kissinger
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On a human level it is possible, even appropriate, to sympathize with Henry Kissinger. German Jew Heinz Alfred Kissinger was only 9 when Hitler took office, and only escaped at age 16 shortly before Kristallnacht, One can only guess at the multiple traumas and psychological damage he suffered. It is entirely understandable that he would develop a cynical view of the world and devote himself solely to gaining and holding power devoid of moral or ethical concerns.
But Mr. Kissinger is more than an individual. He is also a political and historical figure.
Future historians, public intellectuals and journalists who have nothing to gain by flattering Mr. Kissinger and ignoring his crimes against humanity will likely have a very different view of his legacy than today's opinion-makers.
They will likely see the U.S. opening to China as inevitable and pay relatively little attention to Mr. Kissinger's role in it. As the historian Gareth Porter has documented in detail, they will also see clearly that the terms of the Paris Peace Agreement he signed in 1973 were no different than what he could have obtained in 1969 - thus saving tens of thousands of American, and countless Indochinese, lives. And his winning the Nobel Peace Prize will be seen less as an honor he deserved than an indelible stain on those who awarded it to him.
No, what Mr. Kissinger will be most remembered for is cold-bloodedly ushering in a new age of undemocratic, unconstitutional, secret, criminal and amoral automated warfare, by a U.S. Executive Branch constrained neither by law nor elemental human decency.
After the war ended, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara made a good-faith effort to understand what he did in Vietnam, issuing a mea culpa of sorts in his book In Retrospect. By contrast PBS Journalist Steve Talbot reported the following when he interviewed Mr. Kissinger: “I told him I had just interviewed Robert McNamara in Washington. That got his attention. He stopped badgering me, and then he did an extraordinary thing. He began to cry. But no, not real tears. Before my eyes, Henry Kissinger was acting. ‘Boohoo, boohoo,’ Kissinger said, pretending to cry and rub his eyes. ‘He’s still beating his breast, right? Still feeling guilty.’ He spoke in a mocking, singsong voice and patted his heart for emphasis.” As the Khmer Rouge were conducting genocide in Cambodia, Mr. Kissinger told the Thai Foreign Minister on November 26, 1975 that “how many people did (Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary) kill? Tens of thousands … you should tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs, but we won’t let that stand in the way. We are prepared to improve relations with them. Tell them the latter part, but don’t tell them what I said before.”
Future historians will not only marvel at the depth of his pathology, but ask a basic question: what does it say about America and its elites that they honor such a man?
They will likely not have much interest in the man himself who was indeed, after all, little more than the man foresaw by the London Observer, a "classless, bright young man ... with no other original aim than to make his way in the world"characterized both by a "lack of psychological and spiritual ballast" and a skill in handling "the terrifying technical and organizational machinery of our age."
Kissinger the man will likely be remembered, if he is remembered at all, as the fellow best described by the novelist Joseph Heller in Good As Gold:
“It was disgraceful and so discouraging … that this base figure charged with infamies too horrendous to measure and too numerous for listing should be gadding about gaily in chauffeured cars, instead of walking at Spandau with Rudolf Hess ... Asked about his role in the Cambodian war, in which an estimated five hundred thousand people died, he'd said: ‘I may have a lack of imagination, but I fail to see the moral issue involved.’ Whereas another State Department official, William C. Sullivan, had testified: ‘The justification for the war is the reelection of the President.’ Not once … had Kissinger raised a voice in protest against the fascistic use of police power to quell public opposition to the war in Southeast Asia.