InternationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 3

Henry Kissinger: a hero or war criminal?

History manifests that many nefarious and crafty people have killed millions of innocent people in the name of nationalism, ideology, and religion in the world. Within their own people, these ruthless and terrible individuals are revered as heroes. But as time passes, their actual evilness is revealed, and these heroes turn into villains in the eyes of the world.

There are also many people who were considered traitors, rebels, anti-nationalists, idiots, and delusional in their lives. But, later, they emerged as heroes not only for their respective countries and nations but also for all of humanity. Henry Kissinger is one of those people.

Henry Kissinger is considered a hero among the American ruling elite as he protected the American empire’s interests through his foreign policies and teachings. On the other hand, he is detested by other people of the world due to his “crimes of commission and omission” in Cambodia, Chile, Vietnam and Indonesia’s East Timor.

Greg Grandin, the author of the biography “Kissinger’s Shadow”, asserts that around three to four million people were killed as a result of Kissinger’s actions between 1969 and 1976 as secretary of state and national security adviser to Richard Nixon and later Gerald Ford.

Talking to Rolling Stone, Greg Grandin said: “There is no doubt he’ll be hailed as a geopolitical grand strategist, even though he bungled most crises, leading to escalation. He’ll get credit for opening China, but that was De Gaulle’s original idea and initiative. He’ll be praised for detente, and that was a success, but he undermined his own legacy by aligning with the neocons. And of course, he’ll get off scot free from Watergate, even though his obsession with Daniel Ellsberg really drove the crime.”

Norman Solomon, the author of “War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine”, writes: “For U.S. mass media, Henry Kissinger’s quip that “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac” rang true. Influential reporters and pundits often expressed their love for him. The media establishment kept swooning over one of the worst war criminals in modern history. After news of his death broke, prominent coverage echoed the kind that had followed him ever since his years with President Richard Nixon, while they teamed up to oversee vast carnage in Southeast Asia. The headline over a Washington Post news bulletin summed up: “Henry Kissinger Dies at 100. The Noted Statesman and Scholar Had Unparalleled Power Over Foreign Policy.” But can a war criminal really be a “noted statesman”?

The New York Times top story began by describing Kissinger as a “scholar-turned-diplomat who engineered the United States’ opening to China, negotiated its exit from Vietnam, and used cunning, ambition and intellect to remake American power relationships with the Soviet Union at the time of the Cold War, sometimes trampling on democratic values to do so.” And so, the Times spotlighted Kissinger’s role in the U.S. “exit from Vietnam” in 1973 — but not his role during the previous four years, overseeing merciless slaughter in a war that took several million lives. “Leaving aside those who perished from disease, hunger, or lack of medical care, at least 3.8 million Vietnamese died violent war deaths according to researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington,” historian and journalist Nick Turse has noted. He added: “The best estimate we have is that 2 million of them were civilians. Using a very conservative extrapolation, this suggests that 5.3 million civilians were wounded during the war, for a total of 7.3 million Vietnamese civilian casualties overall. To such figures might be added an estimated 11.7 million Vietnamese forced from their homes and turned into refugees, up to 4.8 million sprayed with toxic herbicides like Agent Orange, an estimated 800,000 to 1.3 million war orphans, and 1 million war widows.”

It is an irony of fate that Henry Kissinger witnessed the decline of the American Empire in his own life, despite his many harsh policies and actions to maintain the empire’s hegemonic status.

According to Simon Tisdall, “Kissinger was, throughout his long career, a champion for an American global hegemony that is now unravelling. He and his emulators gave to imperialism a new, post-colonial face, pursuing perceived national interest regardless of the costs – which were principally levied on others…And yet the three pillars of Kissinger’s achievement – the opening to communist China in 1979, a less confrontational relationship with the Soviet Union, and the quest for common ground between Israel and the Arabs – were built on weak foundations that subsequently crumbled…China: a bigger problem than ever, challenging US leadership and values around the world. Russia: a bitterly resentful, resurgent power now once again threatening peace in Europe. Both are legacies of Kissinger’s world and the maximalist thinking that often informed his actions. It is hardly necessary to cast a glance at the appalling suffering in Gaza, and or hear the grief of Israeli relatives of more than a thousand people who died on 7 October, to know that the successes of American Middle East peace-making, under Kissinger and since, are mostly illusory. For sure, Kissinger helped mediate an end to the Yom Kippur war in 1973. But the basic conundrum – how may Jews and Palestinians live side by side in a disputed land – remains fundamentally unaddressed 50 years on.

And the abiding perception of American political one-sidedness unfairly favouring Israel dates back to his time in office…US support for violent cold war nationalist groups amid proxy wars with the Soviet Union, such as Unita in Angola or later, the Contras in Nicaragua, and Washington’s propping up of the worst kind of African and Middle Eastern dictators – because it supposedly suited US geopolitical interests – were policies that owed much to Kissinger’s thinking…For some who can remember it, Kissinger will never be forgiven for the secret carpet-bombing of neutral Cambodia in 1969-70, as part of the Vietnam campaign. Kissinger reportedly told the US air force to strike “anything that flies or anything that moves”. About 50,000 civilians were killed. His actions were examined in Christopher Hitchens’ 2001 book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, which accused him of committing numerous war crimes.”

Seymour Hersh, an investigative reporter, quotes H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, remarking that Kissinger was the “hawk of hawks” inside the White House, but “touching glasses at a party with his liberal friends, the belligerent Kissinger would suddenly become a dove.” It shows that Henry Kissinger was an embodiment of Machiavellianism who used every tool to acquire power and wealth in his personal and political life.