Henry Alfred Kissinger is a German-born American diplomat and statesman. He served as National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State in the Nixon administration, continuing in the latter position after Gerald Ford became President in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
An admirer of Realpolitik, Kissinger played a dominant role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. During this time, he pioneered the policy of détente that led to a significant relaxation in U. S.-Soviet tensions, including the SALT I strategic arms reduction talks, and played a crucial role in 1972 talks with Chinese foreign minister Zhou Enlai that concluded with the “opening” of China and the formation of a new strategic anti-Soviet Sino-American alliance.
Kissinger and North Vietnamese foreign minister Le Duc Tho were jointly offered the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for their roles in negotiating a ceasefire and U. S. withdrawal from the protracted Vietnam War. Le Duc Tho declined the award, Kissinger accepted.
He maintained friendly diplomatic relationships with anti-Communist military governments in the Southern Cone and elsewhere in Latin America, and approved of covert intervention in Chilean politics.
During his time in the Nixon and Ford administrations he cut a flamboyant figure, appearing at social occasions with many of America’s most celebrated beauties. His foreign policy record made him enemies amongst anti-war liberals and conservative anti-Communist hawks alike; controversy surrounding Kissinger has by no means receded in the years since.
With the recent declassification of Nixon and Ford administration documents relating to U. S. policy toward South America and East Timor, Kissinger has come under fire
from certain journalists and human rights advocacy groups, both in the U. S. and abroad. Several have accused him of having committed war crimes; author/journalist Christopher Hitchens is perhaps most prominent among the accusers. Although these allegations have not yet been proven in a court of law, it is considered legally dangerous for Kissinger to enter many countries in Europe and South America.
Kissinger was born in Fürth in Franconia as Heinz Alfred Kissinger into a Jewish family. In 1938, fleeing Adolf Hitler’s persecution, his family moved to New York, New York. Kissinger was naturalized a U. S. citizen on June 19, 1943.
He spent his high school years in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan but never lost his pronounced German accent. Kissinger attended George Washington High School at night and worked in a shaving-brush factory during the day. While attending City College of New York, in 1943, he was drafted into the army, trained at Clemson College in South Carolina, and became a German interpreter for the 970th Counter Intelligence Corps.
Henry Kissinger received his BA degree summa cum laude at Harvard College in 1950. Kissinger is rumored to be the only person to receive a perfect grade point average from Harvard, but in fact he received one B in his senior year. He received his MA and Ph. D. degrees at Harvard University in 1952 and 1954, respectively. His doctoral dissertation was titled A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812 – 22. Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation was a continuation of his undergraduate thesis of mere 383 pages consequently prompting the “Kissinger rule” or one-third that length.
A liberal Republican and keen to have a greater influence on American foreign policy, Kissinger became a supporter of and advisor to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who sought the Republican nomination for President in 1960, 1964 and 1968. After Richard Nixon won the presidency in 1968, he offered Kissinger the job of national security adviser.
With his first wife, Ann Fleischer, he had two children, Elizabeth and David. He currently lives with his second wife, Nancy Maginnes Kissinger, in Kent, Connecticut. He is the head of Kissinger and Associates, a consulting firm.
Kissinger is well known as being a New York Yankees fan. He is also a great fan of the German soccer club Greuther Fürth from his home town.
On October 31, 1973, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmi meets with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger about a week after fighting ends in the Yom Kippur WarKissinger was Nixon’s national security advisor and later his secretary of state. He also stayed on as President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State from 1974-77.
While working for Nixon, Kissinger established the policy of détente with the Soviet Union. He also negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In July and October 1971, Kissinger made two secret trips to the People’s Republic of China to confer with Premier Zhou Enlai and to set the stage for the groundbreaking 1972 summit between the PRC and the US as well as the normalization of relations between the two countries. Today, Kissinger is often called by Chinese leaders “the old friend of the Chinese people”. His talk with Zhou Enlai was highly secretive. Recently declassified documents show that the talk highly focused on the Taiwan issue.
Kissinger, shown here with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong, negotiated the normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China. Kissinger was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize along with Le Duc Tho of Vietnam for their work on the Vietnam peace accords. Kissinger and Nixon had come to office in 1968 on a promise of a quick end to the Vietnam War, but the intervening years saw an escalation in conflict as well as the extension of the US bombing campaign in Laos and Cambodia. Le Duc Tho refused the prize on the grounds that there was as yet no peace.
In 1973, Kissinger negotiated the end of the Yom Kippur War, which began with Egypt’s invasion of the Sinai and Syria’s invasion of the Golan Heights.
Kissinger may have played a role in the September 11, 1973, coup by Augusto Pinochet against the government of Chilean President Salvador Allende. Documentary evidence shows CIA interest in promoting a coup, but Kissinger says he reversed his initial position supporting a coup well before it happened.
Despite occasional allegations of underhanded dealings in foreign countries, Kissinger was largely popular with the public and became one of the better-liked members of the increasingly unpopular Nixon administration. Kissinger had little involvement with the Watergate scandal that would eventually ruin Nixon and many of his closest aides – a fact which greatly increased Kissinger’s reputation as the “clean man” of the bunch. At the height of his popularity he was even regarded as something of a sex symbol and was seen dating starlets such as Jill St. John, Shirley MacLaine, and Candice Bergen. There was even discussion of ending the requirement that a U. S. President be born in America so that Kissinger could run for president.
In December 1975, Kissinger and Ford met with President Suharto of Indonesia; on that occasion they gave their approval for his invasion of East Timor, which led to the death of 200,000 Timorese. Until the release of documents confirming his foreknowledge of the invasion, Kissinger claimed that he was unaware of Suharto’s intentions when he left Jakarta. Kissinger still maintains that the nature and influence of his “approval” of the invasion are presented radically out of context. He argues that the invasion was already a foregone conclusion planned well in advance, and was not simply something that he convinced Suharto to do on the spot. However, Kissinger’s apparent strong dislike of discussing the issue remains a source of controversy.
Kissinger is updated on the latest situation in South Vietnam on April 29, 1975, one day before its government falls. Kissinger left office when former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter defeated Ford at the 1976 elections. He played a relatively minor role in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, mainly because the neo-conservative groups which dominated the Republican Party by 1981 considered Kissinger’s detente policy to have been a form of appeasement of the Soviet Union. He continued to participate in policy groups such as the Trilateral Commission and to do political consulting, speaking, and writing.
In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed Kissinger to chair a committee to investigate the events of the September 11 attacks. His appointment led to widespread criticism, generally taken from the position that Kissinger has never been supportive of the public’s right to know, but also because some vocal groups have alleged that some of his actions undertaken in the Nixon and Ford administrations were war crimes.
In response, Congressional Democrats insisted that Kissinger file financial disclosures to reveal any conflicts of interest. Both Bush and Kissinger claimed that Kissinger did not need to file such forms, since he would not be receiving a salary. When Congressional Democrats insisted, however, Kissinger resigned from the commission. On December 13, 2002, he stepped down as chairman, citing conflict of interest with his clients.
In 2005, Kissinger offered a public apology for using foul, offensive and uncivilized language in 1971 to describe Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, and Indians in general. The transcripts showed that in supporting U. S. policy toward the Pakistani government and its conflict in then-East Pakistan he was not concerned with the actions of Pakistan’s military there.
In the first years of the new millennium, Kissinger became dogged by legal problems stemming from actions he took while in government. These ranged from requests from judges simply wishing to question him about atrocities which occurred while he was in office to suits charging him with complicity in human rights violations. There are now many countries in Europe and South America to where Kissinger avoids travel due to vulnerability to legal action. He is known to take legal advice before traveling anywhere.
On 31 May 2001, French Judge Roger Le Loire had a summons served on Kissinger at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, where Kissinger was staying. The judge wanted Kissinger to answer questions about the death of French citizens under the Pinochet regime and about his knowledge of Operation Condor. Rather than appear before the magistrate the next day, Kissinger fled Paris that same evening and directed all inquiries to the US State Department.
In July 2001, the highest court of Chile granted investigating judge Juan Guzman the right to question Kissinger about the 1973 killing of the American journalist Charles Horman, whose execution by forces loyal to General Augusto Pinochet was dramatized in the 1982 Costa-Gavras film, Missing. The judge’s questions were relayed to Kissinger via diplomatic routes but went unanswered. Representative Cynthia McKinney later wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking for help in persuading Kissinger to take the stand. The Chilean courts later announced that if they continued to meet with no response to their requests for co-operation, they would seek Kissinger’s extradition. Sergio Corvalan, a lawyer involved in the case, said: “Kissinger has never answered to justice and he had an important role in the coup in Chile and an influence in the Chilean military government”.
In August 2001, Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba sent a letter rogatory to the US State Department, in accordance with the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, requesting a deposition by Kissinger to aid the judge’s investigation of Operation Condor.
On 10 September 2001, a civil suit was filed in a Washington, D. C., federal court by the family of Gen. René Schneider, former Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, accusing Kissinger of arranging his 1970 murder for opposing a military coup. The suit asserts that Kissinger gave the order for the elimination Schneider because he refused to endorse plans for a military coup. The prosecution case is based solely on U. S. government declassified documents. Schneider’s two sons are suing Kissinger and CIA director Richard Helms for $3 million.
On 11 September 2001, the 28th anniversary of the Pinochet coup, Chilean human rights lawyers filed a criminal case against Kissinger along with Augusto Pinochet, former Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer, former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner, and several other US, Chilean, and Argentine officials for their role in Operation Condor. The case was brought on behalf of some fifteen victims of Operation Condor, ten of whom were Chilean. Several international organizations also joined the suit as plaintiffs, including the US National Lawyer’s Guild, the American Association of Jurists, and the Guatemalan Rigoberta Menchu Foundation. Kissinger and the others were charged with being intellectual or material authors or accomplices to crimes against humanity, war crimes, violations of international treaties, conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, and torture.
In late 2001, the Brazilian government canceled an invitation for Kissinger to speak in São Paulo because it could no longer guarantee his immunity from judicial action.
In 2002, during a brief visit of his to the UK, a petition for Kissinger’s arrest was filed in the High Court in London, citing the destruction of civilian populations and the environment in Indochina during the years 1969 to 1975. According to media reports, the High Court ruled in such a manner as to leave room for a further application. At the same time, supported by judges in France, the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, who engaged in a failed attempt to get Pinochet extradited from the United Kingdom for questioning, also requested Interpol to detain Kissinger for questioning during his visit. British authorities refused his request.
Activists from the East Timor Action Network have repeatedly sought to question Kissinger during his book tours, accusing him of supporting Indonesia’s 1975 bloody occupation of the former Portuguese colony East Timor. A subsequent human rights commission proposed that the UN itself set up a war crimes tribunal. ETAN as argued that the tribunal to extend back to the original invasion and could become a tool to find out what actually happened, and a mechanism for trying Kissinger”.I believe a criminal case can be made against him” says John Miller, a spokesman for the group”.One country invaded another. He aided and abetted genocide. He provided a political go-ahead and was instrumental in continuing the flow of U. S. weapons”.
Observers note that in many cases, Kissinger is not being sought as a defendant; he is wanted first and foremost as a witness, but his refusal to cooperate, they claim, suggests he has something to hide. Kissinger’s position is complicated by the fact that documents declassified by the State Department have contradicted his own statements. A declassified verbatim conversation between Kissinger and General Suharto on the day of the invasion of East Timor in 1975 reveals Kissinger giving approval to the proposed annexation, and also promising to keep a flow of weapons coming to Indonesia. Declassified records also indicate, for example, that Kissinger had urged the apartheid regime in South Africa to intervene in Angola before a single Cuban soldier had landed, which contradicts earlier statements by him.
Recently declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive also show that Kissinger did not raise objections to the practices of the dictatorial Argentine military junta; the junta was exercising total authority over combatting active Marxist guerrilla groups such as the Montoneros and ERP. It is known to have “disappeared” approximately 10,000 to 30,000 Argentines, many believed to be nonviolent dissidents, and tortured thousands more at documented secret detention centers. However, the junta’s restrictions on free speech were somewhat relaxed by new Chairman General Leopoldo Galtieri in 1981.
In a meeting, Secretary Kissinger told Argentine Foreign Minister Admiral César Augusto Guzzetti:
“Let me say, as a friend, that I have noticed that military governments are not always the most effective in dealing with these problems. So after a while, many people who don’t understand the situation begin to oppose the military and the problem is compounded. The Chileans, for example, have not succeeded in getting across their initial problem and are increasingly isolated. You will have to make an international effort to have your problems understood. Otherwise, you, too, will come under increasing attack. If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures”.