Squeezing Blood From A Peace Prize

7 mins read

By Anton Golovko Hjälm

HENRY KISSINGER died on the 29th of November 2023, at the grand age of 100. The moment the synapses of his brain stopped firing a gigantic outpouring of acclaim was triggered, as the news-media filled with politicians and statesmen praising his unparalleled genius. Secretary of State Blinken commented that “few people were better students of history”. President Biden admitted his “fierce intellect and profound strategic focus”. Former PM Boris Johnson called him a “giant” of “peacemaking”, an “author of peace and lover of concord”. President Putin described Kissinger as “wise”, “farsighted” and “extraordinary”, adding that his name was “inextricably linked with a pragmatic foreign policy”. China’s foreign ministry lavished praise, calling him a “good friend of the Chinese people”. And so on, and so forth.

Despite this international cavalcade of tributes, something bubbled beneath the surface. During Kissinger’s memorial service, when an apparent great man of history was being put to rest, protesters outside Temple Emanu-El assembled to feverishly protest him, yelling “burn in hell” and “death to imperialism”, unleashing a torrent of outrage upon his mourners. What caused this chasm of discrepancy to erupt? Who was the real Henry Kissinger?

85 years earlier, Henry, 15, alongside his Jewish family, fled from Nazi Germany to New York. Shortly afterwards he would return to his former homeland, this time in uniform as a draftee of the U.S Army. Starting as an infantryman, he was promoted to – and became interested in – counterintelligence. This discovered interest, riding on the back of his short career as a soldier, made him enroll in Harvard. There he planted the seeds of Kissinger-ism: a variant of the school of “realism”; the spectre of Bismarck’s “realpolitik”. He wrote of Metternich (the Austrian who succeeded Napoleon as master-of-Europe), accepting the harsh logic that Metternich’s suppression of democracy, however imperfect, ushered in a period of uninterrupted peace for the continent; he wrote of nuclear weapons as a “tactical” tool in the Arsenal of Democracy, the threat and use of which could intimidate other powers into respecting the American sphere-of-influence. To summarise: all means should be considered to protect American interests. This attitude, alongside his education and skill set, made him attractive in Washington.

“There he planted the seeds of Kissinger-ism: a variant of the school of “realism”; the spectre of Bismarck’s “realpolitik”.”

His ascent in Democrat and Republican circles coincided with the 1968 election, in which Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was to face off against Richard Nixon. The backdrop of the election was the Vietnamese quagmire, raging in the form of an apparent civil war between North and South Vietnam. President Lyndon B Johnson was busily conducting peace talks in Paris to bring about an end to the war, as by this point, it had been a bloody stalemate for years:thousands of Americans had already been sacrificed at the altar of anti-communism (LBJ was haunted to the end of his days by his own role in Vietnam). Enter Kissinger. Nixon was eager to use Vietnam as an electoral advantage, and Kissinger offered his services as an “informant” on the peace talks (being trusted by the negotiators). Now receiving information, Nixon established a “secret personal channel” to president Thieu of South Vietnam. From that point forward every step of the fragile peace-process was actively sabotaged: every-time progress was made, the Nixon-Kissinger chimera persuaded them to pull back, assuring them that a Nixon presidency would be more favourable. Days before the election, Thieu withdrew, collapsing the peace-talks. The Democrats were humiliated: the nail-bitingly close election swung to the Republicans.

Entering office via their very first criminal conspiracy (as such behaviour is highly illegal under the Logan Act), Kissinger was rewarded by being appointed National Security Advisor. In the odious midst of the Nixon presidency, Kissinger spun a web; also acquiring chairmanship of the “Forty Committee”, which supervised all covert actions. Kissinger wanted to prove himself: and Indochina – Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia – was to be his stomping grounds. 

Many show contempt toward the Vietnam War by employing the terminology of it being good money thrown after bad (in this case, throwing living Americans after the dead). Here, it would be easy to accuse Kissinger of merely playing the role of the addicted gambler, not knowing when to quit. Not so. This was a transactional relationship: president Thieu, so helpful during the election, had favours to call in. The first involved the use of American troops to “pacify” the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam and “liberate” it from Viet-Cong insurgents – codenamed “Operation Speedy Express”. Using artillery, helicopters, and air-strikes, 10,899 “enemies” were successfully exterminated; awkwardly, this was even though U.S officials had, in the year prior, established that few-to-no Viet-Cong existed in the area, and that the “insurgents” were almost all unarmed.

Kissinger – “author of peace and lover of concord” – did not contract the war; he expanded it. “Operation Menu” was conceived to “pursue” the Viet-Cong and their supply lines into neutral Cambodia and Laos. B-52 bombers, flying at undetectable altitudes (thus giving no warning), covertly crossed the border into Cambodia – in a year, 3,630 bombing-runs had been carried out (with delightful codenames such as “Breakfast”, “Dessert”, etc.). Having been warned by the Joint Chiefs (the top generals of the U.S armed forces; not known for being peaceniks) that such a strategy carried out in such a way would “increase” (read: maximise) civilian casualties, Kissinger nevertheless pushed on. Indeed, things escalated. The subterfuge was dropped; American soldiers invaded the frontier; the bombings intensified and expanded, now including the use of toxic chemicals (“Agent Orange”, among others…). By the end, 4,5 million tonnes of high explosives had been dropped across Indochina, twice the American total in WW2. Cambodia was so destabilised under American pressure that it plunged into civil war, enabling the Khmer Rouge to seize power: they would go on to torture, rape, and murder an estimated one-fifth of Cambodia’s population. You might wonder to which of these Secretary Blinken referred to when he spoke of “the tools [Kissinger] pioneered”?

“To summarise: all means should be considered to protect American interests.”

Kissinger orchestrated, supervised, and micro-managed the deaths of hundreds of thousands, by acting as an advocate for and manager of illegal military campaigns. Kissinger likewise supervised the abduction or murder of an additional thirty-five thousand Vietnamese suspected communists as part of the “Phoenix Program”. At one point he suggested using a tactical nuclear weapon to destroy the infrastructure of North Vietnam. “Power,” Kissinger would later muse, “is the ultimate aphrodisiac”.

At the end of this long, bloody road, another twenty thousand Americans had died. Millions more civilians. Communities were reduced to rubble. Poison had permanently seeped into the landscape. Cambodia experienced one of the worst genocides in history. And yet… for “ending” the Vietnam war in 1972, on the same terms as were proposed in 1968, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize. His co-recipient, North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho, refused his, stating that peace had not actually been achieved. He was right. Two years later, the “cease-fire” Kissinger negotiated broke down, and South Vietnam finally vanished from the map.

Two traditions spring from Kissinger. First, the aggressive subversion of the constitution, congress, press and public to enable the conduction of war crimes abroad: a revolution of illegality and subterfuge. Second, the now familiar doctrine of kow-towing to foreign despots. Kissinger believed the USSR and China were permanent, and despite his brutality toward communists in minor nations, he pursued amicable “detente” with the superpowers. Reagan, for all his faults, shattered this “realist” delusion when he shoved the Soviets into the dustbin of history. Kissinger, nevertheless, visited China over a hundred times before his death, starting with a trip with Nixon in 1972 that “normalised” relations. I’ll let you, dear reader, judge how this relationship, built on Kissingerite foundations, has panned out. What is doubtless is that Kissinger would later act as intermediary for many foreign businesses seeking access to Chinese markets. 

Kissinger’s real genius lay in the “diplomacy” he successfully conducted with the press, and with businesses and politicians. After leaving office in 1977, he would found Kissinger Associates, a consulting empire, fuelled by shady contacts which he had transformed into lucrative partners. He crafted an image of himself as an “elder statesman”, transforming his catalogue of crimes into a respectable list of accomplishments. He toured the speaker-lecturer-panellist circuit, getting invited to speak at every type of venue, and getting paid tens-of-thousands of dollars for it. Every president (until Biden) paid tribute to Kissinger by inviting him to the White House, and, as we have seen, even death did not stem this tide of obeisance and worship. 

“Kissinger bargained away the moral legitimacy of the West and sold millions of lives to the grim reaper.”

Kissinger ensured, in Indochina, Chile, Cyprus, Greece, Bangladesh, Timor-Leste, and many, many more, that Western order was made morally equivalent with the “order” imposed by despots, autocrats, and thugs. For every happy, successful democracy walking hand-in-hand with the United States there would be a subjugated, bloodied slave; for every film-reel of Soviet tanks rolling into Hungary there would be photos of American troops torching Vietnamese villages; for every shell fired by tyranny there would be a bomb dropped by “democracy”. 

There was a chance for redemption. Briefly. When general Pinochet, who had destroyed Chilean democracy, and tortured, murdered and “disappeared” thousands of dissidents, was detained in London in 1998, a precedent was set. Kissinger, who aided Pinochet in his coup d’etat, was summoned in 2001 by a French judge in connection with Pinochet. He fled the country. Then two planes levelled the World Trade Center, and the Americans circled their wagons. When the International Criminal Court (ICC) was set-up in 2002, the Bush presidency immediately set about undermining it. John Bolton, then Bush’s ambassador to the U.N, hated the body from the start, and later remarked in 2018 that the U.S would sanction and prosecute those wishing to bring American citizens (Kissinger included) to justice. The moral arbiters of the Nuremberg trials rejected themselves.

To buy a legacy, wealth, and a peace prize, Kissinger bargained away the moral legitimacy of the West and sold millions of lives to the grim reaper. If there ever was such a thing as a Faustian bargain – a deal with the devil – this was it. Perhaps his soul became part of the deal too. That’s his cross to bear. Had a criminal case been opened, the secrets of Kissinger’s empire could have spilled out, allowing the cleansing light of justice to restore some dignity to American institutions. It could have been a reckoning with the past: it could have brought closure to his victims. Kissinger could have died in a cell, disgraced and denounced, serving only as a warning to potential emulators. Instead, his legacy remains a monument to greed, hypocrisy, murder, and failure, continuously upheld by his colleagues that rule over us still. That is our cross to bear.

By: Anton Golovko Hjälm

Cover: Oliver F. Atkins / U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

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