Last week marked the long-delayed passing of America’s greatest war criminal, Henry Kissinger. For many of the world, Kissinger’s departure off the planet is met with relief and even joy. While this isn’t a nice thing to say at someone’s passing, arguably Kissinger ruined America while “saving it” – slaughtering millions and dislocating hundreds of millions through his direction and influence. Indeed, through much of the world and with many in the USA, the vaunted Henry Kissinger was in truth a grotesquely calculating war criminal, recklessly spinning dials of the mightiest military the world has known.
Kissinger arrived on the public scene during the Nixon years, serving first as Richard Nixon’s national security advisor and later also as secretary of state. Having previously developed significant international friendships and backchannels at Harvard, Kissinger used these connections to explode on the political scene under Nixon.
America was already internationally perplexed and looking for solutions; mired in Vietnam, struggling to contain an aggressive Soviet Union, and struggling to understand the emerging 1,000-pound gorilla in China. The challenge was huge, the stakes huge, and the capacity for blunders, perhaps greater. Kissinger arrived when America and the world were searching for answers, yet he squandered the greater opportunity, choosing violence and chaos over more potentially durable peaceful processes.
Nixon’s flagging situation in Vietnam provided an enormous realpolitik playground and launchpad for the man who glibly traded democracy for expediency without hesitation and bomb-based results without remorse. Kissinger’s leadership and subsequent advisory positions directly caused or contributed to:
Vietnam: Extension and escalation of war. Millions killed.
Cambodia: Operation Menu, with 540,000 tons of bombs and an ultimate loss of over 300,000 civilians, civil war, and national devastation.
East Timor: Civil war, U.S.-backed dictator, ultimately 200,000 dead.
Chile: Overthrow democratically elected president; 41,000 killed and missing.
Argentina: Support military coup leading to Dirty War; 10,000-30,000 killed and missing.
Bangladesh: Genocidal war; 300,000-500,000 dead.
Iraq Wars: Nations in ruins, hundreds of thousands killed, trillions in debt, tens of thousands of Americans killed and casualties.
It’s said by his acolytes that Kissinger saw the world for what it is, and pragmatically and forcefully navigated the dangerous waters of his time. We’re safe in the here and now, they debate, because of Kissinger’s militant reaction to “existential threats” around the globe.
However, collateral damage to the millions Kissinger murdered is the critical damage to America’s reputation around the globe. Kissinger projected military power to protect American interests regardless of the ordinary people the U.S. is supposed to represent and protect. Kissinger’s wars exposed the United States as an undependable ally of democracy rather than its stalwart protector. Kissinger’s violence and illegal, secret international intrigues painted the USA to much of the world as a militant, self-serving empire, responsible for just as much bad as good.
Kissinger’s larger than life influence continued to overwhelm our proclaimed values of freedom and justice, instead often used as smokescreens against sovereign foreign governments. Kissinger himself became an international force, changing America from a World War II Beacon of Freedom into the Enforcer of American Order, like it or not. With Kissinger, the goal of a U.S.-led international order superseded any other concern, crossing lines into what many consider mass murder and war crimes.
And at what cost?
Kissinger’s “Opened China,” in 50 years, has stolen trillions in intellectual property and stares the U.S. down now as near equals on every front.
Kissinger’s Russian “detente” now has an isolated Russia seeking a restoration of the empire it lost at the hands of the West during Kissinger’s highest period of influence.
Kissinger’s Central and South American policies have left dictators running failed and subverted democracies. His Middle East policies have left Israel at war, some Arab states in glowing riches and other, once modern states in rubble and ashes.
Choosing “order at any cost” has left the USA weaker, internationally doubted, sometimes despised, indeed sometimes loved, and for certain, trillions in debt from military adventurism, which became normalized through Kissinger’s doctrines.
Cambodia carpet bombing? Kissinger. The little girl, running naked for her life from a napalm attack? Kissinger. The tens of thousands of “missing” in Chile? Kissinger. “Peace with Honor in Vietnam?” Kissinger.
There’s little “honor” to any of this.
Most of us are taught at birth to put our values above everything, certainly, values and ethics above expediency. Busy escaping from Nazi Germany as a teen, Kissinger may be forgiven for missing that childhood life lesson. But surely, a man of his intellect could have learned that lesson from his own individual experience. Instead, few leaders, if any, have consumed the days of their lives as destructively to America and to the world than Henry Kissinger.
The Bible says, “Blessed is the peacemaker.”
Not religious, Henry might still have encountered this philosophy and considered peace more and guns and bombers less.
Henry Kissinger is dead now. A few still believe he “served” and maybe even “saved” America. Others believe he mainly served himself. The deceased souls of millions count Kissinger’s a life misspent in gross disservice to mankind, with horrific results to America’s reputation and future, then and now.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.