Henry Kissinger: A Pre-Obituary

Thursday, July 27, 2023
Henry Kissinger with Augusto Pinochet

Henry Kissinger turned 100, I don’t wish death on anyone, but I know that all the major media have already written his obituary in advance. As soon as he dies, they will add a line about his death, push a button and these obituaries, gushing with praise from Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Ted Koppel, Xi Jinping and other famous people, will appear online. But Kissinger doesn’t deserve such praise. Here’s why.


The Overrated Diplomat

Kissinger‘s reputation as a successful diplomat began with his “opening” of China to the United States. In 1971, as President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor, he made two trips to China and paved the way for Nixon to meet with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. The United States and China became economic partners. But who really gained from this partnership? Employers won, but U.S. employees lost. American corporations rushed to China to take advantage of cheap labor, non-existent environmental and worker safety standards and the banning of unions. Americans who worked for these corporations found themselves abandoned and out-of-work. There was another winner: Kissinger himself. Even though the opening up of U.S.-China economic relations was Nixon’s idea, Kissinger exploited it to build his own reputation.


The Anti-Semitic Jew

Kissinger has promoted himself as someone of whom Jews can be proud. As a child growing up in Germany, Kissinger endured harassment by anti-Semitic gangs. Yet, in the United States, he rose to become secretary of state under two presidents, Nixon and Gerald Ford. However, as he gained power, his empathy with other Jews diminished. In 1973, Kissinger said “The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern.” It wasn’t until 37 years later that Kissinger apologized for this statement and only because a tape of him saying this was made public by the Nixon library.


The Cambodian Debacle

Beginning in 1969, Kissinger was deeply involved in every murderous and failed military assault on Cambodia. When Richard Nixon took over the presidency, the United States was mired in what appeared to be an unwinnable war in Vietnam. Kissinger felt that what the U.S. needed with a face-saving diplomatic solution. The North Vietnamese had created a long corridor in the eastern part of Cambodia that they were using to supply anti-American troops in South Vietnam. The Cambodian leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, had tried to remain neutral in the Vietnam War, but he was overthrown in a coup, widely thought to have been supported by the CIA. Cambodia’s new leader. Lon Nol, took the side of the United States.


The Nixon administration began the illegal bombing of Cambodia, and went to great lengths to keep this attack on a independent nation secret. According to a Pentagon report, Kissinger “approved each of the 3,875 bombing raids in 1969 and 1970.” The fact that innocent civilians were being killed was, for Kissinger, irrelevant. He thought this would drive the North Vietnamese to serious negotiations. He was wrong. He had failed.


When news of the secret war leaked to the media and the U.S. public at large, Kissinger was furious and responded by ordering the illegal wiretapping of journalists and Pentagon aides, including members of his own staff. He even forced the FBI to illegally wiretap members of the National Security Agency (NSA)


On April 28, 1970, Nixon ordered U.S. ground troops to invade Cambodia, although he didn’t inform the U.S. public until after the invasion had begun. It may seem hard to believe today, but back then it was assumed that such an invasion would have to be approved by Congress. Nixon and Kissinger ignored this requirement. Finally, Kissinger got what he wanted—not an end to the war, but a Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with Vietnamese negotiator Lê Đức Thọ after the two signed the Paris Peace Accords, supposedly ending the Vietnam War.


There was just one problem. When Kissinger showed up in Oslo to accept the prize, his co-winner did not. Thọ refused to attend for the simple reason that the war hadn’t ended at all. In fact it went on for more than two years.


By this time, Gerald Ford had become president of the United States, and he kept Kissinger on as his national security advisor. Cambodia was back on his radar. After the fall of Saigon and the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia, some Cambodian soldiers seized a US container ship, the Mayaguez. Kissinger urged Ford to take military action in order to show the world—and the American people—that the U.S. could still be tough.


By the time Kissinger was finished with Cambodia, at least 150,000 Cambodians had been killed, as had more than 11,000 Americans.


Support for Murderous Dictators

Henry Kissinger has a long history of enthusiastically supporting murderous dictators. Of course most Americans don’t care about the suffering of citizens in faraway countries, some of which they may not have even heard of, but for Kissinger, these unfortunate victims were less than human. As he said in 1975, “I hold the strong view that human rights are not appropriate in a foreign policy context.” Here are some examples.



Kissinger aggressively pushed to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. Kissinger’s position was that the rest of the world needed to understand that the United States would not stand for a foreign citizenry electing a socialist. Allende, after all, had threatened to nationalize the copper industry, including U.S.-owned IT&T. Kissinger approved a military coup in Chile and encouraged the CIA to get it done. Standing in the way of this coup was the commander-in-chief of the Chilean army, General René Schneider, who believed that Allende had won the election fairly. He was assassinated. Kissinger was the supervisor of the covert efforts to keep Salvador Allende from being inaugurated. He dismissed the human rights concerns expressed by other members of the U.S. government and fully supported the new dictator of Chile, General Augusto Pinochet. After Allende died and Pinochet took power and initiated a reign of torture and terror. Kissinger met with Pinochet in June 1976 and told him “In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here. We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.”


In 2001, Schneider’s family sued Kissinger, but the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed by U.S. federal courts.



In 1947, the Muslim-majority areas of the Indian subcontinent were established as an independent nation, Pakistan. East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh, was separated from West Pakistan by one thousand miles of India. The West Pakistanis were fully in charge. That is until 1970, when Bengali nationalists in East Pakistan swept to victory in national elections and gained what should have been a majority in the combined national legislature. Unable to accept the results of this democratic election, in March 1971, the Pakistani army invaded East Pakistan and engaged in mass murder. At least 300,000 civilians were massacred. In the midst of the worst killings, Henry Kissinger sent a message to the Pakistani dictator, General Yahya Khan, praising him for his “delicacy and tact.”


East Timor

During the colonial period, most of what would eventually become independent Indonesia, was ruled by the Dutch. The exception was the eastern half of the island of Timor, which was occupied by the Portuguese. In December 1975, the Indonesian military invaded East Timor.

Kissinger supported the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and the massacre of civilians. The day before the invasion, Kissinger and Ford met with Indonesian military dictator Suharto. They urged Suharto to act as quickly as possible. Because Suharto would be using weapons, helicopters and ammunition provided by the United States, Kissinger wanted Suharto to claim he was acting in self-defense. An estimated 200,000 Timorese would die from war, executions and famine.


Henry Kissinger’s most important legacy is responsibility for a massive number of civilian deaths around the world. His defense has always been to lie and hide. For example, at a press conference in 1995, Kissinger claimed that “Timor was never discussed with us when we were in Indonesia.” This was revealed to be a lie, but he got away with it.


To be on the safe side, some of Kissinger’s papers held at Yale University cannot be viewed by the general public until five years after his death.


In March 1975, Kissinger joked, “Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ But since the Freedom of Information Act, I'm afraid to say things like that.” Ha-ha. He did it all anyway and got away with it.

-David Wallechinsky


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