From intellectual, statesman, brilliant negotiator and Nobel Peace Prize winner to cynical, arrogant, self-centered and war criminal. Or maybe all at once. Henry Kissinger, the man who was almost everything in America, celebrates his 100th birthday this Saturday (27), adding to his own myth, albeit increasingly questioned.
The former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under Richard Nixon (1969-1974) and Gerald Ford (1974-1977) has not held a government post for decades, but the long shadow of the 20th century’s most famous diplomat still remains. hangs in the air.
Whether it’s about the war in Ukraine or about artificial intelligence, the centenary Kissinger continues to give his opinions with an enviable lucidity, either because many ask him to, or because he loves the spotlight, as well as perhaps also to clean up a legacy full of ups and downs. He is haunted by the reputation of having promoted a foreign policy that was so pragmatic as to be insensitive to moral considerations.
“50 years ago, on his 50th birthday, he was celebrated as one of the most admired Americans in history,” Professor Thomas Schwartz told EFE. “History and historians have not exactly been kind to him,” adds the author of the biography Henry Kissinger and American Power.
Heinz Alfred Kissinger was born on May 27, 1923, in the city of Fürth (Germany), into a Jewish family that moved to New York to escape Nazism when he was still a teenager. With a thick German accent when speaking English, and a Harvard graduate, he has always denied that his traumatic childhood scarred him forever, but many disagree.
University of Texas professor Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century, believes that “as a Jewish refugee, he was always very concerned about chaos and wanted to bring order to the world”. “He also believes that the US is a superior nation and that it has a special role to play,” Suri told EFE.
From China to Chile
Kissinger, who, according to his acquaintances, is not humble, wants to be remembered as the architect of the policy of distension with the Soviet Union that changed the course of the Cold War, of the normalization of relations with China and as the intellectual who stopped nuclear proliferation . He wants to go down in history as the great Middle East mediator, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize winner who ended the Vietnam War.
But he doesn’t want to be reminded that, unlike him, the other laureate, the Vietnamese Le Duc Tho, returned the Nobel because his country remained in conflict after the Paris Accords. Nor would he want to see written about his support for dictatorships like those in Argentina and Spain, his role in Operation Condor to crack down on leftist Latin American opponents or that, for many, he has blood on his hands for his support of the coup against Salvador. Allende. “We cannot allow Chile to go down the drain,” he went on to say in 1970.
“Kissinger didn’t care about dictatorships. In fact, he liked them if they were on the side of the US and kept communism out of Latin America,” Mario Del Pero, historian at Sciences Po in Paris and author of the biography, told EFE. The Eccentric Realist. “In a country that had lost its political and moral north because of the Vietnam War, Kissinger sent a clear and unequivocal message: morality is not made for international relations,” he added.
Even a best-selling book by journalist Christopher Hitchens accused him in 2001 of war crimes for his actions in Cambodia, East Timor and Chile (a criticism unthinkable in the 1970s, when Kissinger was the most popular man in the country).
Kissinger appeared on the covers of newspapers and magazines dressed as Superman, dated Hollywood stars without being particularly attractive, and outshone the president himself. “What would happen if Kissinger died? Richard Nixon would become president,” was joked in Washington. Schwartz says, “His personal history of him made him a very fascinating figure. The press coverage of him at the time was similar to that of Barack Obama in 2008.”
He survived the Watergate scandal, and after his stint in politics, Kissinger remained ubiquitous in editorials, books, speeches and interviews, adding to the aura of myth with which many wanted to be photographed, from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin. to Xi Jinping.
But he also spent a lot of time refuting the harsh criticisms against him, something he doesn’t condone. He always said he had the “thinnest skin” in the government. Kissinger demonstrated this in a recent interview with US broadcaster CBS, in which, deeply upset, he responded that the accusations against him, calling him a war criminal, “are a reflection of ignorance.”
Despite his stubborn image, his biographers say that Kissinger can be charming in person and that a good way to break the ice is to talk to him about football or the opera. “He wants to be remembered as a Mandela or a Gorbachev, but I think he will be remembered for a more ambiguous legacy,” concluded Suri.
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