Henry Kissinger, a former national security advisor and secretary of state of the United States who fled Nazi Germany as a young man and went on to become one of the most significant and divisive foreign policy figures in American history, passed away. He was one hundred years old.
Kissinger passed away on Wednesday at his Connecticut home, according to a statement released by Kissinger Associates, his consulting business. The cause of death was not disclosed by the company.
In the 1970s, Kissinger was a byword for US foreign policy. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in bringing an end to US military involvement in the Vietnam War. He is also recognised for having played a key role in President Richard Nixon’s visit to communist China in 1972 and other acts of covert diplomacy that helped open up the country to the West and the United States.
However, he was also detested by many for his support of a coup against Chile’s democratic government and for bombing Cambodia during the Vietnam War, which helped the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime to rise to power.
Following the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Kissinger used what became known as “shuttle diplomacy” in the Middle East to keep Israeli and Arab forces apart. Up until the Reagan years, US policy was primarily determined by his “détente” approach to US-Soviet relations, which helped to reduce tensions and result in multiple arms control agreements.
However, a number of Congressmen protested the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy’s secrecy, and human rights advocates denounced Kissinger for what they perceived to be his disregard for human rights in other nations. The Vietnam War complicated Kissinger’s legacy more than any other issue. Nixon promised a “secret plan” to end the war, and when he assumed office in 1969, about 30,000 Americans had already lost their lives in Vietnam.
The US continued to be involved in the war throughout Nixon’s administration, despite efforts to give the South Vietnamese government more responsibility for combat. Critics charged Nixon and Kissinger with needlessly escalating the conflict, and US involvement ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon and the loss of over 58,000 American lives.
In a highly contentious choice, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, his North Vietnamese counterpart, shared the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for the Paris peace accords. Tho refused to accept the prize, citing the lack of real peace in Vietnam, and two Nobel committee members resigned in protest.
The bombings of Laos and Cambodia, where the violent Khmer Rouge movement utilised the American bombs as a recruiting tool before seizing power and committing one of the worst genocides of the 20th century, were the main source of domestic outrage in the US over the war.
In 2005, Kissinger said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “For me, the tragedy of Vietnam was the divisions that occurred in the United States that made it, in the end, impossible to achieve an outcome that was compatible with the sacrifices that had been made.”
Even though Nixon’s downfall amid the Watergate scandal diminished Kissinger’s prominence as a powerful architect of US foreign policy, he remained an independent mover and shaker whose reflections on diplomacy always found
Understanding how people see the other side of the world is necessary for effective negotiation. They also need to comprehend how we perceive things. In 2008, he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “And there has to be a decision on both sides that they’re going to try to reconcile these differences.”
Furthermore, Kissinger was well-known outside of the field of international diplomacy. In the 1970s, he won three straight times as the “Most Admired Man” by Gallup, and his private life, public appearances, and evenings at New York’s renowned Studio 54 club used to make headlines.
He once made the joke, “The nice thing about being a celebrity is that if you bore people, they think it’s their fault.”
Nancy, his spouse, two children from his previous marriage, Elizabeth and David, as well as five grandchildren, survive Kissinger.
George W. Bush, the former president, praised Kissinger for “his wisdom, his charm, and his humour.”
“I have long admired the man who fought the Nazis in the US Army after fleeing from a Jewish family when he was a young boy.” In a statement, he said, “Being a former refugee, his appointment as Secretary of State said as much about his greatness as it did America’s greatness.” He provided advice to numerous presidents and served in two different administrations.
I am grateful for that service and advice, but I am most grateful for his friendship.”
Worldview was shaped by the Holocaust
Born in Furth, Germany on May 27, 1923, Kissinger escaped Nazi persecution and arrived in the US in 1938.
Kissinger once recalled, “About half of the people I went to school with and about 13 members of my own family died in concentration camps.”
Prior to serving in World War II, he obtained his naturalisation in 1943. He later completed his doctorate at Harvard University, where he would subsequently work as an instructor. But he entered government service because of the allure of public service.
Before working for Nixon as his national security adviser and eventually as secretary of state, Kissinger started advising the Pentagon and State Department on matters related to national security.
Nixon referred to Kissinger’s 1973 sworn-in as secretary of state as “extremely significant in these days when we must think of America as part of the whole world community” because it was the first time in US history that a naturalised citizen held the position.
The two stayed close as the Nixon administration dealt with a steady stream of domestic and international controversy.
After Watergate, Kissinger remained the only original inner-circle advisor to the embattled president Nixon had at the end of his administration. Nixon wrote Kissinger a resignation letter, and on his last night in the White House, the two shared a prayer.
In a 2012 interview with CBS News, Kissinger recalled, “The last night in office, he invited me to come to the Lincoln sitting room where he and I used to plan foreign policy together.”
And here was a man who had dedicated his entire life to becoming president, and he had completely lost it through his own deeds. And he said, “Why don’t we pray together?” as I was leaving. It was, therefore, a poignant and somewhat fitting moment to a deep tragedy in a person’s life.
Kissinger served as secretary of state under President Gerald Ford following Nixon’s resignation, but his final years in office were characterised by dissatisfaction. Notwithstanding the previous peace agreements, the communist North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam in 1975 as a result of conservatives in the Republican Party objecting to his “détente” approach with the Soviet Union.
You wish to depart from your nation in a better state than when you arrived. In reference to his approach to working for the government, Kissinger once remarked, “And there’s nothing in private life you can do that’s as interesting and fulfilling.”
A legacy that continues to influence US politics
Following his departure from the State Department in 1977, Kissinger embarked on a career as a widely travelled writer and international consultant.
When President George W. Bush appointed Kissinger to chair a commission looking into the circumstances leading up to the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2002, he made a brief comeback to the federal government. However, less than a month later, Kissinger quit due to concerns about possible conflicts of interest.
Even though his critics have remained equally harsh, his writings and geopolitical counsel have remained essential reading for those involved in foreign policy both domestically and abroad.
For instance, during a heated Democratic presidential debate in 2016 between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the party’s front-runners at the time, Kissinger’s name proved to be a lightning rod.
“I’m glad to inform you that Henry Kissinger and I are not friends. Sanders made a jab at Clinton, who had previously mentioned consulting with Henry Kissinger while serving as secretary of state: “Count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger.”
The remarks highlight how divisive Kissinger remains even decades after he left public office. But criticism came with the territory for a statesman who carved out an unusual path to diplomacy on his own terms.
“I’ve been given the chance to pursue my beliefs. In 2008, he said to Zakaria, “I have been able to express myself in many forums.” “And it would be unnatural, and probably indicate that I haven’t accomplished much, if there weren’t other viewpoints that were passionately expressed.”