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Henry Kissinger's Legacy

Henry Kissinger was a celebrity war criminal, the make-or-break guest at the most exclusive parties, dating starlets and facilitating massacres. To the polite classes of the ruling elite, the mountains of corpses left in Henry Kissinger’s wake have never been “mountains,” or “corpses,” or “civilian deaths” or even “unfortunate collateral damage.” They have been irritating “controversies” that lesser people just can’t let go of. Kissinger was feted and fawned over with galas and honors into his hundredth year. Why, pray tell? As Kissinger said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

Kissinger was famously a “realist” who practiced “Realpolitik,” that is, he pursued not ideology nor human rights nor morality, but the pragmatic results of raw power. “Realpolitik,” then, is basically “Might Makes Right” for intellectuals. It’s permission to use eminent domain on whole nations.

He helped kill a 1968 Vietnam peace deal, to aid Nixon’s election chances. He negotiated a 1973 Vietnam peace deal, with essentially the same terms as the 1968 deal. For this he famously won a Nobel Peace Prize. Two years later, his 1973 “peace deal” dissolved and Saigon fell, as he and Nixon fully expected; two years was long enough for America to forget it was Nixon’s fault. “After a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater,” Kissinger said in 1972, and “no one will give a damn.”

Kissinger had a hand in the “secret” bombing of Cambodia and Laos, the 1973 overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected government, the “Dirty Wars” of Argentina’s brutal military junta, Pakistan’s genocidal crackdown on Bengalis, and the Indonesian killing of a third of East Timor.

Oh, it wasn’t all bad. There was the constructive engagement with the Soviet Union and China, huge positive steps that may have prevented wars and saved lives. I’d like my country to square that, though, with the literally millions of deaths he had a hand in.

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