Brilliant, astute and ruthlessly ambitious, Henry Kissinger ruled American foreign policy after World War II. The man who, like no other, determined the modern course of world relations with China, died on Wednesday at the age of 100.
As Secretary of State to the Presidents Richard Nixon And Gerald FordKissinger was a master strategist whose intellectual gifts were recognized even by his leading critics, who nevertheless blamed him for denigrating human rights and democracy in the Vietnam War and other theaters.
Recognized for his sharp, witty speech, always with a hint of his native German accent, and for his thick glasses, Kissinger was considered the epitome of international power, an image he capitalized on as an adviser decades after leaving government.
Kissinger died Wednesday at his home in Connecticut., a statement from his consulting firm indicated. He was 100 years old.
Kissinger’s name is often associated with ‘realpolitik’, diplomacy based on power and practicality.
His admirers praised his cold perspective, which always sought to impose American interests, and compared him to great statesmen of history.
But for many, especially on the left, Kissinger was considered a war criminal who was never tried for his role.including the expansion of the war in Vietnam and support for the military coup in Chile in 1973.
A series of happy events
He was baptized Heinz Alfred Kissinger and was born on May 27, 1923 to a Jewish family in Fuerth, Germany. He fled the Nazi regime in 1938 with his father, a teacher, his mother and a younger brother. They settled in New York.
“I thought I was going to be an accountanthe told USA Today in 1985. ‘I never thought I would be teaching at Harvard. “It was not my dream to become foreign minister.”
“A happier series of events could not have occurred to me.”
He worked in a shaving brush factory while attending high school at night.
He then studied accounting at the City College of New York, but was drafted into the Army in 1943 before he could graduate.
His knowledge of German led him to an intelligence unit tasked with identifying the Nazis as they moved through Europe.
While in the military, Kissinger met his first mentor, fellow German refugee Fritz Kraemer, a political scientist who persuaded him to transfer to Harvard, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1950 and a doctorate in 1954.
The young professor’s first book, “Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy” (1957), on how to adapt the new and ultra-destructive nuclear weapons to the needs of diplomacy, quickly gave people something to talk about.
Redefining American Relations
But Kissinger’s ambitions extended beyond academia, and during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, he took advisory positions at the National Security Council and the State Department.
Those jobs included trips to Vietnam, where the United States was involved in containing the communists.
In an effort to serve in government, Kissinger supported New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican who unsuccessfully sought the presidency three times. But in 1968 he switched to supporting Nixon, who later made him his national security adviser.
Nixon first appointed a low-profile Secretary of State, William Rogers. But in late 1973, already embroiled in the Watergate scandal that ended his presidency, Rogers resigned and Kissinger took over the position, which he retained at Ford until January 1977.
In an unprecedented deal that demonstrated his enormous influence, he served as national security adviser and secretary of state for two years.
Nixon already impressed with his strident anti-communist policies, but he welcomed Kissinger’s method (called detente) of finding areas where the United States could reduce tensions with the Soviet Union.
Kissinger held talks with Moscow that represented the most serious attempt to control the nuclear race during the Cold War, and in 1972 the powers reached Anti-Ballistic Missile Treatythat imposed limits on its arsenals.
As part of a strategy to isolate the Soviet Union while shaking up diplomacy around Vietnam, Kissinger made a historic decision: contact communist China.
Mainland China was self-isolated amid the devastation left by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution and out of touch with the United States, which recognized the defeated nationalists who had fled to Taiwan.
Kissinger secretly traveled to Beijing in 1971 and met with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai.which paved the way for Nixon’s trip a year later, during which the president exchanged views with Zhou, visited the weakened Mao and paved the way for the establishment of diplomatic ties.
“That China and the United States would find a way to come together was inevitable given the needs of the momentKissinger wrote four decades later in one of his eighteen books.
“That it was done so decisively and with so few detours is a tribute to the leadership that made it possible.”, he wrote with the lack of modesty that characterized him.
This opening ultimately led to Western companies reaching China, which by this century has become the major competitor of the United States.
Internally, ending the war in Vietnam was the priority. Nixon promised in the campaign to achieve “peace with honor” and after taking office, the president and Kissinger launched a policy that forced their ally South Vietnam to take a more leadership role so that American troops could withdraw.
To seek strength before the peace talks, Nixon and Kissinger authorized bombings in Laos and Cambodia between 1969 and 1970 to influence the rebel movement.
The bombings, without congressional authorization and kept secret from the public, failed to stop rebel infiltration, killed thousands of civilians and contributed to the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge.
Kissinger traveled to Paris several times, at first discreetly, to speak with North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho.
A 1983 agreement ended US military operations and the two men were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, although only Kissinger accepted it.
Recorded conversations with Nixon later showed that the calculating Kissinger expected the fall of South Vietnam after the agreement.
In another example of “realpolitik,” Kissinger recommended that the United States delay arms shipments to its ally Israel after the country was attacked in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, believing that the Arabs would be in a better position to broker peace if they could first make some peace. victories.
Kissinger’s record is under intense scrutiny.
In a 2001 book: “The trial of Henry Kissinger,” writer Christopher Hitchens said he should be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Declassified documents have revealed the direct role of the United States in undermining the government of Chilean socialist President Salvador Allende, including supporting officials who assassinated a general who refused to participate in the 1970 coup attempt and supporting the takeover of power by General Augusto Pinochet in 1970. 1973.
Kissinger was also criticized for allowing the Indonesian regime, then a close anti-communist ally, to use his US-supplied military equipment to invade East Timor in 1975.
More than 100,000 Timorese died during the occupation, which ended in 1999, according to a 2005 estimate by the country’s truth commission.
For a time, his intellectual prowess caused him to be seen as something of a “sex symbol” and rumors circulated about his relationships with Hollywood stars.
In 1974, ten years after the end of his first marriage, Kissinger married Nancy Maginnes, Rockefeller’s former assistant who survives him, as do two children from his first marriage, David and Elizabeth.
Kissinger remained available to Republicans as they returned to power under Ronald Reagan, rarely missing opportunities to provide advice. He was always willing to travel from his Manhattan penthouse to Washington when leaders called.
“Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac”, he said himself in the 1970s. (I)
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