November 30, 2023 08:10
Henry Kissinger, who died Wednesday at the age of 100, personified U.S. foreign policy during the Nixon and Ford administrations, serving as secretary of state under both presidents and inviting both praise for his diplomatic successes and controversy for his calculating political view of the world. His death was announced by his consulting firm and no cause was given.
Known for being a scholar, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a prominent refugee to the United States, Kissinger became a cultural icon, inspiring myriad biographies, both favorable and not, and satirized by the likes of Monty Python.
The conservative thinker helped to engineer a host of diplomatic successes, including rapprochement with China and detente with the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam for their efforts to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War.
Kissinger also had multiple achievements in the Middle East, including negotiating the 1975 Sinai Accord between Egypt and Israel, and working to advance the broader Arab-Israeli peace process in efforts that became known as "shuttle diplomacy."
Despite his achievements around the globe, Kissinger was a controversial figure, with critics alleging he allowed carpet-bombing in Cambodia, supported Pakistan's crackdown on Bangladesh and did little to stop Argentina's campaign against dissidents.
◆ Early Years
Born Heinz Kissinger in Furth, Germany, he arrived in the United States in 1938 at the age of 15 after his family fled the Nazi persecution of Jews. The family spoke English at home, and Heinz became known as Henry, later becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Kissinger returned to Europe during World War II as a member of the U.S. Army in the 84th Infantry Division. "I look back at those years with great pride," Kissinger told the Chicago Tribune when he was in his 80s. "World War II was a war without any moral ambiguity."
Following the war, Kissinger enrolled at Harvard on the G.I. Bill, and received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the university, later joining the school's faculty.
Kissinger's view of foreign policy was no doubt shaped by his experience of fleeing Nazi Germany. He is known for his brand of "realpolitik" centered on making practical diplomatic decisions rather than those rooted to a moral framework.
When asked by The New York Times in 1974 about the sense of pessimism and even tragedy in his political writings, Kissinger responded, "I think of myself as a historian more than as a statesman. As a historian, you have to be conscious of the fact that every civilization that has ever existed has ultimately collapsed."
"History is a tale of efforts that failed, of aspirations that weren't realized, of wishes that were fulfilled and then turned out to be different from what one expected," he said.
◆ White House Roles
After serving as a consultant to U.S. government agencies during the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Kissinger joined the White House in 1969 during the Nixon administration. He served as national security adviser and then secretary of state and continued as secretary of state under President Gerald Ford.
Kissinger had a close relationship with President Richard Nixon and credited the collaboration as a major reason for their foreign policy successes.
He told Newsweek in 2009, "I saw the president every day when we were both in town because I felt it was absolutely essential that we thought along the same lines. I was lucky. I had extraordinarily close relationships with the two presidents I served. In fact, if one looks at the history of the secretaries of state, it’s rare," he said.
Kissinger made two trips to China before accompanying Nixon on his groundbreaking visit to Beijing in 1972 to meet with China's Communist Party chairman, Mao Zedong. During the visit, the United States and China formalized diplomatic relations after a break of 23 years.
Kissinger and Nixon also worked closely together to defuse tensions with the Soviet Union, resulting in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) as well as the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.
The top U.S. diplomat received numerous awards for his accomplishments. Along with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, the United States' highest civilian honor, and the Medal of Liberty in 1986, which was given to 10 of America's most influential foreign-born leaders.
Despite his accomplishments, Kissinger has attracted plenty of criticism, much of it centered on his actions during the Vietnam War. Kissinger kept secret the U.S. bombings of Cambodia and Laos in 1969 -- which helped to escalate the Vietnam War -- failing to inform Congress or the American public about them.
He also was given power by Nixon to conduct secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese. While Kissinger eventually helped broker the Paris Peace Accords as a result of the negotiations, his critics say the years of secretive talks only prolonged the war.
Kissinger has also been criticized for his role in conflicts around the world, including Angola's civil war, which developed into a Cold War battleground, and the U.S. involvement in Chile, which culminated in a coup in 1973.
While Kissinger stayed on in his role as secretary of state after Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974, he was not left unscathed by the Watergate scandal that took Nixon from office. The scandal revealed that Kissinger had ordered the FBI to wiretap members of the National Security Council to see who had leaked news of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia to the news media.
◆ Post White House
After leaving the government, Kissinger worked as an international consultant and lecturer, as well as author, writing more than a dozen books. His latest, "Leadership," was published when he was 99.
He continued to speak and write about foreign affairs, even provoking controversy in May 2022 when he argued at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Ukraine should cede territory to make peace with Russia. He said an embarrassing defeat for Russian President Vladimir Putin could worsen Europe's long-term stability.
Kissinger is survived by his second wife, Nancy, whom he married in 1974. He had two children with his first wife, Ann Fleischer, and five grandchildren.
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