100 Years of Henry Kissinger, Grand Old Man American Foreign Policy: His Story

From US Secretary of State to Nobel Peace Prize winner. Last May she turned 100

Of Jewish origins, Henry Kissinger was born on May 27, 1923 in Furth, Germany from where in 1938 he fled with his family to escape persecution by the Nazis. The Kissinger family settled in New York where Henry first attended high school and then evening university courses, working in the mornings as a laborer.

In 1943 he was drafted into the army and during the training Kissinger, who had meanwhile become an American citizen, was noted for his knowledge of German and his intelligence and assigned to the counter-espionage section of military intelligence. “All good people started out in intelligence, even me,” Kissinger said to a young and still little-known Vladimir Putin, who, having met the legendary former Secretary of State, introduced himself by explaining that he had worked for the KGB.

The war is overKissinger – who as everyone remembers never lost a particular German accent – returned to studies, graduating in 1950 from Harvard in political science and then, in 1954 he took his doctorate, again at the Ivy League university, with a dissertation on the Congress of Vienna entitled “Peace, legitimacy and balance”.

Remaining as a professor at Harvard, Kissinger began working as a consultant to several institutions, including the State Department, and research centers and think tanks. His first political commitment came in 1960 when he became foreign policy advisor to Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential campaign, with whom he would continue to work for the 1964 and 1968 presidential elections. It was precisely during these last primaries that his first meeting with Richard Nixon took place. whom Kissinger initially defined, perhaps with some foresight, as “the most dangerous man to run for president.”

But once Nixon won the nomination, Kissinger himself contacted his campaign to offer his help and so, after the victory in November, he became first National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State. A position he held even after, in August 1974, Nixon was forced to resign to avoid impeachment for the Watergate scandal, leaving the White House to Gerald Ford, until then his vice president.

Kissinger played a dominant role in US foreign policy from 1969 to 1977inspired by the principles of Realpolitik and détente which led to a reduction in tensions with the then Soviet Union and to the signing in 1972 of the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) and the ABM (Anti Ballistic Missiles).

Kissinger Lalso works on the front of a ‘communist enemy’: China where in July 1971 he carried out a secret mission suspending, with the excuse of an illness, the program of a visit to Pakistan, but in reality moving to Beijing for 48 hours of talks with the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. It was the famous “Operation Marco Polo”, which allowed the ground to be prepared for the historic trip that, seven months later, Nixon made to China to reopen diplomatic relations between the United States and China.

Privileged relations with Beijing which Kissinger had until the end, as demonstrated by the meeting he had last July in the Diaoyutai residence, in the Chinese capital, with Xi Jinping. A meeting that was held the day after the conclusion of the mission to the Asian giant of the US climate envoy, John Kerry, who did not meet Xi. During his visit to China, the former secretary of state also saw the head of diplomacy Wang Yi and the defense minister Li Shangfu, who were under American sanctions.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to be in the “quagmire” of Vietnam War, and also on this front Kissinger initiated secret negotiations that led to the Paris agreements for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of American military forces and the peaceful reunification of Vietnam. For this agreement, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year together with the North Vietnamese Le Duc Tho who refused the prize because the clash between the North and the South continued to tear his land apart.

Two members of the Nobel committee resigned in protest against the decision to award Kissinger and throughout the world the choice to award the prize for peace to the master of ‘realpolitik’ was, and still is, criticized. Especially from those who remembered and remember the role that Kissinger had on another hot front of American foreign policy, that of the so-called “back yard”, the backyard, Latin America where Washington supported coups and bloody military juntas .

Starting from the one with which, on September 11, the year in which Kissinger won the Nobel, General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of the socialist Salvador Allende. Many argue that Kissinger had heavy responsibilities in supporting Pinochet and played a role in the sad season of Latin American dictatorships. In particular in the so-called Plan Condor, an operation in which the military juntas of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay participated to suppress dissidents within their countries and abroad.

In 2001 the famous journalist Christopher Hitchens published the book ‘The trial of Henry Kissinger’, in which he accuses the former Secretary of State of “war crimes, against humanity, violations of international laws”, making a long list of crimes in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cyprus and East Timor, branding the diplomat “a fantastic liar with a prodigious memory”.