Henry Kissinger, controversial diplomat, dead at 100

Sam Royka & Jake Ramsey

Editor-in-Chief & Managing Editor 

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, left, gestures to the audience in the East Room of the White House, Sept. 22, 1973, as President Richard Nixon watches, in Washington. (AP Photo, File) $1,000 loan same day.

Henry Kissinger, the first Jewish U.S. secretary of state, died on Nov. 30 at the age of 100.

Some say he made tough decisions for the betterment of world affairs, others call him a war criminal, but as described by UCO professor of political science Loren Gatch, “Kissinger was famous for highlighting the amoral nature of realism.”

“There are circumstances under which we have to consult with bad people,” said Gatch when defining Kissinger’s view of realism and foreign policy.

Throughout his career, he supported Pakistan’s genocide in Bangladesh as well as bloody coups against democratic leaders in Chile and Argentina. However, he may be most famous for his role in the carpet bombing of Cambodia.

“[Kissinger] and Nixon cooked up the secret bombing of Laos and that led to war in Laos and the bombing of Cambodia,” said Gatch.

Even before Nixon and Kissenger came to the oval office, they had already considered a military expansion into Cambodia. It was valuable because Hanoi, the capital of then-North Vietnam, was using Cambodia to move troops into South Vietnam, according to Fredrik Logevall, professor of international affairs and history at Harvard.

They wanted to put pressure on Hanoi and their allies on both the front and the bargaining table, so they agreed to a series of attacks on Cambodia including airstrikes and carpet bombs. 

The goal of carpet bombing is to inflict as much damage as possible on the land, leaving no square untouched. This is evoked by the imagery in the name: to cover the ground to all borders.

The total cost of civilian lives in Cambodia was between 150,000 and 500,000 people.

The airstrike on Cambodia, called Operation Menu, was kept secret from Congress and the American public by Nixon for months. Though Cambodia was a neutral country at this time, Kissenger felt otherwise. 

In a 1982 interview with public television station GBH he said, “We are not talking about an attack on a neutral country, we are talking about territory occupied by an enemy force that is killing Americans.”

Leftover landmines are still being unearthed in the country today, by professionals, civilians, and sometimes children. These unexploded bombs “are easy to explode if someone dug into the ground and hit them,” said Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre.

Queen Kosomak High School, in Kratié, had to switch to online-only classes when over 2,000 explosives were found in the ground outside earlier this year.

In 1972, following concerted efforts from Kissenger to dissipate Cold War tensions, Nixon made history with his trip to China.  A detente was reached that ended 23 years of hostile isolation. 

Kissenger’s friend Robert Kaplan wrote, “Henry Kissinger believes that in difficult, uncertain times — times like the 1960s and ’70s in America, when the nation’s vulnerabilities appeared to outweigh its opportunities — the preservation of the status quo should constitute the highest morality.”

In a recorded discussion with Nixon, he said “if it were not for the accident of my birth, I would be antisemitic,” opposed a US Holocaust Memorial, and stated “the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy, and if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

Anthony Bourdain took a different approach in his 2001 memoir, “A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines.” 

“Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands,” he wrote.

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