Henry Alfred Kissinger (born May 27, 1923 as Heinz Alfred Kissinger)
is a German-born American diplomat and statesman. He served as National
Security Advisor and later Secretary of State in the Nixon administration,
continuing in the latter position after Gerald Ford became President
in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
An admirer of Realpolitik, Kissinger played a dominant role in United
States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. During this time, he pioneered
the policy of détente that led to a significant relaxation in
U.S.-Soviet tensions, including the SALT I strategic arms reduction talks,
and played a crucial role in 1972 talks with Chinese foreign minister
Zhou Enlai that concluded with the "opening" of China and the
formation of a new strategic anti-Soviet Sino-American alliance.
Kissinger and North Vietnamese foreign minister Le Duc Tho were jointly
offered the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for their roles in negotiating a ceasefire
and U.S. withdrawal from the protracted Vietnam War. Le Duc Tho declined
the award, Kissinger accepted.
He maintained friendly diplomatic relationships with anti-Communist
military governments in the Southern Cone and elsewhere in Latin America,
and approved of covert intervention in Chilean politics.
During his time in the Nixon and Ford administrations he cut a flamboyant
figure, appearing at social occasions with many of America's most celebrated
beauties. His foreign policy record made him enemies amongst anti-war
liberals and conservative anti-Communist hawks alike; controversy surrounding
Kissinger has by no means receded in the years since.
With the recent declassification of Nixon and Ford administration documents
relating to U.S. policy toward South America and East Timor, Kissinger
has come under fire from certain journalists and human rights advocacy
groups, both in the U.S. and abroad. Several have accused him of having
committed war crimes; author/journalist Christopher Hitchens is perhaps
most prominent among the accusers. Although these allegations have not
yet been proven in a court of law, it is considered legally dangerous
for Kissinger to enter many countries in Europe and South America.
Kissinger was born in Fürth in Franconia (Bavaria) as Heinz Alfred
Kissinger into a Jewish family. In 1938, fleeing Adolf Hitler's persecution,
his family moved to New York, New York. Kissinger was naturalized a U.S.
citizen on June 19, 1943.
He spent his high school years in the Washington Heights section of
upper Manhattan but never lost his pronounced German accent. Kissinger
attended George Washington High School at night and worked in a shaving-brush
factory during the day. While attending City College of New York, in
1943, he was drafted into the army, trained at Clemson College in South
Carolina, and became a German interpreter for the 970th Counter Intelligence
Henry Kissinger received his BA degree summa cum laude at Harvard College
in 1950. Kissinger is rumored to be the only person to receive a perfect
grade point average from Harvard, but in fact he received one B in his
senior year. He received his MA and Ph.D. degrees at Harvard University
in 1952 and 1954, respectively. His doctoral dissertation was titled
A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812–22.
Kissinger's doctoral dissertation was a continuation of his undergraduate
thesis of mere 383 pages consequently prompting the "Kissinger rule" or
one-third that length.
A liberal Republican and keen to have a greater influence on American
foreign policy, Kissinger became a supporter of and advisor to New York
Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who sought the Republican nomination for
President in 1960, 1964 and 1968. After Richard Nixon won the presidency
in 1968, he offered Kissinger the job of national security adviser.
With his first wife, Ann Fleischer, he had two children, Elizabeth and
David. He currently lives with his second wife, Nancy Maginnes Kissinger,
in Kent, Connecticut. He is the head of Kissinger and Associates, a consulting
Kissinger is well known as being a New York Yankees fan. He is also
a great fan of the German soccer club Greuther Fürth from his home
On October 31, 1973, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmi meets with
Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger about a week after fighting ends in
the Yom Kippur WarKissinger was Nixon's national security advisor (1969-73)
and later his secretary of state (1973-74). He also stayed on as President
Gerald Ford's Secretary of State from 1974-77.
While working for Nixon, Kissinger established the policy of détente
with the Soviet Union. He also negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitation
Talks (culminating in the SALT I treaty) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile
Treaty. In July and October 1971, Kissinger made two secret trips to
the People's Republic of China to confer with Premier Zhou Enlai and
to set the stage for the groundbreaking 1972 summit between the PRC and
the US as well as the normalization of relations between the two countries.
Today, Kissinger is often called by Chinese leaders "the old friend
of the Chinese people." His talk with Zhou Enlai was highly secretive.
Recently declassified documents show that the talk highly focused on
the Taiwan issue.
Kissinger, shown here with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong,
negotiated the normalization of relations with the People's Republic
was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize along with Le Duc Tho of Vietnam
for their work on the Vietnam peace accords. Kissinger and Nixon had
come to office in 1968 on a promise of a quick end to the Vietnam War,
but the intervening years saw an escalation in conflict as well as
the extension of the US bombing campaign (overseen by Kissinger) in
Laos and Cambodia. Le Duc Tho refused the prize on the grounds that
there was as yet no peace.
In 1973, Kissinger negotiated the end of the Yom Kippur War, which began
with Egypt's invasion of the Sinai and Syria's invasion of the Golan
Kissinger may have played a role in the September 11, 1973, coup by
Augusto Pinochet against the government of Chilean President Salvador
Allende. Documentary evidence shows CIA interest in promoting a coup,
but Kissinger says he reversed his initial position supporting a coup
well before it happened.
Despite occasional allegations of underhanded dealings in foreign countries,
Kissinger was largely popular with the public and became one of the better-liked
members of the increasingly unpopular Nixon administration. Kissinger
had little involvement with the Watergate scandal that would eventually
ruin Nixon and many of his closest aides – a fact which greatly
increased Kissinger's reputation as the "clean man" of the
bunch. At the height of his popularity he was even regarded as something
of a sex symbol and was seen dating starlets such as Jill St. John, Shirley
MacLaine, and Candice Bergen. There was even discussion of ending the
requirement that a U.S. President be born in America so that Kissinger
could run for president.
In December 1975, Kissinger and Ford met with President
Suharto of Indonesia; on that occasion they gave their approval for his
invasion of East Timor,
which led to the death of 200,000 Timorese. Until the release of documents
confirming his foreknowledge of the invasion, Kissinger claimed that
he was unaware of Suharto's intentions when he left Jakarta. Kissinger
still maintains that the nature and influence of his "approval" of
the invasion are presented radically out of context. He argues that the
invasion was already a foregone conclusion planned well in advance, and
was not simply something that he convinced Suharto to do on the spot.
However, Kissinger's apparent strong dislike of discussing the issue
remains a source of controversy.
Kissinger is updated on the latest situation in South
Vietnam on April 29, 1975, one day before its government falls.Kissinger
when former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter defeated Ford at the 1976
elections. He played a relatively minor role in the Reagan (1981-89)
and first Bush (1989-93) administrations, mainly because the neo-conservative
groups which dominated the Republican Party by 1981 considered Kissinger's
detente policy to have been a form of appeasement of the Soviet Union.
He continued to participate in policy groups such as the Trilateral
Commission and to do political consulting, speaking, and writing.
In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed Kissinger to chair a committee
to investigate the events of the September 11 attacks. His appointment
led to widespread criticism, generally taken from the position that Kissinger
has never been supportive of the public's right to know, but also because
some vocal groups have alleged that some of his actions undertaken in
the Nixon and Ford administrations were war crimes (see "Accusations
Against Henry Kissinger," below).
In response, Congressional Democrats insisted that Kissinger file financial
disclosures to reveal any conflicts of interest. Both Bush and Kissinger
claimed that Kissinger did not need to file such forms, since he would
not be receiving a salary. When Congressional Democrats insisted, however,
Kissinger resigned from the commission. On December 13, 2002, he stepped
down as chairman, citing conflict of interest with his clients.
In 2005, Kissinger offered a public apology for using foul, offensive
and uncivilized language in 1971 to describe Indira Gandhi, then Prime
Minister of India, and Indians in general. The transcripts showed that
in supporting U.S. policy toward the Pakistani government and its conflict
in then-East Pakistan he was not concerned with the actions of Pakistan's
In the first years of the new millennium, Kissinger became dogged by
legal problems stemming from actions he took while in government. These
ranged from requests from judges simply wishing to question him about
atrocities which occurred while he was in office to suits charging him
with complicity in human rights violations. There are now many countries
in Europe and South America to where Kissinger avoids travel due to vulnerability
to legal action. He is known to take legal advice before traveling anywhere.
On 31 May 2001, French Judge Roger Le Loire had a summons
served on Kissinger at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, where Kissinger was staying.
judge wanted Kissinger to answer questions about the death of French
citizens under the Pinochet regime and about his knowledge of Operation
Condor. Rather than appear before the magistrate the next day, Kissinger
fled Paris that same evening and directed all inquiries to the US State
In July 2001, the highest court of Chile granted investigating judge
Juan Guzman the right to question Kissinger about the 1973 killing of
the American journalist Charles Horman, whose execution by forces loyal
to General Augusto Pinochet was dramatized in the 1982 Costa-Gavras film,
Missing. The judge’s questions were relayed to Kissinger via diplomatic
routes but went unanswered. Representative Cynthia McKinney later wrote
to Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking for help in persuading Kissinger
to take the stand. The Chilean courts later announced that if they continued
to meet with no response to their requests for co-operation, they would
seek Kissinger's extradition. Sergio Corvalan, a lawyer involved in the
case, said: "Kissinger has never answered to justice and he had
an important role in the coup in Chile and an influence in the Chilean
In August 2001, Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba sent
a letter rogatory to the US State Department, in accordance with the
Mutual Legal Assistance
Treaty (MLAT), requesting a deposition by Kissinger to aid the judge's
investigation of Operation Condor.
On 10 September 2001, a civil suit was filed in a Washington, D.C.,
federal court by the family of Gen. René Schneider, former Commander-in-Chief
of the Chilean Army, accusing Kissinger of arranging his 1970 murder
for opposing a military coup. The suit asserts that Kissinger gave the
order for the elimination Schneider because he refused to endorse plans
for a military coup. The prosecution case is based solely on U.S. government
declassified documents. Schneider’s two sons are suing Kissinger
and CIA director Richard Helms for $3 million.
On 11 September 2001, the 28th anniversary of the Pinochet coup, Chilean
human rights lawyers filed a criminal case against Kissinger along with
Augusto Pinochet, former Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer, former Argentine
dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner,
and several other US, Chilean, and Argentine officials for their role
in Operation Condor. The case was brought on behalf of some fifteen victims
of Operation Condor, ten of whom were Chilean. Several international
organizations also joined the suit as plaintiffs, including the US National
Lawyer’s Guild, the American Association of Jurists, and the Guatemalan
Rigoberta Menchu Foundation. Kissinger and the others were charged with
being intellectual or material authors or accomplices to crimes against
humanity, war crimes, violations of international treaties, conspiracy
to commit murder, kidnapping, and torture.
In late 2001, the Brazilian government canceled an invitation for Kissinger
to speak in São Paulo because it could no longer guarantee his
immunity from judicial action.
In 2002, during a brief visit of his to the UK, a petition for Kissinger's
arrest was filed in the High Court in London, citing the destruction
of civilian populations and the environment in Indochina during the years
1969 to 1975. According to media reports, the High Court ruled in such
a manner as to leave room for a further application. At the same time,
supported by judges in France, the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón,
who engaged in a failed attempt to get Pinochet extradited from the United
Kingdom for questioning, also requested Interpol to detain Kissinger
for questioning during his visit. British authorities refused his request.
Activists from the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) have repeatedly
sought to question Kissinger during his book tours, accusing him of supporting
Indonesia's 1975 bloody occupation of the former Portuguese colony East
Timor. A subsequent human rights commission proposed that the UN itself
set up a war crimes tribunal. ETAN as argued that the tribunal to extend
back to the original invasion and could become a tool to find out what
actually happened, and a mechanism for trying Kissinger. "I believe
a criminal case can be made against him," says John Miller, a spokesman
for the group. "One country invaded another. He aided and abetted
genocide. He provided a political go-ahead and was instrumental in continuing
the flow of U.S. weapons."
Observers note that in many cases, Kissinger is not
being sought as a defendant; he is wanted first and foremost as a witness,
but his refusal
to cooperate, they claim, suggests he has something to hide. Kissinger's
position is complicated by the fact that documents declassified by the
State Department have contradicted his own statements. A declassified
verbatim conversation between Kissinger and General Suharto on the day
of the invasion of East Timor in 1975 reveals Kissinger giving approval
to the proposed annexation, and also promising to keep a flow of weapons
coming to Indonesia. Declassified records also indicate, for example,
that Kissinger had urged the apartheid regime in South Africa to intervene
in Angola before a single Cuban soldier had landed, which contradicts
earlier statements by him.
Recently declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive
also show that Kissinger did not raise objections to the practices of
the dictatorial Argentine military junta; the junta was exercising total
authority over combatting active Marxist guerrilla groups such as the
Montoneros and ERP. It is known to have "disappeared" approximately
10,000 to 30,000 Argentines, many believed to be nonviolent dissidents,
and tortured thousands more at documented secret detention centers. However,
the junta's restrictions on free speech were somewhat relaxed by new
Chairman General Leopoldo Galtieri in 1981.
In a meeting, Secretary Kissinger told Argentine Foreign Minister Admiral
César Augusto Guzzetti:
"Let me say, as a friend, that I have noticed that military governments
are not always the most effective in dealing with these problems. ...So
after a while, many people who don't understand the situation begin to
oppose the military and the problem is compounded. The Chileans, for
example, have not succeeded in getting across their initial problem and
are increasingly isolated. You will have to make an international effort
to have your problems understood. Otherwise, you, too, will come under
increasing attack. If there are things that have to be done, you should
do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures."
He also assured Guzzetti that the U.S. would not cause the junta any "unnecessary
difficulties" and urged them to complete their mission and get back
to normal procedures before Congress reconvened and had a chance to consider
Criminal accusations of Christopher Hitchens
The February and March 2001 issues of Harper's Magazine featured a two-part
series of articles by British journalist Christopher Hitchens in which
he charged Kissinger with war crimes (the articles were later published
as a book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, ISBN 1859846319). Hitchens'
charges were extensively reported on and sparked widespread discussion.
In these pieces, Hitchens charged Kissinger with conspiracy to commit
murder and war crimes. He argues that (1) on at least one occasion, Henry
Kissinger conspired to commit murder, and (2) on numerous other occasions,
Kissinger was the primary force behind certain acts that could quite
plausibly be considered war crimes.
Hitchens' primary charges against Kissinger include:
-In illegal talks with representatives of the South
Vietnamese government in 1968, Kissinger advised them to pull out of
the Paris Peace Talks,
as they would get a better deal under an incoming Nixon administration.
-As United States National Security Advisor to President Nixon, he directed
the first phase of the illegal and secret U.S. bombings in Cambodia (1969-1975),
and is thus complicit in the resulting 200,000 casualties.
-As Nixon's National Security Advisor, he gave support to General Roberto
Viaux's 1970 coup plot in Chile to prevent incoming President Salvador
Allende's inauguration. The coup failed with the botched kidnapping attempt
on constitutionalist Chilean Army Commander-in-Chief General René Schneider,
who ended up dead at the hands of the coup-plotters. Hitchens thus implicates
Kissinger in Schneider's murder.
-As Nixon's National Security Advisor, he did not object to West Pakistan's
genocide against Bengalis in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during the
third Indo-Pakistani War because Pakistan was a Cold War ally.
-As Nixon's secretary of state, he supported the Chilean military junta
headed by General Augusto Pinochet following a 1973 coup, despite his
involvement in human rights abuses directed towards suspected Marxists
and political opponents.
-As Nixon's Secretary of State, he was complicit in the anti-Communist
Greek military junta's backing of an attempted Greek Cypriot coup attempt
in Cyprus in 1974. The failed plot provoked Turkey to occupy the northern
40% of the island, which it still controls to this day. It also led to
the downfall of the Greek junta.
-As Ford's Secretary of State, he supported continued U.S. arms sales
to Indonesia while it was annexing East Timor in 1975, and is thus complicit
in the Army's subsequent mass atrocities against the East Timorese.
Rebuttals to Hitchens' charges include:
-Kissinger maintains that the bombings of Cambodia were
not illegal, since Cambodia itself had been unable to defend its neutrality.
Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong units were operating out of bases in the
area, and ignoring them would have given them a free advantage in the
ongoing conflict. Further, that to ignore them would make him complicit
in all the U.S. and South Vietnamese deaths caused by NVA activity out
of these countries.
-Regarding the coup, Kissinger, as chair of the 40 Committee overseeing
foreign operations, said to Nixon on October 15, "This looks hopeless.
I turned it off. Nothing could be worse than an abortive coup." Viaux's
failed coup took place a full week later without direct CIA support.
The Church Committee (see: Senator Frank Church), normally highly critical
of the Nixon administration's foreign policy, found that the weapons
used by Viaux's subordinates "were, in all probability, not those
supplied by the CIA to the conspirators."
-There was some evidence that Kissinger bore direct responsibility
in the U.S.'s failure to condemn Pakistani President Yahya Khan during
the crisis as seen in the Oval House conversations. He also tried to
involve China in the event of a war, to threaten India from involving
itself in Pakistan's internal problems. The reason for the "tilt" was
that Pakistan, a cold war ally maintained friendly relations with China
with whom the US wished to move closer to. Kissinger himself clarified
that such policies and statements were to be viewed from the Cold War
-There is no evidence that Kissinger supported the junta's moves in Cyprus.
In his book Years of Renewal, Kissinger says of the elected President
of Cyprus, "...Makarios, the proximate cause of most of Cyprus's
tensions, was also the best hope for a long-term peaceful solution..." Hitchens
takes the quote out of context and says that because Kissinger has described
Makarios as "the proximate cause of Cyprus's tensions" he must
have sought his removal.
-The policy toward Indonesia was consistent with Cold War containment
policy at the time, and Kissinger feared that a FRETILIN-controlled East
Timor would be a destabilizing influence in the Indonesian archipelago.
U.S. arms sales to a Cold War ally were not an endorsement for mass atrocities
against the East Timorese.
-Documents released in late 2001 regarding East Timor revealed that Kissinger
had given Suharto support for the invasion of East Timor (in which as
many as 200,000 people may have died) during a visit to Indonesia in
1975, refuting his claim in a 1999 interview that he had not discussed
the matter in advance and only found out about it as he was leaving the
country. Although it was illegal for the arms that the US supplied to
Indonesia to be used for offensive purposes, the documents revealed that
Kissinger was unconcerned over the illegality of their use; his primary
concern was over manipulating the public perception of what happened. "We
would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens,
happens after we return", he was quoted as saying.
Kissinger has refused to respond to Hitchens's charges point by point.
In a speech before the National Press Club he was asked about the charges
and his response is that in the cause of world peace, serious people
can have legitimate disagreements about the means. However, Kissinger
claims that in attempting to create a war crimes charge, Hitchens used
selective quotations and documents without taking into account the context
and the situation in which those documents were written. Further, Kissinger
claims that Hitchens ignores the significant advances in world peace
that were taken under his tenure, such as the Anti-Ballistic Treaty,
détente and arms reduction treaties with the Soviet Union, the
opening to China, and the withdrawal from Vietnam. He adds that Hitchens's
charges are nothing more than the politics of revenge and that they cheapen
and mock the concept of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Moreover,
Kissinger claims that this mockery of the concept of war crimes is an
obstacle to creating the just and peaceful world that Hitchens claims
to wish to create, and thus will not respond to him.
Other critics of the war crimes charges similarly dismiss the allegations
as overtly partisan, and poorly researched. Conservative commentator
David Horowitz described Kissinger as a "political deus ex machina" whom
members of the political Left increasingly use to explain the cause of
any foreign conflict, violence, or coup during the 1970s. Supporters
of Kissinger point out that Kissinger himself has detailed his own versions
of the events in question in his memoirs and writings, and has fully
justified his past actions.
Hitchens's book inspired a feature-length documentary, "The Trials
of Henry Kissinger", directed by Eugene Jarecki, which also highlighted
the charges against Kissinger.
On a more bizarre note, in 1999 the British conspiracy theorist (and
former sports personality) David Icke accused Kissinger of being a rapist,
a murderer, a paedophile and a shape-shifting lizard.
Business interests and public service
He has his own consulting company Kissinger and Associates, and also
Kissinger McLarty Associates with Mack McLarty, former Chief of Staff
to President Clinton. He also serves on various boards of directors
including Hollinger International.
In 1998 Kissinger became an honorary citizen of his hometown of Fürth.
He has been a life-long supporter of the football club Spielvereinigung
He has served as Chancellor of the College of William and Mary since
February 10, 2001.
From 1995-2001, he served on the board of directors for Freeport-McMoRan
(commonly referred to as Freeport,) a U.S. company that owns a mine in
western New Guinea, Indonesia.
Kissinger serves on the Honorary Council of Advisors for the U.S. Azerbaijan
Chamber of Commerce.