If Henry Kissinger had any shame he would decline his new appointment and,
while on bended knee, also return his 1973 Nobel Peace Prize.
This is the blind hope of his critics, and perhaps a few of what is left of
his supporters. The expectation, however, is that the man who once fancied himself
the Metternich of U.S. foreign policy will reign as czar of the Sept. 11 probe.
The gray eminence with much to live down will likely use his post to immunize
himself against all further attempts to have him judged a "war criminal."
This charge has gained at least left-radical currency with the recent release
of the polemical movie, "The Trials of Henry Kissinger." The documentary airs
the charges that Christopher Hitchens floated in his two-part Harper's magazine
article and encased in his book of a similar title. The swashbuckling Hitchens
holds the former U.S. secretary of State personally responsible for policy leading
to murder and other excesses in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, East Timor, Cyprus, Bangladesh
and Chile. Other more responsible observers have raised the same charges over
the years, most notably Pulitzer-Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour
The "war crime" charge against Kissinger became something of a scare in London
earlier this year. During Kissinger's visit to Royal Albert Hall, human rights
activists staged a protest, some banging drums and chanting "evil war criminal"
outside. Peter Tatchell had just lost a court fight to have Kissinger jailed for
the "killing, injuring and displacement" of some 3 million Vietnamese and Cambodians
during America's military involvement in Indochina. Earlier, the Spanish judge
who prosecuted Gen. Augusto Pinochet for crimes against humanity had tried to
get permission to question Kissinger in the case. Specifically, the judge was
interested in Kissinger's possible knowledge or involvement in a plan Latin America's
military regimes had employed to get rid of their opposition. The British Home
Office denied the judge permission to question Kissinger during his visit to London.
"No one can say that he served in an administration that did not make mistakes,"
Kissinger told the annual Institute of Directors conference in May. He was national
security adviser and secretary of state, under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald
Ford, serving from 1969 to 1977. Kissinger conceded that "mistakes were made."
Last week, Kissinger was appointed to head an investigation of the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11. President George W. Bush recalled only the high points in
the career of this former secretary under the disgraced Nixon administration,
the diplomat some dare call a "war criminal."
"[Kissinger's] investigation should carefully examine all of the evidence
and follow all of the facts wherever they lead," Bush said. "We must uncover every
detail and learn every lesson of September 11th."
While few would doubt Kissinger's intellect, his critics warn darkly that
his mistakes of the past - and his documented deceit and secrecy - should not
"Lest anyone think that Kissinger's critics are all to the left, or liberals,"
said professor Stanley Kutler of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, "I would
remind you that on the right in this country there has long been a very, very
strong distrust of Henry Kissinger." Kutler cited U.S. Navy Commander Elmo Zumwalt's
"unforgettable" remark in his memoirs about Kissinger's "deceit" and needless
"secrecy" at the Paris Peace talks on Vietnam.
The cult of secrecy has been extended to Kissinger's official papers, stored
with the Library of Congress, and sealed until five years after his death. "Kissinger
[has] made millions of dollars off his memoirs," Kutler said. Yet, scholars
are denied access to them.
As for Kissinger's Nobel Peace Prize, all one needs to remember is that Le
Duc Tho, his co-winner, refused to accept the award. Unlike his opponent, the
North Vietnamese, a man capable of shame, found it unseemly to accept a prestigious
award for peace while the civil war between the North and the South continued.
The war raged on even as Kissinger accepted his $57,500 share and made his acceptance
speech in Oslo.
My own bone to pick with Kissinger concerns his insensitivity to racial matters.
"Kissinger also repeatedly made clear his contempt for black people," wrote Hersh,
in his book, "The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House." In a documentation
of Kissinger's racism, Hersh wrote the following:
"Kissinger repeatedly made clear his lack of respect for the intelligence
of blacks. When the State Department appointed C. Clyde Ferguson, a black law
professor from Rutgers University, special relief coordinator during the Nigerian
civil war, Kissinger asked fatuously, 'Do you think he'll understand the cables?'
" Morris also recalls a disturbing conversation between Kissinger and Senator
[William] Fulbright. It was the spring of 1970 and the White House gave
a reception and dinner for ambassadors, most of them black, who were in Washington
for a meeting of the Organization of African Unity. Kissinger asked Morris to
join him at the dinner, and as Morris and Kissinger were strolling from their
basement offices they bumped into Senator Fulbright, also on his way to the party.
"Henry walked up to him and initiated this racist conversation," Morris says.
"He asked: 'I wonder what the dining room is going to smell like?'
"During another conversation regarding the Nigerian war, Morris explained,
in response to Kissinger's question, that the Ibos of Biafra were more Negroid
in appearance and the Nigerians tended to be more Semitic.
"Kissinger, Morris later wrote, was visibly surprised and confused. 'But you
always told me the Ibos were more gifted and accomplished than the others. What
do you mean "more Negroid"?'"
This most powerful foreign policymaker in the Nixon White House is back in
our lives as a wealthy creature from the bog.
One might think that the victims of Sept. 11 deserve better.
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc