Wonder Wart-Hog, an underground comic book character akin to Kissinger

Wonder Wart-Hog, an underground comic book character known for excessive force, has for some Americans long brought Kissinger to mind.

Image by Gilbert Shelton

A Rank Immunity: Henry Kissinger Is Still A War Criminal

When he turned a deeply unjust 100 last week, U.S. media feted Dr. K as an urbane "elder statesman" who wielded power "with wisdom and compassion." WTF, said a horrified world that recalled "history's bloodiest social climber," "one of the 20th century's most prolific butchers," and a pitiless strategist for American empire-building. Hence the rise of caustic sites like "Is Henry Kissinger Dead?" Given a "back-of-the-envelope" body count of 3 or 4 million, they argue, "The least he could do is add his own body to it."

The stomach-churning, history-revising hoopla surrounding Kissinger's 100th birthday offered more grievous proof if we needed it there is "precious little true justice in the world." Despite estimates he left up to four million dead in the wake of his often illegal actions around the world, "one of the most decorated war criminals in 20th century history” remains not only hale but held to no account, swathed in the silken world of wealth and power - "Don't you love to hurt the weak?" - and free to celebrate his heedless decades of support for "brutal dictators, brutal regimes, brutal wars...without an arrest warrant or war crimes tribunal in sight." Vapid mainstream accounts described a former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State - Nixon and Ford - who has "continued to hold sway over Washington’s power brokers," is "still active in global affairs," and "maintains an international consulting business"; predictably, given his famed duplicity, the accounts fail to name which small, frail democracies he's now working to bomb or undermine. There's his flight as a teenager from Nazi Germany, his "major foreign policy events" like Middle East "shuttle diplomacy" and detente with China and Russia, and his incongruous, jet-setting "playboy of the Western Wing” status among "America's schmanciest people," who dutifully, politely decline to mention his murderous record.

Amnesiac accolades have long extended across the social and political spectrum, from the Playboy Mansion to Hillary Clinton, who called Kissinger "a really good friend," to Gerald Ford, who deemed him, "An elder statesman who wielded America’s great power with wisdom and compassion in the service of peace" - laughable if not for the "Everest-sized mountain" of dead bodies left in the wake of his bloody policies. Despite those bodies, he remains untouchable in a nation where the rich and powerful claim him as "an asset and not an aberration" for his ceaseless support of empire, from Southeast Asia to Latin America to the Middle East. Given this unconscionable moral and legal pass, Dr. K has remained an obdurate, remorseless "stranger to shame," denying all criminality in a long criminal career. He's never apologized for or even questioned his complicity with Nixon to "just cream the fuckers" in the carnage of Vietnam - its lies and miscalculations, its up to two million Vietnamese civilian deaths, its napalm-seared children and ravaged villages and vast devastation from what he boasted was "wave after wave of planes," the dead and maimed U.S. soldiers he called “dumb, stupid animals to be used." To all those crimes against humanity - a fraction of the ghastly whole - he says, "I fail to see the moral issue."

Of course not only did he help Nixon sabotage peace talks to end a war he'd stoked and lied about, but Kissinger orchestrated the savage, illegal expansion of the war into Cambodia, personally approving each of 3,875 bombing raids - after his chilling call to hit "anything that moves" - against a neutral country we were not at war with. From 1969 to 1973, formerly classified U.S. military documents reveal, the rabid U.S. campaign dropped 540,000 tons of bombs that killed between 150,000 and 500,000 civilians, far more than the U.S. ever acknowledged, in a vain effort to destroy alleged enemy supply lines and otherwise put pressure on an intractable Vietnam. As he argued, “I refuse to believe a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam does not have a breaking point." He was very hands-on - "Strike here in this area" - and very enthused - "K really excited," wrote a Nixon aide - with records of the illegal attacks assiduously burned. The decimation he undertook, in turn, hastened the overthrow of the Cambodian government by a genocidal Khmer Rouge that killed at least two million Cambodians. There, too, there has been no renunciation: Last week, in an interview with ABC's Ted Koppel, who once called Kissinger “the most admired man in America, the best thing we’ve got going for us" and who now dared to question the "criminality" of Cambodia, the great man sniffed, "It was a necessary step."

Pol Pot's "killing fields" and desperate choppers fleeing Saigon were only the start, a bloody glimpse of the coups, lies, extrajudicial wars and bolstering of tyrants in America's long tradition of toppling governments for corporate profit in the name of defending "freedom." For decades, Dr. K played a vital role in nearly every conflict the U.S. took part in: Indonesia’s massacre in East Timor, Pakistan’s in Bangladesh, Latin America's Operation Condor that helped dictators "disappear" each other's opponents, Argentina's Dirty War - the warning to expect "a good deal of blood" met with, "If there are things that have to be done, do them quickly" - and Chile's "insidious" democratic election of Socialist Salvador Allende, who the CIA overthrew in 1973 to usher in Augusto Pinochet's 20-plus years of fascist terror. On a 1976 visit, Kissinger told Pinochet, "You did a great service to the west." He is not "singularly responsible for the evolution of the U.S. national security state into a monstrosity," writes Greg Grandin, author of “Kissinger’s Shadow. "But his example, especially his steadfast support for bombing as an instrument of 'diplomacy,' has coursed through the decades, shedding a spectral light on the road that has brought us to a state of eternal war." Proposing a 1975 intervention in Cyprus, Dr. K summed up his approach: “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

Inevitably, Kissinger's chaos-spawning practice of subverting or unseating those he views as inimical to American interests - geopolitical rivals, progressive revolutions, insurgencies in unhappily occupied countries, balky electorates in key client states - has played out in a moneyed, perennially unstable Middle East, where in the name of power and petrodollars he counseled U.S. administrations to "capitalize on continuing hostilities” - fueling the fires by helping sell so many arms to so many Gulf states "the proxy wars in the Middle East could last for years." And they have. He urged the removal of Saddam Hussein and the “surgical destruction of Iraq’s military assets”; Dick Cheney said, “I probably talk to Henry Kissinger more (than) anybody else." He propped up and fawned over the Shah of Iran, but when they went to war with Iraq wistfully mused, "Too bad they both can't lose." He forged an "iron-clad alliance" with a brutal House of Saudi, then ceaselessly funneled arms and money to support their atrocity-filled war on Yemen. He sold out the Kurds, wondered, "Can’t we overthrow one of the sheikhs just to show we can do it? How about Abu Dhabi?", and baited fellow hawks with Cold War rhetoric about “abdication" and "consequences" in support of dubious interventions and repressive regimes "to ensure favorable conditions for American investors in as much of the world as possible."

Always, en route, he made millions. Over four decades, the globe-spanning consulting work of Kissinger Associates has epitomized the queasy convergence of U.S. corporate and governmental power in both foreign and domestic policy, a symbol of the profitable status quo with no thorny questions asked. Merging his public policy clout with savvy business advice, he's guided behemoths like American Express, Lehman Brothers, Merck, JP Morgan to massive profits as a top strategist for America’s empire. At the same time, he's guarded the secrecy of his "client list" so fiercely that when questions arose - what conflicts of interest? - he resigned as head of George Bush's 9/11 Commission rather than reveal it. Just as consistently, Grandin writes, Kissinger's zealous support for "American interests" no matter the human cost - and his utter lack of consequences for any crimes committed in pursuit of them - further affirms, "The United States can do whatever it wants in the rest of the world." “If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” Grandin notes Barack Obama once said, thus "offering Kissinger his retroactive absolution" for a lifetime of questionable military adventures and cementing the swaggering belief an unaccountable U.S. has the right to violate the sovereignty of any country. "Here, then, is a perfect expression of American militarism’s unbroken circle."

Still, the tributes poured in last week when the "political genius" and "great sports enthusiast" turned 100, with no unseemly mention of war crimes to be heard. The Post let his son David Kissinger tout his dad's "rare brain," "unflagging energy" and glad longevity thanks to "a diet heavy on bratwurst and Wiener schnitzel." Dr K will enjoy “centennial celebrations (from) New York to London (to) his hometown of Fürth, Germany,” he said, adding his dad's "force of character" helped him outlive "most of his peers, eminent detractors and students." Among the detractors was the late Anthony Bourdain, who in his 2001 book A Cook's Tour famously wrote, "Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands"; he ripped a "treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag" who ravaged and "threw to the dogs" a country "still trying to raise itself up on its one remaining leg." After a kick-off event at NYC's Yale Club, Bourdain's fury was bitterly echoed when a Vox writer queried what readers wanted to ask the famed perp: “How does he sleep at night? Can he feel the flames of hell gently tickling his toes? Whose organs did he steal? What do you think your eternal punishment will entail? Which circle of hell do you think is waiting for you?"

Those sentiments animate multiple parody sites eagerly awaiting the great "statesman"'s demise. And no, they insist, despite the left's mandate to be tolerant, none of them are as tasteless as "the amount of blood on Kissinger's hands." “I think Americans in particular are very susceptible to this very stupid idea that it's bad to celebrate the death of an evil person," said a Peruvian law student who runs Is Henry Kissinger Dead? Its posts run the gamut from "NO" and "NOOOOO" to "Soon please God" and, in March, "He is going to make it to 100 FOR FUCK'S SAKE." Others argue Kissinger's "firm refusal to die" through a long career "devoted to destroying every foreign democracy that posed even a minor threat to U.S. hegemony" represents "evil forces bigger than you." To help balance the scales, online charity death pools like Henry Kissinger RIP offer prizes - donations to organizations that undo some of the damage of U.S. imperialism, a “selection of liquors" from countries where Kissinger overthrew elected leaders - to whomever accurately predicts his death day. Facts owe: Despite years of rehabilitation efforts and preposterous declarations like John McCain's, at Dr. K's 90th birthday, that "I know of no individual who is more respected in the world," that "rare and foul beast" Kissinger remains for much of the world a reviled war criminal who "should be ashamed to be seen in public."

He does, in fact, need to think twice before traveling; in recent years, he has avoided visiting several countries, including Chile and Brazil, for fear of being charged with war crimes. In this country, for those of a certain age and political leaning, he often summons Gilbert Shelton's 1962 underground comic-book character "Wonder Wart-Hog," a far-right "Hog of Steel" whose "excessive force often (goes) overboard." All told, he remains wholly unrepentant, stunningly resistant to moral nuance, and awash in a blind hubris so enduring and over-arching he can still babble about his "public honor" and losing a brutish war in Vietnam, not because it was unholy but because, "I didn't have enough power." "Does Henry Kissinger Have A Conscience?" asked one New Yorker profile. Evidently not. Most fundamentally, writes Ben Burgis in Jacobin, it's vital to remember that "Kissinger isn't the only Kissinger." The fact he's free and celebrated isn't an oversight, he stresses, but a symptom of "a much deeper pathology," an American empire that rages and lumbers on. "The ugliest truth about Kissinger is that he isn’t a unique monster," he argues. "He is an unusually plainspoken representative of a monstrous system of US global hegemony...There may be something almost demonic in how unabashed Dr K is about his crimes. But when it comes to his basic willingness to disregard legal and moral obstacles (to) the U.S. working its will in the world? It's Kissingers all the way down."

“His own lonely impunity is rank; it smells to heaven. If it is allowed to persist then we shall shamefully vindicate the ancient philosopher Anacharsis, who maintained that laws were like cobwebs; strong enough to detain only the weak, and too weak to hold the strong. In the name of innumerable victims known and unknown, it is time for justice to take a hand.” - Christopher Hitchens in "The Trial of Henry Kissinger."

Henry Kissinger is 100 and still free, somehow | The Mehdi Hasan Showyoutu.be

Chile's dictator Augusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger shake hands in 1976Kissinger and Chile's dictator Augusto Pinochet shake bloody hands in 1976.Photo from National Security Archive

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.