By Dr George Venturini
Heinz Alfred ‘Henry’ Kissinger obtained a Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1954. His interest was on Castelreagh and Metternich – two empire builders. He devoted his life to sublimate them.
In an incendiary, studiedly defamatory book the late Christopher Hitchens described him as “a mediocre and opportunist academic [intent on] becoming an international potentate. The signature qualities were there from the inaugural moment: the sycophancy and the duplicity; the power worship and the absence of scruple; the empty trading of old non-friends for new non-friends. And the distinctive effects were also present: the uncounted and expendable corpses; the official and unofficial lying about the cost; the heavy and pompous pseudo-indignation when unwelcome questions were asked. Kissinger’s global career started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American republic and American democracy, and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies.”
The story is all here: from the martyrdom of Indochina to becoming the real backchannel to Moscow on behalf of his new client: Donald Trump.
Editor’s note: This outstanding series by Dr Venturini concludes today with Part Twenty-three. Here is the link to Part Twenty-two; The strategies of a madman.
Throughout this essay evidence has been offered, and abundantly at that, of Kissinger’s moral failing, callousness, perhaps better still: indifference. Some of it is as inexplicable as it is shocking. There is a macho swagger in some of Kissinger’s remarks. It could, perhaps, be explained away if he had never wielded power, just as the world has been exposed to the gratuitously offensiveness of Donald J. Trump, forever presidential candidate. And one is fully aware that Kissinger, the longest-lasting and most frequently observed pariah figure in modern American history, is but one of a line of men held in fear and contempt for the immorality of their services rendered and yet protected by the Establishment in recognition of those same services. William Tecumseh Sherman, Curtis LeMay, Robert McNamara, and, more recently, Donald Rumsfeld all come to mind.
Errol Mark Morris is an American film director primarily interested in documentaries examining and investigating, among other things, authorities and eccentrics. He is perhaps best known and most revered for his 1988 documentary The thin blue line, commonly cited among the best and most influential documentaries ever made. In his remarkable 2003 documentary The fog of war: Eleven lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara one saw that the protagonist, who was an octogenarian at the time, was a tormented man who was attempting to come to terms, unsuccessfully, with the immense moral burden of his actions as the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam war. McNamara had recently written a memoir (In retrospect: The tragedy and lessons of Vietnam, Times Books, New York 1995) in which he attempted to grapple with his legacy. He would conclude, well before leaving his post, that the war was a futile. But he did not share that insight with the public until late in life. In 1995 he was able to confess that the adventure was “wrong, terribly wrong.” He was full of remorse and feelings of guilt for his behaviour while in office. In return, he faced a ‘firestorm of scorn’ at that time.
Around that time, Stephen Henderson Talbot, a journalist and documentary producer interviewed McNamara, and then also secured an interview with Kissinger, who had been Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State and National Security Advisor during the Vietnam war’s hopeless, final years.
As he later wrote about his initial meeting with Kissinger, “I told him I had just interviewed Robert McNamara in Washington. That got his attention. … and then he did an extraordinary thing. He began to cry. But no, not real tears. Before my eyes, Henry Kissinger was acting. ‘Boohoo, boohoo,’ Kissinger said, pretending to cry and rub his eyes. ‘He’s still beating his breast, right? Still feeling guilty.’ He spoke in a mocking, singsong voice and patted his heart for emphasis.”
McNamara died in 2009, at the same age Kissinger is today – ninety-three – but his belated public struggle with his conscience helped leaven his clouded reputation. Now that he is nearing the end of his life, Kissinger must wonder what his own legacy is to be. He can rest assured that, at the very least, his steadfast support for the American superpower project, no matter what the cost in lives, will be a major part of that legacy. Unlike McNamara, however, whose attempt to find a moral reckoning Kissinger held in such scorn, Kissinger has shown little in the way of a conscience. And because of that, it seems highly likely, history will not easily absolve him.
But would Kissinger care?
Kissinger obviously held McNamara and his feelings of guilt in utter disdain. Regret? Was is das?, remorse? What is it?
Kissinger had actually committed greater crimes than McNamara – crimes documented in Hitchens’s 2001 book, The trial of Henry Kissinger – and yet apparently felt no remorse at all. How does one get like that?
In his book Hitchens argued that Kissinger should be tried “for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap and torture.”
The former secretary of state, whose ‘mentorship’ Hillary Clinton boasted during the last Democratic debate, is not just a poor choice of foreign policy adviser. He is an authentic war criminal.
Hitchens presents Kissinger as a master of “depraved realpolitik” with “a callous indifference to human life and human rights,” who was behind American-sponsored and financed atrocities in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh, Chile, East Timor – as it then was, Argentina, Cyprus, Kurdish Iraq, Iran, South Africa, Angola and more.
Despite the alleged crimes he oversaw, Kissinger was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Or should it be ‘Nobel Peace Prize for War’?
Kissinger’s intimate handwritten note [see Part 22: The strategies of a madman] is just one sign of the close ties between the accused war criminal and Clinton, who is herself notorious for advocating a similarly aggressive, hawkish foreign policy. Will she be remembered for twisting Julius Ceasar’s “Veni, vidi, vici” into “We came, we saw, he died”, on hearing of the death of Gaddafi?
At age 93, Kissinger is one of the longest-serving public men in United States history. Since 1969, the accused war criminal has played an important role as a foreign policy adviser in most, if not all United States presidential administrations. Having just finished his assignment with Obama is now sucking-up to Trump.
Thanks to the work of historians, however, we now know much more about the atrocities Kissinger oversaw while in office.
As just some of the myriad examples of his crimes, in ‘The trial’ Hitchens documented Kissinger’s implications in the following:
- The deliberate mass killing of civilian populations in Indochina.
- Deliberate collusion in mass murder, and later in assassination, in Bangladesh.
- The personal suborning and planning of murder, of a senior constitutional officer in a democratic nation – Chile – with which the United States was not at war.
- Personal involvement in a plan to murder the head of state in the democratic nation of Cyprus.
- The incitement and enabling of genocide in East Timor – Timor-Leste.
- Personal involvement in a plan to kidnap and murder a journalist living in Washington, D.C.
That could be a good starting point for a bill of indictment. Yes, of course, it only scratches the surface. It is for specialists, criminologists and international lawyers to meat-up those initial charges.
There are problems of course.
Kissinger has evaded questions and legal summons by investigators in Argentina, Chile, France, Italy, Spain and Uruguay. They sought answers about his involvement in ‘disappearances’ of citizens in the United States and other countries in regard to Operation Condor. On 10 September 2001 the family of General Schneider initiated a civil action in federal court in Washington, D.C., claiming that Kissinger gave the agreement to murder the general because he had refused to endorse plans for a military coup in Chile.
On 13 November 2002 eleven individuals brought suit against Kissinger for human rights violations following the coup. They accused him of forced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture and wrongful death. The suit claimed that Kissinger provided practical assistance and encouragement to the Chilean Junta with reckless disregard for the lives and well-being of the victims and their families.
Both cases were dismissed on the ground of sovereign and diplomatic immunity.
The nearest justice got to a result was when, in 2001, the French Judge Roger Le Loire issued a warrant to have Kissinger appear before his court to account for his actions. When Kissinger received the summons at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, he fled the country.
If he were to show up in Australia, which is a member of the International Criminal Court, there would be further problems: the prosecutorial branch of Australian justice – absit injuria verbis – was unable to find satisfaction in evidence proffered about the criminality of the Howard Government in the assault on Iraq in 2003.
And the ‘reason’? The bill of evidence was not satisfactorily drafted. That an eminent Senior Counsel was the author did not matter.
The last words belong to Hitchens: “Kissinger’s 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 to take a hand.”
Dr. Venturino Giorgio (George) Venturini, formerly an avvocato at the Court of Appeal of Bologna, devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reach at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.