If you’re reading this — that is, if you’re a sentient English-speaking human being living in the 21st century — then Henry Kissinger has profoundly affected your life, and not in a good way. Indeed, Richard Nixon’s National Security Advisor, and later his (and Gerald Ford’s) Secretary of State, may well have committed the most evil, the most infamous, the most viciously cynical crime of the twentieth century. In fact Kissinger was so good at covering up this crime, so smooth and so slick in the execution of this crime, that chances are you don’t even know about it.
I only now reach into my You-Thought-Trump-Was-Bad file and trot out Kissinger because tomorrow, as I write this, May 27, 2023, Henry Alfred Kissinger turns 100 years old. I also want to get to you first, before the inevitable barrage of press coverage about the event, before the mainstream media, giddy with the news of Kissinger entering his eleventh decade still intact, misinforms you about “Nixon’s golden boy.” I want to intercept you before they regale you with fables of the only man to emerge from the Watergate scandal and the toxic, paranoid atmosphere that was the Nixon era, unbesmirched and oddly popular with the American people, a man who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Peace.
I also want to remind you, brothers and sisters, that Republican evil wasn’t invented by MAGA. In fact, I want to caution you about what Republican evil looks like when it’s clever and shrewd and calculating and subtle.
I hasten to add, I’m not talking about Kissinger the evil genius behind the illegal and indiscriminate bombing and murder of innocent human beings living inoffensive lives in the sovereign nation of Cambodia, a country with which the United States had no quarrel. Nor am I referring to Kissinger’s aid in the cynical murder of and overthrow of Salvador Allende, president of the democratic nation of Chile, again another country with which the United States had no quarrel. No, horrible as those crimes were, the other crime I refer to instead was so awful, so disgusting and so corrupt that many of the few remaining Americans who know about it prefer not to mention it.
The crime is this. Henry Kissinger, in concert with Richard Nixon and while both men were private citizens, deliberately and with malice aforethought employed illegal backchannels to deliberately undermine the 1968 Paris Peace Talks so as to sabotage what otherwise could have brought an early end to the Vietnam War. They did it to prevent good news for the Johnson administration from coming to light just ahead of the November election. They did it so Hubert Humphrey couldn’t ride the euphoria of that good news all the way into the White House. And it worked. In a closely contested race, Nixon won instead.
It also served to extend the Vietnam War an additional five years. When Nixon and Kissinger went to the South Vietnamese delegation and urged them to boycott the Paris negotiations, they promised them a better deal if Nixon got into office. Once in office Nixon and Kissinger instead escalated the war, reasoning with philosophies that were one part Metternich and two parts Machiavelli, that total war would lead to total victory. It would send a message to the Soviet Union and China that America was not to be trifled with.
As I’m sure you know, the Vietnam War ended instead in a shameful peace five years later where South Vietnam got a distinctly worse deal than the one they were bargaining for with Johnson and Humphrey in Paris in 1968. And in a final crowning irony, for their efforts in “ending the Vietnam War,” Henry Kissinger and Lê Đức Thọ shared the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize!
Today, in a world gone mad, where this kind of Republican evil is clumsily engineered and openly celebrated, Kissinger lives on like a cockroach after a nuclear winter, basking in relative popularity, a relic of a past where Republicans could still be “good guys.” Today instead of Kissinger, fate wrenches from us good people like Tina Turner and Jim Brown, while festering evil lives on and on in the person of Henry Kissinger.
It’s a kind of contrapositive to Billy Joel’s philosophy that “only the good die young.” Maybe someday it will all make sense, maybe it never will, but against such evil, brothers and sisters, we must continue to stand. We must never, ever, ever give up. In the end I think we will win, despite the fact that monuments to injustice like Henry Kissinger continue to live on and on. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.