Henry Kissinger - A Man Who Has Been History's Pivot

Henry Kissinger - A Man Who Has Been History's Pivot
Dr. Henry Kissinger, the scholar, statesman, political activist, author and professor at Harvard University, is today almost a hundred years old. Even in the age when most people retire from work or even from life, he remains physically and mentally active and alert. He is the one who handcrafted the shape of world history in the 1960s and 1970s from the Vietnam War to the Arab-Israel conflict, US recognition of Communist China and India-Pakistan relations during 1971-2.

He has been loved and hated for his role in world politics. But love him or hate him, we just cannot ignore or deny his monumental role as the grand master of the diplomatic chessboard of the 20th century. Henry Kissinger, the German-born Jewish intellectual with the Machiavellian touch, is still writing and commenting on world events.

Despite the hate and at times revulsion he has generated in his lifetime, he continues to be a focal point for researchers and students of world history. History just cannot ignore him – as he is today one of the most prominent analysts of diplomacy, and he continues to be famous or notorious for everything he did or did not do on the world stage. Even in the hundredth year of his life, he continues to occupy a place in the public eye, but the worldwide adulation or respect that he aimed for did not materialize – mainly because of his contribution to destabilisation of global politics, which in his opinion were supposed to reshape the world in a better form.

In Pakistan, he is remembered for his role in the secret visit to China from Pakistan and the subsequent establishment of diplomatic relations between the USA and Communist China. He was also responsible for persuading Richard Nixon to show a definite tilt towards Pakistan in the 1971 war with India. He is notorious for calling Bangladesh “an international Basket case.” He was, in fact, disappointed by Indira Gandhi’s support of the Bangladesh cause and did not demand the release of Sheikh Mujib Ur Rehman. In fact, he even did not condemn the Pakistan Army’s military action in East Pakistan. After the independence of Bangladesh, he tried to make amends with the Government of Bangladesh and met Mujib Ur Rehman in New York, and then travelled to Dhaka for further talks with Mujib and the Bangladeshi government.
Engineering the fall of the Salvador Allende government in Chile has stigmatised Kissinger. During the rule of elected socialist leader Allende, Kissinger and Nixon vowed to “make the Chilean economy scream”

Overall, he is best remembered for his role in bringing China and the USA closer and his monumental role in ending the Vietnam War, for which he received the Nobel peace prize. Kissinger has displayed extraordinary scholarship throughout his life. One of his earlier works A World Restored is a brilliant piece of writing about a past defined by diplomacy that established the balance of power in Europe. His later works, notably White House Years, Diplomacy, Years of Renewal, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign PolicyEnding the Vietnam WarWorld Order and On China, bear all the hallmarks of excellent research and a mind capable of taking a sweeping view of global history.

Henry Kissinger has had his share of criticism for his negative role in politics. He has been blamed and condemned for usurping the role of Secretary of State William Rogers when he was the National Security Advisor to Richard Nixon. He was, in fact, aiming for the job of Secretary of State and he got there by stabbing William Roger in the back in 1973. Kissinger invented the art of shuttle diplomacy in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East in 1973. His tireless trips to Cairo, Damascus, Tel Aviv and Amman were a high point in his career, demonstrating the thrill he got from them.

He loved his work, but loved it more when people were awed by him. He craved adulation. Being the center of attention was a powerful streak in his character. He enjoyed the attention of women. When the Iranian belly dancer Nadia Parsa cavorted her way into his lap at a reception in Tehran in 1972, he was pleased. He relished the experience.

Engineering the fall of the Salvador Allende government in Chile has stigmatised Kissinger. During the rule of elected socialist leader Allende, Kissinger and Nixon vowed to “make the Chilean economy scream.” The result was murder and mayhem in Santiago, and the rise of one of the most pernicious dictatorships in modern history after General Pinochet overthrew Allende in a violent coup d’etat.

Kissinger and President Gerald Ford were in the know about General Suharto’s plans for an invasion of East Timor and would do nothing to dissuade the Indonesian dictator from his mission. It was all realpolitik for Kissinger.

Henry Kissinger has loved power, and has loved exercising power. When Ford lost the presidency to Jimmy Carter in 1976, Kissinger found himself at sea. He bided his time till Ronald Reagan came along in 1980, only to be disappointed that Reagan had absolutely no desire to restore him to his old position in the State Department.

Kissinger, the giant of world politics in the modern era, was born in Fuerth, Germany, in a middle-class Jewish family. He emigrated to the USA in 1938 because of the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazi regime in Germany. He became a US citizen in 1943, served in the US Army from 1943 to 1946. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard University in 1950 and was awarded an M.A. and a Ph.D. degree in 1952 and 1954. From 1954 until 1969, he was a member of the faculty of Harvard University, in both the Department of Government and the Center for International Affairs. He was Director of the Harvard International Seminar from 1952 to 1969.

Henry Kissinger will be celebrating his 100th birthday, and now in the twilight zone of a tempestuous life, he must be wondering what his own legacy is to be. He can now rest assured that his steadfast and unflinching support for the US superpower role, irrespective of the cost in human lives, will be a major part of that legacy.

Kissinger has shown little in the way of a moral conscience – and because of that, history will not absolve him lightly.