Henry Kissinger Henry Kissinger. Photo: World Economic Forum / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As the imperialist elite celebrates his birthday, John Clarke outlines the sheer scale of Kissinger’s crimes from Vietnam to Chile, committed in order to preserve the system

One of the world’s most notorious war criminals, Henry Kissinger, is about to reach one hundred years of age on 27 May. In the US, in 2021, there were only 89,739 centenarians, so, in a country with a population over 330 million, it’s fair to say that Kissinger has had a very good innings.

Not only has Kissinger lived long, but he has also prospered, with a net worth of some $50 million, largely attributable to his leading role in Kissinger Associates, an international consulting firm. We may also fully expect that the US establishment and its media will greet Kissinger’s birthday with effusive praise and lavish tributes. He will be honoured as a veritable national and international hero.

In 2015, the US anti-war organisation CodePink ‘attempted to perform a citizen’s arrest on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger when he testified on global security challenges at a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting.’ It should be noted that the fact that Kissinger was making such a presentation before an official body only eight years ago, is an indication of his enduring status and influence in Washington.

The participants in the CodePink action wished to drive home the criminality of Kissinger on the world stage. They asserted that they were acting, ‘In the name of the people of Chile, in the name of the people of Vietnam, in the name of the people of East Timor, in the name of the people of Cambodia, in the name of the people of Laos.’

The protesters were removed by the Capitol police and the members of the committee were appalled that their illustrious guest had been challenged in this fashion. Senator John McCain asserted that: ‘I have never seen anything as disgraceful and outrageous and despicable’ and, unable to contain himself, yelled at the CodePink activists: ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum.’

Brutal initiatives

In any just society, Kissinger would undoubtedly be held accountable for his appalling track record of war crimes and human-rights abuses. However, his brutal initiatives were undertaken in the service of an imperialist power that had need of his talents. Prior to going into ‘public service’ in 1968, ‘Kissinger was a professor of international relations at Harvard.’ In this academic setting, he had already developed a view that ‘the United States should carefully pursue its own interests’ in such a way that, ‘Moral and ideological considerations … were less important than cold, hard evaluations of what could advance America’s strategic position.’

Once he had become Richard Nixon’s security adviser, and subsequently as secretary of state, Kissinger was able to put the cold cruelty of these political calculations into effect. His pragmatic viewpoint led him to take forward a policy of ‘detente’ that sought some level of normalised relations with the Soviet Union and China. It also meant, however, that poor and oppressed countries would be subject to the most pitiless measures to keep them within the sphere of US domination.

It is hardly necessary to set out in great detail the evidence of Kissinger’s criminality, since this work has already been carried out. Indeed, ‘… the evidence that he aided and abetted war crimes during his time in the White House advising Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford is well-established and overwhelming.’ It is enough for present purposes to take note of some of the key examples of Kissinger’s blood soaked career. In a criminal court, the guilt of the accused rests both on evidence of unlawful action and on establishing criminal intent. In this regard, there is an open and shut case against Kissinger.

Beginning in 1969, the carpet bombing of Cambodia was nominally undertaken ‘to destroy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong bases. In reality, it was designed to improve America’s strategic position before a negotiated withdrawal.’ This carnage claimed the lives of between 150,000 and 500,000 people and generated the destabilised conditions that made possible the horrors of the Pol Pot regime.

In the first stage of the bombing, ‘Kissinger personally approved all 3,875 bombing raids.’ As the late Christopher Hitchens put it, ‘The degree of micro-management revealed in Kissinger’s memoirs forbids the idea that anything of importance took place without his knowledge or permission.’

In 1971, Kissinger viewed the authoritarian regime in Pakistan as ‘an anti-communist bulwark in the region.’ As the struggle to achieve an independent Bangladesh developed, he allowed the murderous repression that Pakistan unleashed to continue, so as to preserve an alliance with its government. ‘He pulled the US consul general in Dhaka, Archer Blood, from his post for questioning the policy, and blocked efforts to pressure Pakistan … to end its slaughter.’

Princeton professor Gary Bass has written that ‘Kissinger joked about the massacre of Bengali Hindus, and, his voice dripping with contempt, sneered at Americans who “bleed” for “the dying Bengalis”.’ The intervention of India finally ended the slaughter but by then it had resulted in a death toll of between 300,000 and three million.

It has also been established that Kissinger gave the ‘green light’ to the 1970s Argentinian Dirty War. This was a round of brutal state repression against working-class organisations and leftists that claimed the lives of some 30,000 people. The Argentinian foreign minister was worried that the US might raise some human-rights concerns over the crackdown but a breakfast meeting with Kissinger calmed his fears. Kissinger only asked him how long it would take to ‘clean up the problem’ and gave the murderous campaign his blessing.

Chile coup

The US role in overthrowing the leftist Allende government in Chile in 1973, through a brutal military coup, offers evidence of Kissinger’s criminality at its most wilful and systematic. He was very clear that it was perfectly permissible to bring down a duly elected government and establish a murderous dictatorship, in order to further US interests. As he put it, ‘I don’t see why we should have to stand by and let a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.

Documented evidence, including transcripts of Kissinger’s telephone conversations, show his ‘singular contribution to the denouement of democracy and rise of dictatorship in Chile.’ Eight days after Allende’s election, Kissinger had a conversation with the director of the CIA, in which he stated that: ‘We will not let Chile go down the drain.’ He rejected advice from his top deputy to refrain from covert action against the new government and ‘lobbied President Nixon to reject the State Department’s recommendation that the U.S. seek a modus vivendi with Allende.’

The day after he met with Kissinger to assess the situation, Nixon made it clear to the entire National Security Council that the policy would be to bring Allende down. ‘Our main concern,’ he stated, ‘is the prospect that he can consolidate himself and the picture projected to the world will be his success.’

After General Augusto Pinochet had carried out his coup and launched a wave of repression that would claim tens of thousands of lives, Kissinger ‘sent secret instructions to his ambassador to convey to the general “our strongest desires to cooperate closely and establish firm basis for cordial and most constructive relationship.” Facing revelations of mass murder by the coup regime, Kissinger coolly asserted that “I think we should understand our policy – that however unpleasant they act, this government is better for us than Allende was”.’

By the most cautious reckoning, the number of people who died as a result of military violence and state repression which was orchestrated by Kissinger reaches into the hundreds of thousands. Millions more have survived under brutal regimes Kissinger helped to install or preserve, whose purpose was to enforce their poverty and exploitation.

As Kissinger adds weight to the old saying that only the good die young, he will be promoted as a distinguished elder statesman, and this is no miscalculation on the part of the establishment of which he is a part. Since he stepped back from the front lines of imperialist geopolitics, others have built upon his legacy, in Afghanistan and Iraq and many other parts of the world.

At this time of heightened global rivalry, Henry Kissinger’s vile deeds are both a road map and a source of inspiration to those who have taken his place. He has lived far too long, but the system of global violence and exploitation he furthered can’t be buried soon enough.

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John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.

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