Somehow Henry Kissinger made it to 100 without getting shipped off to The Hague. When word came down Wednesday evening that the Nixon-era secretary of state had died, many were predicting that the media would slobber all over him. I see little evidence of that today, with The New York Times and The Washington Post featuring Kissinger’s ugly side as well as his accomplishments. Rolling Stone headlined its Kissinger obit, written by Spencer Ackerman, “Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved By America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies”— shades of the magazine’s classic Richard Nixon obit by Hunter S. Thompson, “He Was a Crook.”
More than 20 years ago, the late journalist Christopher Hitchens wrote a two-part essay for Harper’s that was later expanded into a book, “The Trial of Henry Kissinger.” Hitchens argued that the former secretary of state had committed war crimes in Cambodia, Chile and elsewhere and should be brought to trial. It wasn’t a novel argument even then, but Hitchens pulled together the strands in a compelling manner, even if he didn’t quite make the case that Kissinger should be arrested and sent to the Netherlands.
I wrote a lengthy overview of Hitchens’ case against Kissinger for The Boston Phoenix on March 8, 2001. If you’re looking for an antidote to the tributes coming Kissinger’s way, I hope you’ll find this worth your time.
Journalist Christopher Hitchens reminds us once again of the horrors that Henry wrought in Chile, Cambodia, Vietnam and elsewhere
By Dan Kennedy | The Boston Phoenix | March 8, 2001
Henry Kissinger may be the only living American who is casually described — at least in certain liberal and leftish circles — as a “war criminal.” In his heyday, during the Nixon and Ford years, Kissinger was a media superstar, the man behind the opening to China and détente with the Soviet Union. He even won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping to end the Vietnam War. But those triumphs have long since been supplanted in the public’s memory by a darker vision.
To the extent that Kissinger is thought of at all these days, it is for his leading role in the secret bombings of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and in the removal and subsequent murder of Chilean president Salvador Allende, a socialist who had the temerity to win a democratic election. Kissinger biographies, most notably Seymour Hersh’s “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House” (Summit Books, 1983) and Walter Isaacson’s “Kissinger: A Biography” (Simon & Schuster, 1992), long ago laid bare most of the details of those and other foreign misadventures.
Now comes Christopher Hitchens with a new, devastating portrayal of Kissinger. There’s no insult in observing that Hitchens offers little new information. Hitchens’ journalistic specialties are synthesis and polemicism, not investigative reporting. In a two-part, 40,000-word essay published in the February and March issues of Harper’s, Hitchens makes his purpose clear: to examine Kissinger’s career anew, and thus to show that the now-elderly diplomat committed war crimes — that Kissinger, in Hitchens’ view, knew about and in some cases actively helped plan terrible acts of assassination and mass killings, for which he may yet be called to account.