Stephen Colbert’s final show on Comedy Central was brilliantly done, including the singing of We’ll Meet Again with a gajillion former guests joining in. But there was one jarring moment to me when the camera suddenly focused on Henry Kissinger. When he was a guest on the show in 2013, Zachary Lipez took Colbert to task for treating Kissinger like a cuddly old man instead of the war totalitarian and criminal he actually is.
Here’s the thing: Henry Kissinger facilitated the brutal suppression and genocide in East Timor on the part of the Indonesian army. Henry Kissinger helped bring Augusto Pinochet to power. Henry Kissinger is—at very least—partially responsible for the savage and needless murder of between 150,000 to 500,000 innocent Cambodians. Henry Kissinger is a war criminal and a monster. This all part of the public record. Stephen Colbert basically put Pol Pot in a skit about Daft Punk cancelling on his show.
If I had my druthers, men like Henry Kissinger would be excommunicated from society. Good women would cross the street to avoid him and lepers would spit when he walked by. I understand that this is not going to happen. Power forgives power, and whenever a Katherine Graham or elder Bush passes away, all the powerful men and women (of both parties) gather together to pat each other on the back for being important. I get it; you don’t get to be a senator or secretary of state without grinding some orphan’s teeth into dust over the years. And I don’t expect the people who run the world to exist on any moral plane that I understand. I’d be as bad a secretary of state as your average Clinton would be a writer about obscure hardcore bands. Possibly worse. So all of Kissinger’s peers can continue to kiss his ass. That’s fine. There’s enough blood on the hands of the upper echelons to go around.
Kissinger has also always gotten a bit of a free pass from the entertainment industry. From Studio 54 to Woody Allen, his cute accent, contrived self effacement, and unabashed delight in celebrity has ensured that entertainers often put the “how bemusing” factor of associating with him over the inarguable fact of him being one the most horrific killers of the second half of the 20th century. I don’t expect people in the entertainment industry, generally, to be anything other than power worshipping vacuous pricks.
Well no, not fine. Predictable, but still appalling. Paul Rosenberg piles on:
We’ve already been presented with a damning list of his crimes above, but more is needed to distinguish Kissinger from your run-of-the-mill state-employed war criminal. We can do this by focusing on two different episodes in particular. The first is his sabotaging of the 1968 Paris Peace Talks, the first crime, from which all others flowed. The second is the Chilean coup, when U.S. policy shifted decisively into pro-dictator, pro-oligarchy mode, a mode that made Kissinger’s Tiananmen Square apologetics perfectly in character, not just for him, but for America’s foreign policy elite in general, and which firmly established the supremacy of paranoid ideology over facts. Let’s consider both these examples in turn.
First, Kissinger’s involvement in sabotaging the 1968 Paris Peace Talks was arguably not just a violation of the Logan Act, as Suebsaeng put it, but an act of treason (as LBJ labeled it, though without knowing of Kissinger’s involvement) leading to deaths of more than 20,000 U.S. troops, which also 1) effectively helped steal the 1968 election—which in turn set a precedent for both 1980 and 2000—and 2) helped fundamentally alter the operating principles of U.S. foreign policy, shifting them in a dramatically more bloody and depraved direction, encompassing all the other examples cited above.
The fact that Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in the first place was disgraceful on its face, just given the open public record at the time. The prize was for negotiating the end to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, but Kissinger’s contributions to prolonging the war were already quite evident. Then, in 1983, Sy Hersh’s book, “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House,“ Kissinger’s key role in sabotaging the peace talks in 1968 was revealed.
The whole book laid bare how Nixon, aided by Kissinger, had prolonged the war—not least with his “madman” theory, that wildly threatening to use nuclear weapons (itself a war crime), among other threats, could be used to force North Vietnam to capitulate. But it also included the first information about Kissinger’s role in sabotaging the talks before 1968—the key act which made the Nixon administration and all its dark deeds possible in the first place…
Now to the second key example, Kissinger’s role in the overthrow of the elected Chilean government, and the installation of the Pinochet dictatorship in its place. Previous to this, we had claimed the Cold War was about democracy, while the Soviets had claimed it was about class struggle. This hadn’t always been true, of course—particularly on Eisenhower’s watch (Iran, Guatemala)—but at least we had seemed somewhat troubled by those “lapses.” With the overthrow of Allende, it was as if we’d crossed a tipping point. We tacitly said, “OK, the Soviets are right,” and a whole host of interrelated brutal policy shifts followed as a result, even though, of course, we continued to deny what everyone knew we had done. The difference lay in how methodically the consequences followed, for all the world to see. What’s more, in combination with his first crime, the cumulative impact of Kissinger’s time in power was to so debase the policy process and political culture that he helped pave the way for the rise of the neocons after him, who have made him look good by comparison in some respects, but who absolutely could not have arisen without his role in paving the way for them.
Kissinger should be in prison, not playing a cuddly version of himself on television.