or Odious Schlumpf?
by Fred Branfman
KissingerWatch #11, Nov.
As we begin a consideration of Henry Kissinger
and what his story tells us about ourselves, it is important to
note that he is not classically evil. He deserves credit for managing
America's opening to China. He reportedly tutors a class in Harlem,
cares for his wife and children, and enjoys the esteem of many
decent people. And one can feel tremendous sympathy for this refugee
from Nazi Germany, whose traumatic early experiences led him to
cut off feeling in order to survive. Indeed, it is precisely because
Kissinger is not a cardboard figure that it is important to understand
his responsibility for mass murder in Indochina, and what it means
that our society has honored and not punished him for his actions.
It is important not to strip him of his humanity, despite his
having done so to so many millions, if we are to understand what
his life means for the rest of us.
Several times a month, as I shave, I find
myself looking deeply into my eyes - and remembering theirs. It
took a lot to create the look in the eyes of the hundreds of peasants
from the Plain of Jars in Laos whom I interviewed between September
1969 and February 1971, victims of the most sustained and unprovoked
bombardment of innocent civilians in all human history. Seven
hundred years of civilization were required to create the depth
of warmth, humanity and love that I saw in those eyes. But it
took only a few years, particularly 1969 during which Richard
Nixon and Henry Kissinger obliterated everything they owned and
loved, to produce the lost, haunted, broken look that was also
so noticeable in their gaze.
They had names, these people: Thao, Bounphet,
Khamphong, Loung. They had treasured wives and husbands, children
and grandparents, buffaloes and homes, rice fields and temples.
And they had dreams. Young people dreamed of being married. Young
adults of having children. Older people of having grandkids.They
were, in short, people just like us who enjoyed the same rights
to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It was a wrenching experience to hear
these kind, decent human beings describe the extermination of
revered grandmothers, burned alive by napalm before their eyes;
weep as they remembered seeing a beloved three-year old daughter
riddled by anti-personnel bombs; or draw into themselves as they
spoke of a mother or father buried alive by a 500-pound bomb.
One went numb seeing a young boy missing a leg or a young girl
with napalm wounds on her breast, stomach and vagina.
It was anguishing to hear them describe
what it felt like to lose everything they had to bombers that
had come from a distant land they knew nothing about, and against
whom they had committed no offense. And it was maddening to realize
that U.S. bombing was mainly aimed at such civilians, who were
forced to stay near their villages, while mobile guerrilla soldiers
escaped as hey moved through the heavily forested areas which
covered most of northern Laos.
And these refugees were the lucky ones.
Though traumatized, they had escaped alive. The most excruciating
aspect of interviewing these people was knowing that Nixon and
Kissinger were continuing to bomb millions of other innocent Indochinese
peasants, many of whom though now alive would be murdered within
the days or weeks to come.
It was not known at the time precisely
what had happened or why. It is known today. Although Nixon and
Kissinger were forced by domestic opinion to withdraw U.S. ground
troops, they decided to expand indiscriminate U.S. bombing of
Indochina in an effort to prop up local regimes and save American
face. Although 2.74 million tons of bombs were dropped on Indochina
by Johnson, McNamera and Clark Clifford, most in North and South
Vietnam, 3.98 million tons were dropped by Kissinger under Nixon
and later Ford, as they vastly increased the bombing of Laos and
expanded it into Cambodia.
Kissinger's bombing equaled twice the
tonnage dropped on all of Europe and the entire Pacific theater
in World War II. Johnson waged five years of war in Indochina.
Kissinger waged six and a half years of the most indiscriminate
bombing of civilian targets in history, as 20,503 Americans and
more than 1 million Indochinese perished, 2 million were wounded,
and three million were made homeless.
This expansion in the bombing was not
needed to protect Americans, as is often claimed. The North Vietnamese
were happy to see Americans withdraw, and would have escorted
them out with welcome wagons. And Kissinger kept bombing, killing
and maiming even after it was obvious that no reasonable military
objective could be achieved. When Frances Fitzgerald and I conducted
a February 1975 briefing in Washington for top Vietnam hands after
interviewing recent North Vietnamese victims of bombing, included
a 12 year old boy who had been blinded, true believer Frank Scottin
objected that Kissinger was only trying to preserve democracy
in Southeast Asia. Oh Frank, cut it out!,, objected James Lowenstein,
a top aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, you know
that Kissinger's only concern is ensuring that he won't be blamed
for the inevitable fall of Indochina., Saigon fell two months
As I also discovered in a direct investigation
of the U.S. bombing in Cambodia, no steps were taken to ascertain
if targets being bombed were in fact legitimate military targets.
I spent a day in the spring of 1973 flying
over an area which the U.S. Embassy estimated was inhabited by
two million Cambodians living under the Khmer Rouge without seeing
a single sign of life. My CIA-contract pilot told me the people
were hiding from the bombs, particularly the B-52s which indiscriminately
obliterated areas the size of football fields from 30,000 feet.
I used the pilot's radio to listen in on raids and discovered
that pilots bombing neither knew nor checked with anyone to discover
if their were civilians in the area. And I was later informed
by the U.S. Air force bombing officer, at 7th Air force Headquarters,
whom U.S. spokesman claimed was responsible for ensuring that
no civilians were bombed, that he only checked to see that no
CIA teams were present in areas under bombardment and had no idea
if civilians were in the area.
It is Henry Kissinger's direct involvement
in the murder of countless innocent Indochinese civilians from
the air, in direct violation of international law recognized
by the U.S., which comprises the strongest case for his prosecution
as a war criminal in the new book by Christopher Hitchens, The
Trial of Henry Kissinger (Verso Press). (Full disclosure: Hitchens
interviewed me for his book.)
Hitchens does not confine himself to the
bombing of Indochina. His case also includes Kissinger's support
for, and encouragement of, murder and torture by the Pakistani
regime which killed between 500,000 and 3 million Bangladeshis
in 1974, the junta which murdered and tortured tens of thousands
in Chile, the Greek regime which murdered tens of thousands in
the course of overthrowing Archbishop Makarios in Cyprus, and
the Indonesian generals who killed 200,000 civilians in East Timor.
Each of these latter cases validates Hitchens'
dedication of his book to Joseph Heller, from whose book Good
As Gold he quotes: For Joseph Heller, who saw it early and saw
it whole: `in Gold's conservative opinion, Kissinger would not
be recalled in history as a Bismarck, Metternich or Castlereagh
but as an odious schlump who made war gladly.'
There is no question that Kissinger's
support for brutal regimes around the world which remained in
power through the use of torture and mass murder is indeed contemptible,
betrayed fundamental American values, and will stain his name
for many years to come. It might be difficult to indict Kissinger
as a war criminal for these actions, however, since others did
the actual killing. But in the case of Indochina he was directly
involved. As Hitchens summarizes the existing evidence, which
is not seriously disputed, it is impossible for him to claim that
he was unaware of the consequences of the bombings of Cambodia
and Laos; he knew more about them, and in more intimate detail,
than any other individual.,
The question of whether Henry Kissinger
is guilty of mass murder of civilians under international law
is thus not open to serious doubt. Was there justice in this world
or the next, he would suffer the same fate as those found guilty
at Nuremberg. The language of the law, such as the 1907 Hague
convention, is unambiguous. And there is no question that he conducted
the most sustained bombing of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings
which (were) undefended, in history.
Not surprisingly, Kissinger shares few
of Hitchens' concerns in his new book. Billing itself as a diplomacy
for the 21st century,, the book is concerned with the future and
not the messy past. He barely refers to Indochina, entirely ignores
Chile, East Timor or Bangladesh, and manages to discuss the importance
of Iran without even mentioning his historic misjudgment in making
the Shah one of the linchpins of the Nixon Doctrine - and thereby
ensuring generations of hatred and untold troubles for the U.S.
and its allies in the Mideast.
Despite their wide differences, however,
Kissinger and Hitchens do have one shared concern: the extent
to which jurists in one nation have international jurisdiction,
over officials who have committed human rights violations in another.
Hitchens taped Kissinger publisher Michael Korda's end of a conversation
with the former Secretary of State on the day that the news broke
that former Chilean head of state Augusto Pinochet was detained
in London. Henry, this is totally outrageous ... This is a Spanish
judge appealing to an English Court about a Chilean head of state,,
Korda stated. Hitchen concludes that one must credit Kissinger
with grasping what so many other people did not: that if the Pinochet
precedent became established, then he himself was in some danger.,
Kissinger inadvertently supports Hitchens'
conclusion by devoting far more passion and almost as much space
(9 pages) to the question of international jurisdiction, than
he does to THE ENTIRE CONTINENT OF AFRICA.
The world should think twice about the
implications of a procedure by which a single judge is able ...
to assert jurisdiction over a citizen of another state for alleged
crimes committed entirely in that other state ... without regard
to the conciliation procedures that might exist in the country
of the accused for dealing with the issue, Kissinger writes.
Kissinger would of course be in serious
trouble if the world did think twice, about the conciliation procedures,
that exist in the United States for dealing with his responsibility
for the mass murder of civilians in Indochina. For not only do
no procedures exist for bringing him to justice, but he is feted
and lionized by the highest sectors of American society, media
and business. Kissinger, as Hitchens notes, is paid $25-30,000
a speech; has become a wealthy man through a consulting company
which caters to top American corporations; is published regularly
by the Washington Post, Newsweek and Simon and Schuster (his latest
book is a Book of the Month Club alternate selection); is fawningly
interviewed on television; and is a fixture in high society.
Although it is devoutly to be hoped for,
in short, the prospects of Kissinger being tried as a war criminal
seem slight at this writing. It is important to note what this
tells us about the state of America as it begins the 21st century.
To begin with, only a nation in deep spiritual
and psychological decline could honor a man with as much blood
on his hands as Henry Kissinger. But it is not liberals or hippies
who initiated this decline. The loss of family values, is rooted
in the realization by millions of draft-age Americans, now parents
and grandparents themselves, that their parent's generation was
prepared to see them die in Indochina. This realization was first
held by young Americans who opposed the war, but eventually spread
to disillusioned GIs. An entire generation was plunged into a
moral abyss from which it has yet to emerge.
Equally is the general desensitization
to human life experienced in every sector of society. Vietnam
is not solely responsible for this. But our refusal to openly
discuss our responsibility for murder in Indochina, let alone
provide reparations to the survivors, has seen us lose a critical
opportunity to teach our children that America is a nation that
values human life. It is not necessary, however desirable, to
say we were wrong in intervening in Indochina. Nor must we necessarily
acknowledge the truth: that we were responsible for the vast majority
But we refuse at our peril to at least
take responsibility for the casualties we did cause, and seek
to make amends to those who survived our brutality. The Germans
did so after World War II, not for the Jews but for themselves.
Our failure to do so harms our society no less than that of the
Kissinger's new book also reveals the
central problem facing America today: the rise of a technocratic,
unfeeling, but skilled class of baby-boomers who are have ascended
to the heights of power as the new century begins. Kissinger presents
himself as an enlightened statesman selflessly pursuing the national
interest in the face of small-minded men consumed with partisan
politics, narrow ambition, or ideologies of left or right. For
American foreign policy, the need (is) for ideological subtlety
and long-range strategy ... unfortunately, domestic politics is
driving American foreign policy in the opposite direction,, he
And what is the long-range strategy, and
ideological subtlety, required? Kissinger never presents it. The
book is essentially a travelogue, as he proceeds region by region
around the world, supporting missile defense here and sanctions
against Saddam Hussein there, peppered with countless observations
of stupefying banality, e.g. Eeighth, world order - or Asian order
- cannot emerge from a strategy of equilibrium alone but neither
can it be achieved without it.,
Even more striking than what he says,
however, is what he ignores. America's top foreign policy imperative
for the coming century is clearly to lead an international effort
to save a biosphere now terminally threatened by a combination
of global warming, biodiversity loss, water depletion and pollution,
and a host of other environmental ills. Even war itself pales
before the long-term, consequences of our continued degradation
of the biosphere.
And what does Dr. Kissinger have to say
about this? On page 149, we read: Then there is the entire range
of New Age issues: proliferation, environmental, cultural and
scholarly exchange, among many others.,
Yes, the ONLY reference to humanity's
biospheric crisis in a book purportedly presenting a strategic
foreign policy vision for the 21st century is a one-word reference
to the environment,, lumped together with cultural and scholarly
exchange,, and dismissed as a New Age, issue along with nuclear,
chemical and biological proliferation, which threatens far more
people than the prospect of world or even regional wars.
This mixture of ahumanity and banality
reveals the truth of the prediction made by the London Observer
more than 50 years ago. What is most striking about Kissinger
is his amorality not immorality, the emptiness not evil in his
In the past we had most to fear from religious
or political ideologues. Today it is the non-ideologues, the slight
types, who quietly run our government and dominate our age. It
is the Richard Cheneys and Andrew Cards who withdraw from the
Kyoto Treaty on global warming and cut spending on conservation,
the Donald Rumsfields who lead the charge for Missile Defense,
the Lawrence Lindseys who promote over a trillion in tax cuts
that are urgently needed to save the biosphere, the Colin Powells
and Condolezza Rices who, though personally decent, manage a foreign
policy that ignores the pain of billions who work like animals
merely to survive.
Henry Kissinger, through an unparalleled
talent for bureaucratic intrigue and media manipulation, is the
first of these types to demonstrate the ability to manage the
Information Age machinery, of our age. But he will not be the
The Reagans, Nixons and George W. Bushes
we will be rid of. But the Kissingers, whatever happens to this
particular special man, will long be with us.
Henry Kissinger page