Beyond  /  Obituary

Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America's Ruling Class, Finally Dies

In a demonstration of why he was able to kill so many people and get away with it, the day of his passage will be a solemn one in Congress and newsrooms.

Not once in the half-century that followed Kissinger’s departure from power did the millions the United States killed matter for his reputation, except to confirm a ruthlessness that pundits occasionally find thrilling. America, like every empire, champions its state murderers. The only time I was ever in the same room as Henry Kissinger was at a 2015 national security conference at West Point. He was surrounded by fawning Army officers and ex-officials basking in the presence of a statesman. 

Seymour Hersh, the investigative reporter who was the most prominent exception to the fawning coverage of Kissinger, watched journalistic deference take shape as soon as Kissinger entered the White House in 1969. “His social comings and goings could make or break a Washington party,” Hersh wrote in his biography The Price of Power. Reporters like the Times’ James Reston were eager participants in what Hersh called “an implicit shakedown scheme” — that is, access journalism — “in which reporters who got inside information in turn protected Kissinger by not divulging either the full consequences of his acts or his own connection to them.” Kissinger’s approach to the press was his approach to Nixon: sniveling obsequiousness. (Although Kissinger could vent frustration on reporters that he never could on his boss.) Hersh quotes H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, remarking that Kissinger was the “hawk of hawks” inside the White House, but “touching glasses at a party with his liberal friends, the belligerent Kissinger would suddenly become a dove.” 

Reviewing one of Kissinger’s litany of books, Hillary Clinton in 2014 said Kissinger, “a friend” whose counsel she relied upon as secretary of state, possessed “a conviction that we, and President Obama, share: a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.” Kissinger told USA Today within days that Clinton, presumed then to be a president-in-waiting, “ran the State Department in the most effective way that I’ve ever seen.” The same story noticed a photograph autographed by Obama thanking Kissinger for his “continued leadership.” 

It’s always valuable to hear the reverent tones with which American elites speak of their monsters. When the Kissingers of the world pass, their humanity, their purpose, their sacrifices are foremost in the minds of the respectable. American elites recoiled in disgust when Iranians in great numbers took to the streets to honor one of their monsters, Qassem Soleimani, after a U.S. drone strike executed the Iranian external security chief in January 2020. Soleimani, whom the United States declared to be a terrorist and killed as such, killed far more people than Timothy McVeigh. But even if we attribute to him all the deaths in the Syrian Civil War, never in Soleimani’s wildest dreams could he kill as many people as Henry Kissinger. Nor did Soleimani get to date Jill St. John, who played Bond girl Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever.