As if to prove the old adage “The Good Die Young,” Henry Kissinger, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, died peacefully in his home at the age of 100. His millions of victims in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Cyprus, East Timor, Bangladesh, South Africa, Angola, the Kurdish people, and many more whose lives were unnaturally cut short in the service of US imperialism cannot say the same. To put a conservative number on it, the death count as a result of his policies reaches at least 3-4 million people.
Kissinger is directly or indirectly responsible for too-many-to-count gruesome acts of state sponsored mass murder, assassinations and anti-democratic coups, wiretaps against political enemies in the US government and the media (including Watergate), extortionate gunboat diplomacy and economic terrorism. Yet, Washington elites and the capitalist press are falling over themselves to mark Kissinger’s death as a solemn occasion. We are told to grieve the death of a so-called “elder statesman” and master geopolitical grand strategist for US imperialism, even though his life’s work was dedicated to undermining the interests of working-class people here and around the world.
The 1968 Elections, Vietnam, And Nixon’s “Peace With Honor”
Nixon was elected with a promise to end the war under the face-saving slogan of “Peace with Honor,” but he ran into some inconvenient developments. Accepting that the war was unwinnable, the Johnson Administration was preparing for American withdrawal based on a breakthrough in the Paris peace negotiations. Kissinger, as an influential Harvard national security intellectual, had access to these negotiations. Seeing his chance to win favor with whoever was going to win the election, Kissinger informed the Nixon campaign about this breakthrough. He and Nixon secretly advised the South Vietnamese regime to refuse to end the war because they would give them a much better deal when Nixon became president.
What proceeded after Nixon and Kissinger took office was an immediate and dramatic acceleration of the bombing campaign against North Vietnam as well as what they considered safe havens and staging areas for the Viet Cong in Cambodia and Laos. All of this was a result of tactical choices made by Kissinger to satisfy the slogan “Peace with Honor” – honor in the realpolitik sense – directed at the Soviet Union and China.
From that standpoint it was a total failure. It wasn’t until 1973 that a new agreement was secured, ending in a humiliating American withdrawal in 1975 after the Viet Cong victory in Saigon. In the end, the terms of the agreement were exactly the same as what was brokered in 1968 but with millions more deaths.
The Kissinger-engineered massive and secret bombing of Cambodia not only resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and even more injuries, it laid waste to the country’s agricultural base by destroying a large portion of the arable land they had.
“It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies, on anything that moves. You got that?” Kissinger told this to a deputy in 1970, according to declassified transcripts of his telephone conversations (BBC 12/2/23). The ensuing famine and social collapse from all of this laid the basis for the success of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, who carried out the genocidal campaign that ended millions of lives in the infamous “Killing Fields.”
In 1975, the small island nation of East Timor was winning its independence from Portugal. The US-supported Indonesian dictator General Suharto decided to swoop in and take over where Portugal had left off. He was met with stubborn resistance from the mass movement led by FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of East Timor). Although Kissinger would flatly deny it whenever publicly confronted about it by the rare impertinent journalist who managed to slip past the gatekeepers, Kissinger and Ford explicitly gave Suharto the proverbial green light to go ahead with his genocidal invasion of East Timor.
Far more than this green light, Ford and Kissinger continued to supply military, economic, and diplomatic aid to Suharto’s regime as these operations continued. As noted by former CIA Operative C. Philip Liecht, “Without continued heavy US logistical military support, the Indonesians might not have been able to pull it off” (Hitchens, Harper Magazine, Feb 2001). Later, even the so-called “dove” President Jimmy Carter continued to sustain Suharto’s Indonesia as a US client state.
Kissinger and Nixon’s appetite for subverting the democratic will of millions of workers and poor farmers extended across the globe. Their engineering, supervision and support for General Pinochet’s assassination of leftist president Salvador Allende and overthrow of his government in 1973 resulted in the murder and torture of tens of thousands of workers and peasants at minimum. Pinochet’s Chile was then used as the laboratory of neoliberalism, in which brutal measures of austerity were tested on the country’s working-class population. This new model of capitalist political economy defined by ruthless union busting, cost cutting, outsourcing, deregulation and privatization was then replicated across the world for five decades.
Backed by a mass revolutionary movement of workers and peasants, Allende was threatening to nationalize business operations of US multinational corporations. Top executives from I.T.T, a US telecommunications corporation that was invested in Chile, as well as Pepsi Corporation directly lobbied the White House to intercede on their behalf. In internal White House discussions that led to this, Kissinger underlined their orientation when he quipped, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” During these same White House meetings, CIA Director Helms’ handwritten notes on directives for coup in Chile included the following bullet points – “make economy scream,” “not concerned risks involved,” “$10,000,000 available, more if necessary.”
Who Will Make The Monsters Pay?
Understanding why Kissinger managed to get away with mass murder requires uncovering a basic truth about the society in which we live. Impunity for its violent bullies and armed thugs throughout the command and policy structure is a hallmark of statecraft in class society. Much like the vast majority of police abuse of power and racist murder goes unpunished, so is the case with its much more destructive mass murderers on an international scale.
In some ways, the laser-like focus on Kissinger as a unique evil, while true, runs the risk of letting US imperialism’s entire edifice off the hook. A figure like Kissinger was required by US imperialism and the entire ruling class. It was their response to the historical juncture birthed by humiliation at the hands of a guerilla-peasant army in Vietnam, the Black Freedom struggle of that era, and the antiwar movement in the US. Kissinger, in essence, represented a personification of the crisis US imperialism faced during the Cold War.
This juncture was marked by the sharpest challenge to US imperial hegemony since the end of World War II. It threatened to tip the global balance of forces in East Asia to the USSR’s side of the Cold War and along with Soviet aid to popular movements, accelerate the anti-colonial revolution that was already happening in Africa and Asia. Even if the wars against Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia did not automatically threaten US capitalism itself, the grand strategists of empire like Kissinger were committed to prevent what Noam Chomsky called “the threat of the good example,” especially from Vietnam. Imperialists like Kissinger could not tolerate a thriving egalitarian society built from a social revolution which could serve as an example for all exploited and oppressed people.
Who will judge Kissinger’s legacy? The late journalist and author Chistopher Hitchens has perhaps done the most comprehensive labor to amass mountains of evidence condemning Kissinger’s legacy. His aim was to present the best possible case to prosecute Henry Kissinger either through institutions of International Law or in US courts. A cursory review of such past attempts in the 20th or 21st centuries shows the utter futility of looking to these venues for justice or accountability unless that is, it fits the interests and prerogative of victorious imperial powers. As Noam Chomsky once said, “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.”
Only a mass working class based anti-war, anti-imperialist movement can bring the likes of Kissinger and the entire ruling class to book for its crimes against humanity. The ruling class has taught us the bitter truth that there is no justice without power and there is no neutral morality that applies equally to all in a deeply unequal world. So for the monsters of imperialism to face true accountability, and more importantly to stop any such crimes being committed in the future, a working class based revolutionary democracy must win power through a socialist transformation.