Henry Kissinger, Controversial Cold War-Era Secretary of State, Dies at 100


Image Courtesy of The New Yorker

By John Maggio

Henry Kissinger, Former US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor who also served under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Fordhas, died Nov. 29 at his home in Connecticut. He was 100. 

Born in Germany in 1923 to an Orthodox Jewish family, he and his family moved to New York in 1938 to escape persecution in Nazi-controlled Germany. He later returned to Germany while serving in the US Army during the Second World War.

Kissinger received a BA in political science from Harvard in 1950, going on to earn an MA and Ph.D. in 1951 and 1954 respectively from the Ivy League school.

During his time as Secretary of State, he was known for his many world-changing effects, including the brokering talks to end the Vietnam War, his 1971 trip to China with Pres. Nixon which opened the Communist nation, and negotiated the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. For his help in bringing an end to the Vietnam War, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. He won it jointly with his Vietnamese counterpart, Lê Đức Thọ.

While he won the Nobel Peace Prize, his time in office was filled with notable controversies that still plague his public perception today.

To help bring a quick end to the war, he ordered Operation Menu and Operation Freedom Deal, carpet-bombing campaigns in neighboring Cambodia, due to the infamous supply route Ho Chi Minh trail used by the Viet Cong. These tactical bombing raids by B-52 bombers do not have an official death count but are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. He has also received backlash and has been accused of war crimes for backing a coup of a democratically elected left-leaning leader in Chile, green-lighting the dictatorship’s “Dirty War” against political dissidents in Argentina, and the US’s support in Pakistan’s genocide in Bangladesh, calling the latter nation a “basket case.”

When it came to these accusations, he said “that’s a reflection of their ignorance. It wasn’t conceived that way. It wasn’t conducted that way.”

Even while he was out of office, Kissinger’s influence still played a role in US foreign policy. President George W. Bush appointed him as chairman of the 9/11 Commission, but later resigned. Bob Woodward, known for bringing down the Nixon Administration, wrote in his book State of Denial that the former Secretary “played a “powerful, largely invisible influence” in the 2003 Iraq War. Kissinger stated that he was a close advisor to 10 presidents during his lifetime.

Kissinger has written over a dozen books, including World Order (2014), On China (2011), The Age of AI (2021), and Diplomacy (1994).

He is survived by his wife, Nancy Kissinger, and his two kids from his prior marriage, Elizabeth and David Kissinger.

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