Dr. K: Master of statecraft or war criminal?
Plus, 'Slow Horses' homework and other thoughts
The death of a major public figure typically offers us a chance to reassess a legacy with the benefit of added hindsight. In the case of Henry Kissinger, who died yesterday at 100, literally thousands of volumes have already been written on his exceedingly long life and career, which included being national security advisor and secretary of state in the tumultuous Nixon administration.
Kissinger, a Jewish-German Holocaust survivor who also taught at Harvard, lived nearly 40 years in Kent, Connecticut, where he resided with his wife at the former Henderson Farm, a rambling property off Route 341 on the Kent-Warren town line and about 15 miles from my home as the crow flies. I never met the man but know people who have. They say (surprise, surprise) that he was full of himself.
If nothing else, Kissinger’s passing will reignite a long-running debate over whether his pragmatic approach to foreign policy, known as realpolitik, boldly advanced essential U.S. interests or whether he ventured into perilous (and possibly illegal) territory.
While the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board insists (free link) that Kissinger, “leaves a legacy of accomplishment and strategic insight about global politics that few have matched,” much of the commentary I’ve seen this morning suggests he was guilty of serious overreach. The New York Times news coverage is predictably left-of-center. This free link should take you to all of it. The headline of his NYT obituary captures Kissinger’s essence pithily: “Diplomat Who Long Held the Global Stage Was Both Celebrated and Reviled.”
The Wall Street Journal’s lead story is more circumspect: “Henry Kissinger, Who Helped Forge U.S. Foreign Policy During Vietnam and Cold Wars, Dies at 100,” (free link) but saves the best for the subhead: “German-born academic was a hero to war-weary Americans, but many blamed him for brutalities abroad.”
Ironically, those who decry Kissinger as a dangerous warmonger and war criminal are confronted with the ironic reality that he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his role in negotiating a cease fire in Vietnam not long after playing a key role in the secret bombing of Cambodia, which was authorized by his boss, President Richard Nixon.
It has also been said that Kissinger functioned as a sort of shadow president as Nixon became increasingly distracted by the Watergate scandal that would undo his presidency. This could be viewed as a patriotic accomplishment. Or maybe not, as the AP put it, “Henry Kissinger was a trusted confidant to President Nixon until the bitter, bizarre end.”
Substack colleague, commentator and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich pulled no punches in a post this morning: Henry Kissinger, 1923-2023. War criminal. Reich cites Kissinger’s role in the overthrowing of the democratically-elected socialist leader of Chile, Salvador Allende, in favor of right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet. When objections were raised in the State Department about subsequent violent reprisals and oppression in Chile, Kissinger replied, “The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there are not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State.” Yuk.
Perhaps the greatest takedown of Kissinger came from the late Christopher Hitchens, the British-American journalist, commentator and inveterate contrarian who in 2012 wrote “The Trial of Henry Kissinger,” which The Atlantic dubbed “a polemical masterpiece.” Hitchens’ verdict: Kissinger should be prosecuted “for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.”
On a final note about Dr. K: The Washington Post helpfully reminds us today that the short, pudgy Kissinger often enjoyed the company of pretty women. In addition to his glamorous second wife, the socialite Nancy Maginnes, there was Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jill St. John and Marsha Metrinko — proving once and for all Kissinger’s favorite aphorism: “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
Racing to watch ‘Slow Horses’
To those of you who have access to Apple TV+: Drop what you’re doing tonight and start watching Slow Horses. Season 3 has just dropped, though of course if you haven’t been following the show to begin with, you will need to catch up first.
If you want to learn more, see this fine piece from two days ago in the Wall Street Journal (free link). In a nutshell, the show is a spy thriller about underachievers in MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5), the British intelligence agency, who are assigned to an administrative purgatory known as Slough House.
The boss is a disreputable character named Jackson Lamb, a smelly, drunken old fool. As described by the WSJ:
Played by a deliciously derelict Gary Oldman, Jackson will certainly make the average viewer feel good about his or her own personal hygiene. Digestion. Alcohol intake. Smoking. Diet. Haberdashery, such as it is. And any effort expended to make one’s way through life with a smile. Jackson is a flatulent sea urchin, rolling along the basement floor of British espionage, pricking everyone he meets.
Oldman, you may or may not recall, has played a variety of roles in some high-profile films — enough indeed to make him one of the highest-grossing actors of all time. He first caught my eye as the ringleader of the Russian highjacking team in Air Force One, and earlier, Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone’s JFK. The supporting cast is outstanding as well — especially Kristin Scott Thomas, whom you might remember from The English Patient.
And the season 3 trailer can be found here.
If you don’t have an Apple TV+ subscription, you can get a free 7-day trial subscription. It’s $10 per month after that. Honestly, it’s worth it to subscribe for one month, then cancel, just so you can binge the show without feeling too rushed. Besides, there will be a quiz on it tomorrow …