Henry Kissinger was the sole purveyor of American foreign policy, with the exception of presidents Nixon and Ford. While he was National Security Advisor, he essentially made the department of state irrelevant by taking over many of the tasks, like communicating with foreign officials and heading foreign policy task groups, typically reserved to the secretary of state. By Nixon’s second term, he was serving concurrently as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, and had pushed out most other foreign policy advisors from the policymaking process.
Kissinger was involved in Nixon’s conduct of the Vietnam War, the opening of China (essentially the establishment of relations with Mao was not a great triumph for human rights, but another triumph of realpolitik), the coup that brought Pinochet to power, etc. The human rights perspective of Kissinger’s detractors, everything Kissinger did was terrible. He was not bothered by this at all, as he was a firm member of the realist school of foreign policy, which holds that in the anarchic system of international relations, only power matters. Realists believe that international institutions such as the United Nations or international norms such as the concept of human rights are irrelevant. (In the Cold War, this became especially acute as Kissinger allied with brutal regimes, and conspired against democratic ones, in the name of anticommunism.)
Take this quote from Kissinger:
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
Remember that Kissinger is Jewish himself. That’s how much of a realist he is.
While Kissinger was in office, the world was undergoing significant upheaval. There were various international crises originating in the Third World, and there was also domestic unrest in every region of the world. The most important aspect of Kissinger’s foreign policy outlook was his overriding concern of maintaining international stability, particularly by maintaining the Cold War’s bipolar global order. Wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and domestic protests in the U.S. and Europe all threatened to upend the bipolar order. Kissinger believed that wars in the Third World might drag the two superpowers into military conflict or nuclear war, and domestic unrest in Western Europe could open that continent up to greater Soviet influence. Simultaneously, domestic unrest in the U.S., particularly protests against the Vietnam War, had the potential of leading the U.S. away from the global interventionism necessary to maintain its superpower status.
Furthermore, Kissinger was able to elevate himself to an unusual degree of celebrity in the 1973-1976 period because of Watergate and the elevation of the unelected Ford.
Kissinger was the only major public figure of the Nixon Administration to escape Watergate unscathed (because he didn’t know about it, as it was a domestic election thing. To clarify, Kissinger had no connection to Watergate), and Ford, who had no constituency other than the existing Administration, heavily relied on Kissinger. [As Saigon fell, Kissinger’s polling dwarfed Ford’s.]
Because of the unusual circumstances of this presidential term, Kissinger is now a symbol of everything realpolitik. (He’s a lightning rod for criticism from non-realists.) Many people adopted elements of this view of foreign policy, but none personified it like Kissinger.
There are four excellent biographies of Kissinger:
- Jeremi Suri, Henry Kissinger and the American Century (This book provides a more favorable view of Kissinger than most other biographers).
- Jussi Hahnimaki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy
- Mario del Pero, The Eccentric Realist: Henry Kissinger and the Shaping of American Foreign Policy
- Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power
The following are excellent studies of U.S. foreign policy during the Nixon-Ford administrations:
- Daniel Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s
- Jeremi Suri, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente
- Barbara Zanchetta, The Transformation of American International Power in the 1970s
- Paul Thomas Chamberlin, The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War World
- Gary Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide
Yuri Gagarin was chosen because he had a more Russian sounding name versus his competitor, Titov. Also, Titov was considered smarter so they wanted to have the smarter man live in case something went wrong. There are other factors that played into it as well, such as Gagarin’s ability to show off his “Sovietness,” and his natural PR skills. His physical appearance was far behind on the list of reasons he was chosen.
A photographer waited for the ISS to sync up with Gagarin flight at the right place and time of day and recorded the earth then synced it up with the actual audio (NASA has combined Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s audio from his historic flight with 1080p HD video from the ISS to simulate what Yuri experienced):
The Soviet space program accomplished great things:
- 1957: First satellite, Sputnik 1
- 1957: First animal in Earth orbit, the dog Laika on Sputnik 2
- 1959: First rocket ignition in Earth orbit, first man-made object to escape Earth’s gravity, Luna 1
- 1959: First data communications, or telemetry, to and from outer space, Luna 1.
- 1959: First man-made object to pass near the Moon, first man-made object in Heliocentric orbit, Luna 1
- 1959: First probe to impact the Moon, Luna 2
- 1959: First images of the moon’s far side, Luna 3
- 1960: First animals to safely return from Earth orbit, the dogs Belka and Strelka on Sputnik 5.
- 1961: First probe launched to Venus, Venera 1
- 1961: First person in space (International definition) and in Earth orbit, Yuri Gagarin on Vostok 1, Vostok program
- 1961: First person to spend over 24 hours in space Gherman Titov, Vostok 2 (also first person to sleep in space).
- 1962: First dual manned spaceflight, Vostok 3 and Vostok 4
- 1962: First probe launched to Mars, Mars 1
- 1963: First woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, Vostok 6
- 1964: First multi-person crew (3), Voskhod 1
- 1965: First extra-vehicular activity (EVA), by Aleksei Leonov, Voskhod 2
- 1965: First probe to hit another planet of the Solar system (Venus), Venera 3
- 1966: First probe to make a soft landing on and transmit from the surface of the moon, Luna 9
- 1966: First probe in lunar orbit, Luna 10
- 1967: First unmanned rendezvous and docking, Cosmos 186/Cosmos 188.
- 1968: First living beings to reach the Moon (circumlunar flights) and return unharmed to Earth, Russian tortoises on Zond 5
- 1969: First docking between two manned craft in Earth orbit and exchange of crews, Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5
- 1970: First soil samples automatically extracted and returned to Earth from another celestial body, Luna 16
- 1970: First robotic space rover, Lunokhod 1 on the Moon.
- 1970: First data received from the surface of another planet of the Solar system (Venus), Venera 7
- 1971: First space station, Salyut 1
- 1971: First probe to impact the surface of Mars, Mars 2
- 1971: First probe to land on Mars, Mars 3
- 1975: First probe to orbit Venus, to make soft landing on Venus, first photos from surface of Venus, Venera 9
- 1980: First Hispanic and Black person in space, Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez on Soyuz 38
- 1984: First woman to walk in space, Svetlana Savitskaya (Salyut 7 space station)
- 1986: First crew to visit two separate space stations (Mir and Salyut 7)
- 1986: First probes to deploy robotic balloons into Venus atmosphere and to return pictures of a comet during close flyby Vega 1, Vega 2
- 1986: First permanently manned space station, Mir, 1986–2001, with permanent presence on board (1989–1999)
- 1987: First crew to spend over one year in space, Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov on board of Soyuz TM-4 – Mir
The Soviet space program did face major problems in the 1960s. Their chief designer Sergei Korolev died in 1966 if I remember correctly and there was no similar genius to replace him. The Soviet N1 rocket which was supposed to be the equivalent to the Saturn V (the US moon rocket) never worked correctly and was a disaster. Because of the failure of the N1 the Soviets did not develop a rocket capable enough to deliver payloads beyond low orbit fast enough to catch up with the Apollo program. So, after 1969, the Soviets went a different way with their permanent space stations and were quite successful with it, more than the US.
The Soviets continued to send probes that landed on the surface of Mars and Venus. (You should look up the Vega program. They actually floated balloons in the atmosphere of Venus.) The USSR was the only country to operate semi-permanent space stations in near Earth orbit for decades, until the ISS was launched. Even today, they only way to send a person to the ISS is by using a Soviet/Russian designed Soyuz craft.
I highly recommend Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin for more information. There’s also been a wealth of declassified documents released from the former soviet archives in Russia regarding its space program.
Here’s a couple of pages from the book; (the one with Korolev is my favorite.):
And here are some more good sources and links. I find that a lot of Soviet stuff on some select English based media sites have a bad spin on it in their use of word-choices etc so I avoided the sensational sites and went for the more non-biased English ones or space expo ones.
This is a great documentary about lives of Soviet cosmonauts during that era:
A similar instance in USA history would be the Apollo 1.
Like Komarov, the astronauts of Apollo 1 also knew about how bad, unsafe, and grim their chances were. One of the photos down the page show them half-jokingly praying to a model of the Apollo 1. However, unlike Komarov, the Apollo 1 never made it past the atmosphere . It blew up due to cabin fire during a rehersal.
These were brave men. No matter ideology, nation, or time. They were men who dreamed about humanity amongst the stars. They went where no man set foot – some only in dream – and sprung humanity to the edges of our world. They were representatives, human representatives, of our pale blue dot.
May these brave representatives of our planet, rest in peace.
(While some Soviet space posters are outright political propaganda (socialism is our launchpad, sons of the revolution, etc.), most of them seem to be projecting a pride in the very real achievements of their space program and in/for the workers who built it, and to raise excitement about the space program. Most of the posters also don’t explicitly strike a contrast between the USSR and its rivals.)
*The United States also used propaganda to justify going to the moon… JFK basically told the american public that those dirty communists would use space to launch weapons at the US, so the US had to get there first.
“Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. ” – JFK
Propaganda posters of Soviet space program 1958-1963:
V. Viktorov, Moscow, 1957.
A computer programming classroom in the Soviet Union; a poster on the wall reads ‘Train BASIC Everyday!’; ca. 1985
The Soviets had a very diverse and powerful set of computational hardware and languages, and having developed in relative isolation from the rest of the world (*They had to wait for it to be released, reverse engineer it, and then attempt to reproduce it), they’ve built some pretty unique stuff.
There are websites out there dedicated to documenting this fascinating subject.
Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon debate the merits of communism versus capitalism at the American National Exhibition, Moscow; ca.1959.
Here’s the debate:
Senator Joseph McCarthy, was arguably, one of the most successful conspiracy theorist in American history. McCarthy was able to meticulously manipulate the Red Scare hysteria with the help of the media, the encouragement from the Republican Party, and this enabled him to pursue his agenda of combating the supposed red infestation in the State Department. Communist witch-hunts had become synonymous with the rhetoric of the period.
McCarthyism, was indeed, an opportunity for Soviet propagandists to exploit. McCarthy gave Europeans, who resented American power, a respectable reason for expressing their hostility. You just have to look at the sheer extent of the anxiety and hysteria that developed in American society. The level of blacklisting, denial of civil liberties, the witch-hunts, persecution of American citizens and the recklessness of McCarthy and his demagoguing. Many began to doubt if the country of McCarthy was a safe guardian of nuclear weapons.
He targeted the state department and the army (to his own detriment) and the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) targeted Hollywood and business organizations in an attempt to root out communists. His methods were largely counter-productive and very destructive. Anybody that pled the Fifth Amendment were immediately interpreted as an admission of guilt. I think it was similar to that folklore hysteria you hear about – reporting your hated neighbor to the police for communist activities or suspicion, and a swat team storms in and grabs them.
McCarthy did not uncover any real Soviet spies, and he was not successful in his efforts – quite the opposite. He went on an anti-communist crusade, which led to the loss of jobs for countless hundreds, destroying businesses, exacerbated Red Scare fears and left an aftermath of uncertainty and anxiety in American society.
They actually gave the Soviets the proximity fuse (which is a huge leap in anti air). Through Venona we were reading their codes and knew of them. Their handler has since written a book on it confirming they were spies. The atomic component they gave the Soviets was rather minor but still, used to make the atomic bomb. After Venona was declassified it is difficult to say they were innocent because, well, you can read the messages from their handler with their confirmed code names.
* The trial judge agreed on the death penalty before the trial began. An eternal blot on American justice.