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
Fireball of Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear device ever detonated by the United States of America. The picture was taken from about 40,000 feet, Bikini Atoll; ca. 1954
A Japanese fishing boat, Daigo Fukuryu Maru, came in direct contact with the fallout. The fallout, fine white flaky dust of calcinated Bikini Island coral, had absorbed highly radioactive fission products, and fell on the ship for three hours. The fishermen scooped it into bags with their bare hands. The dust stuck to surfaces, bodies and hair; after the radiation sickness symptoms appeared, the fishermen called it shi no hai (死の灰?, death ash). The crew members, suffering from nausea, headaches, burns, pain in the eyes, bleeding from the gums, and other symptoms, were diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome and admitted to two Tokyo hospitals. Seven months after the test on September 23, chief radio operator Mr. Aikichi Kuboyama, 40, died — the first Japanese victim of a hydrogen bomb. He left these words: “I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.”
This resulted in an international uproar and reignited Japanese concerns about radiation, especially in regard that Japanese citizens were once more adversely affected by U.S. nuclear weapons.
The Japanese and U.S. governments quickly reached a political settlement and paid out US$2 million to the surviving victims, each receiving about ¥ 2 million each ($5,550 in 1954, $47,400 in 2013). It was also agreed that the victims would not be given Hibakusha status.
“Lafayette, we are here.” US General John J. Pershing salutes the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette as he arrives in France during WWI.
The Marquis de Lafayette is an amazing and fascinating guy. Besides a hero of the American Revolution, he was also one of the few true “Good Guys” of the French Revolution. In France he fought both for representative democracy and preservation of stability and the monarchy. He was horrified by the chaos that that revolution became.
Fun Fact: Lafayette loved America so much he was buried with soil from Bunker Hill.
Top scientists at ground zero soon after the world’s first nuclear explosion; ca. July 1945
Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves inspect the melted remnants of the 100-foot steel tower that held the Trinity bomb. Ensuring that the testing of a bomb with unknown strength would remain completely secret, the government chose a location that was so remote they had to import their water from over 150 miles away.
US Marine raising the Confederate battle flag after the Battle of Okinawa; June 22nd, 1945.
Once the castle had been taken, Dusenberg took off his helmet and removed a flag he had been carrying for just such a special occasion. He raised the flag at the highest point of the castle and let loose with a rebel yell. The flag waving overhead was not the Stars and Stripes, but the Confederate Stars and Bars. Most of the Marines joined in the yell, but a disapproving New Englander supposedly remarked, “What does he want now? Should we sing ‘Dixie?'”
MG Andrew Bruce, the commanding general of the 77th Division, protested to the 10th Army that the Marines had stolen his prize. But LTG Buckner only mildly chided MajGen del Valle saying, “How can I be sore at him? My father fought under that flag!”
LTG Buckner’s father was the Confederate BG Buckner who had surrendered Fort Donelson to then-BG Ulysses S. Grant in 1862.
*Well, if I ever go to war I’ll bring the flag of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I’ll die waving that flag!
US Marines watch F4U Corsairs drop napalm on Chinese positions near the Chosin Reservoir; December 26th, 1950
There is a great documentary called “Chosin”. It’s on Netflix and has a lot of interviews with survivors that are unbelievable.
One that has stuck with me was the man who was wounded, then the truck carrying him to an aid station was captured by the Chinese/North Koreans. They set the truck on fire to kill the wounded, but this guy managed to get out only to be shot in the head. He survived that, crawled down a trench only to be discovered by a chinese patrol who tried to beat him to death with their rifles. Survived that too and almost died of hypothermia before finally being discovered by a American patrol. It really gives you a sense of how horrendous that campaign really was…
Here’s the trailer: