Yeah, *that* Kissinger. Good old Henry himself.

Why, you may ask, is a 70-something hippie/deadhead/pagan/Democrat devoting a page of her website to the demon of 20th Century foreign policy?

Curiosity. That’s why.

Most of my adult life I have been surrounded by peers who invariably hiss, boo, and make the sign of the cross at any mention of Henry Kissinger. But being someone who rarely takes assumptions for granted as facts, when I saw this doorstopper of a biography by Niall Ferguson I had to pick it up. It was heavy, man.

Kissinger, 1923 -1968: The Idealist sheds some light on Henry. He was, after all, born into a Jewish family in a Germany that would, by the time he was in his 20’s, have fallen to the Nazis and his fate would have taken a very different track had his father not emigrated to the U.S. when he was 15.

In 1939, he wrote to an old friend about America:

… the greater the light, the greater the shadow sides are. Alongside the most beautiful houses in the world you see here the most wretched, alongside excessive wealth, unspeakable poverty.

In 1943, he was drafted into the Army as a private and in November crossed the English Channel with the 84th Infantry Division. By 1946, he was a sergeant with the Counter Intelligence Corps because of his fluency in German, opting to stay in Germany in order to do in our little way what we could to make all previous sacrifices meaningful.

This is surely not the demon Kissinger that my cohorts saw. This seems to be Ferguson’s “idealist.”

The book follows him on through Harvard, through Kant and Metternich and Nelson Rockefeller. It details his first best seller, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, which advocated limited nuclear strikes (apparently as opposed to all-out nuclear war), a position which he would later regret when he realized that he had underestimated the damage that would be done.

There is a fascinating section that details his unofficial back and forth between the Johnson administration and Vietnam that is worth the trouble of getting there.

This volume ends with Kissinger’s accession to National Security Advisor to Richard M. Nixon, a man he had disliked for much of his political life to that point. It never does get
around to addressing my primary question: Chile – what was he thinking? For that, I will have to wait for a promised Volume II, but if it ever comes out, I think I’ll just go to a bookstore, find a comfy corner and look for “Chile” in the index. My life doesn’t have time enough for Volume II.

In the meantime, Ferguson has succeeded in removing the horns from the head of Henry Kissinger. He is a man with a history of his own, with good intentions that led, betimes, along the road to hell. And which one of us has not been there?