Former Secretary of State and diplomat Henry Kissinger, who worked for both the Nixon and Ford administrations, died at his home in Connecticut on Wednesday, his consulting firm announced. He was 100.
Kissinger counted among his friends not only politicians from across the political spectrum but also celebrities, attaining a kind of odd celebrity for himself in the process. He was, just for one example, one of the more notable people to attend Studio 54 at the height of that infamous club’s fame, and would later be featured in cameos on numerous shows such as “The Simpsons” and “The Colbert Report.”
But he was also widely condemned for the policies he pursued while in government, most notoriously masterminding the secret and illegal bombing campaign in Cambodia, and backing the brutal regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Onochet.
Born in 1923 in Fürth, Germany, Kissinger came from a middle class Jewish family, his childhood coinciding with the rise of the Nazi Party, which took full control of the country when he was 10. In 1938, when he was 15, his family fled Germany to escape the increasing antisemitic persecution and moved to New York City.
He became a U.S. citizen in 1941 and was drafted into the Army in 1943. Working in military intelligence in the European theater of World War II, his service include combat during the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he was assigned to teach military intelligence to U.S. Army personnel in occupied Germany, a job that continued after he mustered out. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his “meritorious service.”
Kissenger then attended Harvard, ultimately receiving a PhD, after which he became active in Republican politics as he sought to rise as a foreign policy adviser for various campaigns.
In 1969, Nixon named the international relations expert as his National Security Advisor. Kissinger played key roles in negotiating the end of the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East and advising Nixon in ending the Vietnam War.
Kissinger shared the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho for that year’s cease-fire agreement. Two years later, with Ford as president, Saigon fell to the Viet Cong.
Kissinger was perhaps the most famous proponent of the “realpolitik” theory of diplomatic relations between states, which holds that immediate needs or shifting circumstances should overrule moral concerns.
He was the architect of Nixon’s decision to thaw relations with the People’s Republic of China in part to create a counterbalance to the power of the Soviet Union, stunning allies in Taiwan and Japan who were not told in advance of the move. He also began to oppose democratic forms of goverment wherever leftist politicians were able to win elections. Most notably, as declassified documents later proved, he played a role in General Augusto Pinochet’s brutal coup and later helped cover up Pinochet’s campaign of murdering and torturing dissidents.
In 2015, several historians assessed Kissinger’s legacy for Politico magazine. Gary Bass, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University and author of “The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide,” wrote, “Kissinger’s policies were not only morally flawed but also disastrous as Cold War strategy.” Bass added, “In South Asia, Indians and Bangladeshis widely remember Kissinger as an unusually cruel and cold-hearted person” for the Nixon administration’s siding with Pakistan against Bangladesh in 1971.
Another historian, Rutgers professor David Greenberg, disputed those who would call Kissinger a “war criminal.” Greenberg, the author of “Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image,” added, “Nixon and Kissinger deserve severe condemnation for many elements of their foreign policy, but to suggest that Kissinger is the equivalent of Hitler or Milosevic is to engage in juvenile sloganeering.”
Fredrik Logevall, Laurence D. Belfer professor of international affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, concluded, “Henry Kissinger’s record as a statesman is surely mixed.”
Kissinger is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Nancy Maginnes Kissinger, two children by his first marriage, David and Elizabeth, and five grandchildren.
He will be interred at a private family service. A memorial service in New York City will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests considering donations to the Animal Medical Center, the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs or the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.