Dr. Henry Kissinger, former US National Security Adviser and Secretary of State died on 2nd December 2023 aged 100. Western leaders and intellectuals mourned Kissinger’s loss while hailing him as one of the world’s greatest diplomats. A typical tribute came from the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. He applauded Kissinger for his “ability to take all the different elements of the most complex diplomatic challenge and weave from them something astonishing in its coherence and completeness, and, most unusual of all, leading to an answer and not just an analysis: no one could do that like Henry.” High praise for a man who served less than eight years in the US government between 1969 and 1977, mostly under a discredited President, Richard Nixon.

Two important achievements of the Nixon administration - the opening of China and the ABM Treaty and the START-1 interim accords are foreign policy triumphs Kissinger shares with Nixon. His espousal of the use of force was advice President George Bush junior took to heart leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousand Iraqis and Afghans after 9/11.

For China, whose international isolation he helped end, Kissinger, in the words of the Economist, was a “superstar.” On the last of his many visits to that country in July 2023 he was welcomed as “an old friend,” by Xi Jinping himself. Not everyone however admired Kissinger. Neither India, which he attempted to browbeat and humiliate in its 1971 conflict with Pakistan, nor Bangladesh, whose creation he failed to stall or the genocide of its people he allowed to happen, remember him kindly.

Declassified US government documents detail how Kissinger stoked Nixon’s racist views of Indians. He saw the East Pakistanis as weaklings and did nothing to stop their murder by the Pakistan army even as they were reported to Kissinger by the American Consul General in Dacca, Archer Blood. The Guardian obituary of December 2, 2023 makes a mention of Oval Office tape recordings in which “Kissinger was heard sneering at those who “bleed” for “the dying Bengalis”.

Egregious crimes

Kissinger’s crimes were many and too egregious to be ignored and these were extensively highlighted in the Western media. “The dark side of Henry Kissinger,” the investigative journalist Seymore Hersh once observed, “is very, very dark.” How dark that was has been brought out by two well documented books chock-full with evidence from de-classified records and official transcripts of compromising conversations. The first is Christopher Hitchen’s 2001 The Trial of Henry Kissinger. The second, Gary Bass’s 2013 Blood Telegram - Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide directly link Kissinger to the mass killings of civilians by the Pakistan army in what is now Bangladesh.

The extension of the Vietnam war by four more years when it was close to concluding in 1968 was Kissinger’s idea. An estimated million more Vietnamese and 22,000 American soldiers were killed in this phase of the Vietnam War. Kissinger, in a clandestine operation without legal authorisation of the US Congress, ordered the dropping of hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs on neutral Cambodia.

Kissinger was responsible for the 1973 overthrow and death of Chile’s democratically elected President, Salvadore Allende and his replacement by General Agusto Pinochet, a murderous dictator from 1973 to 1990. Pinochet’s rise required the elimination of the Army Chief General René Schneider, a constitutionalist. He was murdered by killers armed and paid for by the United States. Kissinger also gave tacit consent for the Indonesian army’s invasion of East Timor.

Had Kissinger not been an American, he would have been punished for crimes against humanity. For much less, the Rwandan leader, Thenoneste Bagosor, and two from former Yugoslavia - Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic - were tried and convicted for genocide by international tribunals. Kissinger, by contrast, just got away. Born under a lucky star, old but not infirm, he died in bed.

The writer teaches public policy and contemporary history at IISc Bengaluru. Views are personal.