Hitchens questions the iconic Kissinger, his actions, motives

Daily Arts Writer
Published September 5, 2001

Christopher Hitchens dedicates his recent book to "the brave victims of Henry Kissinger, whose example will easily outlive him." It is a quite a strong statement, befitting the engaging writing that follows.

"The Trial of Henry Kissinger" (Verso Books, 2001) outlines the ins and outs of the former Secretary of State"s involvement in massacres, coups and assassination attempts in Indochina, East Timor, Chile, Bangladesh and Washington. In an interview for the BBC, Hitchens called his book "the case for the prosecution in a war crimes trial against Kissinger." As conscientious readers, we are of course fully within our rights to demand that Hitchens not only make his accusation, but also sustain them with clear evidence. Hitchens does this beautifully, by unearthing and referencing government documents and memos that have either never before been seen or very rarely been cited.

Hitchens opens his catalogue of charges not with Cambodia or East Timor, but rather with a story very few of us have been privy to. He outlines Kissinger"s role during the Paris peace talks on Vietnam in 1968. Kissinger was, at the time, not only serving as a non-official advisor to President Johnson"s camp, but was also conveying information to the Nixon campaign on what terms were to be on the table during the talks. The Nixon campaign used this information, according to Hitchens, to create a back channel with the Vietnamese in order to assure them that they would get a better deal from an incoming Republican administration than they would from the president"s. Of course, not only was it illegal on behalf of the Nixon campaign to intervene in state talks, but the "better deal" promised by Nixon came some four years after 1968, and contained almost identical terms to those put on the table by the Johnson administration. During that interval, 20,000 Americans and innumerable amounts of Vietnamese lost their lives. The chief beneficiary of this action was Kissinger. For his troubles as a double agent, Hitchens tells us, Kissinger was made a national security advisor and subsequently Secretary of State.

Hitchens writes of Cambodia, where Kissinger convinced his boss to widen the conflict with vast bombing in Cambodia and Laos. Evidence points to the fact that no one advocated that the U.S. go to war with these countries. Nevertheless, conservative estimates are that U.S. forces killed 350,000 civilians in Laos and 600,000 in Cambodia. We also read Hitchens" accounts of what took place in Bangladesh, where General Yahya Khan, using U.S.-supplied weapons, toppled the newly democratically-elected government, murdering at least 500,000 civilians along the way. The National Security Council urged condemnation, while Kissinger staunchly refused. In the course of the killings, Kissinger corresponded with Khan and thanked him for his "delicacy and tact."

In Chile, Hitchens informs us that the Secretary of State helped orchestrate the overthrow of democratically elected Salvador Allende in 1973, along with the assassination of General Rene Schneider. As a result, Augusto Pinochet rose to power as moderates fled their homeland. Hit squads financed by the CIA tracked down Allende supporters and murdered them, including the car bombing in Washington, DC of Allende"s Foreign Minister, Orlando Letelier, as well as an aide named Ronni Moffitt.

East Timor also makes Hitchen"s book, as we are told of President Ford and Secretary Kissinger"s meeting with Suharto in 1975, in which President Ford told reporters that the U.S. would not recognize the newly freed nation of East Timor. Before Air Force One had landed back in America, Suharto marched into the tiny country, killing some 200,000 civilians.

Finally, we hear of Kissinger"s possible involvement in assassination attempts against an influential Greek dissident journalist, with National Security Council documents to back up the claim.

Hitchen"s accusations are serious, and they call for us to reassess our own standards, or lack thereof. One of the author"s underlying goals is to force us here in America to consider whether we are living by any double standards, calling for the Pinochets and Milosevics of the world to be brought in front of war crimes tribunals, all the while turning a blind eye to a possible war criminal in our own midst.