Opinion: At 100, Henry Kissinger is still teaching us the value of ‘Weltanschaüng’ | CNN (2023)

Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, a contributor to CNN, twice winner of the Deadline Club Award,is a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor,author of “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen” andblogs atAndelman Unleashed.He formerly was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Viewmore opinionat CNN.


Twelve years ago, invited to speak at a small gathering at New York’scultural center 92nd Street Y, I ran a gauntlet of protesters who’d gathered for the arrival of the featured speaker on the main stage. It was Henry Kissinger and I watched in wonder as they gathered to protest“a talk given by the renowned war criminal.”

Opinion: At 100, Henry Kissinger is still teaching us the value of ‘Weltanschaüng’ | CNN (1)

David Andelman

They were back three years later when Kissinger was speaking there again. This timedemonstratorswere targeting“hishistory concerning Timor-Leste (East Timor), West Papua, Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, Cyprus, Bangladesh, Angola and elsewhere.”

The events they were protesting were decades in the past – at the peak of the Vietnam War and innumerable other crises thatthen-US Secretary of StateKissinger had done his best to drive to some rational conclusion.

Most of the demonstrators were only barely alive when these events were unspooling, when Kissinger was without question deeply affecting the outcome of each.

But the catalog of their grievances only testifies to the broad scope of people, places and events that he has influenced in the course of a remarkable career.

If there is one lesson, however, to take away from his years in office and the decades since, it is the sweep of his utterly rational and dispassionate view of the world and all that makes it tick. He called it“weltanschaüng”or worldview.

This week,as Kissingercelebrates his 100thbirthday on May 27, it is reasonable to look back and examine his heritage and how he has impacted – for better or on occasion, for worse – the world that has served as his canvas.

(Video) Henry Kissinger: ‘We are now living in a totally new era’ | FT

From interwar Germany to the heart of American politics

Kissinger has touched or impacted virtuallyevery crisis or opportunity we face today – and along the way changed the world as fewother people who’ve never been elected to office.

Born in Germany not long after the end of World War I, his Jewish parents had the foresight to leave Germany in 1938, just as Hitler’s persecution of the Jews was intensifying.

Five years later Kissinger became a naturalized American and at the end of World War II, entered Harvard where he would eventually graduate, win his PhD and become a distinguished professor of government and, in the interest of full disclosure, one of my teachers.

Opinion: At 100, Henry Kissinger is still teaching us the value of ‘Weltanschaüng’ | CNN (2)

Henry Kissinger, 11, pictured with his arm around his brother Walter, 10.

Throughout his academic career, however, he was carefully laying the basis of his eventual emergence as a leading authority on strategic policy for presidents of both parties – Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson – before eventually gravitating toward Republicans, beginning as an advisor to New York governor and eventually vice president Nelson Rockefeller.

So it was hardly surprising that Nixon would name Kissinger his national security advisor.

The long shadow of Vietnam

Kissinger could best be described, perhaps, as an omnivore – observing and understanding, influencing, even transforming innumerable events and his world writ large. The question then becomes, with such a sweeping stage to play on, with so many convergent events and crises, how could some of his actions be justified, then or now?

“It had to do with the credibility of the US, on which global order depended,”Michael Mandelbaum, professor emeritus of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told me.

Overshadowing it all was the war in Vietnam and the vast commitment of American lives and military powerto a conflict thatseemed to have little real justification – even to many at the time – which Kissinger pursued in as unrelenting a fashion as the peace talks he engineeredthatled to its denouement.

(Video) Thomas Schwartz: Henry Kissinger and American Power

There are many who have used Vietnam as a talisman of how not to pursue other vast and expensive – in money and American lives – foreign entanglements, particularly Afghanistan.

Opinion: At 100, Henry Kissinger is still teaching us the value of ‘Weltanschaüng’ | CNN (3)

US President Richard Nixon meets with National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, on the Colonnade outside the White House's Oval Office, Washington DC, September 16, 1972.

But Kissinger andthen-US PresidentRichard Nixon had already inherited a deep involvement in Vietnam when they arrived in office, a legacy of the presidency of Lyndon Johnson who would do anything to avoid defeat.

While some have suggested that it was Kissinger who sought to slow the process toward peaceduring Nixon’s presidential campaign,tapes that emerged in the wake of Watergate suggested that Nixon really turned to another aide, H.R. Haldeman to“monkey wrench” peace talks.

Notes at the timedid suggest, however, thatKissinger – who was part of Johnson’schannel of communication with the North Vietnamese–may well have tipped off Nixon’s campaignteam to Johnson’s thinking.

Mandelbaum, author of“The Four Ages of American Foreign Policy: Weak Power, Great Power, Superpower, Hyperpower,”pointed to a comment from a small volume Kissinger published just as he was taking office in 1969:“The commitment of 500,000Americans[roughly the number of troops stationed there]has settled the issue of the importance of Vietnam. For what is involved now is confidence in American promises. However fashionable it is to ridicule the terms ‘credibility’ and ‘prestige,’ they are not empty phrases; other nations can gear their actions to ours only if they can count on our steadiness.”

Steadiness was indeed a theme that ran throughout Kissinger’s era and the world with which he intersected after he left office. The complexfour-governmenteffort to win a peace of any sort in Vietnam spooled on across four years in Paris.

Finally, it was Kissinger who proclaimed on October 26, 1972, that “peace is at hand,” The New York Times running the entire transcript of his news conference acrosstwo full pages of the paper.

This would finally lead to the American withdrawal and within two years, the North Vietnamese takeover of the whole country. Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi appeared to have “won.”

In fact, the way this victory was finally structured led to the creation of a nation that is today a bulwark of capitalism–and as the US seeks to diversify away from China, at least in economic terms,a most valued partner if not outright ally.

As it happened, a larger number of initiatives worked seamlessly together duringKissinger’seight yearsacross two presidencies(Nixon and Gerald Ford), occupying the role of National Security Advisor, then adding the title of Secretary of State.

(Video) Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy

While Kissinger was pressing Vietnam on a peace conference, he was moving in other directions that would send diplomatic shivers through Hanoi’s ranks.

He was at the same time opening moves toward détente with the Soviet Union and the first steps toward full diplomatic relations with China. Both were Hanoi’s only major backers.

The world as a jigsaw puzzle

For Kissinger, it was all a vast jigsaw puzzle with each piece playing a critical, but distinctive role toward a single end – America’s emergence as the world’s supreme power.

So, it was Kissinger who, in a deeply shrouded secret mission to Beijing, arranged for President Nixon to become the first American president to visitChairman Mao Zedong and his premier Chou Enlai, en route to establishing diplomatic relations with China.

At the same time, Kissinger was embarking on a campaign of détente with the Soviet Union that would lead to sharp reductions in strategic nuclear weapons arsenals whose maintenance and expansion were a huge burden on the Americanbudget – and a deep threat to global stability, even survival.

Then there was the Middle East. In October 1973, Israel was invaded on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, by a coalition of Arab armies led by Egypt and Syria, which were ultimately defeated by Israeli forces only at great cost.

Opinion: At 100, Henry Kissinger is still teaching us the value of ‘Weltanschaüng’ | CNN (4)

US President Gerald Ford confers with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1974.

Kissinger, understanding the stakes in terms of diplomacy, access to the vast Arab oil reserves, and simple humanity, began a series of diplomatic trips,shuttling back and forth tirelessly between Israel and its neighborsin an effort to cement a lasting peace.

And his efforts did succeed, to a degree. Never again was Israel invaded outright by any national army, though his efforts never did result in total peace in this unstable region.

Along the way there were other issues into which Kissinger felt it necessary to insert himself – a civil war in East Pakistan that led to itsbreakoff as the nation of Bangladesh; supporting Indonesian actions to preventindependence of the island of East Timor; a host of interventions in Latin America including CIA-backed military coups to remove the Socialist president of Chile,Salvador Allende, andArgentina’s Isabel Perón; and across Africa where he cemented relations with Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and pressed forblack majority rule in Rhodesia(now Zimbabwe).

(Video) GAPP Tahrir Dialogue (97) "Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy"

Many of thesestancesseem in retrospect to have been deeply misguided, especially his moves in Latin America and Africa.

But at the time, at the height of theCold War’s confrontationand competition between the US and the Soviet Union, they were hardly misguided. It is only in recent years that much of the rest of Kissinger’s world has threatened to go careening off the rails he so carefully established.

Today, America is deeply at odds with both China and Russia. There is still no peace in the Middle East, though notably Israel has never again been attacked in a full-fledged war. Russia and China are both making deep inroads across Africa.

The business of being Kissinger

Kissinger continued to keep his hand in so many of such issues – largely through theprivate consulting operation he launched in 1982and eventually grew into a multi-national colossus, providing advice and generating a constant stream ofmore than 100 books and writings.

Not surprisingly,in many circles, Kissinger and his global view are still deeply appreciated. In 2015,Foreign Policy magazine labeled him“the most effective secretary of state in the last 50 years, with a rating nearly twice as high as number two, James Baker and quadruple the score of number three, Madeleine Albright.

Indeed, while Kissinger worked formally for only two presidents, hardly a single leader of either political party has failed to consult with him, as have innumerable world leaders, to each of whom he has never ceased to preach the indispensable value of “weltanschaüng.”

Kissinger still believes profoundly in the necessity of understanding the fundamentals of any opponent’s ambitions and sensibilities, something that appears to have eluded many contemporary leaders, especially in the United States.

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    When it comes to China, for instance, hetold The Economist recently,thatAmerican officials“say China wants world domination… The answer is that they [in China] want to be powerful. They’re not heading for world domination in a Hitlerian sense. That is not how they think or have ever thought of world order.”

    When it comes to Russia and Ukraine for that matter, in aremarkable essay last December in The Spectator, Kissinger observed, “The preferred outcome for some is a Russia rendered impotent by the war. I disagree. For all its propensity to violence, Russia has made decisive contributions to the global equilibrium and to the balance of power for over half a millennium. Its historical role should not be degraded.”

    Yet, even today at 100, he stands ready to serve, should anyone think to call. In aninterview on CBS Sunday Morning this month, he was asked “if one of your aides called Beijing and said,‘Dr. Kissinger would like to speak with President Xi,’ would he take your call?”

    “There’s a good chance that he’d take my call, yes,” Kissinger replied.

    What about Vladimir Putin? “Probably, yes.”

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    What if an American president asked, “Henry, would you fly to Moscow and talk to Putin?”

    “I would be inclined to do it, yes,” Kissinger said. “But I would be an advisor, not an active person.”

    Something to consider.


    What was the importance of Henry Kissinger? ›

    A proponent of Realpolitik, Kissinger played a dominant role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. In that period, he extended the policy of détente. This policy led to a significant relaxation in US–Soviet tensions and played a crucial role in 1971 talks with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.

    Where does Henry Kissinger live now? ›

    Where was Henry Kissinger born and raised? ›

    Image of Where was Henry Kissinger born and raised?
    Fürth is a city in northern Bavaria, Germany, in the administrative division of Middle Franconia. It is now contiguous with the larger city of Nuremberg, the centres of the two cities being only seven km apart. Fürth is one of 23 "major centres" in Bavaria.

    Is Henry Kissinger Married? ›

    What is the main topic of Kissinger's book diplomacy? ›

    Kissinger, as a great believer in the realist school (realism) of international relations, focuses strongly upon the concepts of the balance of power in Europe prior to World War I, raison d'État and Realpolitik throughout the ages of diplomatic relations.

    What was Henry Kissinger's policy for dealing with the Soviet Union? ›

    In political science, triangular diplomacy is a foreign policy of the United States, developed during the Vietnam War (1955–1975) by Henry Kissinger, as a means to manage relations between the contesting communist powers, the Soviet Union and China.

    What was the impact of Vietnamization? ›

    The Vietnamization policy reduced the amount of American troops in Vietnam and provided military training to the South Vietnamese to expand their military and defense.

    Where does Henry Kissinger live in Connecticut? ›

    * Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger bought a 300-acre estate in the town of Kent recently, and learned the meaning of tradition.

    In which of the following cities were peace talks held with the North Vietnamese? ›

    The United States, South Vietnam, Viet Cong and North Vietnam formally sign “An Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam” in Paris.

    What was the result of Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in 1973? ›

    The term was first applied to describe the efforts of United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, beginning November 5, 1973, which facilitated the cessation of hostilities following the Yom Kippur War.

    Who was affected by the Vietnam War? ›

    The most immediate effect of the Vietnam War was the staggering death toll. The war killed an estimated 2 million Vietnamese civilians, 1. 1 million North Vietnamese troops, 200,000 South Vietnamese troops, and 58,000 U.S. troops. Those wounded in combat numbered tens of thousands more.

    What does detente mean in history? ›

    Détente, French for “relaxation,” is “a process of managing relations with a potentially hostile country in order to preserve peace while maintaining our vital interests,” Henry Kissinger, then U.S. secretary of state, told a Congressional committee in 1974, while warning that such a relationship faces “sharp limits.”

    What was Henry Kissinger's wife's name? ›

    How old was Henry Kissinger? ›

    What is the summary of diplomacy? ›

    diplomacy summary

    For the full article, see diplomacy. diplomacy, Art of conducting relationships for gain without conflict. It is the chief instrument of foreign policy. Its methods include secret negotiation by accredited envoys (though political leaders also negotiate) and international agreements and laws.

    What is the point of diplomacy? ›

    As we've established, the main function of diplomacy is to ensure peaceful relations between countries. This might include negotiating trade deals, discussing mutual problems, implementing new policies, and tackling disputes.

    What is the practice of diplomacy summary? ›

    diplomacy, the established method of influencing the decisions and behaviour of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence. Modern diplomatic practices are a product of the post-Renaissance European state system.

    What human rights did the Soviet Union violate? ›

    Freedom of speech was suppressed and dissent was punished. Independent political activities were not tolerated, whether they involved participation in free labor unions, private corporations, independent churches or opposition political parties.

    How did Kissinger use realpolitik? ›

    Kissinger himself said that he had never used the term Realpolitik and stated that it is used by both liberal and realist foreign policy thinkers to label, criticize and facilitate a choosing of sides.

    What was the main strategy the United States pursued against the Soviet Union during the Cold War ______? ›

    George F. Kennan, a career Foreign Service Officer, formulated the policy of “containment,” the basic United States strategy for fighting the cold war (1947–1989) with the Soviet Union.

    Was Vietnamization a good idea why or why not? ›

    The policy of Vietnamization, despite its successful execution, was ultimately a failure as the improved ARVN forces and the reduced American and allied component were unable to prevent the fall of Saigon and the subsequent merger of the north and south, to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

    What were the three goals of Vietnamization? ›

    By the end of the year, more than 60,000 of those soldiers would be withdrawn. The plan for Vietnamization set three main goals for South Vietnam: self-government, self-development, and self-defense.

    What was the purpose of the Vietnamization policy? ›

    Vietnamization was a strategy that aimed to reduce American involvement in the Vietnam War by transferring all military responsibilities to South Vietnam. The increasingly unpopular war had created deep rifts in American society.

    What is the average income in Kent CT? ›

    The average annual household income in Kent is $151,134, while the median household income sits at $92,332 per year.

    Is Kent CT a good place to live? ›

    Kent is in Litchfield County and is one of the best places to live in Connecticut. Living in Kent offers residents a sparse suburban feel and most residents own their homes. In Kent there are a lot of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. Many retirees live in Kent and residents tend to lean conservative.

    What is the biggest mansion in Connecticut? ›

    Chase Mansion, Connecticut

    Arnold Chase's mansion in Connecticut contains a 33,000-square foot basement that features a 103-seat movie theater, ticket booth, concession stand, game room and a music room, according to an Associated Press story. That basement holds much of the total 51,000 square feet of the mansion.

    How many Americans died in Vietnam? ›

    The Vietnam Conflict Extract Data File of the Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS) Extract Files contains records of 58,220 U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War. These records were transferred into the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration in 2008.

    Why did America lose the Vietnam War? ›

    The loss of life of American soldiers, the determination and ferocity of the Vietcong assault, and coverage of the brutal response (including the capture on camera of a suspected Vietcong officer being executed in a Saigong street) led many Americans to conclude that they could not win a war against such a dedicated ...

    What ended the Vietnam War? ›

    Having rebuilt their forces and upgraded their logistics system, North Vietnamese forces triggered a major offensive in the Central Highlands in March 1975. On April 30, 1975, NVA tanks rolled through the gate of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, effectively ending the war.

    How did Kissinger and Nixon change US foreign policy? ›

    Nixon and Kissinger achieved breakthrough agreements with Moscow on the limitation of Anti Ballistic Missiles and the Interim Agreement on Strategic Missiles. Nixon was proud that he achieved an agreement that his predecessors were unable to reach, thanks to his diplomatic skills.

    Why is it called shuttle diplomacy? ›

    In January and May 1974, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger engaged in “shuttle diplomacy,” a term coined by the members of the media who followed Kissinger on his various short flights among Middle East capitals as he sought to deal with the fallout of the October 1973 war.

    What is the definition of shuttle diplomacy? ›

    noun. : negotiations especially between nations carried on by an intermediary who shuttles back and forth between the disputants.

    What is the relationship like between the US and Vietnam today? ›

    Vietnam and the United States are strong and growing partners, sharing the goal of an open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and peaceful Indo-Pacific. Addressing the legacies of war is a foundational element of the strong relationship between the United States and Vietnam.

    Is Vietnam a US ally? ›

    Relations between the two countries continued to improve into the 21st century. Vietnam is now considered to be a potential ally of the United States, especially in the geopolitical context of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and in the containment of Chinese expansionism.

    Who suffered the most from the Vietnam War? ›

    The Army suffered the most casualties, 38,179 or 66% of all casualties. As a branch of the US forces, however, the Marine Corps lost the highest percentage of its own men (5.0%) which in turn accounted for 25.5% of all casualties.

    Why did the US want détente? ›

    Détente was a propaganda opportunity for both sides. They each could portray themselves as peacemakers who were concerned with the safety of the world. Détente helped the superpowers save money as they were able to reduce the amount spent on the arms race and focus on problems in their own countries.

    What was the most important reason for détente? ›

    Following the humiliation of the Vietnam War , the USA made an effort to improve relations with the USSR and China, leading to a period in the 1970s known as Détente, a word meaning the relaxing of tension.

    What are 3 examples of détente? ›

    The best examples of détente during the Cold War are SALT I, SALT II, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Helsinki Accords.

    Why was Henry Kissinger important? ›

    A proponent of Realpolitik, Kissinger played a dominant role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. In that period, he extended the policy of détente. This policy led to a significant relaxation in US–Soviet tensions and played a crucial role in 1971 talks with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.

    Who was Henry Kissinger's mentor? ›

    Kraemer persuaded Kissinger to attend Harvard University. "Kraemer shaped my reading and thinking, influenced my choice of college, awakened my interest in political philosophy and history, inspired both my undergraduate and graduate theses and became an integral and indispensable part of my life" Kissinger said.

    What did Kissinger do in Vietnam? ›

    As National Security Adviser, Kissinger sought initially to find a way to end the war on American terms. During his tenure, Kissinger came to differ with Nixon as Kissinger was more in favor of seeking an end to war as expeditiously as possible with minimum damage to American prestige.

    What did the silent majority believe? ›

    The "silent majority" shared Nixon's anxieties and fears that normalcy was being eroded by changes in society. The other group was composed of intellectuals, cosmopolitans, professionals and liberals, those willing to "live and let live." Both groups saw themselves as the higher patriots.

    Why did Nixon open China? ›

    In China, from the beginning of the Sino-Soviet split in 1956, there was a perceived necessity for external allies to counterbalance the power of the Soviet Union. The reason for opening up China was for the U.S. to gain more leverage over relations with the Soviet Union.

    What was Henry Kissinger's role in the Vietnam War quizlet? ›

    Henry Kissinger, Nixon's top negotiator in Vietnam, dropped his insistence that North Vietnam withdraw all its troops from the South before the complete withdrawal of US troops.

    Why was Vietnamization important in US history? ›

    The Vietnamization plan provided for a gradual, phased withdrawal of American combat forces, combined with an expanded effort to train and equip South Vietnam to take over military responsibility for its own defense.

    What was the significance of Henry Kissinger quizlet? ›

    Interpretive: Henry Kissinger is significant because he helped to negotiate the end of the Vietnam War. His foreign policy decisions led to the US and its further interference in Vietnam, for better or for worse.

    How did Henry Kissinger help end the Vietnam War? ›

    Kissinger approved each of the 3,875 Cambodia bombing raids in 1969 and 1970” as well as “the methods for keeping them out of the newspapers.” By the end of the bombing campaign, nicknamed “Operation Menu,” the U.S. had dropped a total of 110,000 tons of bombs that killed between 150,000 and 500,000 civilians.

    What was the end result of Vietnam War? ›

    Communist forces ended the war by seizing control of South Vietnam in 1975, and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year.

    Was the Nixon Doctrine successful? ›

    The application of the Nixon Doctrine "opened the floodgates" of US military aid to allies in the Persian Gulf. That in turn helped set the stage for the Carter Doctrine and for the subsequent direct US military involvement of the Gulf War and the Iraq War.

    What change in US foreign policy was brought about by the Truman Doctrine? ›

    The Truman Doctrine effectively reoriented U.S. foreign policy, away from its usual stance of withdrawal from regional conflicts not directly involving the United States, to one of possible intervention in far away conflicts.

    What was one major cause of the US shift toward a foreign policy of détente during the Cold War? ›

    After the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the United States knew that international relations needed to change. With both the US and the USSR stockpiling nuclear weapons, neither country—nor the world—could continue their pattern of ever-heightening political and military tension. The result was détente.

    What was the result of shuttle diplomacy? ›

    Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy secured one last deal in September 1975 with the conclusion of a second Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement. The origins of the first shuttle started with Israel's proposals for disengagement with the Egyptians on January 4 and 5, 1974.

    Who most influenced Nixon's foreign policy? ›

    The figure who most influenced Nixon's foreign policy was: Henry Kissinger. One major impetus behind the rise of a Native American rights movement was the: terrible levels of poverty that persisted in the Indian population.


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