"La Parilla", A Chilean Dictator's Dark Legacy, Arguably Essays, Augusto Pinochet, Caravan of Death, Chile, Christopher Hitchens, Communism, Democracy, Domino Effect, Dr. Salvador Allende, Essay, For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports, Futurama, H.R. Haldeman, Henry Killinger, Henry Kissinger, history, J.Y. Smith, Just for the record Henry Kissinger is a collossal asshat and is perhaps the most revolting human being that has walked this earth and I just wanted to remind you of that fact along with the fact that, Kissinger: A Touch of Evil, Last Week Tonight, Marshall Plan, Monte Reel, No On Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, Patrick Ryan, Politics, Richard Nixon, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, The Washington Post, torture, Venture Brothers, Walter Isaacson
I have only ever seen one episode of Venture Brothers all the way through and it happens to be an episode I’ve seen twice. The reason why this episode has left an impression upon my mind is because in one scene Henry Killinger’s face and body has become Dr. Venture’s Father’s penis poking out from his underwear and slowly approaching the man’s face in that low mumble that is the cold stuff of godless nightmares. My sister has made this episode a personal joke between siblings because I tried to get her to watch the show with me and both times we watched it was the Killinger episode.
This serendipity is a nice distraction from a real tragedy which is namely that Christopher Hitchens did not out live Henry Kissinger.
If it hasn’t been made apparent to my regular reader, I am an ardent fan and great admirer of the works of Christopher Hitchens. The reason for this is because in life the man was a brilliant orator, a fine rhetorician, and a fierce intelligence that could dwarf almost anyone and everyone he contested in life. Watching the man speak in public and defend his views and arguments was not only fascinating it was actually enjoyable. YouTube abounds with various interviews, debates, guest appearances, CSPAN call-ins, and wave upon wave of “Hitch-Slaps.” It wasn’t just that the man was intelligent or witty, it was largely because he actually did something with his talents, particularly when it came to politics.
I considered at the start of my summer to dip back into another one of his expose books, No On Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton. I like many people have been mourning the fact that my choice comes down to Hilary or Trump and so looking back over the Clinton Presidency seemed like as fascinating choice. Instead though I went to my bookshelf and picked up The Trial of Henry Kissinger because over the last three months I’ve been watching documentaries about Watergate and the Nixon administration in general.
Now Hitchens’s book abounds with references to Nixon within the work, and the former President retains the ghoulishness which has become his character trait even outside the realm of Futurama. The first-come reader of The Trial of Henry Kissinger however is likely to be a bit disappointed if they were hoping the book covers Watergate. Hitchens doesn’t attack Kissinger for this particular outrage, instead he focuses his criticism on Kissinger’s involvement in war crimes during the Vietnam War, aiding and abetting a genocide, coup, and assassination in the nation of Bangladesh, working to help Nixon abolish the democratically elected leader in Chile and establish in its place the regime of Pinochet, his actions which aided the junta in Cyprus, and conspiring in an attempted assassination against a Grecian journalist living in Washington D.C.
The Chile incident is always what strikes me first, simply because my mother-in-law is from Chile and actually grew up during the reign of Pinochet. Some her memories of the time include going to school and playing on the playground of the building which was next door to the “prison,” if you could really call it such, where Pinochet’s bullies detained and tortured political dissidents. Another charming story involves midnight raids in which the military and police forces would take men from families to a local football field (soccer for my American readers). These men, and sometimes young boys, would line up and the leader would go down the line. If you were waved off it meant you could leave, but if you were told to go to the truck, it meant that no one would ever see you again. It was stories like this that made re-reading Hitchen’s book more poignant especially since the Chile chapter begins:
In a famous expression of his contempt for democracy, Kissinger once observed that he saw no reason why a certain country should be allowed to “go Marxist” merely because “its people were irresponsible.” The Country concerned was Chile, which at the time of this remark had a justified reputation as the most highly evolved pluralistic democracy in the southern hemisphere of the Americas. (82).
The Trump presidential campaign, which has really just been one long advertisement for Twitter, has proven that one bad quote does not kill a political career. As such, despite the fact the comment is pernicious and condescending as all balls, it wouldn’t be enough to call Kissinger a war criminal just because he said something stupid. Hitchens rarely employed a bad argument (his essay Women Aren’t Funny and supporting the Iraq war being the exceptions in this case), and so once he has established Chile as a thriving nation that was heading towards the election of Dr. Salvador Allende, he explains that the man was the embodied nightmare of Chile’s far right as well as notable corporations like ITT, Pepsi Cola, and Chase Manhattan Bank who would suffer financial setbacks if he was elected. At the time President Nixon, who owed much of his early success to a man by the name of Donald Kendall, the CEO of Pepsi Cola who’d given Nixon his first political fund, was of the opinion that Allende wasn’t right for the nation and so the attitude in the Oval Office was best expressed by the equation “Allende = NO.”
Kissinger was put to the task and Hitchens describes his motivations before going into some of the details:
Declassified documents show that Kissinger—who had previously neither known nor cared about Chile, describing it offhandedly as “a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica”—took seriously this chance to impress his boss. A group was set up in Langley, Virginia, with the express purpose of running a “two-track” policy for Chile: one the ostensible diplomatic one and the other—unknown to the State Department or the US ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry—a strategy of destabilization, kidnap and assignation, designed to provoke a military coup. (84).
History does the rest for me, and my mother-in-law has provided some of the smaller gaps having lived on the ground during the reign of the eventually successor of Allende, the nutbag Augusto Pinochet. It’s difficult to really explain why the American government would be comfortable establishing the regime of a such a character, but remember at the time the United States hated communism more than dictatorship, and if the previous quotes haven’t been enough to explain, leadership of the U.S. was not in the best place that it could be. Chile suffered the worse of Kissinger’s desire to impress his boss and make sure his friend’s business interests were safe, because Pinochet as a dictator became every bad cliché of a military despot who assumed power. The man adored military outfits, often wore large glasses, believed genuinely that he was helping his country, and established a zealous and brutal intelligence service which established at least 17 different interrogation/detention/torture centers across the country. Pinochet was a brutal man, and if the reader doesn’t believe me they should pause to reflect on the fact that an entire Wikipedia page has been created with the title “Human rights violations in Pinochet’s Chile.” Using tactics from beating, sexual assault, waterboarding, and a process known as “La Parilla” (look it up on Wikipedia) Pinochet’s regime established itself early when the man authorized what has become known as the “Caravan of Death.”
In an obituary piece run by the Washington Post titled A Chilean Dictator’s Dark Legacy, the final devastation in numbers is offered:
First as head of a four-man military junta and then as president, Pinochet served until 1990, leaving a legacy of abuse that took successive governments years to catalogue. According to a government report that included testimony from more than 30,000 people, his government killed at least 3,197 people and tortured about 29,000. Two-thirds of the cases listed in the report happened in 1973.
My reader may protest at this point. All of this is tragic but it took place in the past, and surely Kissinger did not direct in the overthrow of the Allende government. Unfortunately for my contester Hitchens paints a grim picture:
The Actual overthrow of the Allende government in a bloody coup d’état took place while Kissinger was going through his own Senate confirmation process as Secretary of State. He falsely assured the Foreign Relations Committee that the United States government had played no part in the coup. From a thesaurus of hard information to the contrary, one might select Situation Report #2, from the Navy Section of the United States Military Group in Chile, and written by US Naval Attache, Patrick Ryan. Ryan describes his close relationship with the officers engaged in overthrowing the government, hails September 1973 as “our D-Day” and observes with satisfaction that “Chile’s coup de etat [sic] was close to perfect.” Or one may peruse the declassified files on Project FUBELT—the code name under which the CIA, in frequent contact with Kissinger and the Forty Committee, conducted covert operations against the legal and elected government of Chile.
What is striking, and what points to a much more direct complicity in individual crimes against humanity, is the microcosmic detail in which Kissinger kept himself informed of Pinochet’s atrocities. (102).
I understand that this may be thick inside jargon, but it is worth digging through to really understand what is happening. By speaking before the Senate while being questioned to determine his character for the position of Secretary of State Kissinger performed an act of perjury while professing his dedication to the United States of America. This act alone is enough to damn the man, but the focus remains on Chile.
One last quote is necessary before I address my contester again. Hitchens looks into the mountains of declassified documents and uncovers an exchange between Pinochet and Kissinger when the men discussed the dictator’s accusations of human rights:
“I want to see our relations and friendship improve,” Kissinger told Pinochet (but not the readers of his memoirs). “We want to help, not undermine you.” In advising a murderer and despot, whose rule he had helped impose, to disregard his upcoming remarks as a sop to Congress, Kissinger insulted democracy in both countries. He also gave the greenest of green lights to further cross-border and internal terrorism, of neither of which he could have been unaware. (108)
Following his departure from the United States State Department Kissinger donated his papers to the Library of Congress with strict orders that they remain closed until after his death. Because of this action, barring any unforeseen legislation that might allow the public to open them, any and all information on Kissinger’s decisions and actions during his time as Secretary of State will be forever shut to the public. I have my contester to answer to however.
If it hasn’t become clear I have not reviewed The Trial of Henry Kissinger in its entirety, but merely focused my attention on one chapter. If my contester accuses me of focusing on only aspect of Kissinger’s time in office then that is perfectly fine criticism and I’ll accept it , however the other night I was reading Kissinger: A Touch of Evil, an essay that appeared originally in The London Review which was a review of a biography of Kissinger by Walter Isaacson. I recently added the collection For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports which, like Arguably Essays, is just a collection of Hitchens’s various essays, reviews, and blurbs. I’ve always loved Hitchens as an essayist because it was in this form which, much like Gore Vidal and David Foster Wallace, that man showed his ability as a writer. The Trial of Henry Kissinger is not so much an essay as it is an expose piece, and going through each of the chapters the reader runs the risk, unless they’re fluent with the events and characters in question, of losing the argument rather quickly. Having amassed an understanding of the characters this latest reading of the book made far more sense than it did the first time around. Looking at the essay Kissinger: A Touch of Evil led me back to this essay, which I had started not long after finishing the book two months ago and quickly dropped to write about Prometheus and Fun Home, because in the last paragraph Hitchens offered a view of Kissinger the man two years before The Trial was published:
All over today’s Washington there are men—Robert McNamara, Wilson Colby of the CIA, George Ball of the State Department—who have written memoirs and given interviews which try to atone for past crimes and blunders. Kissinger no doubt, would regard even the smallest exercise in atonement as sickly. When criticized, as in this book or in early work by Seymour Hersh, he reacts with great displays or rage and petulance. It is evident that he cannot allow any reconsideration of his own monstrous greatness. This may be a sign of instability rather than arrogance. (328).
I cannot provide a point by point criticism of the career of Henry Kissinger, for I lack the research and background to really stand as any kind of source for a call for action. Better writers and reporters had dedicated their time and energies to this effect and done a better job than I ever could. What I will allow myself is the title of a citizen of the United States, and this position affords me the right to criticize figures in politics when they have performed or become implicated in heinous actions.
Kissinger’s role in the involvement and establishment of the government of Pinochet was an odious offence, and while some apologists would step in and remind me of the Marshal Plan, the Domino Effect, and the reminder to be hesitant when judging people of the past I can stand firmly on the position that regardless of these points, the fact that a representative of the United States would so freely aid a dictator who employed torture and genocide to ensure his will surpasses any and all concern. Kissinger is not an abstract founding father, he is a contemporary living being and as such he can and should (and has) stand for the accusations and realities that various papers, testimony, and reports implicate him in.
It’s the responsibility of citizens to observe their government and ensure that their representatives are not corrupt, and when naysayers attack said citizens as whistleblowers and self-righteous buffoons the resolve should only be stronger.
The Trial of Henry Kissinger is not a literary document, but it sure to be a staple of the Kissinger library that currently exists. Kissinger outlived Hitchens, and as I wrote before this is a tragedy, but as I watch and observe the impression of the man that has developed there is some consolation in the fact that more and more people have come to recognize Kissinger for what he is: a self-serving sociopath. Watching Last Week Tonight a few weeks back John Oliver made a small joke many people missed. There’s only a few reasons to drink champagne at 8 in the morning, he cited two ridiculous examples before then saying, “Or when Henry Kissinger dies.” This is probably the best example that I have, though the Venture Brothers scene described at the start of the essay probably does all the work for me.
The concern of historians is to interpret the events of the past as spoken through documents, and while the citizenry at large doesn’t have all the information yet, Kissinger’s cultural identity is in a state of eventual downfall. For my part, I return to Hitchens and The Trial of Henry Kissinger and to the stories my Mother-in-laws tells me.
The men who stood on those soccer fields, terrified that they would “disappear” into the back of trucks probably never knew that in Washington D.C. Henry Kissinger was laughing and flirting with beautiful women comfortable and content that was he was securing a glorious political legacy. Hitchens book goes a long way in ensuring that Kissinger’s dream remains polluted by the corruption he engaged in, and readers like me continue the fight.
I’ve included a link below to the Washington Post Article, the link to the Wikipedia Page on Pinochet’s use of torture, links to two articles written by a friend of mine who teaches Latin American history and operates the site Americas South and North which covers historical and contemporary events in Latin American countries, a review of The Trial from the Gaurdian, a review from Publisher’s Weekly, an article from Salon, and finally an article about Kissinger’s role in the 2016 Presidential election:
I didn’t get a chance to put this part in since I kept my focus on Chile, but in the first chapter Hitchens discusses Kissinger’s involvement of bombing on civilians and his purposeful foiling of peace negotiations between North Vietnam and the United States, and in one passage he quotes H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s Chief of Staff, who talks about his encouraging Nixon to release the remaining tapes of conversations in the Oval Office:
Nixon made the point that Kissinger was really the one who had the most to lose from the tapes becoming public. Harry apparently felt that the tapes would expose a lot of things he had said that would be very disadvantageous to him publicly.
Nixon said that in making the deal for custody of his Presidential papers, which was originally announced after thus pardon but then was shot down by congress, it was Henry who called him and insisted on Nixon’s right to destroy the tapes. That was, of course, the thing that destroyed the deal. (62).