One name that has never faded from the author’s memory, especially in the Post-1945 International Relations Dynamics course, is Henry Kissinger. In an unforgettable intermezzo, a lecturer once stated, “With a society that is increasingly forgetful, your grandchildren may only remember the Vietnam War in three names: Ho Chi Minh, Kissinger, and Rambo.” The name Kissinger, as quoted by Anthony Bourdain, becomes central to the history of the bloodiest conflict since World War II.
However, Kissinger’s popularity is not devoid of controversy. Anthony Bourdain described Kissinger’s controversial actions in Cambodia in 1969, where the “secret bombings” he led caused a political crisis and a large loss of lives. Despite its controversy, this method successfully cleared enemy hideouts on the Vietnam-Cambodia border. However, the impact was tragically significant, with at least 50 thousand civilian lives lost.
Kissinger’s significance extends beyond the Vietnam War. His name was also ingrained in the 1971 civil war between Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 1972, he played a crucial role in normalizing diplomatic relations between the United States and China. Moreover, Kissinger was involved in diplomacy during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which helped Israel survive the threats from Arab nations.
However, not all of Kissinger’s actions were praised. He gave the green light for Indonesia to invade Timor-Leste in 1975, an action that was controversial and condemned by many. Kissinger’s name is also associated with US policies that are deemed to support authoritarian regimes to maintain hegemony in Asia and Africa during the Cold War.
Kissinger’s life story, born as Heinz Alfred in Germany on May 27, 1923, also reflects a dramatic journey from suffering due to anti-Semitism to reaching the pinnacle of world leadership. His family was forced to flee Germany in 1938, facing various obstacles and oppression.
After military experience and early struggles in the United States, Kissinger continued his education at Harvard University. There, he found his mentor, William Yandell Elliott, and embarked on an academic career. Kissinger became a rising star in the US political science realm.
Kissinger succeeded not only as an academic but also built a brilliant career in government. As National Security Adviser under President Nixon, he held the reins of US foreign policy with an iron grip. Kissinger was dubbed one of the most powerful political executives globally, marking achievements in international political history.
However, Kissinger’s success was accompanied by sharp criticism and controversy. Supporters see him as a brilliant statesman securing US interests on the world stage. Critics highlight his controversial policies, seen as involving the sacrifice of human rights for geopolitical interests.
Kissinger’s death on November 29, 2023, concludes the long journey of a thinker and political executive. For his supporters, Kissinger’s legacy of thought will endure in US foreign policy. Yet, for critics, his death marks the end of an era of foreign policy criticized for overly aggressive US dominance.
Henry Kissinger is a complex and controversial figure. From his childhood, marked by dark historical events, to reaching the pinnacle of world leadership, his life story reflects the complex dynamics of international politics. Kissinger’s legacy of thought and actions will continue to be a subject of debate, reflecting the complexity of history and politics involving one of the most influential figures of the 20th century.