Kissinger Tapes

During his tenure,Kissinger provided an activist leadership in foreign policy that appeared to beprogressive at the time.  I have rarelyfelt that way since.  Yet in terms ofsuccess, I am a far less comfortable. Ending the Chinanonsense ranks as an outbreak of common sense to be compared to the presentrelaxing of relations with Cuba.  The exit from Vietnam was a capitulation that wasfoolishly dragged out for want of any better ideas.  Détente with the soviets merely postponed thefinal collapse that Reagan precipitated several years later.

I thought the maninsightful.  Now that appears to be inquestion from any review of the tapes. If he was, it is apparent his boss was not up to it and he failed toshare those gems.  He comes across asanother inner circle messenger relaying the better ideas to the emperor.  Maybe I am harsh, but I am disappointed inboth men.

I am moredisappointed in Nixon.  To live andbreath anti Semitism as he does reveals an unexamined live not worthliving.  Kissinger may have breathed thefumes too much, but Nixon was the smoke machine.

There is nothingmore intellectually juvenile than rationalizing ethnic position as something tobe exalted.  The corollary of that is thedenigration of any competing ethnic group and by natural default Judaism.  A moments critical examination reveals thefolly and wrongness of such a position and that is normally enough for thestrong minded to guard against such nonsense and to cleanse such thinking fromones baggage.  Unfortunately there arethe rest and a few do find themselves in positions of power.

Kissinger’s garbagemouthing may have arisen in the atmosphere but is usually far better guardedagainst.  For the balance, and I have notwaded through the material because I do not wish to, we have a lesser man.

Mr. Kissinger, Have You No Shame?

Ignorethe recent excuses. Henry Kissinger's entire career was a series of massacresand outrages.

By Christopher HitchensPosted Monday, Dec. 27, 2010, at 12:37 PM ET

HenryKissinger Until the most recent release of theNixon/Kissinger tapes, what were the permitted justifications forsaying in advance that the slaughter of Jews in gas chambers by a hostileforeign dictatorship would not be "an American concern"? Let's agreethat we do not know. It didn't seem all that probable that the question wouldcome up. Or, at least, not all that likely that the statement would turn out tohave been made, and calmly received, in the Oval Office. I was present atMadison Square Garden in 1985 when Louis Farrakhan warned the Jews to rememberthat "when [God] puts you in the ovens, you're there forever," but condemnation wasswift and universal, and, in any case, Farrakhan's tenure in the demented fringewas already a given.

Now,however, it seems we do know the excuses and the rationalizations. Here's one, from David Harris of the American JewishCommittee: "Perhaps Kissingerfelt that, as a Jew, he had to go the extra mile to prove to the president thatthere was no question of where his loyalties lay."* Andhere's another, from Abraham Foxman of theAnti-Defamation League: "The anti-Jewish prejudice which permeated theNixon presidency and White House undoubtedly created an environment ofintimidation for those who did not share the president's bigotry. Dr. Kissingerwas clearly not immune to that intimidation." Want more? Under theheading, "A Defense of Kissinger, From Prominent Jews," MortimerZuckerman, Kenneth Bialkin, and James Tisch wrote to the New York Times to saythat "Mr. Kissinger consistently played a constructive role vis-à-vis Israel both as national security adviser andsecretary of state, especially when the United States extended dramatic assistance to Israel duringthe 1973 Yom Kippur War." They asked that "the fuller Kissingerrecord should be remembered" and, for good measure, that "the criticsof Mr. Kissinger should remember the context of his entire life." Finally,Kissinger himself has favored us with the following: At that time in1973, he reminds us, the Nixonadministration was being pressed by Sens. Jacob Javits and Henry Jackson tolink Soviet trade privileges to emigration rights for Russian Jews. "Theconversation at issue arose not as a policy statement by me but in response toa request by the president that I should appeal to Sens. Javits and Jackson andexplain why we thought their approach unwise."

ButKissinger didn't say something cold and Metternichian to the effect that Jewishinterest should come second to détente. He deliberately said gas chambers! If we are going tolower our whole standard of condemnation for such talk (and it seems that wehave somehow agreed to do so), then it cannot and must not be in response tocontemptible pseudo-reasonings like these.

Let ustake the statements in order. Harris and Foxman at least assume what we knowfor many other reasons to be true: Richard Nixon was a psychopathicanti-Semite. Is Kissinger so base as to accept their defense—that he wascringing before a Jew-baiter? Surely this, too, is "hurtful" to him(the revealing term he employs for reading criticism of his words rather thanfor their utterance)? He declines even to discuss the subject, though it hascome up on countless previous Nixon tapes. The difference on this occasion isstark: The other recordings have Nixon giving vent to his dirty obsession whileKissinger makes fawning responses. This time, it is Kissinger who goes as faras any pick-nose anti-Semite can go.And Nixon doesn't bother to grunt his approval. Not even he demanded so much ofhis eager toady. Of the Zuckerman-Bialkin-Tisch school of realpolitik, nothingmuch needs to be said. They refer to the "shock and dismay of some in theJewish community"—as if only that community was entitled to shock ordismay—while quite omitting even the usual formality of expressing anydisapproval of their own.

 To them, pre-approval of genocide, offeredfreely to a racist crook, is forgivable if the speaker is otherwise more orless uncritically pro-Israel. Add to this the other excuses of Jewishofficialdom—that the pre-approval is also excusable when used to appease theevil mood swings of a criminal president—and you have the thesaurus ofapologetics more or less complete. Kissinger's own defense—that pre-approval ofgas chambers was his thinking-aloud dress rehearsal for an "appeal toSens. Javits and Jackson"—is of course unique to him.

So ourculture has once again suffered a degradation by the need to explain away thecareer of this disgusting individual. And what if we did, indeed, accept theinvitation to "remember the context of his entire life"? Here's whatwe would find: the secret and illegal bombing of Indochina, explicitly timedand prolonged to suit the career prospects of Nixon and Kissinger. The pair'sopen support for the Pakistani army's 1971 genocide in Bangladesh, of the architect ofwhich, Gen. Yahya Khan, Kissinger was able to say:

 "Yahya hasn't had so much fun since thelast Hindu massacre."

Kissinger'slong and warm personal relationship with the managers of other human abattoirsin Chile and Argentina, as well as his role in bringing them to power by thecovert use of violence. The support and permission for the mass murder in East Timor, again personally guaranteed by Kissinger tohis Indonesian clients. His public endorsement of the Chinese Communist Party'ssanguinary decision to clear Tiananmen Squarein 1989. His advice to President Gerald Ford to refuse Alexander Solzhenitsynan invitation to the White House (another favor, as with spitting on SovietJewry, to his friend Leonid Brezhnev). His decision to allow Saddam Hussein toslaughter the Kurds after promising them American support. His backing for afascist coup in Cyprusin 1974 and then his defense of the brutal Turkish invasion of the island. Hisadvice to the Israelis, at the beginning of the first intifada, to throw thepress out of the West Bank and go for all-outrepression. His view that ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia was something aboutwhich nothing could be done. Forget the criminal aspect here (or forget it ifyou can). All those policies were also political and diplomatic disasters.

Wepossess a remarkably complete record of all this, in and out of office, most ofit based solidly on U.S.government documents. (The gloating over Bangladesh comes from July 19,1971.) And it's horribly interesting to note how often the cables and minutesshow him displaying a definite relish for the business of murder anddictatorship, a heavy and nasty jokiness (foreign policy is not "a missionary activity")that was by no means always directed, bad as that would have been, atgratifying his diseased and disordered boss. Every time American careerdiplomats in the field became sickened at the policy, which was not seldom,Kissinger was there to shower them with contempt or to have them silenced. Thegas-chamber counselor is consistent with every other version of him that wehave.

Topermit this gross new revelation to fade, or be forgiven, would be to devalueour most essential standard of what constitutes the unpardonable. And for what?For the reputation of a man who turns out to be not even a Holocaust denier buta Holocaust affirmer. There hasto be a moral limit, and either this has to be it or we must cease pretendingto ourselves that we observe one.

Update, Dec. 29, 2010: The AmericanJewish Committee believes that the quote from executive director David Harristhat appeared in the New York Times misrepresents the AJC'sposition. You can read Harris' full statement here.

Christopher Hitchens responds: It's a little silly toattack any excerpt or quotation for being "out of context," since anexcerpt or quotation is an extract by definition. The compact that awriter/reporter makes with the readership is the implicit promise to ensurethat the extract does not give a misleading impression of the whole.

David Harris wrote or spoke 90 words on thesubject of what I'll neutrally call Henry Kissinger's indifference to gaschambers. Of these words, 49, or almost half, were devoted to a loosespeculation that blamed Richard Nixon personally, or his"administration" impersonally, for causing Kissinger's views to beuttered. Of those 49 words, I cited 30, or one-third. Without disrespect to Mr.Harris, I think few would disagree that they were the most "quotable"ones. They also conveyed the evident purpose of the statement, which was toredirect attention to Kissinger's boss and frequent co-conspirator. Were it notfor this, there would have been nothing in the statement worth citing at all.(I do not know, but would be interested to discover, whether the AJC hascriticized the New York Times for making the same decision and failing to giveHarris' statement in its entirety.)

I did not suggest that the AJC failed toregister any criticism of Kissinger. Indeed, were they not so eager to wrenchmy own words from their "context," they would notice that I took careto specify that only Mortimer Zuckerman and his co-signers were in such a rushto exculpation as to omit that formality. The opening of the Dec. 11 pressrelease speaks of the AJC being "dismayed" by gas-chamber talk, andHarris goes so far as to describe it as "chilling." My article, whichconcerned the mutedness of so many responses, might have been strengthened if Ihad had space to include these ringing expressions, too.

The last sentence of Harris' statement statesthat "it's hard to find the right words" in which to expresscondemnation (of the "remarks," rather than their author). Perhapsfor him it is. When he finds the right words, I shall be happy to drawattention to them.
(Return to theoriginal sentence.)

From the American Jewish Committee: If there wasever a textbook example of a straw man argument, it is Christopher Hitchens'misrepresentation of AJC's response to the outrageous Kissinger-Nixon tapes.

Christopher denies suggesting that AJC failedto register criticism of Kissinger. But in his article, he kicks off his litanyof "rationalizations" with a quote from our own David Harris, who wastwice detained by the KGB because of his 15-year activism on behalf of SovietJews. Later on, he refers to Harris' comments as a "defense."

They key point is this: Before Harrisspeculated over the reasons for Kissinger's remarks, he stated, "That aGerman Jew who fled the Nazis could speak of a genocidal outcome in suchcallous tones is truly chilling." That is an unambiguous condemnation, andone we stand by.

Additionally, we expressed our revulsion atthe graphic language concerning "gas chambers." Christopher was alsostruck by this, though he does not credit us for sharing both his observationand reaction.

Whether Kissinger experienced heightenedanxiety by dint of being a Jew serving a President who clearly loathed Jews isa subsidiary factor here. What matters for AJC— an organization that helpedspearhead the Soviet Jewry campaign, and one that, for decades, has workedtirelessly on the issues of Holocaust commemoration and memory—is thatKissinger's comments were shameful and disgraceful.

Christopher condemns those comments as part ofhis personal campaign against Kissinger. We condemn them because they touchupon the core of our very institutional being.

From Christopher Hitchens: Well, first let's be generous."Shameful and disgraceful" are much less ambivalent than"dismaying" or "chilling" and seem intended to express realcondemnation of the offender (which the preceding more neutral terms weredesigned to avoid doing). So I don't think that this has been a waste of time.

Rationalization is a fairly objectiveword, calling attention to a novel or plausible attempt at an explanation ofsomething, while expressing doubt as to its motives. In retrospect, perhaps theAJC would rather have concentrated their attention on the chief figure in this.(I lazily said that "almost half" of Harris' words on Kissinger weredirected at Nixon; in fact it was rather more than half.) So I must stillinsist that a lot of the "straw" was already on the scene when I gotthere.

Talking of stray straws, this is the secondtime we are told that Harris was detained for his exemplary work for SovietJews. But I fail to see quite what bearing it has. I was inconvenienced myself,for the same reason, by the Yugoslav police during the post-Helsinki summit in Belgrade in 1977. Itdoesn't give me any particular standing in an argument over Kissinger's centraland pivotal role in an administration that the AJC elsewhere concedes as having"normalized" racism.

It's perfectly true that I have been writingfor years that Henry Kissinger has the mind and the record of a psychopathiccriminal. It's also not the first time that I have written about his collusionwith Nixon in the mouthing of anti-Jewish obscenities. But on this occasion, asI tried to point out, it was he who was the initiator and who went as far asany racist could go. That fact seemed to me to call for more than a routinecomment—or a comment that occurred in Paragraph 4 of a four-paragraphstatement.

I don't see that this focus entitles anyone atthe AJC to imply that I am less revolted by gas-chamber talk than they are orthat my individual revulsion is weaker than their "institutional"(somehow an odd choice) form of it. It's certainly not the first time that Ihave written about anti-Semitism as a lethal poison in its own right, and bywhomsoever expressed.

Possibly the AJC still feels that its originalstatement said all that was needful. Something in the tone of this exchange,however, hints to me that they feel they could and should have done better.Which they now have. At any rate, I am grateful for the opportunity to clarifymy own position.

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