By reaching age 100, Henry Kissinger, provided another hook for journalists with something to say about him. The corporate media recounted the career of a most influential statesman, adviser to presidents, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Leftists described a monster, even more murderous than we knew. Nobody said he was merely a flunky, not a principal.
Kissinger’s parents were German Jews who got out in 1938 and made their way to Washington Heights in upper Manhattan. According to someone who knew the family, Henry’s younger brother was the smart one for whom they were setting aside money for college. Henry attended City College part-time until he got drafted in 1943. Because he was fluent in German he quickly rose to become a sergeant in the Counter Intelligence Corps. This was the key to further success. After the war he taught for a year at the European Command Intelligence School. He finished college at Harvard and was soon on the tenure track in the Government Department.
Those of us who got woke by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki read the headlines as we grew up. Russia built an A-bomb. We (the US military-industrial complex) built an H-bomb. The Russians built an H-bomb. We built intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-power submarines to deliver the bombs. They built ICBMs and nuclear subs. We (the US under Eisenhower) built thousands of bombs and missiles and warned the Russians they’d face “massive retaliation” if they dared nuke us. For a few years in the ‘50s the threat of “Mutually Assured Destruction” was so obvious that the use of nuclear weapons seemed unthinkable. It looked as if Mao’s taunt about the bomb being a “paper tiger,” too terrible to ever be deployed, would hold.
But if nuclear war wasn’t an option, how could US imperialists stem the political tide that had, by the mid-1950s, led India’s Nehru and Indonesia’s Sukarno and China’s Chou En-Lai and Ghana’s Nkrumah and Egypt’s Nasser to identify as leaders of a socialist “Third World”?
Henry Kissinger made his bones in the mid-1950s by drafting a set of rules that would enable combatants to fight a “limited war.” His essential patron was Nelson Rockefeller, then the Governor of New York State and a leading proponent of bomb shelters and “civil defense.” Kissinger’s day job was in the government department at Harvard, but he was also director of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s “Special Studies Project.” In this capacity he preached the gospel of limited war to government agencies and think tanks – the Council on Foreign Relations, the State Department, the Operations Research Office, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the CIA’s RAND Corporation. et al.
Professor Kissinger was director of the “Defense Studies Center” at Harvard when I was an undergraduate (1959-63). Henry A. Kissinger, the director of the Defense Studies Center at Harvard. There was a peace group called Tocsin (which means a bell sounding an alarm. Where else would the peace group call itself by a name that most people think meant “poison?”) Tocsin would invite professors to luncheons at which they would discuss cockamamie schemes to avert nuclear war – ”unilateral initiatives” like mothballing a few nuclear subs that would induce the Russkies to take a corresponding step until there was peace on earth... I heard they were going to have a session with Kissinger and asked if I could cover it for the Crimson (the school newspaper). Todd Gitlin said no. I asked why not? He said, “Because we couldn’t count on you not to be rude.”
I couldn’t argue with that. I had given some thought to actually killing Kissinger. I arranged to interview him in his office. I thought at some point I would ask if he worried about personal security. Then maybe he’d show me a pistol and it would go off accidentally... I couldn’t help but notice the Versuche of Bertolt Brecht on his bookcase, indicating that Herr Professor was a serious, broad-minded intellectual. I would have been more impressed if the pages had been cut, indicating that at least one of the books had been perused.
A couple of lifetimes later I was covering the medical marijuana movement and read a biography of Harry Anslinger, the US drug czar, whose career seemed to prefigure Kissinger’s.
Anslinger’s mother was from Baden, Germany, his father from Switzerland. His father couldn’t make a living as a barber and went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad. As a teenager Harry suffered a detached retina in a rumble of some kind — he got hit with a thrown pear — and lost vision in one eye. He went to school part-time and worked for the railroad, which assigned him to do security work.
As a young investigator Anslinger helped win a big case for the company and was promoted to chief inspector. He took two years of business classes at Penn State. He occasionally played the piano at silent-movie theaters (around 1914-15). His mother hoped he’d be a concert pianist.
When the U.S. entered World War One Anslinger volunteered for the army but was ruled ineligible because of his eye injury. He became an officer in the Ordnance Reserve Corps and was rapidly promoted. He applied to and was accepted (with letters of recommendation from the Pennsylvania Railroad) by the U.S. State Department. He became an attaché in the American Legation (the classic cover for spies) at the Hague. He spoke perfect German and good French and picked up Dutch quickly. He was involved in several undercover missions.
Anslinger claimed that he insinuated his way into Kaiser Wilhelm’s entourage and delivered a message that the U.S. did not want him to abdicate at the end of the war because it might lead to the Social Democrats coming to power. (The Kaiser did step down, however.) In 1921-22 Anslinger was posted by the consular service to Hamburg. He married the former Martha Denniston, a niece (said to be the favorite niece) of Andrew Mellon, the Pittsburgh banker who became Secretary of the Treasury in 1921.
(Henry Kissinger married Nelson Rockefeller’s private secretary, Nancy Maginnes, in 1974.)