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Henry Kissinger 1923-2023: war criminal loved by imperialism dies

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Picture: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images / Getty Images North America / AFP / Taken July 29, 2019 – Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks during the Department of State 230th Anniversary Celebration at the Harry S. Truman Headquarters building July 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. – Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, a key figure of American diplomacy in the post-World War II era, died November 29, 2023 at the age of 100, his association said. From Vietnam and the war in Southeast Asia to Latin America and beyond, Henry Kissinger was knee-deep in blood, the writer says.

By Isabel Ringrose

Detestable war criminal Henry Kissinger has finally died. Aged 100, his long life contrasts with those of his victims. Many of them died before reaching adulthood. The former US secretary of state and national security advisor to President Richard Nixon had a hand in coups, murder, bombings, kidnappings and genocides.

When he and Nixon entered the White House in 1969, the US was on the brink of political collapse. The “world’s greatest superpower” was losing its war in Vietnam and was increasingly fearful of one at home. Rebellion against military conscription and endless bombing campaigns combined with growing demands for radical change.

Kissinger’s task was to restore US imperialism, which would he believed would return order to US streets. But despite the hell he unleashed on the world, America lost most of the battles he entered them into. And that only hastened the sense of an empire in decline.

Since the early 1960s, the US had invaded, bombed and pillaged Vietnam as part of its mission to “stop the spread of communism” and cement its own control. But it soon became clear that the puppet government the US backed had little popular support — unlike the resistance that fought against it.

Despite Vietnam becoming a running sore, Kissinger and Nixon feared pulling out troops would make the US look “weak”. Instead, they escalated the war to countries that neighbour Vietnam — Laos and Cambodia — in a bid to isolate the resistance.

During the Cambodian ¬campaign — named “Operation Menu” — the US dropped over 25,000 bombs in each of six areas and killed an estimated 500,000 civilians. The real figure is probably higher. The National Security Assistant approved each of the 3,875 bombing raids between 1969 and 1970.

Kissinger kept his bombing campaign secret from the US Congress because he feared it would block the move. After the plans were leaked to the New York Times newspaper, he ordered FBI agents to wiretap the phones of the National Security Council to find out who was responsible.

The war in Cambodia decimated the already desperately poor country and US generals gloated that they had bombed the country “back to the stone age”. At least 600,000 Cambodians died before the US-backed regime was finally toppled in 1975. From these ashes, the Khmer Rouge rose to power. In the genocide that followed, the regime murdered up to 2.2 million people it designated “class enemies”.

Kissinger was also behind the carpet-bombing of North Vietnam in 1972. In total the 17-year war took the lives of some two million Vietnamese civilians, over 58,000 dead US soldiers — and cost $843.63 billion (£673.73 billion). Talks in 1973 led to a ceasefire in Vietnam. And despite being drenched in blood, Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Latin America is another continent where people remember the bloody trail he left. The Chilean military coup in 1973 was one of the US’s 81 “interventions” in other countries’ elections. Chilean socialist presidential candidate Salvador Allende won the 1970 election with 36.2 percent of the vote. The US panicked because of his left wing, pro-Cuban politics.

“I don’t see why we have to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people,” Kissinger said. After a failed coup in June 1973, general Augusto Pinochet, the army’s commander-in-chief, tried again in September. He surrounded the presidential palace with tanks, helicopters and infantry and fired on it. Allende died in the fighting — but whether he was shot or shot himself is contested.

The new US-backed junta began a reign of terror. The military took over the country’s main football stadium to house 12,000 leftists they had rounded up. In total, the regime killed up to 30,000 people, with many more tortured or driven into exile. After hearing the news of Allende’s overthrow, Kissinger complained about the lack of recognition the US had received. Nixon replied, “Well, we didn’t — as you know — our hand doesn’t show on this one.”

The coup was part of Operation Condor — a US-backed regime of political repression including assassinations, coups and intelligence operations in South America from 1968 to 1989. In Argentina between 1974 to 1983, the US backed a military junta that had fought a “Dirty War” to oust a left-wing government and repress popular dissent. The US gave the junta $50 million (£39 million) in military aid to help it clear out the radicals.

In June 1976 Kissinger gave the junta a “green light” to begin large scale repression. He told Argentina’s foreign minister Cesar Augusto Guzzetti that the US backed them, but to “get back to normal procedures” before the US Congress reconvened. During the period of state terror an estimated 30,000 people were killed or disappeared without explanation.

Assassinations were carried out via mass shootings, or people were drugged, rounded up and dropped naked and semi-conscious into the Atlantic Ocean. The state imprisoned some 12,000 prisoners without trial and created more than 400 secret concentration camps. Today the people that died are known as “The Disappeared”.

Kissinger and Nixon were to leave their mark on Asia too. The US supported Pakistan’s military dictatorship and its bloody campaign in 1971 in what was then known as East Pakistan but is today Bangladesh.

At the time of the fighting, Pakistan was one country split between east and west wings. The military regime in Islamabad, in West Pakistan, had political control over both territories but there was rebellious resistance in the East. Bengali nationalists wanted to run their own country and to separate from West Pakistan.

The military junta in Islamabad tried to smash them and this led to civil war in the East. The US backed the regime in West Pakistan because they feared an independent Bangladesh would align with India — and India was at least partially aligned with the Soviet Union. Pakistan’s military bombed, murdered and raped their way through the East.

It was intent on wiping out not only Bengali independence fighters, but also all those who sympathised with them. And in the Pakistani soldiers’ hands were US-made weapons. Kissinger ignored the first telegram from the US consul Archer Blood in East Pakistan that informed him of “a selective genocide”. When a second telegram again described it as a “genocide”, Kissinger had him sacked.

During negotiations to end the war, Kissinger called Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi a “bitch” and said, “the Indians are bastards”. When this was made public in 2005, he blamed the now dead ex-president saying: “The language was Nixon language.”

Nixon and Kissinger’s reign of terror reached its end with the Watergate scandal in 1972. Five burglars were caught breaking into the Democratic Party National Committee in the Watergate office-apartment hotel in Washington. Members of Nixon’s re election committee were in the offices to tap the phones — but the bugs failed.

They later made a second attempt with new microphones but were caught wiretapping the phones and stealing documents. Nixon promised he had nothing to do with the scandal and was re-elected as president in November 1972. He paid hush money to the burglars and ordered the CIA to clamp down on the investigations into the affair.

The burglars went to trial and pleaded guilty. But one, James McCord, wrote a letter to the judge that said the White House was behind the break-in. A Senate Committee began investigations and discovered that all conversations in Nixon’s Oval Office were recorded. The president resisted handing over the tapes but eventually gave up some but with many missing or damaged. By summer 1974 he was forced to hand them all over.

By then it was clear that the president had full knowledge of the Watergate operation and that phones were illegally wiretapped on his orders. While Nixon was distracted by the scandal, Kissinger enjoyed free reign on foreign policy.

He survived as secretary of state until the Republicans lost the 1976 presidential election and has since advised US governments on their attempts at conquest in Iraq, Iran and Ukraine. Kissinger shouldn’t be remembered as a great diplomat or functionary. He is the embodiment of murderous US imperialism.

Isabel Ringrose is a journalist at Socialist Worker