Henry Kissinger  
(Created by Melissa Brewer for HIS 135, 2005)

Henry Kissinger

 ~ The Assignment ~ Background Information ~ Timeline of Events ~  
~ Recommended Websites ~
  SpeechesRecommended Books ~
~ Related Events

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The Assignment
What was Henry Kissinger's role in formulating US foreign policy during the Nixon Administration?

Background Information on Kissinger

Henry Kissinger, one of America's most controversial foreign policy advisors, has been lauded for his many accomplishments during his tenure as National Security Adviser under President Nixon and Secretary of State for both Nixon and President Ford.  He is credited with some for "thawing" US diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and he helped to bring about the end of American intervention in Vietnam. Kissinger's successed in foreign policy, however, have also arroused much criticism.  In fact, many of his critics accuse him of war crimes.

Kissinger, a German Jew, was born on 23 May 1923, in the Bavarian city of Fuerth. His family immigrated to London in 1938 after it had become clear what Hitler's intentions were.  The family then moved to New York city. Kissinger attended high school at night and worked in a factory during the day. While attending City College of New York in 1943, he was drafted into the Army, where he began his public career as a German interpreter. After Germany surrendered in 1945, he held a variety of positions within the military government.

Once Kissinger was discharged from the military, he attended Harvard University, where he earned his B.A. with highest honors in 1950 (and subsequently his M.A. and Ph. D. by 1954). By 1962, Kissinger was working as a professor at Harvard University and consulting closely with the Council on Foreign Relations and Governor Nelson Rockefeller. His resultant body of work was published in a book , Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. This book helped establish his reputation as a foreign policy scholar.  In his book, he introduced the idea that America's success abroad depended not just on its military strength, but also on its ability to recognize and respond to aggression.

When Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, Kissinger was brought into the administration as National Security Advisor.  Later he was appointed to be Secretary of State, a term he held through both the Nixon and Ford administrations. During his term as Secretary of State, Kissinger played a major, albeit secretive, role in diplomatic relations. His secret trip to Beijing in July 1971 prepared the way for Nixon's visit to China in February 1972 which has been credited with opening frozen relations with the People's Republic of China.  His behind-the-scenes work allowed him to negotiate the Paris agreements of 1973, which ended direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and earned him the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Le Duc Tho, a North Vietnamese peace negotiator. 

As an admirer of the principles of realpolitik, Kissinger was able to coordinate a short term period of détente with the Soviet Union, leading to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In 1973, he negotiated the end of the Yom Kippur War, which began with Egypt's invasion of the Sinai Peninsula and Syria's invasion of the Golan Heights. Later, with his help, a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was reached in 1979, after the Camp David meetings  brokered by President Jimmy Carter, in 1978.

Kissinger's most controversial act in foreign relations occurred in December 1975 when Kissinger and President Ford met with President Suharto of Indonesia; giving US approval for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. This invasion led to the massacre of 200,000 Timorese and caused Kissinger's critics to call for his prosecution for what they consider war crimes.  They had also called for his prosecution for the secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 to which he had allegedly given "go ahead." (He has never been charged nor convicted of any offense related to any of his diplomatic actions.)

Kissinger left office when President Jimmy Carter defeated Ford in the 1976 elections. He later continued to play a minor advisory role in the Reagan and Bush administrations and participated in policy groups such as the Trilateral Commission. In 2002, he was appointed to chair a committee by President George W. Bush to investigate the events that led up to  the September 11 attacks. Criticism from across party lines, partially due to his past secrecy towards the public and his refusal to provide financial disclosures, caused him step down as chairman in December 2002, citing a conflict of interest with his clients.

Henry Kissinger continues to work, speak, write commentary, and take an active role in public life through his consulting firm, Kissinger and Associates.


Timeline of Events Involving Kissinger
  • May 27, 1923: Born in Fuerth, Germany
  • 1938: Moved from London to New York with family to escape Nazi Germany.
  • 1943: Drafted in Army, served with U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps as a translator. This is the year Kissinger also became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
  • 1954: Earned his Ph.D. in International Relations from Harvard University and began a career as a Harvard professor.
  • 1957: Published Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy
  • 1958: Received the Woodrow Wilson Prize for Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy
  • 1961: Worked as a consultant to National Security Council
  • 1965-1968: Served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of State
  • 1969: Appointed Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs by President Richard Nixon. This is the year he also became the head of the National Security Council and the U.S. military conducted air raids in Cambodia without Congressional knowing or approval with permission of Kissinger and Nixon, intended to repel North Vietnamese forces, which were advancing over into Cambodia. Hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths followed.
  • 1971: Kissinger's secret trip to Beijing paved the way to reestablishing relations with China. Subsequent visits by Nixon established negotiations. 
  • 1972: Negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) agreements with the Soviet Union. Prompted a short period of detente.
  • 1973: Kissinger became the 56th Secretary of State under Nixon. Paris treaties led to Vietnam cease-fire pact which lead to the U.S. withdrawal. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Helped with negotiating the end of the Yom Kippur war.
  • 1975: President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger met with President Suharto of Indonesia; giving approval for the invasion of East Timor, leading to the death of an estimated 200,000 civilians.
  • 1977: Kissinger exited office after President Carter's election. Began new career as professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.
  • 1978: Started Kissinger Associates, to continue his work with foreign affairs. Kissinger Associates works with businesses and governments on a consultancy basis. 
  • 1980: Won American Book Award for his memoir entitled  The White House Years.
  • 1983-1985: Appointed to chair the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America by President Reagan.
  • 1984-1990: Served on Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush. 
  • 2002: Kissinger appointed to head a government inquiry into the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The next month Kissinger stepped down, citing potential conflicts of interest due to his private political consulting firm.

Recommended Websites About Kissinger  
  • The Beijing-Washington Backchannel and Kissinger's Secret Trip to China: George Washington University's archive of declassified DOS documents from Henry Kissinger's secret trip to China.
  • The Nobel Peace Prize 1973: The Nobel Peace Prize for 1973 website including the transcripts from Kissinger's acceptance speech.
  • East Timor Revisited: Documents concerning Ford, Kissinger, and the Indonesian invasion, 1975-1976. New information on the politics and standpoints involved in this action from the archives of George Washington University.
  • Henry Alfred Kissinger, Secretary of State: Biography and notes on the travels of Henry Kissinger during his tenure as Secretary of State, from the Department of State website.
  • Nixon's China Game: This website is a supplement to the PBS documentary on Nixon's secret negotiations with China and the events that led to the end of the Vietnam War. It contains multimedia information on Kissinger and other administration officials involved in negotiations.
  • The Cold War Digital Library: Memos, graphics, transcripts and photographs from the Cold War, from Academic Info's Cold War Digital Library, including information on the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • American Radioworks: The President Calling: Transcripts and photographs explaining the events that led up to the Watergate scandal and uncovering of the secret bombing of Cambodia. There are many telephone transcripts between Kissinger and Nixon available from American Radioworks. 
  • Timeline of the Vietnam War: Timeline of the Vietnam War from PBS.  Well done. 
  • Nixon Presidential Materials: Provided by the National Archives and Records Administration, this resources contains  historical materials created and received by the White House during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. 
  • The Trials of Henry Kissinger: Website for the documentary, The Trial of Henry Kissinger,  in which journalist Christopher Hidgens presents evidence that he believes should make Kissinger liable for war crimes. The website itself contains links to supporting articles, photographs, and online research that supports this point of view. 
  • Current Kissinger News: Henry Kissinger remains a public figure and the media often quotes and profiles him. You can use Google's news spider to locate current news articles from newspapers, magazines, and websites across the world concerning Kissinger.
  • Official Website of Henry A. Kissinger
  • Henry Kissinger interviewed by Mike Wallace on The Mike Wallace Interview July 13, 1958
  • Kissinger
  • The National Security Archives at George Washington University
  • Transcripts of Nixon and Kissinger

Henry Kissinger's Speeches
Recommended Books About Kissinger 

         Books by Henry Kissinger

  • Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger. From the book introduction:  "Almost as if according to some natural law, in every century there seems to emerge a country with the power, the will, and the intellectual..." ISBN: 0671510991

  • The White House Years by Henry Kissinger. This book is a memoir of Kissinger's days working with the Nixon and Ford administrations. ISBN: 0316496618 

  • Years of Upheaval by Henry Kissinger. This book is the second volume of Henry Kissinger's memoirs, beginning with Nixon's victory in the 1972 presidential election. ISBN: 0316285919 

  • Years of Renewal by Henry Kissinger. From the book introduction: "Gerald Rudolph Ford was an uncomplicated man tapped by destiny for some of the most complicated tasks in the nation's history..." ISBN: 0684855720

  • Ending the Vietnam War : A History of America's Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War by Henry Kissinger.  ISBN: 074321532X

  • Crisis : The ANatomy of Two Major Foreign Policy Crises: Based on the Record of Henry Kissinger's Hitherto Secret Telephone Conversations by Henry Kissinger. From the book introduction: "The Middle East crisis that erupted into war in 1973 had many components: the Arab-Israeli conflict; the ideological struggle between Arab moderates and radicals; and..." ISBN: 0743249100 

  • Does America Need a Foreign Policy?: Toward a Diplomacy for the 21st Century
    by Henry Kissinger.
    From the book introduction: "At the dawn of the new millennium, the United States is enjoying a preeminence unrivaled by even the greatest empires of the past..." ISBN: 0684855682

    Books About Henry Kissinger

  • The Trial of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens. The most prominent critic of Henry Kissinger, Hitchens argues that Kissinger deserves vigorous prosecution "for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture." An alternative perspective of  the events of the Nixon and Ford administration's foreign policy. ISBN: 1859843980

  • The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy by Jussi M. Hanhimaki. Which is more accurate, the picture of Kissinger the skilled diplomat or Kissinger the war criminal? Hanhimaki examines the charges against Kissinger and tries to find an in-between. ISBN: 0195172213 

  • Makers of American Diplomacy: From Benjamin Franklin to Henry Kissinger. by Frank J. Merli, Theodore A. Wilson. A collection of essays examining key moments in American diplomatic history and the policy makers that shaped these events. ISBN: 0684137984

  • The secret conversations of Henry Kissinger: Step-by-step diplomacy in the Middle-East
    by Matti Golan. This book examines the process behind-the-scenes that took place, resulting in the end of Yom Kippur War. ISBN: 081290608X 

  • Kissinger: A Biography : An American Life by Walter Isaacson. This book is considered to be one of the fullest accounts of Kissinger's life and career to date, examining his choices, accomplishments, and alleged misteps when shaping foreign policy. ISBN: 0671663232 

Related Events   

President Nixon

Camp David Accords


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For information contact cevans@nvcc.edu