Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Rise of America's Greatest 20th-Century Statesmen

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Rise of America's Greatest 20th-Century Statesmen

Article excerpt


KISSINGER 1923-1968: THE IDEALIST by Niall Ferguson (Allen Lane, PS35) HENRY Kissinger is perhaps the bestknown American statesman of the 20th century. As national security adviser and then Secretary of State during the Republican presidencies of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, he is credited with pioneering the policy of detente with the Soviet Union, opening up relations with China and negotiating the peace agreement that ended the Vietnam War (for which he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize).

On the debit side he is accused of being an amoral Machiavellian the ultimate cold-blooded "realist" who perpetrated or condoned "war crimes" in Indochina, Chile, Argentina, Cyprus and East Timor (to name a few). "Surely no statesman in modern times," writes Niall Ferguson, "has been as revered and then as reviled."

So which reputation is more deserved? For Ferguson's definitive answer we'll have to wait because this 900-page doorstop the first of two volumes ends in 1968 when Kissinger first tasted real power. But the book does provide clues, namely the convincing assertion that Kissinger was for much of his career not a Machiavellian realist but "an idealist" (hence the subtitle), steeped in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Born in Bavaria in 1923, the then Heinz Kissinger and his Orthodox Jewish family escaped the Holocaust by emigrating to the United States when he was 15. He always insisted that this "unpleasant" experience of Nazism in the Thirties did not have a lasting effect on his psyche.

Maybe so, yet his time as a counterintelligence officer in post-war Germany, when he zealously implemented the US policy of denazification, would imply a measure of revenge. His chief motive in staying on, however, was to politically reeducate the Germans.

Returning from Europe, Kissinger read political science at Harvard and then completed a highly regarded doctorate on the statesmanship of the 19th-century diplomats Castlereagh and Metternich. It set out his essentially conservative position that true political freedom was the "voluntary acceptance of authority" rather than the "absence of restraint" typical of a revolution. …

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