The Trial of Henry Kissinger

By Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, a well-known journalist, who writes for Vanity Fair and other publications and who has authored several books, is a brilliant polemicist and an indefatigable researcher, more of a scholar than a newsman. The instant book is so patently defamatory that, were it not true, Kissinger could have sued and won a huge judgment, which, even if not fully collectable, would have vindicated his name – but Hitchens is a formidable and much respected foe; so, Kissinger chose to let Hitchens’ words go unchallenged, to linger interminably in the readers’ minds. Kissinger’s only counter attack was to call Hitchens an “anti-Semite”, which his lawyers quickly had Kissinger publicly retract. Equally, the book makes detailed and savage attacks on every U.S. administration (White House) which Kissinger served.

Hitchens thesis is that, under Kissinger’s stewardship more than that of any other person, in a long list of countries around the globe (e.g., Viet Nam, Indochina, Cambodia, Laos, Chile, Cyprus, East Timor, Bangladesh), the U.S. government has orchestrated countless atrocities: e.g., mass killing of civilian populations; assassinations of political leaders and/or insurgents; the postponement of the end of the Viet Nam War for nearly a decade for political gain; the falsification of death reports; the expansion of wars needlessly into neutral countries; the instigation and orchestration of a massacre of a democratically elected government in Bangladesh (resulting in the brutal rape and murder of tens of thousands of mostly Hindu civilians, as “collateral damage”, while Muslims were spared); massive sprayings of chemical defoliants and pesticides; and covert and illegal financings of all of the foregoing. Since the book focuses on Kissinger’s actions, it makes no attempt to deal with similar offenses of administrations in which Kissinger was not a guiding force. It supports its allegations with Congressional testimony, public documents, published correspondence, newspaper accounts, data from Presidential libraries, etc.

Hitchens also details the activities of Kissinger’s “consulting firm” and the ways in which it was paid by the officials of many foreign governments for his assistance with various administrations in Washington. There is nothing new here; such are the ways of Washington, but Kissinger’s pecuniary motives help explain the lethal guidance that he gave to various Presidents, and it supplies the criminal intent that prosecutors would require.

The author laments that “war criminals” are only those who lose wars; the winners -- however many war crimes they commit, even those that are widely known and provable -- are never punished. He flatly states that the U.S. seems to believe that trials for war crimes simply do not apply to U.S. leaders. Hitchens avers that Kissinger could and should be brought to trial and that, if he were, he would be convicted of crimes rivaling those of the Third Reich.

Books such as this will not likely change the world; although someday, the world well may ask U.S. officials to stand trial for their war crimes, and well they should. In the meantime, these books help us be less Pollyannaish in our appraisals of U.S. leaders and, hopefully, more circumspect when they call our children to war, as they predictably and repeatedly do. Wars are grand for the defense and oil industries and for politicians but oh, so horrid for the rest of us.