Say 'Henry Kissinger Was a Great Statesman' to My Chilean, Argentinian, Bangladeshi, Cambodian or Vietnamese Face
This is not an obituary
Henry Kissinger is dead at last, and I can’t be happy about it.
The Spanish-language analog to “nothing lasts forever” is, literally, “no evil lasts a century” (“No hay mal que dure cien años”). But Kissinger lived to a hundred without ever facing a single consequence for all the pain he brought to the world. On the contrary, he enjoyed every conceivable privilege and luxury that being a wealthy man in a wealthy country affords you. And a Nobel Peace Prize.
I am just Chilean and a quarter Argentinian. I cannot speak to most of the experiences of the Bangladeshi, the Vietnamese, the Cambodian, the Laotian, the Timorese. And yet, an historical thread connects us Chileans or South Americans to peoples that are literally on the other side of the world. Most times, of vastly different ethnic makeups, geographies, and centuries of recorded history. A brotherhood (siblinghood?) forged on the specific shape of our collective suffering and trauma in that our histories, our peoples, our territories, and our destiny were just pawns and pieces on the board of bigger players. We were unlucky enough that our cards were dealt by a gamemaster who would never see us as humans, even though he was supposed to represent the side that was “pro-humanity,” “pro-democracy,” “pro-human rights,” and “pro-freedom.” Pro-American Way.
That’s what makes Kissinger and the US foreign policy he perfected so infuriating. The truth is, there’s nothing new about our countries being treated as cards and pawns, but most times, we were just at the mercy of autocratic empires and kingdoms doing what they have always done. It’s not like the US has ever been a real Democracy, but it sure loves to present itself as one, it sure loves to make itself the stalwart of promises it can’t keep to its own citizens, even the white ones.
It makes the suffering Kissinger brought on us even worse. Because it was effected on us by a country that pretended not to be another autocratic empire. A country that had a different notion of what freedom meant within its borders. A country whose standard of living skyrocketed while ours stagnated or, in some cases, went back centuries because of US policies. Policies that, most of the time, don’t even come in the form of laws, tariffs and memos, but in more direct napalm.
I cannot speak to the suffering of Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, or Timor-Leste, because of its scale. But my country’s history proves how much you can scar a nation with a relatively low body count. What Kissinger took from us weren’t just 3,500 Chileans, 30,000 Argentinians, 150,000 Cambodians (a failure that accelerated the horrors of the Khmer Rouge), millions of Vietnamese, up to three million Bangladeshis or 150,000 East-Timorese. He took decades away from us. Decades of development of every kind (never forget: Chile’s economic boom started with the return of democracy). Decades of freedom. Decades of an alternative history that might as well have been bloody and traumatic, but ours. Ours without interference by an imperial foreign policy that pretends to be a democratic political project. Instead, all Kissinger left was a collective, intergenerational trauma.
Kissinger did not press a button, did not pull a trigger, (probably) did not compile and sign lists of political targets, but he paved the road for those who did. He made the moves, recommended, consulted, connected, and perfected the ideology, the doctrine of US interventionism. He certainly didn’t started many of the horrors in which he was involved, like the Vietnam War, nor is it solely on him the horrors that came after the interventions he propped up (like the Cambodian Genocide). He didn’t even start the whole strategy of undermining democratically elected governments through sabotage and alliances with people who would turn into enemies of the US. Mohammed Mossadegh was ousted in 1953 using almost the same techniques used against Salvador Allende, back when Kissinger was still finishing his PhD. He isn’t even an innovator. He just perpetuated the cycle of imperial violence and helped keep the United States doing what all its predecessors did when playing geopolitics in the world of the post-war.
But the term post-war doesn’t just mark an era, it carries a particular connotation, that of humanity actually reflecting on the ways it has carried itself after experiencing an era of unprecedented mass murder. Post-war is a word that is still supposed to put into question the logic of authority based on power, hierarchies, domination, isolationism, transactional relations, extortion, silencing, and pure, blunt-force violence. Kissinger put a stop to that questioning, to the United States considering any other form of exercising its influence other than by brutal domination of spheres. The only connotation of the word “post-war” he followed through on is that the United States should be at the top of the pyramid. He wrote the guidelines to destroying the illusions of the post-war, any idealism of the 60s and 70s. He kept the US submerged in the inhumane mediocrity of the pre-war World ever since. That’s his towering legacy, that’s the way his influence turned into legacy. Banality of evil turned into sophisticated realpolitik scripts.
Kissinger was the embodiment of the banality of evil in the post-war World.
So say it. Say it, European Liberals. Say it, American Centrists. Say it, center-right politicians of the developed world. I’m asking you in particular because I know not to expect empathy from the developed world’s right wing.
Say it, Hillary. Say it, Macron. Say it, Eric Adams. Say it, Mike Bloomberg. Say it, Tony Blair. Say it, Ursula. Say it … New York Yankees? Say it, US Newspapers trying to remain neutral in your headlines. Say it, Human Rights NGOs that should’ve known better. Say it to our faces. Say to our faces that Kissinger was a “towering statesman” to the states he helped ravage. Say to our faces that he was brilliant. Say to our faces that his “legacy was complex and nuanced” (no one has done more to sink the US’s standing abroad). Say to our faces that we shouldn’t gloat about someone dying. Say to our faces that he was a fascinating and charming man. Say to our faces that he did everything for his country. Say to our faces that he was a master diplomat when all he achieved was enabling the bloodiest decade of the post-war.
Say to the Cambodians’ face that he’s more moral because only 150,000 were killed by the US bombings while the Khmer Rouge killed two million.
Say it to the Laotians losing their limbs every year after they accidentally trip on an unexploded US ordinance.
Say it to the Bangladeshis, who started their independent life with most of their intelligentsia annihilated by Pakistan.
Say it to all the countries like Timor-Leste who really can’t keep a detailed count of how many people they lost because of the scale of what was done to them.
Say it to the 1,900 Jewish-Argentinians who were killed by the Catholic-fascist dictatorship he propped up, 6-12% of the total number of victims even though they represented only 1.5% of the Argentinian population at the time.
Say it to the relatives of 3,500 Chilean victims of Pinochet, a third of whom don’t know where their remains are.
And say this to all the victims of idiotic US interventionism after Kissinger’s tenure, inspired and advised by him, from Central America to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Mexico.
Say he was a giant, a problem-solver while minimizing our histories, our lives, our potential, everything he took from us from the comfort of a Washington DC office, directing the world like it didn’t have weight and gravity. Say it, tribute him, praise him as if you could keep our experiences contained by the whole of the Pacific Ocean. As if we didn’t know how to tell our story, our historical memory better than your press releases and public strategies (advised by Kissinger Associates). Say all of this to our faces whom you refuse to individuate; your brains would collapse otherwise.
The day will come, not the day when Kissinger will be hated even in the US, that’s a done deal. The day will come when at last, an official speaker of the US ruling class reluctantly will denounce Kissinger. It will be perhaps the closest thing to official justice we’ll get to see, the countries victimized by his policies. That, more than anything, is what we deserve. A US Government figure officially apologizing. To our faces.
I have wanted to write this “obituary” for a long, long, long time. I wanted to be angrier. I wanted to spit Eminem bars full of venom, brutal lines, and curse words. I might have exhausted that in the wee hours of the morning on Twitter. But also, it is tiring to hate so much with good reason but without reparations. It shouldn’t be on us Chilean, Argentinians, Vietnamese, Bangladeshis, East Timorese, Cambodians or Laotians (among many others) to remind the US how their governments fucked us. It’s on US voters, and especially on white, liberal Americans, to wake up and denounce your country’s imperialism, demand better representatives, and bury the realpolitik monsters on both parties. It’s on you to burn the legacy of Kissinger to the ground.
We are too busy keeping the memory alive.