Your one-stop shop for everything related to the Peace of Westphalia

Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger passed away on November 29th, aged 100. My major point of interest in Kissinger has been his book World Order, which mainly interested me because of its lengthy discussion of the Congress of Westphalia. I discussed the book at length, disagreeing with most of it. I can’t really blame Kissinger, though, because his view has been the generally accepted one for most of his life. Actually, Kissinger’s life corresponds pretty closely with the period during which Westphalia has been considered the origin of sovereignty; I hope that period is waning, but I can’t be sure.

I was surprised to see how much vitriol greeted his death. I didn’t expect him to be extremely popular, but I had never heard many people complaining about him before beyond the usual policy disagreements. This seemed to go deeper. A lot of it seemed to be based on Kissinger’s role in the bombing of Cambodia, which many blame for the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent killing of millions. Chef Anthony Bourdain wrote in his memoir, “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands.” It turns out that this is a serious mistake on several grounds. First, the bombing didn’t begin under Kissinger’s leadership. Second, Kissinger wasn’t the one primarily responsible for continuing the bombing. And third, Cambodia was already well on the road to civil war before the bombing began. I’m basing most of this off of an article in Quillette, but it sounds credible to me. It’s weird how people pick up on an idea — that the Cambodia disaster was Kissinger’s fault — and stick to it without really investigating the details.

That isn’t to say that Kissinger was a good person, of course. I definitely hold statesmen to different standards than ordinary people, because statesmen have to make decisions that can cause thousands or even millions of deaths, and I don’t think anyone in that position can be expected to make the right decision all the time. That said, I thought it would be interesting to discuss some of the positions Kissinger took during his time in office, from 1969 to 1975. It was a busy period for foreign affairs.

We’ll look at that in the next post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.