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Final Thoughts on Kissinger

Kissinger’s period at the pinnacle of American politics lasted only 6 years, but it was a momentous 6 years, and his policies had an enormous impact: détente, the opening to China, withdrawal from Vietnam. He continued to advise presidents for the next 30 years, and his book “World Order,” written when he was 90, was enormously influential. Kissinger apparently had a good sense of humour, and is the source of a wonderful quip that “90% of politicians give the other 10% a bad name.” You have no doubt heard of the book “All the President’s Men,” but did you know that the title comes from a quotation by Kissinger, “We are all the President’s men,” indicating that everyone in the administration needed to stand behind Nixon?

Surprisingly, Henry Kissinger also has a role in my favourite hobby of boardgaming, because he allegedly said that “Diplomacy” was his favourite game. Superficially, this would make sense; he was a quintessential diplomat, so why wouldn’t he like a purely diplomatic game? I hate the game Diplomacy, though, because it bears so little relation to actual diplomacy. The game is similar to Risk in the sense that one player will eventually conquer all the others. The difference is that there are no dice or cards, and the only way to make any progress is to convince another player to co-operate with you for a period of time until one of you backstabs the other, or you’re just the only two left in the game.

Real diplomacy is so much more interesting than that. Countries have populations and cultures and economies and politics, all of which constrain their negotiations. Even absolute dictators don’t negotiate in a vacuum. No sane person expects to conquer the world, certainly not through diplomacy; instead, all countries are jockeying for position, trying to gain access to resources and markets, trying to fend off threats and potential threats, trying to gain prestige and avoid losing face. Negotiating isn’t always beneficial for both sides, but often it is. It is disappointing to have such an important part of Western history reduced to a simple vehicle of conquest in the eyes of many.

Kissinger doesn’t have a big role in public culture, but you should at least listen to this very brief song by Monty Python about him. I’m convinced that writer and singer Eric Idle just realized that “Kissinger” would rhyme with “Missing yer” and wrote the song on that basis, but it’s so silly that it’s hard not to laugh at it.

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