Henry Kissinger is a renowned American politician, diplomat, and geopolitical consultant who served as the United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor during the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Despite receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a ceasefire in Vietnam, Kissinger remains a polarizing figure in U.S. politics due to his association with controversial policies, including the U.S. involvement in the 1973 Chilean military coup and U.S. support for Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War. He is also credited with pioneering the policy of détente with the Soviet Union, orchestrating an opening of relations with China, engaging in shuttle diplomacy to end the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, and negotiating the Paris Peace Accords to end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He is married to his second wife, Nancy Maginnes.
Born as a Jewish refugee in Germany in 1923, Kissinger and his family fled Nazi persecution and settled in the United States in 1938. After excelling academically, he earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University and went on to form Kissinger Associates, an international geopolitical consulting firm. Despite being ranked as the most effective U.S. Secretary of State in the 50 years to 2015 by a survey of top international relations scholars, Kissinger remains a controversial figure, venerated by some and condemned by others for his actions and policies during his tenure in government.
Who are the Parents of Henry Kissinger?
Henry Kissinger was born as Heinz Alfred Kissinger on May 27, 1923, in Fürth, Bavaria, Germany. His parents were Paula (née Stern; 1901–1998, from Leutershausen), a homemaker, and Louis Kissinger (1887–1982), a schoolteacher, and he had a younger brother, businessman Walter (1924–2021). Kissinger’s family was of German Jewish descent, and the surname Kissinger was adopted by his great-great-grandfather Meyer Löb in 1817 after the Bavarian spa town of Bad Kissingen. As of 2022, he celebrated his 99th birthday and holds German nationality, with a mixed ethnic background. His early life was shaped by the rise of Nazi Germany and its persecution of Jews. As a young boy, he played soccer for one of Germany’s top clubs, but in 1938, his family fled Germany due to the Nazi’s anti-Semitic laws. In New York City, Kissinger assimilated quickly into American culture but maintained his German accent due to childhood shyness. He excelled academically as a part-time student at City College of New York, but his studies were interrupted in 1943 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Despite Kissinger downplaying the influence of his experiences of Nazi persecution on his policies, many scholars believe that they shaped his realist approach to foreign policy.
Henry underwent basic training at Camp Croft in Spartanburg, South Carolina during World War II. At the age of 20, he became a naturalized US citizen while stationed in South Carolina. After the army canceled his engineering program at Lafayette College, Kissinger was assigned to the 84th Infantry Division, where he made the acquaintance of fellow immigrant Fritz Kraemer. Kraemer recognized Kissinger’s fluency in German and intellect and arranged for him to be assigned to the military intelligence section of the division. Kissinger saw combat with the division and volunteered for hazardous intelligence duties during the Battle of the Bulge. During the American advance into Germany, Kissinger was put in charge of the administration of the city of Krefeld because of his fluency in German.
Kissinger was then reassigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), where he became a CIC Special Agent holding the enlisted rank of sergeant. He was given charge of a team in Hanover assigned to tracking down Gestapo officers and other saboteurs, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star. In June 1945, Kissinger was made commandant of the Bensheim metro CIC detachment, Bergstrasse district of Hesse, with responsibility for the denazification of the district. After leaving the army, Kissinger continued to serve as a civilian employee and taught at the European Command Intelligence School at Camp King.
Henry Kissinger graduated with a BA in political science from Harvard College in 1950 with the highest honors of summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He lived in Adams House and was mentored by William Yandell Elliott. His extensive senior thesis, titled The Meaning of History: Reflections on Spengler, Toynbee, and Kant, which delved into history and philosophy, was over 400 pages long and even set the current limit on thesis length to 35,000 words. Kissinger went on to earn his MA and Ph.D. degrees at Harvard University in 1951 and 1954, respectively. While still a graduate student, he served as a consultant to the director of the Psychological Strategy Board in 1952 and founded a magazine, Confluence. During this period, Kissinger also expressed interest in working as a spy for the FBI. His doctoral dissertation was titled Peace, Legitimacy, and the Equilibrium (A Study of the Statesmanship of Castlereagh and Metternich).
How was the Career of Henry Kissinger?
- Following his academic achievements, Kissinger remained at Harvard as a member of the faculty in the Department of Government and directed the Harvard International Seminar from 1951 to 1971. He also served as a consultant to various government agencies and think tanks, including the National Security Council’s Operations Coordinating Board and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. In 1957, he released his book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, which proposed the regular use of tactical nuclear weapons to win wars. This was followed by his publication of A World Restored in the same year, which examined balance-of-power politics in post-Napoleonic Europe. Kissinger later served as the director of the Harvard Defense Studies Program and co-founded the Center for International Affairs, while also working as a foreign policy advisor to Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential campaigns. He first met Richard Nixon in 1967 and was initially critical of him, but later changed his mind and contacted a Nixon campaign aide to express his willingness to help Nixon win the presidency. After Nixon became president in 1969, Kissinger was appointed as National Security Advisor.
- Kissinger held prominent positions in the US government, serving as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He is now the only surviving member of Nixon’s Cabinet following the death of George Shultz in 2021. Kissinger had a close relationship with Nixon, which has been compared to the relationships between Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House or Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins, where the State Department played a secondary role in foreign policy development. Kissinger and Nixon shared a love of secrecy and often conducted negotiations without the involvement of State Department experts, using backchannel methods such as those through Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. He was a leading figure in US foreign policy from 1969 to 1977. He extended the policy of détente, which helped ease US-Soviet tensions and led to talks with China resulting in a new anti-Soviet Sino-American alliance. In 1973, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in establishing a ceasefire and U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, but Kissinger was ambivalent about the award. As National Security Advisor in 1974, he directed the controversial National Security Study Memorandum 200.
- Kissinger was initially uninterested in improving relations with China, but it was Nixon who drove the rapprochement. Kissinger made two secret trips to China in 1971 to confer with Premier Zhou Enlai, and the main issue discussed was Taiwan. Kissinger gave in to Zhou’s demand that the US recognize Taiwan as a legitimate part of China, and promised to withdraw US forces from Taiwan as Sino-American relations improved. Kissinger’s diplomacy paved the way for the groundbreaking 1972 summit between Nixon, Zhou, and Mao Zedong, which ended 23 years of diplomatic isolation and mutual hostility between the two countries. A tacit strategic anti-Soviet alliance was formed between China and the United States, and this led to economic and cultural exchanges and the establishment of “liaison offices” in the Chinese and American capitals. However, the full normalization of relations with China would not occur until 1979.
- Henry played a significant role in the Vietnam War peace negotiations during his tenure as National Security Adviser to President Richard Nixon. Kissinger’s involvement in Indochina began earlier when he worked as a consultant on foreign policy for the White House and State Department. In 1967, he mediated between Washington and Hanoi in a peace initiative. Kissinger advocated for a negotiating strategy in which the US and North Vietnam would sign an armistice and agree to pull their troops out of South Vietnam. He believed that none of America’s allies would trust the US if South Vietnam were abandoned too quickly. Kissinger was also instrumental in bombing Cambodia to disrupt raids into South Vietnam and the 1970 Cambodian campaign and the subsequent widespread bombing of Khmer Rouge targets in Cambodia.
- Kissinger was frustrated by the stalemated Paris peace talks in late 1969, owing to the obstructionism of the South Vietnamese delegation. Therefore, he began secret peace talks with North Vietnamese officials in Paris parallel to the official talks that the South Vietnamese were unaware of. On January 27, 1973, Kissinger and North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho signed a peace agreement that called for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Vietnam by March in exchange for North Vietnam freeing all the U.S. prisoners of war. Both Kissinger and Tho were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1973, for their work in negotiating the ceasefires contained in the Paris Peace Accords on “Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” The prize was controversial and Tho rejected it, telling Kissinger that peace had not been achieved.
- In 1972, Kissinger agreed to an interview with journalist Oriana Fallaci, which turned out to be a disaster. Kissinger stated that Vietnam was a “useless war”, made a controversial comparison of himself to a cowboy, and implied he preferred dinner with Lê Đức Thọ over Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. Nixon was enraged and refused to see Kissinger for weeks. Kissinger later called it the “most disastrous conversation” he ever had with the press. Fallaci described Kissinger as an “intellectual adventurer” and a self-styled Metternich. During the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, Nixon and Kissinger supported the Pakistani dictator, Yahya Khan, despite reports of “selective genocide” targeting Bengali intellectuals and supporters of independence. They also ended the tenure of US consul general Archer Blood, who had expressed dissent against their policy. Kissinger was concerned about Soviet influence in the region and sought to demonstrate the value of a tacit alliance with the US to China, Pakistan’s ally. Kissinger also made derogatory comments about Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which he later regretted. As National Security Adviser under Nixon, Kissinger pioneered détente with the Soviet Union, negotiating the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Nixon focused on relations with the European Economic Community in his second term, with Kissinger seeking to revitalize NATO. Nixon excluded Kissinger and other Jewish Americans from policy-making on Israel. Kissinger did not prioritize the plight of Soviet Jews in US foreign policy.
- In 1973, Nixon fired Secretary of State Rogers and replaced him with Kissinger, who later admitted to missing the significance of the Egyptian-Saudi alliance. Kissinger delayed informing Nixon about the start of the Yom Kippur War to keep him from interfering. He promised to replace Israel’s losses in equipment after the war but sought to delay arm shipments to improve the odds of making peace. The embargo on oil shipments to the United States enraged King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and Kissinger’s efforts to lift it failed until he promised to sell Saudi Arabia weapons that it had previously been denied. Kissinger engaged in “shuttle diplomacy” to make the armistice the basis of a preferment peace. He avoided involving France and the United Kingdom in the peace negotiations to minimize Soviet Union’s sway over the peace negotiations.
- Kissinger was worried about Soviet influence in the Persian Gulf. In 1969, Iraq and Iran had a conflict over the Shatt-al-Arab River, and in 1971, Iraq broke off diplomatic relations with Iran. In 1972, Nixon and Kissinger visited Tehran and agreed to support the Kurdish guerrillas fighting for independence from Iraq. Kissinger believed that Iran would act as America’s surrogate in the Persian Gulf and saw Iraq’s Baathist regime as a potential threat to the United States. Supporting Iran and the peshmerga was seen as the best counterweight.
- In 1974, Kissinger faced criticism for the U.S. government’s handling of the Greek junta’s coup and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The State Department was informed in advance of the coup, leading to accusations of U.S. involvement. Kissinger was a target of anti-American sentiment in Greece and Cyprus, and some years later expressed discomfort with his handling of the crisis. The New York Times and other newspapers were critical, and State Department officials were dissatisfied with his alleged arrogance and ignorance. The US maintained relationships with non-left-wing governments. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress ended in 1973. Negotiations over the Panama Canal led to its handing over to Panamanian control. Kissinger initially supported the normalization of US-Cuba relations but changed his mind due to Cuba’s involvement in independence struggles in Angola and Mozambique.
- Kissinger was involved in the failed attempt to prevent the inauguration of socialist Salvador Allende in Chile and the subsequent military coup led by Pinochet. He also canceled an official US letter to Chile warning against political assassinations. Kissinger has been accused of involvement in Operation Condor, a covert program of political repression and assassination. The family of Chilean general René Schneider accused Kissinger of collaborating in arranging Schneider’s kidnapping resulting in his death, but the case was dismissed by the court. Kissinger gave the “green light” to the Argentine military junta’s clandestine repression against left-wing dissidents, resulting in brutal reprisals and disappearances. U.S. Ambassador to Buenos Aires, Robert C. Hill, was disturbed by the human rights abuses and tried to intervene but was stonewalled. Kissinger later hindered the Carter administration’s efforts to halt the mass killings by praising the regime during a visit. During the 1970s, Kissinger supported Brazil’s nuclear weapons program, citing its alliance with the U.S. and benefits for private nuclear industry actors in the U.S. This position was opposed by influential voices in the U.S. Congress, the State Department, and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. In 1976, Kissinger pressured Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith to speed up the transition to black majority rule with the help of South Africa’s Prime Minister. Kissinger’s involvement helped to isolate Rhodesia and hastened the end of white minority rule.
- Kissinger’s Department of State had a more friendly attitude towards Portugal than previous administrations, despite their racist and corporatist regime. They successfully renewed the lease of the American military base in the Azores in 1971 and thanked Portugal for using it to resupply Israel in the Yom Kippur War. After the fall of the regime, Kissinger was worried about the hasty decolonization plan and the inclusion of the Portuguese Communist Party in the new government. In 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, which had declared its independence. During a meeting with Indonesian President Suharto, Kissinger, and President Ford did not object to the proposed annexation and only wanted it done quickly. The invasion resulted in the deaths of almost a quarter of the Timorese population from 1975 to 1981. U.S. arms sales to Indonesia continued despite the invasion. Kissinger halted the Soviet submarine base in Cuba during the 1970 Cienfuegos Crisis and considered launching air strikes against Cuba in 1976. He supported giving Spanish Sahara to Morocco and misled President Ford into thinking the International Court of Justice favored Morocco. He was also involved in improving relations with Zaire’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, which he described as a policy success.
Later Career Work
- After Nixon resigned in the Watergate scandal, Kissinger’s influence in the new presidential administration of Gerald R. Ford was diminished, and he was replaced by Brent Scowcroft as National Security Advisor during the “Halloween Massacre” cabinet reshuffle of November 1975. Kissinger left office as Secretary of State when Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated Republican Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential elections. However, Kissinger continued to participate in policy groups, such as the Trilateral Commission, and to maintain political consulting, speaking, and writing engagements. Kissinger was critical of the foreign policy of the Jimmy Carter administration, saying in 1980 that it “has managed the extraordinary feat of having, at one and the same time, the worst relations with our allies, the worst relations with our adversaries, and the most serious upheavals in the developing world since the end of the Second World War.” After Kissinger left office in 1977, he was offered an endowed chair at Columbia University. However, there was student opposition to the appointment, which became a subject of media commentary, and Columbia canceled the appointment as a result.
- Despite the cancellation of his appointment, Kissinger continued to remain active in academia and politics. In 1982, he founded a consulting firm, Kissinger Associates, and is a partner in affiliate Kissinger McLarty Associates with Mack McLarty, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. He also served on the board of directors of Hollinger International, a Chicago-based newspaper group, and as of March 1999, was a director of Gulfstream Aerospace. He was appointed by President George W. Bush to chair the newly established National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States to investigate the September 11 attacks in November 2002. Kissinger stepped down as chairman on December 13, 2002, rather than reveal his business client list, when queried about potential conflicts of interest. In the Rio Tinto espionage case of 2009–2010, Kissinger was paid $5 million to advise the multinational mining company how to distance itself from an employee who had been arrested in China for bribery. Despite criticism from some quarters, Kissinger has continued to be involved in international politics, calling for a world free of nuclear weapons and advancing this agenda through the Nuclear Threat Initiative. In December 2008, Kissinger was given the American Patriot Award by the National Defense University Foundation “in recognition for his distinguished career in public service.”
- Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor of the United States, has been known for his controversial views on foreign policy. During the Yugoslav Wars, Kissinger criticized the US for recognizing Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state and warned against Western involvement in the conflict. He also criticized the Rambouillet Agreement and considered it a provocation to start bombing. Kissinger advised President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney during the Iraq War and suggested that victory over the insurgency was the only meaningful exit strategy. In his 2008 interview with the Hoover Institution, Kissinger supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq but also criticized the administration for invading with too few troops, mishandling relations with certain allies, and disbanding the Iraqi Army as part of de-Baathification.
- Kissinger has also been vocal about his views on India and China. He considered India an ally of the US with parallel objectives and interests. In his book On China, he chronicled the evolution of Sino-American relations and laid out the challenges to a partnership of “genuine strategic trust” between the two countries. In a 2018 interview with Financial Times, he stated that he believes China wants to restore its historic role as the Middle Kingdom and be “the principal adviser to all humanity”. His views on China have been controversial, with some criticizing his willingness to engage with a country accused of human rights abuses and aggressive territorial ambitions.
- In May 2022, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger suggested a diplomatic solution to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine that would restore the status quo ante bellum, including ceding Crimea and parts of Donbas to Russia. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected this suggestion and insisted that Ukraine would only agree to peace if Russia returned Crimea and the Donbas region. In July 2022, Kissinger clarified his position, stating that he supported a ceasefire line on the borders of 24 February and that Ukraine should not give up any territory that it had when the war started. In January 2023, Kissinger advocated for US support to be intensified until the borders of 24 February are recognized, at which point negotiations would begin. He also expressed his admiration for President Zelensky and suggested that NATO membership for Ukraine may be a logical outcome at the end of the peace process.
Henry Kissinger Awards and Achievements
Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were jointly offered the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on the Paris Peace Accords which prompted the withdrawal of American forces from the Vietnam war. (Le Duc Tho declined to accept the award on the grounds that such “bourgeois sentimentalities” were not for him and that peace had not actually been achieved in Vietnam.) Kissinger donated his prize money to charity, did not attend the award ceremony, and later offered to return his prize medal after the fall of South Vietnam to North Vietnamese forces 18 months later.
In 1973, Kissinger received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.
In 1976, Kissinger became the first honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
On January 13, 1977, Kissinger received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford.
In 1980, Kissinger won the National Book Award in History[a] for the first volume of his memoirs, The White House Years.
In 1986, Kissinger was one of twelve recipients of the Medal of Liberty.
In 1995, he was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George.
In 2000, Kissinger received the Sylvanus Thayer Award at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
In 2002, Kissinger became an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee.
On March 1, 2012, Kissinger was awarded Israel’s President’s Medal.
In October 2013, Kissinger was awarded the Henry A. Grunwald Award for Public Service by Lighthouse International.
Kissinger was a member of the Founding Council of the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford.
Kissinger is a member of the following groups:
- Aspen Institute
- Atlantic Council
- Bilderberg Group
- Bohemian Club
- Council on Foreign Relations
- Center for Strategic and International Studies
Kissinger served on the board of Theranos, a health technology company, from 2014 to 2017.
He received the Theodore Roosevelt American Experience Award from the Union League Club of New York in 2009.
He became the Honorary Chair of the advisory board for the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in 2018.
He also received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
How much is Henry Kissinger’s net worth?
Henry Kissinger is a well-known political figure who has served in various important positions in the US government. He has accumulated a net worth of over $10 million as of April 2023, which comes primarily from his political career. He has also worked as a geopolitical consultant and author, which has contributed to his wealth. Despite his considerable fortune, Kissinger is known for living a modest lifestyle and has expressed satisfaction with his earnings.
Throughout his career, Kissinger has been recognized for his expertise in international relations and diplomacy. He has authored several books on these topics, which have contributed to his net worth. Additionally, he has served as a consultant to various governments and corporations, earning substantial fees for his services. Despite his wealth, Kissinger is known for his humility and is admired by many for his dedication to public service.
Who is Henry Kissinger’s Wife?
Henry Kissinger was first married to Ann Fleischer on February 6, 1949, and they had two children together, Elizabeth and David. However, they divorced in 1964. He then married Nancy Maginnes on March 30, 1974, and they have been married ever since. The couple currently resides in both Kent, Connecticut and New York City.
Kissinger’s son, David Kissinger, has had a successful career in television production, serving as an executive with NBC Universal Television Studio before becoming head of Conaco, Conan O’Brien’s production company, in 2005. Despite his high-profile career, Kissinger and his wife appear to enjoy a quiet life without any major disturbances.
How tall is Henry Kissinger?
While Henry Kissinger’s appearance may not be as important as his accomplishments in the world of politics and diplomacy, it is notable that he has a commanding presence. He has a large body type and stands at a height of 1.75 meters, which is around 5 feet 9 inches. Despite being in his late 90s, Kissinger still maintains a healthy weight of 71 kilograms. He has distinctive features such as his pale green eyes and white hair, which have become synonymous with his public image over the years.
Overall, Kissinger’s appearance has not been a major factor in his success, but his commanding presence and reputation have undoubtedly helped him achieve many of his diplomatic objectives throughout his career. In February 1982, at the age of 58, Henry underwent coronary bypass surgery. He has got a healthy body as of now.
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