Monday, September 13, 2004

Trials of Henry Kissinger (long post)

As part of my current documentary obsession, I watched The Trials of Henry Kissinger this weekend. From watching the entire thing (albeit rather sleepily), here's what I can recall as the major reasons some people think he should be tried.

1. He was involved in/responsible for the delaying of the peace talks which would have ended the Viet Nam war much more quickly. The number of American and Vietnamese casualties after this delay until the end of the war exceeded the number killed before the peace talks.

2. He was involved in/responsible for extending the Viet Nam war much more deeply into Cambodia (through a campaign of "secret bombing"), causing the deaths of 1,000s of Cambodians and Americans, and a destabilization of Cambodia, leaving it open to be taken over by the murderous Khmer Rouge.

3. He oversaw the assasination of the general of the Chilean army who was standing the way of a military coup to overthrow democratically elected Allende. The overthrow of Allende was important to US interests because of American copper mining companies working there, as well as issues with Pepsi Cola. Because of Allende's overthrow, Pinochet stepped in (with US support).

There's also lots of other issues involving East Timor, Cypress and some US stuff but I was too worn out to take it all in.

My take on the film as film: lots of good information, but as a movie not as compelling as The Fog of War. Could have been better organized. The filmmaker's goal was "making the case for there to be a trial" as opposed to trying to prove that Kissinger is guilty. Which is a good way to try and keep things relatively neutral, although the film obviously isn't trying to achieve too much on both sides.

I read the article about Kissinger in Harper's a while back(the link is to a good panel discussion) , and I'm going to read the book as well.

Should Kissinger be tried for crimes against humanity? In the Fog of War, Robert McNamara admits that many of the decisions he or the presidents he served made would be cause for prosecution in front of an international trial. However, he notes, only the defeated ever end up standing trial. This brings up all kinds of questions around illegality and immorality, around the idea of what is justice and what is retribution. As the world grows increasingly smaller and interconnected, there is this question of how to deal with "the monsters of the world"? But first how do you define who those monsters are?

In the panel discussion linked above, I thought the following quote by Alfred Rubin at the Fletcher School was a good one:

"Henry Kissinger reflected then, as I think his successors have reflected, the overwhelming urges and prejudices of the American people. The racism that was reflected in our policy in Southeast Asia was a racism deeply embedded in American society. Henry was not an aberration. He was a kid from George Washington High in the Bronx and, I need not remind you, Harvard. And he reflected the values and the often unspoken inner ethic of our most revered institutions. He got away with it, not because he was some sly magician or some skillful manipulator, but because he reflected so often what so many of his peers in the press, in Congress, in the Executive branch, in the bureaucracy, in the political world, in the intellectual world, in academia felt. In his savagery toward the outside world, his heedlessness, his imperial mentality, he was quintessentially reflective of very powerful strains in American life, and we must not forget that. He was not apart from the main. And though we now single him out for responsibility, the responsibility, of course, ultimately is ours."

Pinochet is now likely to face trial which continues to stir up the discussion around the whole idea of an international court of law. As the book and movie point out, Kissinger has much to fear in Pinochet going to trial. I wish I knew more about the ins and outs of The International Criminal Court (which the US has been refusing to be a part of, and not surprisingly, Kissinger denounced in an essay). So much more to learn.

What does this mean about being in power? And about living in the most powerful country in the world?

As an aside, I feel kinda funny chatting about these films that were much more topical six months ago (The Fog of War) or three years ago (The Trials). So I'm a bit behind the eightball on all of these, but hey, I never said this blog was about up to the minute news (although the latest news on Pinochet is only two weeks old so I'm not that behind I guess). And it can't hurt to brush up on the thrust of the arguments for the next time it pops up at your dinner party, right?

UPDATE: A good pal (and poli-sci mentor) pointed out that September 11 was the anniversary (among other things) of the coup d'etat in Chile in 1973. So maybe I'm more topical than I thought. Spooky is right.

1 comment:

resident jason said...

i, too, am going to read the book about kissinger. that man scares the hell out of me. nice post.