Former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger was an extraordinary man. He was the most influential and creative diplomat and statesman in modern American history.
His foreign relations with China, Russia, and Vietnam represented a complicated strategic synergism. Only a team such as President Richard Nixon and Secretary Kissinger could have made this complex balancing act succeed. As a result, Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the Vietnam War.
Dr. Kissinger developed an unrivaled capacity for diplomatic strategic thinking and implementation based on many experiences throughout his life. He earned a doctorate from Harvard and wrote a series of important books on a wide range of complex topics. He was senior adviser to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for the 1960, 1964, and 1968 presidential campaigns. Kissinger served as national security adviser to President Nixon – and then as Secretary of State for both Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford. After he retired from public office, Dr. Kissinger became an informal (but crucially influential) adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
We knew Dr. Kissinger as a friend and as an adviser. He was always generous with his time and thoughtful in his advice and counsel.
Just this year, we interviewed Dr. Kissinger about his life for a three-part documentary series called “Journey to America.” This new series highlights immigrants who came to America by legal means and increased the exceptional nature of our country. As a testament to the American Dream, Dr. Kissinger, who came to the U.S. from Europe as a 15-year-old, was the perfect guest for our new series.
Dr. Kissinger was born in Furth, Germany on May 27, 1923. When he was nine years old, Adolph Hitler came into power. As a Young Jew, Dr. Kissinger was constantly threatened and attacked by Nazis. Finally, in 1938, at the age of 15, he and his family left the growing antisemitism and violence of Nazi Germany and migrated to America.
Dr. Kissinger was deeply affected by the openness of America and the opportunity to work hard and improve yourself. In 1943, at the age of 20, he became a naturalized citizen while serving in the U.S. Army. His fluent German and brilliant mind helped him become an intelligence officer who interrogated the Gestapo and German soldiers. He also was assigned to run several small German towns during the denazification period.
When Dr. Kissinger returned home to New York, he began an education journey that led him to a Ph.D in history from Harvard. Soon after graduating, he wrote two critically important books. “A World Restored” was about Austria-Hungarian Foreign Minister Klemens von Metternich’s work after the defeat of Napoleon and the use of diplomacy to establish stability. Dr. Kissinger then wrote the book which established his national reputation. In “Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy,” he argued against the nuclear weapon doctrine of the time. Dr. Kissinger advocated the use of tactical nuclear weapons as a way of avoiding using massive hydrogen bombs.
Dr. Kissinger and President Nixon formed a remarkable team. Nixon was strategic in his thinking and wanted to find a way to stabilize the world to maximize American security. They had to deal with the Vietnam War (so that America had a reasonable chance to win). They had to prepare for the growing strength of the Soviet Union. And they reversed the American policy of refusing to recognize the Chinese Communist dictatorship. Instead, they sought to find a method for Washington and Beijing to work together. Dr. Kissinger and President Nixon reasoned that an American-Chinese rapprochement would put enormous pressure on Russia – and ultimately dramatically increase the American position as the balance between the other two countries.
The amazing thing about the Nixson-Kissinger team was their ability to simultaneously handle three or four big strategic issues at once. Imagine thinking through effectively dealing with Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party after a generation of hostility and isolation – while also finding a way to expand and deepen ties to Moscow and the Soviet dictatorship. (Kissinger negotiated the first strategic arms limitation treaty). All the while, they were working through the military, political and diplomatic complexities of negotiating with the North Vietnamese and reassuring our allies in the South.
Dr. Kissinger had the brainpower, strategic mindset, management skills, and sheer energy to handle all three while working with President Nixon.
After Dr. Kissinger left office, he developed an advisory business, Kissinger Associates. He remained amazingly active as he wrote books, gave speeches, advised clients on government issues, and traveled around the world.
Even in his late 90s, when we would see Dr. Kissinger, he would recount his latest dinner with Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping (he dined at least once a year with each of them). His travel schedule and energy level were simply amazing and his effortless ability to earn the respect of every person he met was a genuine art form.
The world is a better place because of Dr. Henry Kissinger. We will miss him.