Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Tim Walker, Fri., May 11, 2001
The Trial of Henry Kissingerby Christopher Hitchens
Verso, 160 pp., $22
Plenty of Americans shake their heads to find out that Japanese schoolchildren are still never taught about Pearl Harbor or Korean "comfort women" or certain other unpleasant episodes from Japan's recent past. Of course, we ourselves are ripe for head shaking, too, over what we did to the Sioux, or the Nez Perce, or the slaves. "Well," we say, "that was a long time ago ... "
The overthrow of democratically elected governments in Bangladesh, Chile, and Cyprus wasn't a long time ago. Indonesia's original invasion of East Timor was similarly recent. Thirty years on, the illegal bombings of Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War are fresh in the minds of their survivors. All of these things happened on Henry Kissinger's watch, and Christopher Hitchens makes a good case that they all happened with his complicity.
Hitchens, who artfully pulls off the trick of being a staff writer for both Vanity Fair and The Nation, is a brilliant polemicist and a tireless reporter. Both sets of skills are on display throughout this book as he presents damning documentary evidence against Kissinger in case after case. Hitchens is careful to point out that he is after the former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State not for every bad thing the man has ever done (which would take forever, anyway), but only for those crimes for which a court could find him guilty today.
Hitchens first marshals evidence for crimes relating to Indochina, especially for Kissinger's deep involvement in the Laos and Cambodia bombings, and for his illegal role (as a private citizen) in sabotaging the Paris peace talks on the eve of the 1968 Presidential election. Hitchens then turns to Kissinger's actions while in office relating to Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus, and East Timor, then summarizes his post-Washington career as a consultant to multinational corporations in their relations with autocratic regimes. (Some Austinites may receive a thrill of disgust to know that this section touches on Kissinger's role in Freeport McMoRan's close relations with Suharto.)
Hitchens is consistent in his attack as he presents one declassified document after another; he gives little space for mitigating factors or counterarguments in Kissinger's favor. Fair enough, though -- the book is openly billed as "the case for the prosecution" against Kissinger, and, in any case, the man has enough apologists among the high and mighty. And this begs the question: Will any cases ever be brought against this friend of thugs and moguls?
We can hope so. The war criminals of Japan paid for their crimes, swung for them, a long time ago. Lately, Pinochet and other monsters have been brought to heel. But there's still a big one on the loose -- unindicted, highly paid, sickeningly revered. The question remains whether we will face Kissinger's full story only in the textbooks of coming generations.