The Trials of Henry Kissinger
When I was in college in the late ’70s, the mere mention of Richard Nixon’s name during a campus film showing was enough to elicit hisses and boos. I thought back to those days while watching The Trials of Henry Kissinger, a documentary indictment of the architect of Nixon’s foreign policy. The movie, which reiterates the polemic advanced by Christopher Hitchens’ 2001 book, raises what sounds like a seismic moral question: Since Kissinger’s actions led, directly or indirectly, to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, including civilians, in Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, and Timor, is he nothing less than a war criminal?
The movie makes its case with a blistering account of the Kissinger era, from his dire manipulation of the Paris Peace Talks to win his job in the Nixon administration to his secret role in the 1973 Chilean coup that toppled President Allende and installed the murderous Pinochet regime. None of this is news, though it does remain a vast and sobering chapter in the centralized abuse of American leadership. That said, ”The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” in tossing around words like ”genocide” and ”war criminal,” offers up a condemnation that is blanket yet free-floatingly vague in its wrath, its indiscriminate lumping together of realpolitik, corruption, and insinuations of illegality. The film makes it hard to resist the counterargument that if Henry Kissinger is, indeed, a war criminal, one is but a short step from making the same claim about Harry Truman for the bombing of Hiroshima, FDR for the decimation of Dresden, or even Abraham Lincoln for his massive extension of the carnage of the Civil War.
True, all three of these men had noble causes. But the insidiousness of the Cold War is that it too was viewed as a moral crusade, and not just by Kissinger. Watching this film, one is left with the inescapable conclusion that Hitchens’ obsession with Kissinger is, at bottom, a sophisticated flower child’s desire to purge the world of the tooth and claw of human power. The movie isn’t, finally, an argument. It’s a long angry ”Boo!”