The Flowering of Henry Kissinger

Kissinger: The Uses of Power

by David Landau
Houghton Mifflin, 270 pp., $5.95


by Alan Palmer
Harper & Row, 405 pp., $12.50


For a book that developed from the pages of the Harvard Crimson as part of the student revolt against the Vietnam war and Kissinger’s part in it, David Landau’s Kissinger: The Uses of Power opens with a prologue full of romantic nonsense. “Kissinger,” he writes, “is not a man who blindly seeks power…. It is true that he has an unusual impulse toward power and authority, but it is an impulse that springs from a strong sense of personal mission….” This sounds more like a press release from Herbert Klein than a put-down from a campus radical.

Or what is one to make of the passage in which Landau tells us, echoing one of Kissinger’s favorite philosophers,

Hegel’s belief in history as an organic process is really mystical in origin…it may perhaps best be described as an article of faith. It is a faith to which Kissinger adheres. His belief that the United States has global responsibilities…cannot be described as nationalistic or self-centered [my italics]; it is a vision exposed by Hegelian lumière.

Hegelian horsefeathers! Every imperialism in the last two centuries has broadcast mystical nonsense about its mission civilisatrice.

Worst of all is to be told that Kissinger’s view of the US role in the world “might best be described as a kind of muscular liberalism, designed to defend a pluralistic world order and prevent the emergence of forces which might threaten it.” That has been the State Department line since the cold war began. “His opposition to wars of national liberation, brutal and unjustified though it has been,” Landau continues, “does not spring from any desire to suppress movements for national independence and is not without its measure of compassion for the peoples who are fighting them.” Compassion is one quality wholly lacking in everything Kissinger has ever written.

Landau concludes that Kissinger’s opposition to wars of national liberation springs from the fear that “if such wars should appear to succeed, then other great powers with less noble intentions [my italics] will be spurred toward ideological quests.” Those two Kissinger assistants Landau thanks for talking with him “at some length”—what poop did they feed this bright fledgling radical journalist to make him serve up such apologetic tripe?

Wars of national liberation” is a new term for an old imperial problem—how to deal with popular unrest that threatens friendly or puppet regimes. We have been intervening against such movements for a century in Central America and the Caribbean. Kissinger has been concerned with them for a long time. He even launched new terms for them in the Rockefeller Brothers Fund report called “International Security: The Military Aspect,” which was prepared under his direction.

This says we need to create a military establishment “diversified” enough in its weaponry and tactics to deal even with “concealed wars” or “non-overt aggression.” The latter is a metaphysical hobgoblin well suited to the paranoia of the cold war. The report becomes clearer when it speaks of “concealed wars” which “may appear as internal revolution or civil war.” It cites Greece and Vietnam as examples. This report was published in January, 1958, and shows how sensitive he and his Rockefeller patrons were even then to Indochina.

The gradual penetration of a government by concealed foreign penetration” may present issues, the report said, which are “deliberately and intrinsically unclear.” But “our security” and that of “the rest of the non-Communist world” may depend, the report urged, on our willingness to act in these unclear situations that “fit neither the soldier’s classic concept of war nor the diplomat’s classic concept of aggression.”1 That is how we acted against Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala and Papandreou in Greece. And that is how and why we are still in Vietnam today.

How little Kissinger’s basic views have changed since those days may be seen in an excerpt Landau quotes from a file of “not for attribution” Kissinger backgrounders he obtained. Kissinger told the press at San Clemente on June 26, 1970, that the Administration felt that, “precisely because we are here not only to liquidate one war, but because we have a larger responsibility to try to create what we hope is to be a more lasting peace what we do in Vietnam has to be measured in terms larger than Vietnam itself.” He said, “History teaches us that people do not forgive their leaders for producing disasters, even if what they do seems to reflect their immediate wishes.” He illustrated this in another backgrounder Landau quotes by pointing out that Chamberlain, so popular right after Munich, was discredited eighteen months later.

This is the “papa knows best” attitude that has marked Vietnam policy from the beginning, the strabismic analogy that equates a nationalist uprising in Asia with the struggle against Hitlerism, and the smug assurance that ordinary people in Vietnam and at home must suffer and die in the name of History, a synonym for American face and prestige. The phrasing is more sententious but the lumière is the same as Lyndon’s.


As a quickie by a youngster just graduated from Harvard, Landau’s book is a feat, the debut of a young man who will go far, I believe, in American journalism. Much in his account of Kissinger is useful and engrossing but written too swiftly, at times contradictory and not always reliable. The most sensational revelation in the book does not check out. He says at one point (p. 71) that when the Berlin wall went up, Kissinger recommended to President Kennedy that he “order an invasion of the Eastern sector” to tear it down. At another point (pp. 62-63) he says Kissinger’s recommendations at the time “embodied a willingness to threaten Moscow with the use of tactical [nuclear?] weapons over Soviet behavior in the divided city.” This, if true, would make Kissinger quite a giddy brinksman.

But Landau gives no source for the second statement. The first he credits to Daniel Ellsberg in a footnote which says, “Other officials also knew of the Kissinger recommendation.” The other officials are not named, and Ellsberg denies he told Landau that Kissinger had made such a recommendation at the time to President Kennedy. All Ellsberg says is that Kissinger, in a conversation with Ellsberg many months later, said, “We should have knocked the wall down.” One unnamed Landau source, who was not an official, told me he heard the same story but as hearsay and furnished the names of two others he said would really know. They both denied ever hearing the story before and both said the idea that Kissinger would make so reckless a recommendation was “out of character.” Kissinger himself, when asked, sent word through his secretary that the story was “total outrageous nonsense.”

At other times, despite his strong bias, Landau can be amazingly uncritical. When he describes the atmosphere of the Fifties in which Kissinger became an adviser on foreign and military policy, Landau accepts wholesale many of the premises and pretenses of the cold war. At one point he speaks of the postwar research institutes which sprang up “at Harvard and across the country” and says they “mass produced” a “whole generation of philosopher kings.” It would have been more sober to note that most of them were financed directly or indirectly by the Pentagon and that what they mass produced was not philosopher kings but military intellectuals, gurus for the gilded ashrams of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Air Force. We have already seen in our first installment (NYR, October 19) in how many of these Kissinger joined other consultants in military meditation.

Landau’s description of the Fifties swallows all its stereotypes. “These were the frightful days of Stalin,” he writes,

…the days of valiant Cold War confrontation, with the nations of the Free World locked in deadly combat with an ever-expanding Communist Bloc. And as a counterpoise to a hyperbolically growing Soviet world, there arose a “structuralist” tendency in American foreign policy….

All this overblown writing obscures the realities and echoes American propaganda. Is this how they teach recent American history at Harvard?

I would put the activity of these cold-war intellectuals in a very different perspective. To see the whole period clearly one must go back to that blinding flash over Hiroshima. It gave some of the most benighted a moment of vision. Only last March the State Department declassified and printed for the first time a secret memorandum written a quarter century ago shortly after the first bomb fell. The memo, virtually unnoticed when it was released, was written by the general who headed the Manhattan Project, which developed the atom bomb. “If the peoples of the major powers of the world really knew or could understand the peril inherent in atomic weapons,” Major General Leslie R. Groves wrote, “they would demand of their various governments a real solution to the problem of war.”2

Henry Kissinger’s writings and activity in the Fifties and Sixties must be seen as part of the movement to blur that vision. A whole generation of intellectuals, operating in the plush orbit of the Pentagon and the Council on Foreign Relations, worked to let institutional inertia and ancient habits have their way. They rationalized a nuclear arms race which immeasurably increased the peril. They distracted attention from the need for a wholly new world order. Instead of helping men to move away from catastrophe, they sold them that lunatic formulation, “the balance of terror,” an adaptation to the atomic age of the power politics already proven bankrupt by two world wars.

This generation of sometimes weirdo geopoliticians was not the fruit of a mental epidemic. It was a response to an urgent demand. After World War II, an American century seemed to have begun. American capitalism was expanding into every continent in the vacuum created by the devastation of its business rivals. But the new dangers seemed as great as the new opportunities. Soviet power had moved halfway across Europe to the Elbe. China was falling to communism. A Third World was rising as the old empires fell apart.

An even more fundamental threat was the technological revolution in warfare. For a century US investments in Latin America had been protected by gunboat diplomacy. Behind the Monroe Doctrine were the marines. The Truman Doctrine was the Monroe Doctrine extended. But how could the new investments in Europe, Asia, and Africa be safeguarded if people began to believe that war had become too dangerous a game to play? How to maintain an empire without a credible threat to use force? How to maintain a credible threat without a public conditioned to live with the bomb and like it?

The acid test of a policy,” Kissinger wrote in his book on Metternich, “is its ability to obtain domestic support.” In 1955, the year he left Harvard to work for the Council on Foreign Relations, the effects of Hiroshima had yet to wear off. Even General MacArthur that year told the American Legion war was now obsolete. His speech, though he sounded in it like Bertrand Russell, was made available to an audience of millions by The Reader’s Digest. It undercut the very basis of the cold war and the arms race. General MacArthur said these were fueled “by two great illusions,” the Soviet fear that we were “preparing to attack them” and our fear “that the Soviets are preparing to attack us.” He said both were wrong, that war could “mean nothing but mutual disaster.” “But,” he warned, “the constant acceleration of preparation may well, without specific intent, produce a spontaneous combustion.”3

These are illusions Marshal Grechko and Admiral Moorer still cherish. In spite of the hopes aroused by SALT I, “the feverish activity in developing new and deadlier weapons” which MacArthur then assailed has if anything been speeded up. The only course of safety, the old warrior pleaded, was construction of a new world order in which armies could be reduced to the minimum required for “internal order and international police.” For the Pentagon this was far more subversive than anything in Marx or Lenin. It threatened the military with technological unemployment.

Thanks to the labors of the military intellectuals nobody of prominence talks that way any more. The last major occasion was Kennedy’s American University speech in June, 1963, his greatest. Of course, had Kissinger been swept away by such sentiments in the Fifties, he might by now hope to occupy as high a post in Washington as executive secretary of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.


In his books and in the Rockefeller Brothers Fund report of 1957-1958 on “International Security: The Military Aspect” which was prepared under his direction, Kissinger, like his hero Metternich, put his great talents and greater energies at the service of a rickety and anachronistic order. “The willingness to engage in nuclear war when necessary,” said the Rockefeller report, “is part of the price of our freedom.”4 This, the ferocious conventional wisdom of the Pentagon, runs like a leitmotiv throughout his work. The only shifts were tactical. Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, published in 1957, placed its reliance on small nuclear weapons and limited nuclear war. The Necessity for Choice, published in 1961, backed away from limited nuclear war in favor of building up strong conventional forces,5 but rejected the idea of a “no first use” agreement because “it would be extremely risky to create the impression that we would acquiesce in a conventional defeat in vital areas.”6

All these cool calculations make nuclear war sound very antiseptic. Human suffering and moral qualm do not penetrate the insulated walls of Kissinger’s thinking. In machtpolitik such considerations are irrelevant.

The Rockefeller report on military security was about as militaristic in its thinking as if it had been written at the Pentagon. It was for a sharp increase in the military budget: “Where the security of the United States and the free world is at stake, cost cannot be the basic consideration.”7 In the great national debate on the fallout danger and nuclear testing, it supported those who opposed a test ban, taking the line of Edward Teller—the only scientist on the panel—that an end to testing would be positively inhumane because it would prevent us from developing “clean” bombs and an ABM.8 Fallout was not so dangerous, but peril lurked in disarmament negotiations. We must not be “seduced by Soviet slogans, which in the past have used these negotiations as a means to disarm their intended victims. The nature of disarmament must be understood if peace and not slavery is to result from efforts to attain it” (p. 143). This was the standard model demonology of the time.


The best clues to Kissinger as a diplomat still lie in his study of Metternich. Nothing would have surprised Kissinger’s hero more than to be told that a century and a half later he would be held up as an admirable example to the ruling class in an anxious America. He regarded the American republic as the source of a “flood of evil doctrines and pernicious examples.”9 The republic returned the compliment by promulgating the Monroe Doctrine to keep his “evil system” out of the New World.

In his secret memorandum to the Tzar Alexander, Metternich located the “moral gangrene” and revolutionary danger of their time in the “new middle classes,”10 the upstarts of wealth and talent challenging the established aristocratic order in Europe and ruling unchallenged in America. Liberalism and nationalism were the subversive doctrines Metternich set himself to oppose. One of his main weapons was a ubiquitous secret political police.11 It is no wonder that liberal and nationalist historians alike regarded the period of his ascendancy from 1815 to 1848 as one of monstrous reaction. “It was Metternich’s misfortune,” as Kissinger put it, “that history in the latter half of the nineteenth century was written by his opponents, to whom he was anathema by principle and policy.”12

A more favorable revisionist view of Metternich, from which Kissinger’s work derives, began to appear in the Twenties. The break-up of the Hapsburg empire at Versailles in the name of national “self-determination” had proven disappointing. The Balkanization of the Danube basin and the inability of the mutually jealous successor states to find a substitute in voluntary cooperation led to a general disillusion with liberalism and nationalism. The newly liberated nationalisms in power often tended to become reactionary and more ungenerous with their minorities than the old empires had been with them. In Italy and Germany, nationalism soon took the extreme form of fascism and Nazism. A nostalgia for the old order led to a reassessment of Metternich.

Kissinger’s revisionist view of Metternich as an heir of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and as a Good European, a preserver of peace by a wise and agile manipulation of the balance of power, had its origin in Vienna in 1925, in a huge two-volume biography by a Pan-German Austrian historian, von Srbik.13 The cosmopolitan Metternich, who spoke and wrote French by preference and was rather disdainful of his countrymen, seems a strange hero for a Pan-German. How can you equate a Good European with a Pan-German? Von Srbik seems to have arrived at this position by a kind of corkscrew logic. He disliked Bismarck because the latter had excluded Austria from the German Reich, while Metternich had taken Austria into a German Confederation, albeit a very weak one.

During the Twenties, Austria, stripped of empire, seemed a head without a body. Von Srbik was so strongly for Austrian Anschluss with Germany that he welcomed Hitler’s annexation of it and ended up in the Nazi camp. For that he lost his chair in modern history at the University of Vienna when the war was over. His politics were as muddy as his prose, as has happened all too often in the nation of “Dichter und Denker” poets and thinkers,14 as the Germans liked to describe themselves in the heyday of Kultur and Kaiser.

The packaging of Kissinger’s study of Metternich was admirably suited to the Fifties. The very title A World Restored was, as an advertising man might say, subliminally soothing. The subtitle, “The Politics of Conservation in a Revolutionary Age,” seemed to offer exactly what the worried American big businessman was looking for: How to keep what he had in a world of change. The answer on the very first page sounded satisfactorily profound and reassuringly familiar. Even in an age facing “the threat of thermonuclear extinction,” it was not wise, Kissinger wrote, to make peace “the overriding concern.” Whenever “the international order has acknowledged that certain principles could not be compromised even for the sake of peace,” he put it, ponderously and slowly, as if extruding a new axiom in the philosophy of statecraft, “stability based on an equilibrium of forces was at least conceivable.” This is our old friend “better dead than Red” in glossier wrappings.


The Metternich Kissinger portrayed was an enemy of appeasement, a man of principle, a conservative, though—able scholar that he is—Kissinger added enough qualifications and caveats to protect his flanks. The fact is that this interpretation is open to challenge on all three counts. Metternich did his best to appease Napoleon, even to the point of arranging his marriage with a Hapsburg. It was not until Napoleon had ruined the Grand Armée in Russia, and even then was blindly and compulsively unable to settle down and compromise, that Metternich finally—like a jackal—joined in a sure kill.

Largely from Metternich’s self-serving Nachgelassenen Papieren, Kissinger has culled bouquets of sententious sayings to demonstrate his hero’s principles. I think that Alan Palmer in the preface to his new biography of Metternich has disposed very swiftly of these pretensions. Palmer says the principles “pompously propounded over the years in earnest memoranda heavy with profundity” (how like much of Kissinger’s own output!) provided Metternich “with a code of respectable obscurity in which he might envelop what was basically a day-to-day and hand-to-mouth policy” and that his were “victories of intrigue rather than of creative conviction, triumphs of expediency more than of principle.”

As for being a conservative, Metternich can more justly be described as a standpatter. Unlike Disraeli and Bismarck, he never tried to shore up the existing order by social reform. Kissinger defends his hero by saying in effect that the nature of the Austro-Hungarian empire and of his monarch Francis I made such constructive social conservatism impossible.15 The emperor was about as banal and shallow as Kissinger’s own master, Nixon.

Another of the resemblances one suspects between Kissinger and the Austrian statesman is that neither would risk his political neck by pressing his master too hard. The only aspect of domestic policy in which the otherwise rather indolent Metternich took a strong hand was in the censorship and the secret police. He seems to have seen plots everywhere. From the Decembrists in Russia to the carbonari in Sicily, he saw one vast international revolutionary conspiracy. He was even suspicious of Bible societies. In this our two statesmen differ. Kissinger’s touch of paranoia seems to be personal rather than political.

Metternich’s real gifts—like Kissinger’s—were those of a glorified con man: what better definition, after all, of the talented diplomatist? As fate closed in on Napoleon, and Metternich had to make up his mind when and on which side Austria would stand, he talked one way in private to the Russians, another to the Prussians, and still another to the French. In the thicket of Metternich studies scholarly controversy still rages over just whom he was diddling in 1813. The balance-of-power game as he played it was indeed a masterpiece of escroquerie and prestidigitation. “Though he prided himself on a logical scientific approach to political problems,” Palmer sums it up, “his gifts were those of an artist.” This is what so dazzled his colleagues and contemporaries, and this is what dazzles Kissinger’s, for in this the two men are much alike. Kissinger has a positive genius for ambiguity. His evasions are so nimble they are aesthetically pleasurable even while frustrating. He deserves to be Secretary of State, both as reward and in punishment.

Kissinger has conned his way to the top in Washington; he is a master of the seductive arts. Amid the dull plastic men at the White House he shines out by his self-disparaging humor (in this he is Jewish rather than German), by his wit, and by his sophistication. He says what Nixon says, but with a smoothness and subtlety that stirs admiration. He is willing to listen to opposing points of view with an understanding often deceptive; the understanding look is often taken for agreement. He can, without compromising himself, create the most contradictory impressions, depending on whom he happens to be talking to and wishes to impress. The newspapermen—and despite the hardboiled stereotype we are all pretty naïve and pushovers for a bit of charm—call him “Henry” affectionately. A little of his performance may even rub off on his master.

He is a skillful actor. With peaceniks he makes himself out a bit of a martyr, a hurt and misunderstood little Jewish boy. He not only makes you feel he understands your concerns; he is good at telling you what your concerns are. He asks what you would do in his place—a skillful way of creating a bond between him and his interlocutor.

With those on the other side he is the hard-boiled master of realpolitik who will not sacrifice one iota of American interest. Thus while he tells one side that the North Vietnamese could have what they want if they would only trust him and be patient and stop being such pernickety “little lawyers”—as he recently put it to Norman Mailer—he tells journalists on the right that he is working to maintain American power in Vietnam. I have not talked to him myself but you can collect quite an anthology of contradictory impressions from people who have. You can hear that he was opposed to the Cambodian incursion and the Haiphong mining and you can hear that he considered them necessary bargaining tools, and I believe the latter is in character and more likely.

Another trait which has facilitated his rise to power is that he sees absolutely no sense in doing anything which he thinks would be unsuccessful. He will not venture an idea which he thinks might be unpopular. Opportunism he calls “timing.” He is ready now, though often still only in private, to admit that certain ideas bolder men put forward in the Forties or Fifties were quite right, but untimely. In this he is, for all his academic background, as much a politician as Nixon.

Metternich’s personal talents in conning his opposite numbers in diplomacy gave him a great deal of leverage. By sheer charm and brains he often won what a faltering empire could not have achieved had it relied simply on power. The power equation of Metternich’s time was very different from that of today; there is no analogy between the crumbling hulk of the Holy Roman Empire and the United States. There was no revolutionary technological change whose magnitude matches nuclear firepower. What Metternich showed was how effective personal talents could be in diplomacy, and this I believe Kissinger may be demonstrating again today, particularly in the great turnabout of American policy represented by the reopening of relations with China and the new detente with Moscow. These took commanding skills at negotiating and for this history will credit Kissinger; the communist capitals, after all, tend to be most suspicious when offered what they had most wanted. Yet if one looks more closely at the unexpected rapprochement, this, too, was a matter of timing.


Nothing in Kissinger’s past, just as nothing in Nixon’s, prepared us for this turnabout—except for certain hints dropped in the 1968 campaign which no one took seriously; they were so out of keeping with the records of both men. Kissinger was foreign policy adviser and speechwriter for Nelson Rockefeller in the struggle for the nomination that year. Two of Rockefeller’s major but little noticed speeches are examples of what we all overlooked. The first, in May, called for “a dialogue with Communist China” and a friendlier relationship with the Soviet Union so that a Vietnam solution could be achieved “in the wide context of world relations.” The second indicated the goodies that would be available to the Soviet Union if it helped out in Vietnam and stopped exploiting “local tensions, as in the Middle East.” Rockefeller offered Moscow “most favored nation” status, a diminution of export controls, and “the widest scientific and cultural exchange.” To top it all, Rockefeller, who had constantly criticized Eisenhower for spending too little on defense, now advocated a letup in the arms race.16

We can now see that Nixon was thinking along similar lines. We now know from the book by his former speechwriter Richard J. Whalen that his so-called “secret plan” for peace was to buy a favorable settlement in Vietnam in return for economic and political concessions to Moscow and Peking.17 Looking back with hindsight one can now understand the signals Nixon sent up in August of 1968 when he told a press conference his view of communism had changed now that it was no longer monolithic and that an “era of confrontation” had ended and an era of negotiation begun. To the Republican platform committee he said the Vietnam war must be ended by negotiation but that success in the negotiation would depend on having a conference table made “wide enough, and the issues placed on it broad enough, to accommodate as many as possible of the powers and interests involved,”18 i.e., set for a big power deal. Here, too, was the shape of things to come.

Just as it is not easy until later to pick out what is significant in the din of conflicting statements during a Presidential campaign, so it is not easy for contemporaries to see the full significance of such turnabouts as the current change in American relations with China and the Soviet Union. The convergence of Rockefeller’s views with Nixon’s in 1968 can only reflect a new consensus in the American capitalist class. These matters are well chewed over in the bankers’ clubs and corporate board rooms before their regurgitation in the common cud of campaign discussion.

I believe the turnabout will be seen by the historian as a product of three developments. The Russian ICBMs made America vulnerable for the first time to devastating attack no matter how formidable its military arsenal and its ability to destroy Russia in return. As the new fact of strategy sank in, a policy of “sphere of influence” began to be seen as a necessity. A second factor was the resurgence of Japan and Western Europe to the point where their competition in the struggle for markets and resources became far more real and painful than ideological differences with Moscow and Peking. We began to look to China as a counterweight to Japan, and to Russia as a counterweight to Western Europe.

This was the old balance of power game. It was intensified by a desire to get to the untapped resources of Siberia and the potential market for capital goods in the Soviet Union before the Japanese or the Germans could. The third factor, of course, was the desire to bypass the Vietnam war and create a situation that would make possible a favorable or at least facesaving settlement in Vietnam.

The turnabout was facilitated by the fact that the Republicans were in power. Had the Democrats attempted it, the anachronistic ideological issue would have been exploited against them. The SALT agreements, the heavily subsidized wheat deal, and the trade concessions to Moscow would have been attacked as sell-outs to the Soviet Union for which the Administration had gotten in return (so far) only “atmospherics” for use in the current election campaign. As for the Peking visit, it would have been assailed as a betrayal of Nationalist China and the abandonment of the Far East to the Reds.

The Democrats out of power, on the other hand, can hardly attack policies of detente their better men have long advocated, just as it is hard for them to attack wage-price controls for which they—and George Meany—have long called. So the opposition to the turnabout was reduced to an impotent fringe on the right, and Richard the Red giant-killer turned up in the nick of time to bale Moscow out of a serious food crisis. History, destiny, fate or providence—never did they act so whimsically. These are the strings on which Kissinger danced to power. This is the route which leads Metternich’s pupil and America’s policy toward an unholy alliance with Moscow and Peking.


There would be little ground here for euphoria even if we were not savagely bombing the Indochinese peninsula day after day in the heaviest air assault of all time. For small nations as for large, there is no safety in the balance of power game. “The only time in the history of the world that we have had any external period of peace,” Nixon said last January, echoing Kissinger and Metternich, “is when there has been balance of power…. I think it will be a safer world if we have a strong healthy United States, Europe, Soviet Union, China, Japan, each balancing the other, not playing one against the other, an even balance.”

Even balance”? What even balance is there today between China and Russia, one among the poorest of nations, the other a nuclear superpower? Or between America and Japan, when the former is now registering its fifth annual $3 billion plus trade deficit with the latter—a process which has been depleting our gold reserves and fattening Japan’s to the point where the latter threatens the downfall of the dollar? The Nixon-Connally rudeness to Japan was no simple lapse in finesse but the reflection of a deep and long-smoldering envy and resentment, the first open sign of a renewed rivalry.

There never was an even balance in all history. The periods of peace were preparations for new wars, breathing spells to wait for a fresh crop of young men. What look like clever combinations and skillful agreements to the chancelleries are risings and fallings as irrational as the waves of the sea. “That five-power, balance of power thesis,” McGovern rightly said in his City Club speech on the new internationalism, “attempts to force on the contemporary world a naïve prenuclear view dating back to the nineteenth century and before.” And “Mr. Nixon forgets,” McGovern continued, “that no balance among the giants can eradicate the causes of war among the rest of mankind, nor can it dispel the demand of some 140 countries to have a say in the issues which determine their survival.”

Even the “balance among the giants” cannot eradicate the causes of war among them. A world without law, a jungle of prowling beasts, each apprehensive of the other, can have no balance and enjoy no “repose”—a favorite word of both Metternich and Kissinger.

The Concert of Europe over which Metternich presided was dissonant from the start. In fifteen years it was confined to Central and Eastern Europe. Revolutions in 1830 and 1848 shook its worm-eaten foundations and led to Metternich’s downfall. The balance of power system stimulated an ever more onerous arms race, split Europe into hostile blocs, and led inescapably to the First World War, in whose trenches men suffered the greatest bloodletting they had ever known. When it was over, men tried to get away from balance of power politics, to limit national sovereignty—a euphemism for the right to kill—and to create a world confederation. Their failure led to another unsteady balance of power, a new arms race which ended in World War II, and another attempt at a world organization. But the United Nations was soon pushed aside by a new “balance” of hostile blocs and mounting arms expenditures. Here we go again.

It is time to read again the old warnings and listen again to the saner but forgotten voices. In every so-called balance of power, Woodrow Wilson warned the Senate in 1919 when he begged it to accept the League of Nations, there lies concealed a “terror.” Never was that truer than today when we live with its most precarious and perilous form—the nuclear “balance of terror.” Let us listen to his words and try and imagine the terrible carnage from which they sprang. I cannot reread them without tears when I think of what their failure cost Wilson and the world:

War had lain at the heart of every arrangement of the Europe—of every arrangement of the world—that preceded the war. Restive peoples had been told that fleets and armies, which they toiled to sustain, meant peace; and they now knew that they had been lied to: that fleets and armies had been maintained to promote national ambitions and meant war. They knew that no old policy meant anything else but force, force—always force. And they knew that it was intolerable.

Every true heart in the world, and every enlightened judgment demanded that, at whatever cost of independent action, every government that took thought for its people or for justice or for ordered freedom should lend itself to a new purpose and utterly destroy the old order of international politics. Statesmen might see difficulties, but the people could see none and could brook no denial. A war in which they had been bled white to beat the terror that lay concealed in every Balance of Power must not end in a mere victory of arms and a new balance. The monster that has resorted to arms must be put in chains that could not be broken.19

How many more wars can this planet take before men are cured of the old delusions Nixon and Kissinger propagate?

(This is the second of two articles on Henry Kissinger.)


The Real Kissinger? February 22, 1973

  1. 1

    Prospect for America: The Rockefeller Panel Reports (Doubleday, 1961), pp. 113-114.

  2. 2

    Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946, Vol. 1, General: The United Nations, released March 16, 1972. Supt. of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. $7.25, 1,544 pages. The quotation is from page 1202. The volume is an untapped gold mine for students of how US military and diplomatic policy was shaped in the wake of the nuclear age. General Grove’s own solution was a Pax Americana.

  3. 3

    The full text of the speech may be found on page 212 of A Soldier Speaks: Public Papers and Speeches of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur (Praeger, 1965). The speech, abridged, appeared in the May, 1955, Reader’s Digest.

  4. 4

    The report was released January 6, 1958, with the notation that it was prepared under the direction of Kissinger, who was director of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund project until June 30 of that year. All the reports published by the Fund from 1958 to 1961 were published in one volume by Doubleday in 1961 under the general title Prospect for America. The report on Military Security begins on page 93 and this quotation is from page 117. Among the panel members who worked on the Military Security report were Dr. Edward Teller, the late Henry Luce, Roswell Gilpatric, Townsend Hoopes, Gordon Dean, Frank Altshul, two retired generals, and Col. George A. Lincoln, professor of social science at West Point. Kissinger’s two old friends and patrons William Y. Elliott and Fritz G.A. Kraemer are listed among “Consultants and Authors” at the end of the collected reports on pp. 466-467.

  5. 5

    The reversal may be found on pages 75-81 of The Necessity for Choice (Harper & Row, 1961). Kissinger’s preface says the chapters on strategy owe a great deal to his work at the Council on Foreign Relations in 1958-1959 as research secretary for a discussion group on “Political and Strategic Problems of Deterrence.” The names of those participating are given in the preface and include many of the same people who were on the earlier panel on nuclear weapons he served and on the military security panel at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Among new names are Robert Amory, then deputy director of the CIA; Dean Rusk, soon to be Kennedy’s Secretary of State; and H. Rowan Gaither of the famous never-published but alarmist “Gaither Report” on national defense in 1957 which the Eisenhower Administration refused to release. It called for a $22 billion fallout-shelter program and readiness for limited nuclear war (Facts on File 1957, p. 413).

  6. 6

    The Necessity for Choice, p. 91.

  7. 7

    Prospect for America, p. 155.

  8. 8

    See pp. 146-147.

  9. 9

    Metternich’s Europe edited by Mack Walker (Harper & Row, 1968), p. 12.

  10. 10

    Ibid., p. 119.

  11. 11

    In The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal has pictured the kind of ambitious young men they watched and the intimidating atmosphere they created.

  12. 12

    A World Restored (Grosset & Dunlap, 1964, paperback edition), p. 319.

  13. 13

    Metternich, Der Staatsmann und der Mensch.

  14. 14

    A better conservative defense of Metternich than Kissinger’s came from Peter Viereck in his more incisive and less wordy Conservativism Revisited (1949). He credits Metternich with sensing the proto-Nazi tendencies in German nationalists like Jahn and Kleist, both heroes later of Nazism. Goethe and Heine had similar forebodings. But none of this appears in Kissinger’s study of Metternich. By the Fifties such perspectives were out of fashion since the US was grooming Germany as its major ally on the continent. Viereck acknowledges that he, too, had “drawn heavily on Srbik for his information, not necessarily for his interpretations and certainly not for his later politics” (footnote 2, p. 139).

  15. 15

    Kissinger follows Srbik in implying that Metternich was more enlightened than Francis I. But a more recent work by Julius Marx on the Austrian censorship shows that “Metternich fully shared the repressive ideals of Francis I.” (“Metternich Studies Since 1955,” by Paul W. Schroeder, Journal of Modern History, September, 1961; p. 255. This is a most useful study of the literature on the subject since Srbik’s work appeared in 1955. Schroeder calls attention to three more recent works in German which “reinforce the general conclusion that in respect to censorship and secret police, at least, Metternich, despite his disclaimers, did rule Austria.”)

  16. 16

    The first was to the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia, May 1 (reprinted in Vital Speeches); the second before the International Platform Association in Washington, July 26. I tracked down the text through the Rockefeller office.

  17. 17

    See his Catch the Falling Flag, and my review of it in the New York Review, June 1. The book gives the text of the “secret plan” speech scheduled for March, 31, 1968, but cancelled when Johnson suddenly went on the air that night and bowed out of the campaign for re-election.

  18. 18

    See Facts on File for 1968 at 322C1 and A2, and 323E3.

  19. 19

    Quoted from War and Peace: The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson, edited by Baker and Dodd, Vol. 1, pp. 547-548 (Harper and Row, 1927).