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The Education of Henry Kissinger


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

Dear Henry

by Danielle Hunebelle
Berkley, 224 pp., $1.25 (paper)

Kissinger: The Uses of Power

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

Metternich is Kissinger’s hero. There are many resemblances between them. There are even a few between Metternich and Nixon. Like Nixon, Metternich hated “campus bums,” though he would never have used so vulgar an expression. In the Metternich era, as in the Nixon Administration, editors and newspapermen generally ranked with university teachers and students among the prime objects of suspicion. Agnew’s ghost writers might like to quote in his next attack on us “effete snobs” that gloomy passage in Metternich’s secret memorandum to the Tzar Alexander which questioned whether “society can exist with the liberty of the press, a scourge unknown to the world before the latter half of the seventeenth century….”1

The earliest secular analogue to our own House Un-American Activities Committee, whence Nixon began his rise to the Presidency, was the Central Commission set up by Metternich under the infamous Carlsbad Decrees to watch over any sign of subversive activity in the German Confederation. A censorship was established over the press and a system of surveillance in the universities. Suspect professors were blacklisted, as were many of our own two decades ago. In the memorandum which led to the Carlsbad Decrees, Metternich stressed “the absolute necessity that professors whose sentiments are notoriously bad and who are involved in the intrigues of the latter-day disorders among the students shall be immediately deprived of their chairs.”2 Metternich “had a very low opinion of the political capacity of the professors,” the German nationalist historian von Treitschke wrote, “basing this judgment, characteristically enough, upon the opinion that no professor knew how to pay due regard to the value of property.”3 The House Un-American Activities Committee in Nixon’s day took a similar view.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan kept his seat in the White House warm and sold his family assistance plan by telling Nixon he bore a striking resemblance to Disraeli, a comparison some touchy people might regard as anti-Semitic. Moynihan seemed to be applying Disraeli’s own maxim, that in dealing with a reigning monarch you lay it on with a trowel. 4 One wonders whether in tired moments Nixon gets a pickup by hearing Kissinger tell him that in Nixon’s early years as a hunter of radicals and as a founding father of the Subversive Activities Control Board he was walking in the aristocratic footsteps of Prince von Metternich.

Kissinger’s first book, A World Restored, dealt with Metternich’s career and provides a kind of blueprint for his own. Kissinger seems to have modeled himself on his hero in small ways as well as large. Metternich was also “a swinger,” in fact he seems to have found his one recreation in chasing women. So extensive—and politically important—were his conquests that it took a two-volume work, Metternich und die Frauen,5 to do them justice. A major source of information on Metternich’s thinking lies in his letters to his women friends; his letter-writing seems to have been as inexhaustible as his libido. One of his many biographies is entitled Metternich, the Passionate Diplomat6 and the latest by Alan Palmer seems to devote as much attention to Metternich’s sexual as to his diplomatic triumphs. The index lists eight known mistresses, pretty good for a man with three wives, and also recounts occasions when French spies tailed him as he visited certain “houses.”

Poor Henry by contrast never seems to get beyond holding hands. Indeed he seems to drive women to almost unbelievable extremes. In the first and so far only book on his career as a lover, Danielle Hunebelle’s Dear Henry, we find this intimate revelation:

Washington can be such a boring town, Danielle,” he said in his slow, warm voice. “What are you going to do for ten days in Washington?” I answered that I’d taken the trouble to bring my entire library with me.

Metternich never drove girls to reading in bed.7

Metternich and Kissinger were both uprooted from their native Germany by revolution and war. Metternich, a Rhinelander, became Austria’s foremost diplomat; Kissinger, a Bavarian, has become America’s. Their origins could hardly have been more diverse. Metternich’s, Palmer tells us, were “impeccably aristocratic,” reaching back over eight centuries. Kissinger was the son of a small-town Jewish highschool teacher. But both emerged from their youthful ordeals with much the same conservative outlook.

Palmer, like most Metternich biographers, attributes his outlook to his experiences in the wake of the French Revolution, which cost him his family estates in the Rhineland. David Landau, Kissinger’s first biographer, attributes Kissinger’s to his suffering and exile under Hitler. “In the Vietnamese who are fighting for their freedom,” Landau writes, “and in the American antiwar demonstrators who may bring on the stronger and more fearsome legions of the extreme right, Kissinger sees the shades of Weimar…a vision that is firmly rooted in the irrational, chaotic experience of Kissinger’s early life,” which has given him “a deep horror of internal upheavals.”

Kissinger himself denies this. “That part of my childhood,” he told one interviewer,8 “is not a key to anything. I was not consciously unhappy…the political persecutions of my childhood are not what control my life.” This seems to be the truth. Nowhere does he show any of the most common reactions to the Hitler experience. He did not react as a Jew by becoming a Zionist, or with anti-Germanism, or by an extreme sensitivity to any trends that smack of Fascism in his adopted country. He would hardly have taken service under Nixon if he had been rendered nervous over anything that seemed to show a disregard for basic and Constitutional liberties.

There seems to be the same post hoc, propter hoc fallacy in the way biographers treat both men. There is little reason to believe that their outlooks would have been fundamentally different if they had never been uprooted. More often than not, men emerge from crises with the same preconceptions they had when they went in, only strengthened. The same events can be used to prove very different propositions. Pacifists see every war as demonstrating the need to give up violence while militarists see it as a lesson to be better prepared next time. Liberals conclude from revolutions that they might have been avoided by timely reform. Others, starting with conservative predispositions, may conclude that stability would have been preserved by timely repression. This was Metternich’s philosophy. It was congenial to his temperament and necessary to his advancement in the service of the Hapsburgs, who were constitutionally averse to change.

Other men were moved in their youth by the idealism of the French Revolution and then alienated by its excesses. Metternich saw it with aristocratic contempt from the start. He was a student at the university in Strasbourg when the first news of the fall of the Bastille set off popular demonstrations of sympathy. “Surrounded by a number of dull spectators who called themselves the people,” Metternich recalled loftily in his memoirs,9 “I had been present at the plundering of the Stadthaus in Strasbourg, perpetrated by a drunken mob.” Metternich’s lifelong attitude toward the democratic aspirations of his time is reflected in that phrase about “a number of dull spectators who called themselves the people.” The very thought of “the people” drove him to his snuffbox. The French Revolution confirmed, it did not create, his basic prejudices.

There is no reason to believe that Kissinger’s diplomacy in dealing with the Vietnam war, which takes up a major portion of the Landau book, would have been any different if there never had been a Hitler. Kissinger’s inner drive is for power, and all his studies have concentrated on how best to use it in statecraft. This fascination with power is reflected in the two men to whom he has devoted biographical studies, Metternich and Bismarck, the latter in a brilliant essay for the Summer, 1968, issue of Daedalus, an issue devoted to Studies in Leadership. Either could have been written under Weimar or the Kaiser in his native land.

Where Bismarck spoke of “blood and iron,” Kissinger deals with blood and guile, the proper mix of military force and diplomacy, in achieving national objectives and international stability. This is neither new nor Germanic, but nowhere but in Germany has the application of force in statecraft been discussed with such open rejection of moral scruples or—as Germans have often said in defensive rebuttal—with such absence of “Anglo-Saxon” cant. After all, the only difference between Nixon and Kissinger on Vietnam is that the latter spares us doses of Billy Grahamism as we continue to escalate death over Hanoi. The policy is still as it was under Lyndon, to force an “honorable” solution by making them “hurt.”

Both Metternich and Kissinger were swift climbers, with a keen instinct for the main chance. Metternich beat Kissinger to the top by ten years: he became Foreign Minister of Austria at the age of thirty-six. Kissinger was forty-six when Nixon named him Assistant for National Security Affairs. But Kissinger had the harder climb. Metternich practically married his way into the job; his first wife was the granddaughter of Kaunitz, Austria’s eighteenth-century elder statesman, its Foreign Minister from 1753 to 1792. The dowry that went with the marriage more than made up for the estates Metternich lost to the revolution. By contrast to this indolent aristocrat in a gilded age Kissinger seems like a poor little academic bootblack, in a revised Horatio Alger story, with a sharp eye for the most likely spot where an heiress might be rescued from a runaway horse. He picked the Council on Foreign Relations as the opportune corner, and Nelson Rockefeller turned out to be his most important catch until Nixon came along.

The rungs on Kissinger’s ladder to success have a common characteristic. At each major step upward he has been the protege of men who believed in military strength and, if necessary, war, and who were obsessed with the postwar struggle for hegemony between the US and the USSR and fearful of the revolutionary tide in the poorer countries. All saw in him an exceptional mind and a willing spirit for enlistment in the cause of the cold war and American imperialism.

His first patron, in the US Army during World War II, was Dr. Fritz Kraemer, a German adventurer with a law degree and two PhDs who enlisted in the US Army as a private after Pearl Harbor, won a battlefield commission, and set up a military government school in the Eighty-fourth Division in which Kissinger was a buck private.10 He is now a reserve colonel who works in the office of the Army Chief of Staff as a military and political strategist. He has the bearing and style of a Prussian and is probably the only officer at the Pentagon who wears a monocle at work.11 Miss Hunebelle says “Dear Henry” told her about the early and great influence Kraemer had on him. “He’s more rigid and conservative than I am,” Miss Hunebelle quotes Kissinger as saying, “but with deep convictions.” Her only meeting with Kraemer was unpleasant. She met him in Kissinger’s office, where Kraemer had just had lunch.

  1. 1

    Text in Metternich’s Europe: 1813-1848, edited by Mack Walker, Harper & Row, 1968, p. 124.

  2. 2

    Ibid. Text of the Teplitz convention, p. 93.

  3. 3

    In his History of Germany in the Nineteenth Century, quoted here from a selection in The Metternich Controversy, edited by Enno E. Kraehe, Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1971, p. 76.

  4. 4

    This far-out flattery seems still to reverberate in the Nixon entourage. While browsing through a Washington secondhand bookstore for background material on the Metternich period, I pulled off the shelf a copy of Disraeli by Robert Black (St. Martin’s Press, 1967), the most recent biography. “The White House,” the bookseller said, “is reading that like mad.” Nobody wants to get caught with a “who he?”

  5. 5

    E. C. Corti, Vienna and Zurich, 1949.

  6. 6

    Barbara Cartland, London, 1964.

  7. 7

    Dear Henry sets a new high-water mark for kiss-and-tell literature, since it provides 224 pages of tell and not a single kiss, except for one planted on Henry’s photograph in the last paragraph by the writer, who was certainly a woman hard to discourage.

  8. 8

    Barnard Law Collier in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, November 14, 1971.

  9. 9

    Quoted in the Palmer biography, p. 14.

  10. 10

    Joseph Kraft, “In Search of Kissinger,” Harper’s, January, 1971.

  11. 11

    The monocle touch I owe to the Collier article cited above.

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