The Return of Henry Kissinger

Less than two and a half years after the publication of his first volume of memoirs, Henry Kissinger has given us an equally dense and hefty sequel. White House Years covered the first term of Richard Nixon and ended with the Paris peace agreement on Vietnam in January 1973; Years of Upheaval is his account of the stormy period that began in February 1973 with his first visit to Hanoi, and ended in August 1974 with Nixon’s resignation. The first book dealt with fifty months in 1,500 pages; the second volume tells about eighteen months in nearly 1,300 pages—almost three pages per day. If the third volume, which will describe the Ford years, is as long, Kissinger will have set something of a record. Since, in the two and a half years during which he wrote Years of Upheaval, he also did a lot of public speaking, traveling, advising, and political maneuvering, the reader can only be impressed, once more, by the powers of concentration, the mental energy, the argumentative skills, and the apparent fierce desire for total recall evident in this book.

The events covered are momentous indeed: the unraveling of the Paris agreement, the continuation of triangular diplomacy with Peking and Moscow (entailing two meetings with Mao, two visits to Brezhnev in the Soviet Union, and two Soviet-American summits), the black comedy of the “Year of Europe,” 1973, the overthrow of Salvador Allende, the surprise and the shock waves of the October 1973 war in the Middle East, the first oil crisis, Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy, the beginning of the anti-détente campaign in the United States, Richard Nixon’s “last hurrah”—his Middle East journey—and, of course, throughout, the Watergate melodrama, without which, as Kissinger explains, he would not have been appointed secretary of state in August 1973 (indeed, he repeatedly asserts that he would have resigned some time in 1973). And yet a careful reader of the first volume is likely to find himself less stimulated or aroused this time: not because the events are less stirring, but because, apart from the story Kissinger has to tell, so little else is new.

On the one hand, Kissinger’s overall philosophy of international affairs, the concepts of which he speaks so proudly, were already laid out in the first volume; there are, inevitably, neither surprises nor innovations here. On the other hand, there are enough repetitions to exasperate even admirers of Kissinger’s analytic gifts and epigrammatic style. Not only does he tell us, all over again, what his basic beliefs are—his strategy and his operational code (and, lest I fall into the very practice I deplore, let me refer the readers of this review to my discussion of White House Years)—but within Volume Two we find several overlapping accounts of the same subject, for example, the Nixon administration’s “challenge…to educate the American people in the requirements of the balance of power” (p. 50).

Kissinger’s role in the …

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