Prince Klemens von Metternich
Prince Klemens von Metternich; drawing by David Levine

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.

He was a tall, very formal man. I asked politely whether he would agree to say a few words for the film [she was making of Kissinger for French television]. In a voice that literally screeched, evoking for me with an unbearable acuity the Nazi period, Kraemer declined. “In my position I have no relationship with the press nor with television!” I looked at Henry. He smiled at me as though to soften the disappointment which he shared with me. But I began to think that a part of Henry would always remain closed to me, foreign, not to say hostile.

Dr. Colonel Kraemer seems to have been less inhibited with other interviewers. In one interview he described Kissinger at their first meeting in the Army with patronizing affection as “this nineteen-year-old little Jewish boy, whose people knew nothing really of the great currents of history that were overwhelming them.”12 Within twenty minutes he felt that he had discovered in Kissinger “a most important historical mind.” He told the same interviewer he hoped “to see the day when Henry is remembered like Tocqueville.” Through Kraemer, Kissinger became an interpreter to the commanding general and after the war obtained a $10,000 a year job as instructor in an army training school.

Kissinger found a similar relic of the past as a patron when he entered Harvard: Professor William Yandell Elliott, of whom Landau provides a vivid portrait.

…a small-town boy from Tennessee turned brilliant scholar, an all-American tackle at Vanderbilt who became the ruling power in Harvard’s Department of Government…. In 1924, Elliott had written a brilliant analysis of the European political scene which described with prescience the forces that would produce the European fascist dictatorships of the following decade.13 Sadly, he never again equalled the feat of scholarship at any time during the rest of his career, and many of his colleagues would later come to regard him as a windbag, an intellectual has-been, an excessive bore.

Even by the standards of the late Forties, he was a violent Cold Warrior…. Another of Elliott’s graduate students remembers that, on returning from a one-year stay in Britain, he received a lengthy harangue from the old man on the “namby pamby” quality of Clement Attlee’s Labour government. Socialism had been such a failure in Britain, Elliott proclaimed, that the government could not provide enough meat for its own people. When the student presumed to inform Elliott that Britain now had the highest per capita rate of meat consumption in western Europe, Elliott threw him out of his office….

Yet his personality was undoubtedly forceful and flamboyant, and he never quite lost his interesting, powerful cast of mind…. It was this apparition, this tattered image of a bygone age, that Kissinger latched onto while a Harvard undergraduate.14

With Elliott, to whom Kissinger dedicated his book on Metternich, Kissinger founded and directed the Harvard International Seminar; he was its executive director from 1951 when he was still studying for his master’s until 1969 when he left Harvard to join the Nixon Administration. The seminar brought influential foreigners to Harvard for the summer months and the contacts thus made served Kissinger’s reputation abroad. In the meantime he cultivated two centers of power, the Pentagon and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Kissinger’s sketch in Who’s Who lists an extraordinary number of consultantships with the special boards on which the national security establishment uses outside intellectuals. These connections and their influence on him and his career have yet to be explored by any of those who have written about him. In 1950, the year he was graduated from Harvard summa cum laude, he became consultant to the “operations research office,” a job he held for eleven years. In 1952, the year he got his MA (his thesis was on Hegel, Spengler, and Toynbee), he became consultant to the director of the “psychological strategy board,” and three years later to the “operations coordinating board.” In 1959 he became consultant to the “weapons system evaluation group” where he served until 1960.

Professor Elliott, who was on the War Production Board during World War II, had two key jobs in Washington during the same decade of the Fifties. He was assistant director of the Office of Defense Management in 1951-53 and a member of the planning board of the National Security Council under Eisenhower from 1953-57. He must have played a part in helping his protege obtain these Pentagon consultantships in the same period. Perhaps Colonel Kraemer did, too.

Kissinger was a young man in a hurry. He had barely finished his PhD dissertation on Metternich and a year as an instructor in the Department of Government when he began to look around for wider opportunities. “His immediate goal, a tenured position on the Harvard faculty,” Landau writes, “was no easy matter and the membership of his department was not uniformly friendly to him.”

An opportunity came in the winter of 1954-55. The managing editor of Foreign Affairs, the quarterly of the Council on Foreign Relations, had just quit, and its editor, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, asked Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., then in the history department, to suggest a young scholar for the post. Schlesinger gave him Kissinger’s name. But Armstrong later told Landau that he found Kissinger’s style “somewhat stiff and overly labored” but thought Kissinger might serve as rapporteur for a study group then meeting at the Council on the subject of nuclear weapons. Elliott and Schlesinger recommended Kissinger for this job, so did McGeorge Bundy, then Harvard’s dean of faculty. Kissinger accepted in a letter of March 8, 1955, which was shown Landau. Kissinger said he was taking the post “not only because it seems directed to the main line of my own thought, but also because the Council seems to furnish a human environment I find attractive.” 15

For an ambitious young man just out of Harvard, the human environment at the Council on Foreign Relations must have been very attractive indeed. The panel on nuclear weapons which retained Kissinger to write up the results of its deliberations contained such top bankers as David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan and Frank Altshul of General American Investors, an investment trust sponsored by Lazard Frères and Lehman Brothers. There were four generals on the panel, none below the rank of major general. There were such inveterate commuters between the Defense Department and the upper reaches of New York’s corporate law and banking firms as Paul H. Nitze, Roswell L. Gilpatric, and Frank Pace. The last two figure prominently in the history of General Dynamics, our number one defense conglomerate. And the chairman of the panel, Gordon Dean, was about to leave the chairmanship of the Atomic Energy Commission to become GD’s senior vice-president for nuclear energy. It was a gathering in which no gentleman would have used the term military-industrial complex.

The panel deliberated for almost eighteen months. The fruit of these deliberations was Kissinger’s book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, published in 1957 just before the appearance of the book based on his Metternich dissertation. To reread Gordon Dean’s foreword now while Dr. Kissinger is commuting to Moscow and Peking is an odd experience, even for those who lived through that earlier period. Future historians may conclude from it that no ruling class has ever showed a greater capacity than ours for frightening itself to death. The nightmarish fears then expressed by a panel of the most powerful men in the most powerful country of the world, at a time when it possessed enormous nuclear superiority, were unbelievable.

Russian enslavement might be just around the corner, but Chase Manhattan was as firm as Patrick Henry. Despite the danger, Dean wrote, our objective must not be “peace at any price.” That “can always be secured,” he continues scornfully “on Russian terms.” For most of those on the panel “the survival of ourselves and our children is not sufficient.” They insisted on “survival and freedom.” They were “abhorrent of war but unwilling to accept gradual Russian enslavement of other peoples around the world, which we know will eventually lead to our own.” Carthage cowered, but as yet with spirit unbroken.

In resisting to the end, however, they faced “a great dilemma, and Dr. Kissinger,” Dean wrote, “analyzes this dilemma in fine detail,” 455 pages of it in fact. The dilemma was that we were afraid to use our own weapons. “Assume a situation,” Dean wrote:

…where the vital interests of the United States are at stake, if for no other reason than that the USSR is attempting to take over another small but strategic area of the world. Would the United States be prepared to use force? Would it be prepared to use tactical atomic weapons to prevent such a conquest if the employment of such weapons were best suited to end quickly a local aggression?

These are still the questions that hover over the Vietnam war. Dean saw nothing immoral in the use of such means, since “immorality arises not from the type of explosive” but “from the use to which weapons are put.” The end justifies the means, and what end could be more moral than the preservation of freedom?

Dean said Kissinger’s book was “no easy reading” and the eyes glaze over it now even more than they did then. But the real fear and the simple strategy for dealing with it come out more clearly in Dean’s preface than in the interminable and intellectually exhibitionistic book itself. The fear, plainly, is that we might set off a nuclear war in which we, too, would be destroyed. How to use nuclear weapons as an instrument of policy without ourselves being incinerated by them? The answer was better communication with the enemy! We must let them know that such weapons “will be used with discrimination; that our objective will always be to restrict the area of conflict and to destroy military targets which threaten the freedom we must preserve.” So here we have it—precision bombing with small nuclear weapons.

Behind the veiled and sanitary phrases is the old idea of peace through terror, or what the Germans in World War I called the policy of “schrecklichkeit,” except that the schreck must be limited lest it frighten the adversary into pushing his own doomsday button. As Dean summarizes it,

Dr. Kissinger argues for much more communication of our intentions to the enemy. He believes that it must know that our strength is great or we have lost the asset of a deterrent. He believes also that it must know that our objective is to end the aggression quickly by eliminating military targets lest we bring on an all-out thermonuclear war through a misunderstanding of our intentions [italics added]. He believes that if this message is not conveyed to the Soviet leaders we shall give ammunition to the advocates of peace at any price who are ready to accept any fate which does not involve force. I share this thesis with him.

A basic task, as Kissinger himself outlined it at one point, was to teach us to learn to live with the bomb and like it. “The decision to resist aggression by nuclear war,” he wrote, “requires a diplomacy which seeks to break down the atmosphere of special horror which now surrounds the use of nuclear weapons.”16 In part at least he blamed this horror on Soviet propaganda. “The utilization of nuclear weapons,” he went on, should be “non-negotiable.” We should emphasize instead “measures to mitigate their effect.” He would shift “the focus of disarmament negotiations” from “eliminating the use of nuclear weapons to reducing the impact of their employment.”

Such was the preposterous Strange-lovian nonsense with which our hero made his first step into public life.

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

This Issue

October 19, 1972