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YESTERDAY, DAVID RUNCIMAN’S article in London Review of Books offered tidbits about Henry Kissinger, whose years of Realpolitik had significant influence on the world. Today’s Part 2 continues, with Kissinger as President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State, their historical trip to Mao Tse-tung’s China, and other monumental matters.

Kissinger and Nixon. In his London Review of Books article, December 3, 2020, Runciman notes that Kissinger “listened to hour after hour of Nixon’s antisemitic tirades, sometimes delivered as if he’d forgotten that he was talking to a Jew, and sometimes fully conscious of it. Kissinger limited himself to saying in response, ‘Well, Mr. President, there are Jews and then there are Jews,’ though he later told a journalist: ‘You can’t begin to imagine how much antisemitism there is at the top of this government.’ ” 

Henry Alfred Kissinger, Bavaria-born 1923, American diplomat, statesman, and foreign affairs consultant

“When Nixon went to China in 1972,” Runciman cites, “an opening crafted for him by Kissinger, they both got their rewards. Nixon was feted as visionary and Kissinger as a strategic genius. Even George McGovern said of the visit: ‘I applaud the president’s imagination and judgment.’ ”

Kissinger the Playboy. As portrayed in John Adams’ opera Nixon in China, Kissinger could be something of a womanizer. In the opera, he beds down with one of Mao’s minder-ladies.

An opening scene in John Adams’ Nixon in China.

Runciman cites Nixon saying to Mao, “Anyone who uses pretty girls as a cover must be the greatest diplomat of all time.” Runciman adds, “And anyone who believed that would believe anything.”

Super K. With Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in January 1977, Kissinger lost his job as Secretary of State. Runciman recounts, “Before that he had been one of the most famous men in the world, repeatedly on the cover of Time and Newsweek, and in one red-letter week in 1972 fronting both magazines at the same time. In June 1974, two months before Watergate drove his boss Richard Nixon from office, Newsweek portrayed Kissinger as ‘Super K’ in full hero outfit, muscles rippling, cape swirling. He knew it was too good to last: Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first dress up as Superman.”

Henry Kissinger and his wife Nancy live in Connecticut and New York City. Image, 2015, from CCTVNEWS.

Concluding Assessments. Runciman asks, “What did Kissinger do in power that has given him such an extraordinary afterlife? He was a consummate showman, a master of the on-the-record and the off-the-record briefing, a darling of the paparazzi, as comfortable in a Tehran nightclub as he was at a Washington summit and likely to be photographed attending both.”

Runciman concludes, “His hold on American public life had a lot to do with his exoticism and he knew it. Though he liked to complain about the boring sameness of European statesmen, who, he felt, had sacrificed grand visions in favour of party political manoeuvring, he must also have understood that he would have struggled to stand out among them. There were plenty of Heinz Kissingers doling out advice to European leaders. But there was only one Henry, with the ear of the president of the United States.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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