- Today in Tabs
- The New England Review of Henry Kissinger Obituaries
The New England Review of Henry Kissinger Obituaries
Vol. 1, No. 1
I can’t say it’s good that Henry Kissinger is dead because to die you first have to live, and Kissinger’s life was a blood drenched hundred year calamity. It would have been good if he had never been born at all. For Kissinger to die comfortably, one hundred years old, surrounded by family and with the admiration of a wide range of political, business, and society ghouls across the whole spectrum from the far right to the near right? It’s not justice. The best we can say is at least he isn’t immortal, even if the political order he butchered into existence will probably continue grinding up human bodies for another hundred years. He was predeceased by his many millions of victims, and survived by Colin Powell’s great-nephew Pete Wentz and Jimmy Carter, bitch.
But I can’t roast Kissinger any harder than Satan currently is, so let’s leave him to his eternal damnation and look at how he’s being remembered among the (mostly) living writers charged with eulogizing him.
The Washington Post: “Henry Kissinger, who shaped world affairs under two presidents, dies at 100,” by Thomas W. Lippman.
Will Oremus observed that the big newspapers have been sitting on packaged Kissinger obits for decades, making them the journalistic equivalent of light from a distant star. “We’re reading Kissinger obits straight out of a past era and it’s jarring,” posted Oremus. The Post’s entry is by Thomas W. Lippman, a “33-year national, foreign and financial reporter and author” who retired at the end of the 1900s. It’s impossible to tell how much updating this obit has received in the potentially forty-some years since it was first sketched out, but my guess based on reading it is: not much. I was alive in the 1990s and this is exactly the kind of garbage that passed for Serious Journalism then, and to a very slightly lesser extent, now.
Lippman’s general authorial stance is that everything Kissinger did was good and necessary and successful, even though he is unable to come up with any specific examples of success among Kissinger’s litany of wars lost, massacres perpetrated, and injustices encouraged. The most revealing sentence is this one:
Which war it was doesn’t really matter. Can you think of a war that had “mostly positive” outcomes? Do you think war can have positive outcomes? If so, you might enjoy this obituary which also takes as a given that war is a useful tool of international domination and proceeds to praise Kissinger as an expert in the application of foreign bloodshed toward his goals of American power and hegemony.
There is a halfhearted attempt to represent the views of Kissinger’s critics, but even here Lippman can’t resist backhandedly praising his subject:
“Coldblooded pragmatism?” “Strategic gains?” It’s giving “my biggest weakness is that I just work too hard.” Everything Lippman attributes to “critics” in these four paragraphs is well-documented history. These are things that unambiguously happened; things Kissinger caused to happen. This passage is like writing “Critics claim that Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812.”
I can only assume that when he first tapped this out on his trusty Underwood in a world where the internet was a novelty, Lippman meant “loud voices on the left” to mean “a few cranks like Sy Hersh.” Today it means “virtually everyone under 50” which leaves the eighty two year old Lippman representing an ever shrinking pool of chronically lead poisoned early Boomers who set the bounds of acceptable discourse in the last century but who never took in the heady views from above the second level of Maslow’s Pyramid.
The author’s bio reveals that “Lippman is a former Washington Post reporter who covered Dr. Kissinger’s diplomatic activities in Vietnam and the Middle East.” Kissinger was an infamous suck-up and flatterer of the press, and here are the wages of his labor.
1/10: One point for a relatively clear and straightforward chronology of Kissinger’s time in the Nixon and Ford administrations, though even that is larded with undeserved admiration. The Washington Post should be embarrassed to publish this, and ought to have someone take a fresh look at their canned obits at least once a century.
The New York Times: “Henry Kissinger Is Dead at 100; Shaped the Nation’s Cold War History,” by David E. Sanger.
The Times at least managed to get a current employee to byline its Kissinger obit, in the person of forty-plus year Timesman and Harvard grad (but I repeat myself) David E. Sanger, who presumably took over responsibility for the post from Michael T. Kaufman, who “contributed reporting” but predeceased his subject a dozen-odd years ago.
I’m as surprised as anyone but I think you do gotta hand it to the Times here: this is a thorough and reasonably neutral obituary that presents what Kissinger did alongside a range of interpretations throughout. It doesn’t avoid unflattering anecdotes or critical assessment wherever the criticism is warranted by the facts, which is literally everywhere. For example, here’s Sanger on Kissinger’s Vietnam strategy in the first Nixon administration:
Sanger also treats Nixon going to China as much more dubiously successful than even Kissinger’s critics often frame it:
Sanger even quotes some actual Kissinger critics directly, such as Barack Obama’s pointed complaint that “he was still trying to help countries ‘remove bombs that are still blowing off the legs of little kids.’,” And he manages to resist focusing too much on Kissinger’s third career of “going out to dinner in New York,” which we will hear more about shortly.
7/10: It causes me physical pain to admit it but this is probably the best The New York Times could have done? It’s about as critical an obituary as you can write if your assignment is not explicitly to be critical. It fails to grapple with, or even mention, Kissinger’s long post-government afterlife of profiting enormously from the world order he created in office, but it’s already too long so what can you do. See The Nation’s obit below for more on that.
Rolling Stone: “Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies,” by Spencer Ackerman.
This is the roast you were looking for. It is accurate and honest but not fair and balanced, and if you’re not already familiar with the history of cold War geopolitics it might be worth reading the Times obit first. But Ackerman does not miss:
He is also careful to draw the lines connecting Kissinger’s “secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos” to the post-9/11 “accepted, foundational pillars of a War on Terror permitting four presidents to bomb, for 20 years, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Libyans, Syrians, and others.”
For the most representative sentences you can’t really do better than section headings like:
Ackerman also posted some behind the scenes info on his blog:
9/10: Should be meaner. I’m not sure how it could be, but I feel like it should be. We deserve the “H.L. Mencken’s obituary of William Jennings Bryan” of Kissinger obits, but I haven’t really seen it.
The Nation: “A People’s Obituary of Henry Kissinger,” by Greg Grandin.
Much shorter than the others! These Kissinger obits are such doorstops that even Tabs is bloating up like a tick swollen with the blood of Kissinger’s dead. This one does a quick and fatal parody of the Serious Journalism obits and then fills in some of the most predictable gaps in them.
Not for the total beginner, but very good.
New York Magazine: “Henry Kissinger, the Devil at the Dinner Party,” by Choire Sicha.
Choire was not going to let a news event like this pass by without getting a hand on the ball, and he found the perfect New York angle in “Henry Kissinger’s long and lucrative third act of dining out in New York City.” This is Serious Choire, there are zero non-diegetic exclamation points.
This is the missing section from the Times obit, focused on Kissinger’s weird and grotesque third life as a swinging urbane “sex symbol” whose day job was, as Grandin pointed out in The Nation, helping to creating the Bhopal Union Carbide disaster and then helping to screw its victims out of a fair settlement. The kicker is perfect:
9/10: Good kicker. Good Choire. A+ blogging.
Reportedly starting in 2016, Jacobin commissioned and published an entire book called “Only The Good Die Young, The Verdict Against Henry Kissinger,” and then just sat on it until the day he died. You have to respect that level of grudge.
Jack Mirkinson posted the final edition of “Henry Kissinger is Right There” on Discourse Blog.
Intern Kira absolutely did write a segment for today, but this newsletter is already far too long! I’m sorry Kira, it was perfectly good. But she will return tomorrow with her full graduation issue of Tabs, so we all have that to look forward to.
Today’s Song: The Pogues, “Fairytale of New York” I mean come on, it has to be. RIP Shane.