Henry Kissinger escaped Nazi persecution in Germany as a teenager in 1938. Later drafted into the U.S. army, Kissinger helped liberate a concentration camp, a traumatic experience that left a lasting impact. These formative years shaped his view of America as a force for good against totalitarian regimes, influencing his later foreign policy decisions.
As Secretary of State under Nixon, Kissinger pioneered diplomatic overtures to China and promoted détente with the Soviet Union. By opening relations with China, the U.S. challenged its main communist rival, the USSR. Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy also led to historic arms control agreements with the Soviets. His initiatives fundamentally transformed great power relations in ways that still endure.
Though Kissinger negotiated the 1973 Paris Peace Accords on Vietnam, they failed to end the war. He wrongly proclaimed “peace is at hand” in 1972. Kissinger advocated controversial bombing campaigns to strengthen the U.S. position, disregarding human rights concerns. His inability to secure peace in Vietnam demonstrated flaws in his pragmatic approach, which focused solely on U.S. interests.
Guided by national interests rather than ideals, Kissinger supported repressive regimes aligned with the U.S. His policies led to war crimes accusations. Yet his lasting imprint was buttressing America’s global reach and shaping relations among world powers. Though concerned Donald Trump was diminishing U.S. influence, Kissinger always saw America as an indispensable player on the world stage.