"Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." -- Satchell PaigeInteresting juxtaposition. President Obama announces plans to become the first sitting president to visit Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima -- the very spot where an American nuclear bomb exploded, killing more than 100,000 people. Meanwhile the Department of Defense presents Henry Kissinger the Distinguished Public Service Award.
Needless to say, the United States has a very complicated relationship to war crimes. We crow about our values, our freedoms and our exceptionalism, and condemn as unpatriotic and treasonous any American who has the temerity to question the darker aspects of our history.
And we celebrate Henry Kissinger, one of the most villainous U.S. political leaders of the 20th Century.
Kissinger's role in the Viet Nam War, from undermining the Paris peace talks prior to Nixon's election to directing the massive clandestine bombing campaign in Laos and Cambodia, which indiscriminately killed and displaced millions of civilians, is not in dispute. That should be enough to remove him from polite society much less make him a sought after foreign policy expert and Hillary Clinton's bff. But, of course, there is plenty more, including his planning of the overthrow of Chile's democratically elected president, his support for Indonesia's massacre in East Timor, his encouragement of right wing military leaders in Argentina's Dirty War, and his role in other so-called proxy wars. As put by Greg Grandin, the author of Kissinger's Shadow, Kissinger is "responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of millions of people in Southeast Asia, East Timor, Bangladesh, and southern Africa, among other places."
And, as Grandin points out, even Kissinger's arguably admirable role in fostering détente with the Soviet Union and an opening to China was undermined by his own actions:
In one region after another, [he] executed policies that helped doom his own grand strategy, undermining détente and canceling out whatever steadying effect it might have provided the planet. In southern Africa, for instance, Kissinger supported civil wars that would last decades and kill millions. In the Middle East, he pointlessly provoked the Soviet Union and laid the foundation for the jihadists. The militarization of the Gulf, including the brokering of ever larger arms sales to Saudi Arabia in exchange for petrodollars, was a Kissinger initiative.So why is Henry Fucking Kissinger being honored with the Pentagon’s highest award for private citizens? And what does it say about a country that cannot confront its worst excesses?
When President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for "all offenses against the United States," he stated that it was out of concern for the "immediate future of this great country." Next came Iran-Contra. While the Republicans stacked the joint legislative committee undertaking the investigation with the conservative wing of their party (e.g., then-Representative Cheney), the Democrats relied mostly on moderates, and thus the committee members were skewed toward those who were disinclined to probe very vigorously. By rashly granting immunity to key witnesses such as Ollie North, the committee undermined prosecutions by an independent counsel. The Iran-Contra Affair culminated in the pardon by first President Bush of several participants who had been implicated.
More recently, President Obama refused to seek any investigation of his predecessor's "War on Terror," despite substantial evidence that wiretapping laws were broken and torture was authorized at the highest levels. Much like President Ford, Obama claimed that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”
As we look ever forward, never backward, the presumptive nominee for president of one of this country's two major parties unequivocally calls for combatting terrorism with torture and other violations of human rights. The other considers Kissinger a dear friend and trusted adviser.
What's next? Given our penchant for whitewashing the past and honoring our war criminals, someone should tell Dick Cheney to get ready for his close-up.