Kissinger’s Moment

The monumentally overrated Henry Kissinger had many of them, but this one is the essential moment if we are to believe Martin Peretz. Newly released Nixon Library Tapes reveal this exchange between Kissinger and Nixon.

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

The vile disgrace these comments should further bring upon Nixon and Kissinger has been well articulated in various quarters, no better, as usual, than in the Old Testament moral opprobrium of the Old-Testament-God despising Christopher Hitchens. But Peretz offers a different take. Jeffrey Goldberg comments on Peretz that

Marty Peretz has a different view (not on the merits of Kissinger’s vile comments, but on Kissinger’s contribution to the safety of the state of Israel.

I think Goldberg is too quick to disconnect Peretz’s view from the merits of Kissinger’s act, which is what, really, Peretz says it was, more than just a sentiment. Peretz calls Kissinger’s words shameful. How can one not? But he makes the case that words aside, Nixon’s small, foul prejudices aside, Kissinger’s vileness aside – or even mitigated – what they accomplished for Jews and Israel compares well.

But one doesn’t have to contemplate a post-World War II genocide of the Jews by the Soviets. There had already been the Nazi genocide. Did the administration of Franklin Roosevelt target any of its centers? Not for a moment. Even the bombing of Auschwitz, proposed by secretary of the treasury Henry Morgenthau, a Jew, was dismissed with contempt and derision. Henry Kissinger did much better than F.D.R. So, for that matter, did the anti-Semite Richard Nixon.

My purpose is not to argue that point one way or another. It is to focus on this one:

I know something about Kissinger’s maneuvering for the Jewish state and for the Jewish people. I and a few Harvard colleagues were in touch with him, actually met with him during the dread days of the Yom Kippur War when Israel’s very survival was at peril….Dr. K. confided to us how difficult it was to persuade his bigoted boss that a great deal of American arms (and sufficient Lockheed C-130s “Hercules” aircraft to deliver them) were needed and needed instantly. There is no doubt in my mind that Kissinger rescued the third commonwealth with these munitions….

So, if Kissinger needed to flatter Nixon in order to convince him, that flattery was also a blessing.

Peretz is telling us that the words Kissinger spoke to Nixon in private, in full knowledge of the nature of the man, were simply, grandly, profoundly and disturbingly, more real politique in practice – the ultimate unsentimental realist, dealer in diplomatic hands and hegemonies, working the prejudices and dysfunctions of his Constitutional master, the Jew – the German Jew – playing to the Jew hater by diminishing Jews in his spoken regard, in order to achieve his better aims.

Is this true? And even if it is, what is the nature of the soul that resides in this way in the world. That is a subject for art, not politics.



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