Kissinger and WikiLeaks
Following the revelation that Henry Kissinger made a heinous remark about Jews and gas chambers in a just-released 1973 tape recording of him and President Richard Nixon, some in the Jewish community seem to be breaking into two camps.
“If they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern,” Kissinger is heard saying on the latest batch of Nixon-era Oval Office tapes released by the Nixon Library. (See the complete story.)
Such an ironic remark for a German-born Jew whose family fled that country prior to the Holocaust.
Some Jewish leaders want to hold Kissinger, a former secretary of state under Nixon and Gerald Ford, and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in contempt for the rest of his days (he is 87). Others prefer to forgive him, or least keep in mind his past contributions as a U.S. diplomat while passing judgment on him.
Kissinger, for his part, is making no apologies. In an e-mail to JTA, he logically explained his words and said his statement to Nixon, whose anti-Semitism has become well understood since his death, must be “viewed in the context of the time.”
Perhaps, but that time is long past, and Kissinger, as a matter of decent contrition, should have at least expressed regret for having made such an outrageous remark.
He didn’t, and that’s regrettable. Perhaps Kissinger’s ego prevents him from making such an admission. If so, then that’s regrettable, too.
We prefer to look at his gas chamber remark not as a chance to skewer a famous diplomat who has no shortage of detractors, but as a lesson: Power can, not only corrupt our leaders, but desensitize them, too.
When that happens, are human rights here and worldwide any safer?
The Nixon legacy has become a national embarrassment since his death, and surprisingly not because of Watergate. Nixon tapes and his bigoted and profane statements show how corrupted he was, or perhaps unfit for the office to begin with — his support for Israel notwithstanding.
Maybe Kissinger did believe it necessary to say things he knew his boss wanted to hear — only Kissinger will ever know for sure — but if so, that he served a president that required such ego stroking is a sad commentary on the caliber of leaders we Americans choose. It reminds us of the many kings, kaisers and czars of old Europe who inherited their power, were truly unfit to rule, and were routinely flattered by the hangers-on in their courts. Didn’t our forbearers come to America to escape that kind of dangerous nonsense?
We can’t help but wonder what might have happened if WikiLeaks, or something like it, existed in 1973. Would it have brought down the president sooner than Woodward and Bernstein, or might it have forced a secretary of state to resign?