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Henry Kissinger: Profile

TUESDAY 5th March 2002
Nobel Prize winner, football fan and alleged war criminal.

When Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, the distinguished musical satirist Tom Lehrer decided that he could no longer perform. "It was at that moment that satire died," says Lehrer, "There was nothing more to say after that."

Kissinger's ability to provoke and his scholarly, yet dashing, persona have brought him a world-wide reputation as a machiavellian wheeler-dealer, a big shot in a big shot's world.

He has lived his life, it seems, rubbing against every grain he could find: as a German-born American patriot, an intellectual who likes nothing more than the hands-on approach to politics and a party animal masquerading behind a bookish, some would say aloof, facade.

He was born in Bavaria, southern Germany, in 1923, 10 years before the Nazis came to power. Fleeing the country in 1938, his family settled in New York City. Joining the US Army in 1943, he served as an interpreter when the Allies invaded his homeland. He then flourished at Harvard, where he became an expert on 18th century European diplomacy.

His book, Nuclear War and Foreign Policy, with its thesis that a limited atomic war was winnable, ruffled a number of feathers. In fact, many believe Kissinger to be the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick's film, Dr Strangelove.

He served both Kennedy and Johnson and threw his intellectual weight firmly behind "flexible response". This meant using conventional as well as tactical and strategic nuclear forces to counter Communist aggression.

Following his victory in the 1968 election, Richard Nixon appointed Kissinger as his National Security Advisor. The urbane academic enjoyed a complex relationship with the emotionally-stunted President. Political observers often noted that it was Kissinger, and not Nixon, pulling the foreign policy strings.

The war in Vietnam remained a thorn in America's side, and Nixon had pledged to end it. Both he and Kissinger agreed to secret bombing missions into neutral Cambodia to cut supplies to the north Vietnamese and bring the conflict to an end. Critics have since accused Kissinger of committing a war crime.

But there were great foreign policy triumphs, too. It was Kissinger's secret meetings which paved the way for Nixon's groundbreaking visits to Beijing and Moscow.

By now Secretary of State, he secretly negotiated the US withdrawal from South Vietnam, ending the war and engaged in the Middle East "shuttle diplomacy" which brought about a ceasefire following the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

During the Watergate crisis, Kissinger remained a steadying influence on Nixon, rising above the murk of domestic politics. Described by some as "President for Foreign Affairs", he watched on, appalled, as Nixon resigned in 1974.

Between marriages, he became an unlikely sex symbol. "Henry the Kiss" squired some of the world's most eligible women and enjoyed fine food and wine and sport, especially soccer.

He stayed on as Secretary of State under Gerald Ford, a force for stability in a political system ravaged by scandal. But even he could only watch helplessly as Communist North Vietnamese troops completed their invasion of South Vietnam in 1975.

Since leaving office in 1977, Henry Kissinger has continued to travel the world as a consultant on international affairs, as well as writing a number of successful books on politics, history and diplomacy.

He is, just as before, still at the centre of attention wherever he goes.

Caroline Frost