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Henry Kissinger


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Henry Kissinger

Adee L. Shekar

Nova Southeastern University

Henry Kissinger

The year 1923 was not a fortunate time to be born in Eastern Europe into a middle-class Jewish family. Adolf Hitler was busy launching propaganda campaigns and Nazism was quickly on the rise. It was on May 27 when Heinz Alfred Kissinger was born in a small town in Bavaria, Germany. Although the country had been previously known for being more accepting of religious minority groups, the Bavarian Jew, like many other German Jews, were beginning to feel the ostracizing affects of Hitler’s campaign. By the time Heinz was ten years old, Adolf Hitler was in power. Two years later, the Nuremberg Laws were put into effect. In addition to denying the Jewish people citizen, the laws did not allow them to marry gentiles and they could not hold teaching jobs in state-run schools. This was a significant blow for the Kissinger family; Heinz’s father, Louis, was a respected schoolmaster in the city of Furth. Now out of a job and faced with an increasing number of hardships, the Kissinger family left their native country of Germany in 1938 and made their way to the United States. It was during this move that Heinz became known as Henry.

The Kissinger family’s move to Manhattan, New York allowed Henry to thrive and flourish in a society that, although not totally free from prejudices, was based upon the ideas of equal opportunity and freedom. Because he worked at a shaving-brush factory during the day, Henry attended high school at night. Despite English being his second language, the young, ambitious Kissinger became a straight A student. After completing high school, Henry enlisted in and spent four years in the United States Army. During this time, he worked in the Counter-Intelligence Corps and gained valuable experience in a field that would eventually become part of his career.

In the fall of 1947, Henry entered Harvard University as a sophomore philosophy major. Soon after, he moved his major into the Government Department and it was there that he began to make Harvard history. In a surprisingly optimistic and mature 353 page senior thesis, Kissinger wrote about the significance of individual choice and the circumstances in which were sometimes beyond one’s control. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1950 and he enrolled in the university’s Ph.D program in the Government Department under the guidance of William Yandel Elliot, a Rhodes Scholar and distinguished Harvard professor. Being mentored by such an influential academic was invaluable to Kissinger’s future. During his graduate studies, Henry directed the Harvard International Seminar, a program which received funding from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations as well as the CIA. The experiences were not only about building contacts with prominent figured and future leaders; Henry was able to set himself apart because of his superb academic quality and his incredible drive and ambition. He graduated with a Ph.D in May of 1954. Within ten years of first entering Harvard University as an undergraduate, Henry Kissinger published two books, which eventually secured him an appointment at Harvard’s International Affairs Department. These accomplishments were nothing short of remarkable considering just a few short years before receiving his doctorate, Henry was working in a shaving brush factory and going to school in the evenings.

The late 1950s and 1960s proved that Henry Kissinger’s career in U.S. foreign policy was on a fast track. He became a tenured professor at Harvard with a national reputation. He was published frequently in such journals as Foreign Affairs, The Reporter, and occasionally in the New York Times. Although not a politician, Kissinger used his connections at Harvard and his growing reputation to form influential relationships with both Democrats and Republicans alike, including New York governor Nelson Rockefeller and former vice president Richard Nixon.

In 1968, Kissinger became the national security adviser to newly elected president Richard Nixon. He kept this post until 1975. From 1973 to 1975, he was the only person to ever hold the positions of secretary of state and national security adviser concurrently. During his time in the White House, the dynamic duo of Kissinger and Nixon worked together to accomplish many important historical events: the eventually ending of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the détente with the Soviet Union that resulted in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks agreement, the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Peoples Republic of China, and the stability efforts in the Middle East following the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Without a doubt, Kissinger was instrumental in ending the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It was also the capstone of his diplomacy and it earned him wide acclaim. The December 1972 issue of Time magazine named Kissinger and Nixon “Men of the Year” titles and a Gallup Poll from 1973 rated Henry as the most admired man in America. Because of the Vietnam War settlement in which he played a big part, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize money was accepted but all funds were donated to a scholarship fund for children of military personnel killed in the Vietnam War. Sadly, the peace accords fell apart soon after President Nixon’s Watergate Scandal began to chip away at his presidency. It only took a few months after Nixon’s resignation for Communism to fully envelop Vietnam again. Even after the 1974 resignation of President Nixon, Kissinger retained his position and the influence over foreign affairs that came along with it. He left office in 1977 when the Ford administration came to an end.

Although criticized for his role in certain U.S. foreign policy situations, some which resulted in indictments, Kissinger has continued to hold prestigious positions in numerous organizations and departments. Since leaving office, he has undoubtedly become one of the most respected and well known elder statesmen in the United States. Recognized by many people as an expert on foreign policy, Kissinger has kept active in the political arena by serving as a presidential adviser, commentator, consultant, and an engaging speaker on international affairs issues. After leaving his government positions, he founded and chaired his own international consulting firm named Kissinger Associates. More recently, he was reported as meeting frequently with former President George W. Bush about the Iraq War and the resulting insurgencies. In 2002, he was appointed by the president to lead an independent investigative panel that would identify possible U.S. intelligence failures prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Kissinger accepted but resigned only one month later.

Henry Kissinger was quoted as saying “a leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone”. What does this say about Kissinger’s leadership style? Based upon his early childhood history, nothing came easy to Henry. His rise to the pinnacle of power was not possible without a remarkable hunger for success and perseverance. To start off as a German refugee and to attain positions of such magnitude and importance was unthinkable to anyone that came before Henry Kissinger. It would have also been impossible for him had his family not made the decision to leave Nazi Germany. The choice turned out to be a very wise one as it was later found out that thirteen of Kissinger’s relatives died in the Holocaust death camps. There is no doubt that the leadership qualities he possessed we learned over many years. In fact, Henry was quoted by author and writer of his biography, Walter Issacson, as saying “Living as a Jew under the Nazis, then as a refugee in America, and then as a private in the army, isn’t exactly an experience that builds confidence” (Issacson, 1996). As behavioral theories suggest, leaders are not born; they are made through the process of learning, observation, and teaching. Kissinger took advantage of the opportunities that were presented to him and as a result, he will always have a place in American history. The former managing director of Kissinger’s firm, David Rothkopf, described him as “…one of the most complex characters in recent American history, and he is someone who has, I think, justifiably been in the spotlight both for extraordinary brilliance and competence and at the same time clear defects” (Stolberg, January 2007). Despite being vilified for his involvement in sensitive foreign affairs policies during the Nixon administration, Kissinger was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Medal of Liberty, which was given to ten of America’s most important foreign-born leaders.

Kissinger was a very powerful man and at the end of his career, a well-known leader. He was quoted in an interview as saying, “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac”. Some say he was more powerful than the presidents he worked under in the White House. He was also one of the few government officials, during his time, that understood the media and the importance of public popularity, and he played the media accordingly. At the same time he did not care about the public’s opinion of his politics. His intelligence and style was as a global strategist who used international diplomacy as a grand game to keep a balance between the world’s superpowers and at the same time, keep the United States on top of the superpower heap. Regardless of whether or not Kissinger was vilified or at the same time loved by the public, there is one undeniable fact: he is one of the most brilliant statesmen this country has seen in American history and foreign policy.


Chambers II, J.W. (2000). “Paris Peace Agreement”. The Oxford Companion to American Military History. Retrieved November 15, 2011 from

Hanhimako, J. (2004). The flawed architect: Henry Kissinger and American foreign policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Hersh, S. (1983). The price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon white house. New York: Summit, 1983.

Isaacson, W. Kissinger. A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Kissinger, Henry A. (2011). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from
Kissinger, Henry. (2005). In Germany and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History. Retrieved from
Kissinger, Henry. (2003). In Conspiracy Theories in American History. Retrieved from
Stolberg, S. (2007, January 2). Kissinger’s appearance revives memories of Vietnam era. The New York Times. Retrieved from

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