tv Early Life and Career of Henry Kissinger CSPAN November 5, 2016 8:25am-10:01am EDT
upcoming schedule or watch a recent program. >> henry kissinger served as secretary of state for richard nixon in gerald ford. professoriversity discusses the first volume of his kissinger a biography. thaterguson argued kissinger's foreign-policy is grounded in compassion. the wilson center cohosted this event. it is an hour and a half.
>> thank you very much indeed. great pleasure to be here. and i thought i would say a couple of things by way of pressers. our efforts are made possible in part to the efforts of many people, including the wilson center and the national history center and these are the people who behind the scenes handle a logistics and work out whatever issues we have to make sure that all goes smoothly. today is theus director of the national history center.
we are always grateful for the the society of foreign relations which under rights the seminar. support that makes it possible for us week to week to bring distinguished scholar to talk about their work in the wonderful setting that is the wilson center. roger lewis will introduce our speaker. he is a famous historian. of paper andhor , colossus, civilization.
he is a fellow at the hoover institution at stanford. his many awards include the benjamin franklin prize for ludwigservice and the ehrhardt prize for economic journalism. he has given a lecture to the british studies seminar at the university of texas. the call -- he managed to put it in the freezer of a refrigerator so it would go away. he did not miss a beat.
he said that gives an update talk about the telephone. [applause] thank you very much indeed. great pleasure to be here. and i thought i would say a couple of things by way of preface. some of you, perhaps all of you, let's face it, are more interested in what is going to be said tonight beginning at 9 p.m. than in anything i could possibly say now. and it's true that the stakes are lower. on the other hand, let's remember that henry kissinger's name came up in the primary debate when bernie sanders launched the, as he thought, devastating barb at hillary clinton that she was a friend and admirer of henry kissinger. so i shall be hoping tonight that dr. kissinger makes an appearance in the trump-clinton debate. who knows how that will happen? debates, presidential elections,
if they are uppermost in your mind. but there is an argument for reading this book, despite the fact that it delves back into what, for some of you, is ancient history. if you want to remind yourself that there is really nothing new under the sun, read kissinger's diary of the 1964 republican convention at which barry goldwater was nominated and nelson rockefeller was howled down, if you want to reassure yourself that american politics has always been crazy, that it didn't just suddenly get crazy. i recommend that particular section of this book. i want to do three things. in the 40 or so minutes that i'm going to ask of you. the first is to explain how i came to write this biography, which i think it's always right for an author to do. the second is to try to explain to you what about the first half of henry kissinger's life is
historically significant. most works, as you know, focus on, in effect, the second half, or to be more precise, the relatively small number of years that he spent in government. the third thing i want to do is to suggest four things that i learned from writing this volume. i now refer to this volume as henry the first. and i am in the process of still researching henry the second. and that's my way of subtly hinting that if you came here with a burning question to ask about, let's say, the bombing of cambodia, any answer that i give you will be so tentative as to be, in effect, useless, because i'm not there yet. i am in fact still gathering material for henry ii. this will be about henry i, a much less well-known, as the monarchs. you can tell from my accent, i am british rather than american. [laughter]
this might be seen as a disadvantage or it might be seen as an advantage, when it comes to writing a book about a great figure of the cold war. i in fact met henry kissinger first in london. it was 2003. and it was at what americans call a cocktail party. and it was a rather surprising thing to find myself standing next to this legendary figure. and i wasn't quite sure what to say. but he broke the ice, by saying "i've read one of your books." [laughter] now, if you ever want to disarm an obscure academic, the words "i've read one of your books" have a kind of magical quality, because that is what the obscure academic wants most to talk about. so we began talking about the book, which was about the first world war. he suddenly disappeared, then reappeared on the other side of
the room, about where the people were sitting, standing next to the supermodel, elle mcpherson, who had just walked in. i remember thinking, i really can learn something from this man. but in all honesty, that is a true story, i should say. but in frankness, perhaps, i had grave doubts when he subsequently wrote to me and suggested that i might consider writing his biography based on papers and letters that were in his possession or were in archives. this was, i suppose, partly because i could just imagine the review. it just seemed like tremendously reckless act to write a book that hitchens would be sure to loathe. on the other hand, even if there
were no hitchens, and of course there wasn't by the time the book was published, as hitch had died. i still reckoned it would be an enormous amount of work, given that few periods in history have so perfectly documented, as the 1970's. this was the age of the xerox. also the age of the audio recorder. one has a tremendous amount of documentation, more than will be true, i think, of this age of private servers and e-mails. it just seemed daunting and fool hardy. so i said no. and i then received my introduction to kissinger in diplomacy, in the form of a letter, which i'm going to quote to you. it went like this. i won't do the voice. what a pity. i received your letter just as i was hunting for your telephone number to tell you of the discovery files i thought had
been lost. 145 boxes, which had been placed in a repository in connecticut, by a groundkeeper, who has since died. these contain all my files, writings, letters, sporadic diaries, together with some 20 boxes of some private correspondence, from my government service. our conversations have given me the notion that you would have done a definitive, if not necessarily positive evaluation. i think it was about three weeks later that i was in connecticut, looking through those boxes. and rather like a fish that's seen the fly settle on the surface of the river, i had bitten. and it didn't take me very long that day, when i began to leaf through the documents, to realize that i had in fact to take this on, and that i would be a fool to pass up the
opportunity to work on this material and on this subject. let me try and convey to you some of the excitement i felt that day, as i began to read through kissinger's private papers. this is, remember, 10 years down the road, more. i guess i've gathered i worked this out when i was writing the introduction to the book. over 8,000 documents totaling 37,645 pages from 111 archives. but i want to take you back before that long haul, to day one. one of the things that most grabbed my attention was a letter that he had written to his parents in the 1940's. it was an isolated letter.
there didn't seem to be others in the box. but it was obvious that it must be one of quite a number from his time in the u.s. army. now, for those of you -- and there may be some wholly unfamiliar with the story -- it's worth remembering that before he became richard nixon's national security advisor and then secretary of state and then worked for gerald ford, kissinger had multiple lives. he was born in south germany in 1923. so he was a kid when hitler came to power. he was a refugee, from the summer of 1938, when he and his family moved to the united states. and he was then a soldier. he was drafted and became an infantryman and found himself, extraordinarily, back in germany, just over six years after he left.
in a u.s. army uniform, a g.i. the letter came from that period, and it grabbed my attention like few other documents i've ever read. because it said -- i'm going to quote from memory, and this was addressed to his parents -- to you, the world is made up of black and white. but for me, there are multiple shades of gray in between. maddening thing was that it wasn't clear what had prompted him to write such a thing to his parents. there was no real context in the letter. so who could fail to be fascinated by such an extraordinary line or two in the letter? years later, just before i finished the manuscript -- in fact, i thought i had finished -- i was in kissinger's office in new york when he handed me a folder containing the rest of those letters.
finally. i had been asking for those letters again and again and again. and he'd always run up against the barrier of "it's just too intimate." there had always been this agreement between us that i would write exactly what i found. there would be no editorial power on his side. the only constraint related to quotations from family correspondence. it was only at the very end that he decided to allow me to see, well, what in effect was most of that family correspondence. and let me quote from a letter. he wrote home, from germany, november the 15th, 1944. it is very late. i haven't much time.
but i must write a letter, just so that i can affix to it the legend somewhere in germany... so i have made it. out in the darkness that envelopes this town, rows and rows of shattered buildings line the roads. people wonder through the ruins. war has come to germany. so i am back where i wanted to be. i think of the cruelty and barbarism those people out there in the ruins showed when they were on top. and then i feel proud and happy to be able to enter here as a free american soldier. at this point, kissinger had no idea of the extent of his crimes. indeed, it was only later, after the war was over, that he realized that every member of his family that had remained in germany had been killed, including his grandmother. before he found that out, he was present at the liberation of a
concentration camp, just outside hanover. and this produced one of those documents that i did see on the very first day. an extraordinary essay which he entitled "the eternal jew," a kind of two-page record for his own use or possibly for future publication. i'm going to briefly quote a passage from it. it's addressed to one of the inmates of the concentration camp, who had survived, who was still living, at the moment of liberation. kissinger wrote, humanity stands accused in you. i, joe smith, human dignity, everybody has failed you. you should be preserved in cement, up here on the hillside, for future generations to look upon and take stock.
human dignity, objective values, have stopped at this barbed wire. as long as conscious existings as a conception -- exists as a perception in the world, you will personify it. you are eternal in this respect. now, some of you may have asked yourself the question, why did ferguson subtitle volume one, "the idealist"? was this a mere provocation designed to ensense the new york times and bernie sanders? well, no. well, it was intended to do that, but that wasn't the main reason. it dawned on me, within a very short space of time, as i read this material, that the kissinger in the boxes, in the paper, was not the kissinger i
had been led to expect at all. i had read it. i had read a number of books, highly critical of him. and these books had a common thread. that henry kissinger was the personification of an unscrupulous realism, immoral. so influenced had i been that originally i'd considered giving the subtitle to the biography "american machiavellian" but there was no machiavellian here. none at all. in fact, that scarcely surfaces anywhere in kissinger's paper. what there was was a man whose experiences as a refugee and as a soldier and then as a student at harvard had molded him in quite the opposite direction. i want to suggest to you that in three respects, it is legitimate to describe the kissinger of
volume i -- notice -- as an idealist. the first is the practical one that he drew the lesson of his own experience in the 1930's and 1940's that realism had failed, that realism had produced appeasement in a 1957 letter, he wrote, we like to smile now at the baldwin and chamberlain in 1938 but they thought of themselves as tough realists. very true. very insightful. secondly, and i think more importantly, the study of philosophy as an undergraduate, under the direction of william elliott, had turned kissinger into an idealist. some of you may know the story of his senior thesis. modestily entitled "the meaning of history" -- [laughter] >> which led to the still existing harvard rule about the length of senior thesis. it's fascinating to read that
and realize this was a foundation on which kissinger, the historian, subsequently filled. he really evolved from philosopher of history into historian. the argument that he makes in the thesis is that whereas perpetual peace might be the ultimate goal of history, quote, whatever one's conception about the necessity of events, at the moment of their performance, their inevitability could offer no guide to action. kissinger, of the kant phase, is a strong anti-determinist, whose attempt to reconcile necessity and contingency is really a very powerful and interesting contribution for such a young man. the third respect in which he's an idealist in this period has to do with his rejection of the
materialism that was so mainstream in the early cold war. you have to remember that harvard, in the early 1950's, was not a place where you would naturally gravitate towards the study of the congress of vienna if you weren't an ambitious young man. it was deeply uncool to immerse yourself, as he did in his doctoral thesis, in 19th century diplomatic history. this was this age of social science, economics, systems analysis. one of the reasons i began to doubt the story that kissinger was ruthlessly ambitious, always trying to figure his way up to the top of the greasy pole was this choice of dissertation topic. then i began to realize this was a conscious intellectual revolt against the materialism of the early cold war. kissinger often has said in more recent times that he doesn't know much about economics. but that's because he rejected the proposition that the cold war was a fundamental struggle between two economic systems.
kissinger says at one point, in an early piece of work, that it wouldn't matter in the cold war in the soviet system turned out to be economically superior. and we know it wasn't, but it was much less clear to contemporaries in the 1950's that that was so. kissinger wrote the inward intuition of freedom -- inward intuition of freedom would reject totalitarianism, even if it were more economic. it seems to be very fundamental to the young kissinger. what i was fascinated by is how consistently he stuck to these un-kissinger like positions when it came to issues of policy.
i'll give you three examples. in my experience, 90% of any audience is still skeptical at this point, because hitchens' influence has been very enduring and there's a mental influence of kissinger as the realist. it's july 1958. you're glued to your television because a still somewhat obscure, named henry kissinger, has written a best-selling book, "nuclear weapons and foreign policy" and he's on abc, being interviewed. he says an answer to a question about the third world, as it was then called. i think we should go on the spiritual offensive in the world. we should identify ourselves with the revolution. let me just allow those words to sink in. it's henry kissinger in 1958. we should identify ourselves
with the revolution. we should say that freedom, if it is liberated, can achieve many of these things. even when we have engaged in constructive steps, we've always justified them on the basis of a communist threat, very rarely on the basis of things we wanted to do because of our intrinsic dynamism. we should have said these are the things we want to do because of the values we stand for, not because we want to beat the communists. that seemed to me to be the very antithesis. the further i went into the material, the more i saw kissinger establish himself as a critic of realism, a critic of real politic in american foreign policy. he was briefly and unhappily an advisor, a consultant, to the kennedy administration. this is a less well-known part of the story. those of you who are
connoisseurs of washington politics will enjoy this, because bundy stitches kissinger up well eloquently. clearly bundy did not want kissinger encroaches on his new turf, so he persuaded kissinger that he could be a part-time consultant. how well do you think that would work, just on the first principles of washington life? part-time consultant? kissinger was driven mad by the fact. he just could not get any time at all with the president. and it was, in many ways, a pity, because the issue in 1961 that loomed largest was berlin. and there's no question that henry kissinger knew more about berlin and more generally about the germany question than bundy did. on the other hand, it may be just as well that bundy kept him
at arm's length, because we now can see that kissinger was a good deal more hawkish on the berlin crisis than kennedy's closest advisors and kennedy himself. he wrote, kissinger, that is, that realism -- he rejected, i should say, he rejected the view that, i quote, realism should compel us to confirm what we are incapable of changing and that therefore the united states should, quote, accept the vision of germany as final. kissinger argued, on the contrary, that the west must stand for the unity of germany, despite the experiences of two world wars. kissinger was livid when kennedy decided that a wall was better than a war. and although it must be said that dr. kissinger disagrees with my interpretation on this point, i argue that had he been in the heat of that time, american policy would certainly have been riskier, because it would have involved a showdown over berlin as opposed to what in effect was a fudge. third, a most compelling piece of evidence. november 1963, as you know, if
you recall, there was a coup in vietnam. and the government was badly overthrown. this was a coup that, perhaps unwittingly, kennedy had okayed. it had certainly been okayed through levels of the government in washington. kissinger thought it was a ghastly mistake to intervene in that way, in the politics of saigon. he drafted a statement for nelson rockefeller, whom he was advising, which was never used. but it's worth quoting from. quote, no american can take pride that our government should have been associated with events leading to the assassination of two leaders with whom we were formally allayed. again, take a breath. this is henry kissinger. i do not like our country to be thought of in terms of the
cynical use of power. our historical role has been to identify ourselves with the ideals and deepest hopes of mankind. if we lose this asset, temporary successes will be meaningless. well, i would say i rest my case, except my case is lying there, nearly 1,000 pages of it, with a good deal more supporting evidence. but i hope at least i've made you take seriously that, at least in this early period, in the first half of his life roughly, kissinger was no realist. if i had time and wasn't losing the attention of at least one gentleman on the front row -- you got up too early. this is the biggest problem in washington, d.c. everybody is up so early, they just are done by 4:30.
[laughter] >> the fourth -- welcome back, sir. the fourth example, if i wanted to give it, would be the great battles that kissinger had over the subsequent unfolding of the vietnam war. and in particular, the escalation of the war of johnson. it actually dated back to 1965. kissinger started visiting vietnam, really to inform himself, but he was trying to advise the then-ambassador, one of the most extraordinary documents in the entire book is the report he wrote back from his first trip to vietnam, a trip which did not involve merely sitting in saigon, as most visitors from the u.s. intended to, but involves some pretty hair-rising flying around into war zones.
this report is devastating as a critique of the way the war was being waged. kissinger concluded that there was absolutely no way the united states would achieve a victory. it would need a diplomatic settlement, 1965. so i promised you a third helping. and the helping i'm going to conclude with is the four lessons of henry i, because i think it's important for us historians to explain to people who don't really feel excited by history that it has lessons that are applicable across time. and i think these four lessons are. i've moved recently from harvard to stanford. i can't tell you how dismissive the giants of silicon valley are, by and large, of what we
do. they are with henry ford. this is bunk. they want to study the future. i spent part of the plane ride, writing a long e-mail to one of the silicon valley kings, trying to explain to him why this was quite dangerous and why ignorance of history has turned this country into the united states of amnesia. i sent him the article that some of you may have seen, that allison and i wrote in the atlantic, earlier this year, arguing that the next president, whoever it is, should appoint a council of historical advisors. after all, the economists
haven't really achieved a great deal with their council over the years. but the absence of what i call applied history from the way decisions are taken in this town is a recurrent theme of american history. it's something that kissinger commented on, in the 1960's, when he complained about the complete lack of historical perspective when he encountered in washington. this brings me to lesson number one. kissinger argued in an early publication that history is to state what character is to people. it's the key to understanding their motivation, their action. quote, all states consider themselves as expressions of historical forces. to take a specific example, imagine trying to negotiate with president putin with almost no understanding or knowledge of russian history. if all you have is game theory, don't expect to read a russian president right. so the first simple insight from the book is that history was kissinger's advantage.
the reason that over time he became a more influential figure, and ultimately a powerful figure, lay in the fact that, unlike most people commenting on american policy issues, he brought history to the table. second lesson of henry i, in foreign policy, most choices, practically all choices, are between evils. there isn't an option b, apple pie, that you get to pick. in nuclear weapons and foreign policy, published in 1957, kissinger wrote of the cold war, we are certain to be confronted with situations of extraordinary ambiguity, such as civil wars and domestic coups. there can be no -- once they have occurred, we must find the will to act, in a situation which permits only a choice among evils. and he went on. this, choosing between evils, presupposes, above all, a moral act, a willingness to run risks
on partial knowledge and for a less-than-perfect application of one's principles. the insistence on absolute is a prescription for inaction. lesson number three. and to me, the most exciting of the three, of the four. the key problem in decision making is the problem of conjecture. i think it was kissinger who formulated the problem of conjecture first, in a 1963 essay, decision making in the nuclear world. now, no matter how exhausted you are, even if the alarm went off at 5:00, listen carefully to this. no matter what you do in this town, it's relevant to your decision making process. each political leader has the choice between making the assessment, which requires the least effort, or making an
assessment which requires more effort. if he makes the assessment that requires least effort, then, as time goes on, it may turn out that he was wrong. then he will have to pay a heavy price. if he acts on the basis of a guess, he will never be able to prove that his effort was necessary. he may save himself a great deal of grief later on.he makes himsf grief later on. early, you cannot that heit was necessary cannot know if it was necessary. if you wait, he may be lucky or unlucky. this indicates a symmetry, particularly in democratic states, a line of least resistance is to take the can down the road. european politicians specialize in this, but i think it is also what the president did about syria. to act preemptively is doubly risky. you have to take on the cost of
action, but if you are right and you divert disaster then no one is grateful. we are not grateful for averted disasters. many people think cap effectually thoroughly enough to visualize in their minds the parallel universe in which things turn out differently. kissinger had one example in mind -- one that meant a great deal to him and his family. againstemocracies moved the notches in 1936, he argued that we would not know today if hitler's had limited objectives, or if he was, in fact, and mania. we did, in fact, learned he was a maniac. the problem of conjecture is all around us. one might say it is precisely the problem that will confront
american voters on november 8. misunderstood nationalists or maniac? we do not know. we can only conjecture. today, in this town, there is one institution in particular that likes to make its decisions data dependent. those of you that are students of monetary policy know that good data is the answer for the federal reserve. is telling us that the good data cannot give you the answer. you cannot just wait for the data to come in. you must conjecture. no decision must be based on scenarios about the future that are not data dependent. they cannot be data dependent either very nature.
-- by their very nature. if you act, you can expect there to be people that deplore the action you have taken. will not receive gratitude from most -- you will not receive gratitude from most of the people who use it from a worst scenario that might befall them. the fourth and final scenario that i learned that lesson i learned from writing this book -- the fourth and final lesson that i learned from writing this book was from one of kissinger's essays that was not published. simply vanished into the boxes that i was privileged to open. this is another of those exciting moments that historians do not generally get enough of. here was an unpublished kissinger book about a central figure he has most commonly identified. how many times have you read in
essays that he was the bismarck of the united states? well, i have the evidence. this was to be the second volume of a trilogy. the first volume was published. work and maybe the best thing he ever wrote. volume two was to be the book on bismarck. it was not finished. i figure was because worldly things intruded. etiquette was because he reached an intellectual impasse -- i think it was because he reached an intellectual impasse as he was writing. the book was designed to critique bismarck. the central theme is that one cannot base policy purely on power. let me quote from a passage that was characteristically crossed out and amended. there are very few pages of his prose that are this much agonized over. incapable of the
courage of cynicism. the insistence of men of athens forcestoms on societal are always eroding -- are incapable of finding distinctions, a doctor of power of means may end up "aking power and end -- an end. this was meant to be and anti-bismarck book -- an anti-bismarck book come he realized that as -- book, but as he was writing it, he realized that it was only through bismarck method that the united states could withdraw itself from the non-. non--- from vietnam.
a great many moving parts they thought could improve the position that the united states was in and they entered the night house -- white house in 1969. -- when they entered the white house in 1969. let me leave you with a whodunit at the end of volume one. it was a mystery. the mystery is why of all people that richard nixon chose henry kissinger to be his national security advisor. myth that this was because of a devious, conniving, attempt to stop the peace agreements with north vietnam. an entire book was written to this effect. it turns out not to be true. that kissinger was far more closely identified with nelson rockefeller than with nixon. he repeatedly criticized nixon
throughout the 1950's and 1960's. when nixon reached out to him in 1960, kissinger went to great lengths to avoid even meeting him. he claimed he had a pressing engagement in japan. if you want to avoid someone that's really want to avoid them, that is what you have to say. -- if you want to avoid someone -- really want to avoid them, that is what you have to say. they only met for the first time in december of 1967 at a cocktail party. i think it is this occasion that supplies parts of the answer to my whodunit. there is one answer to the question of why nixon picked kissinger that i is -- that i am fond of, but it is not true. it comes from one of henry's
longest-serving phd students. "henry was the only thing of nelson that nixon could afford." [laughter] you must admit, that is a good line. but no, it was not that. they met, and you know that nixon is not a socially grateful man. the young henry kissinger was not particularly a debt either. -- notd both arrived particularly adept either. they both arrived early. a fatal mistake in new york. it was nixon that broke the ice. he said to kissinger, "i have read one of your books." [laughter]
[applause] >> we now move to the part where we ask for questions from the audience. if we could just lay out a few ground rules -- please wait until you are called upon. please wait for the microphone, identify yourself, and please use the microphone. in order to get in as many questions as we can, please keep your questions brief. we have a hand up in the far back. yes? >> you convinced me. i would like to ask you now -- if you have a challenge, how do you move from henry one -- henry the first two henry the second in terms of explanation and narrative? how do we move from henry the
idealist two henry the realist? why was he conscious of it -- why? was he conscious of it? shift?n was the niall: thank you for those questions. a i said, i will give tentative answer about volume two. as i do it, i am hoping to illuminate my methods which might be interesting to a group of historians. -- as i amy mind preparing to write -- a structure, a narrative shape, but i am not wedded to it. i do not allow it to skew my
reading. it is there as a tool. imagine it as an edifice of plato -- playdough. it helps me and it guides me, but i am ready to eject it. that is how the idea of an american machiavelli was replaced with the idealist. the second volume will contain many more documents. it will reflect the reading of many more documents then volume one civil because there is so much stuff. i'm still adding to it. part of my goal is to see this period from as many vantage points as possible. many books on the subject of u.s. foreign relations relied heavily on u.s. documents and too few look at multiple governments and use multiple linkages. i am trying my best to that
multiple languages -- multiple languages. am trying my best to have multiple of records in the books. you need to see through russian eyes, chinese eyes, the enemies eyes, and french and german. here already are in the firing line for interview requests. i will then sit down a year from now and work my way through tens of thousands of documents. i think volume two will be called "the realm of power." that was my wife's suggestion after she heard me use the phrase in my first talk about the book. she said, "that is what we should call volume two." there, he is much more the
subject and not the object. the working hypothesis i have is in the moment he enters his new role in the white house, he is not a powerful figure. nixon is the decision maker. the united states is in one hell of a mess. between the sheer scale of the mess and the relative weakness of his position, he begins to compromise. to an extent that i think is overlooked. the strategy on the outset is nixon's strategy. it is only gradually that it -ger.es next and -- nixon i think the narrative trick is that when the idealist enters the realm of power full-time, ,hen the process of amending
mustfying, comprising begin. that is the best answer i can give you. >> we have a gentleman in the middle. >> joe bosco, formally of the depends -- defense department and former student of henry kissinger. an anecdote that confirms something you said about his reluctance to take action, during the berlin crisis, we were in the lecture hall and there was much agitation among the students. there was a lot of concern in the headlines and on radio and tv. kissinger went on with his scheduled lecture. thes only at the end of class a student raised his hand and said, "dr. kissinger, what will happen in berlin?" he calmly said, "we will proceed
things willcy, and go on with no more and no crisis." niall: very interesting. i would like to know the exact date he said that. [laughter] niall: that is very welcome. in writing henry the first, i realized i did not have quite enough students to testify about his role as it professor. i only had a small sample. they were conflicting and their accounts. some praised him as a lecturer, and others were more critical of his relative distance from the undergraduates. very much what that generation of harvard professors did which was to vanish regularly to washington and new york and then up your just in the nick of time for a lecture before vanishing again. but, thank you very much for that.
>> the gentleman on the end right there. you describe this transition? most people do not go through -- itolding one picture is much more common for people to go from hard to bring that -- heart to brains. is this transition not unusual -- his transition not unusual? niall: the richard burr traces as -- literature portrays us as having set characters and conditions. i do not think history is a bunch literature of all. historical process is more in common with a game which is
unpredictable than a novel which follows a fine line of narrative arts. -- parts. part of what i am trying to do is to makethis book clear that human beings are not characters from fiction. real human beings go through and areant evolutions often capable of believing and acting in a contradictory ways. -- in contradictory ways. anddifficulty in writing the other fee is not just showing the realism -- in writing a biography is not just capturing the realism but also putting things into a way that makes sense. have you put things into since the transition of idealism into
-- i will hesitate from saint realism, but how do you describe the evolution -- from using realism, but how do you describe the evolution? i think, in this case, it is a more complex evolution. kissinger was so clearly aware of the flaws of the doctrine of becoming themeans doctrine of power as an end. anilluminating point that -- illuminating point that he makes is that the statesman is ultimately a tragic figure. this brings in the element of literature and drama back into our work as historians. kissinger says that the problem of content -- problem of conjecture leads to tragedy. askver sees the problem and
preemptively is doomed to be on thanks and therefore have a -- thanked and therefore have a tragic future. they do not use the word in the 19th century, but that is exactly what happened. i think it is important for historians to recognize that it is quite hard to tell the story of someone that moves quite a long way away from their early principles. >> the gentleman in the second row. >> jim dixon, shenandoah valley proofreader. it was september 30 of last year that the book came out.
i would like to ask to simple questions. would you comment on what dr. kissinger thinks of your book? being 66 years old, how much longer until number two comes out? niall: thank you, jim. may take the opportunity to thank you, because you are one of the people that stepped up to read the proofs. i think we all need eagle eyed readers before publication. and a reader approaches you says they enjoyed the book and found a series of mistakes, you sit up and take notice. did this too i think i put three of my books, him in charge of reading the
proofs for my kissinger books. s relationship flawed was bound to be from the outset. walter isaacson, who wrote in earlier and more journalistic work, predicted that by the end we would not be speaking. that there would be a complete rip no matter what i wrote -- complete rift no matter what i wrote. i think the were moments when the relationship came close to breaking down. the commitment to tell the unvarnished truth is bound to be problematic for the subject of a biography.
we all have our own version of the past. we all have things that we have buried that we do not want to see exhumed. i think for dr. kissinger, it was often hard to be confronted by things he had written or done that he had forgotten about and were not particularly flattering to see on the page. it, there was a period of very long silence. i had been through this once history.iting another this family gave me access to the archives and they had no editorial control. out draftriod, i sent chapters as i wrote them so they would not be a ashley shock -- gastly shot of one unfinished
menu script. anyone that has -- manuscript. anyone that has access to documents should not -- i think should take that approach. there are poor stories -- horror stories as historians have discovered where the any script arrives and itpt gets disappeared. i thought i would just let the draft chapters to read so that there was no huge shop. , you discover that there is stuff you cannot just find out from the archives. to remembermportant that if you are an archival. i can meet. -- if youled to find -- important to
remember if you are an archival purist like me. i have toiled to capture his honest role in his actions. i realized i had missed something crucial in some cases -- namely that she was there and that he was having an affair with her that, naked in their -- culminatedn hated -- in their marriage years later. letting him see the draft chapters health me, because it jogged his memories and it got me things i would not have otherwise received. after he read, the was this long silence, and it took him a while to come around to the view that there are revelations of a
that i had put in because i thought they were revealing of the young man, but i guess my letters to teenage girls, for example, would make me cringe. he came to realize that they were a necessary part of the enterprise in order to make it appear that the elder statesmen was once a teenage refugee. how long will you have to wait? one more year of research, two years of writing. -- holdolding to that that, but that is about as fast as it can be done. roger? >> i speak as a former kissinger
student. in harvard, he ran -- at harvard, human a defense policy seminar, and it was not so much a seminar because the russo many -- there were so many people that came. they had to move it out of the hall. we, as students, had this picture of him as very vicious -- ambitious. at the time, as we were called, there was a sort of power struggle going on of who would control the center for international affairs at harvard. the opponent was someone that we regarded as having a great deal of honesty and integrity. our sympathy was on that side. i am wondering if you could direct my memory or tell me what was really going on? niall: you're right that there
was a battle going on that involved kissinger. there are all sorts of stories to illustrate their refusal to speak to one another. suppose the surprising thing to me was that the battle began almost immediately. i do not think it was entirely related to differences of policy. they did have differences over , but it seems to have started from the outset. i think they were temperamentally incompatible. it was one of those cases in which there are a great many in the story when his injured -- kissinger, the opinionated figure, roughed up the more established figure in the wrong way.
you can correct me if i am wrong, but i think it is fair to -- he had done an impressive job at harvard of allowing a very large proportion of students and faculty to come from predominantly jewish immigrant communities. going back into the 20's, there have been debates over quotas. that was all set -- swept aside in the late 1940's and 50's. amazingit would've been if there was not some attention between the new harvard and the old. it was such a rapid change. certainly, henry kissinger's account of how he was treated as an undergraduate shows that he did not feel much of action for the representatives of -- much affection for the representatives of the old guard.
i spent a lot of time trying to work out why elliott became his mentor. government?o to why did he go to elliott? he seems, at least from this difference -- distance, he seems almost a bombastic figure. i try my best in the book to explain these puzzles about the academic career, but i do come back to the famous observation that the reason academic life is so poisonous is because the stakes are so low. [laughter] that seems to have a lot of truth in it, and it has been my experience. of -- thiso be wary is true of oxford and cambridge as much harvard or yell, -- yale.
the more he consorted with people that are not professors, the more painted -- hated he becomes. this is a guaranteed law of academic life. you can be as nice as you are, but are academics will still hate you behind your back. i think henry was a classic and that aspect. -- in that aspect. >> i would like to follow-up up with a different kind of question. departurets point of from the subtitle of "the idealist." readersuess that many -- especially young readers, will not necessarily come to the same conclusion that henry kissinger was an idealist in any form or fashion. you offered a series of quotes today that you amplify in the book with henry kissinger talking about the united states
eating to go on a spiritual offensive. -- going on a spiritual offensive. be, at least in my experience of reading the seminar table quality to those kinds of claims. he seems to be very unconcerned or unaware of what is going on and what was being called the third world -- the nationalist revolution. his main center of attention except for when he yet he does not seem to grapple with nationalism. this does not quite register. so the word "spiritual offensive" almost rings hollow.
what values would he put forward other than the abstract notion of democracy? to the entire continent of africa, it does not really sound right even the u.s. role in the .uropean empire if you could talk about that issue there -- i come away from the book not quite convinced of the idealism you are putting forward here. orseems very consensual bounded figure for his time. greateste of the dangers of any historian is to lapse into anachronistic thinking. to apply the criteria of 2016 in judging the actsf people from the 19 --
of people involved from the 1960's and 1970's. forould've been unheard of an academic of kissinger's background it to be involved in the civil rights movement at that time. i found photographs of martin luther king paying a visit to the harvard yard when i think it was you were studying in the 1960's. this does not surface in kissinger's papers that this is happening at all. be, as think we need to scholars, mindful of what was of paramount concern of someone field --n a specific u.s. foreign-policy with a
background in european diplomatic history. that was kissinger's role. in my experience, most academics stick to their speciality. they are not expected to comment on everything under the sun. in fact, henry kissinger was unusual in that he was ready to talk about the third world on a tv rather than confined himself to his specialty. so, i am struck by his range. in the 1950's, he is talking about the third world in that interview that i cited. a number of references to countries in play. it is not just vietnam that attracts his attention. moreover, i think we need to be very careful to remind ourselves of the ruthless way in which the
soviets were seeking to expand their influence in what was then called the third world. far too many people write books about the diplomacy of the 19 80's and 1970's without the -- in the 1960's and 1970's without the soviets. you would not be aware of the extraordinary things that the soviets and other agencies were up to in the third world. i do not think we should blame statesman of the cold war for prioritizing the soviet threat. i think it was unusual for kissinger to say, "are the toooaches to negative -- negative?" the quote that that is from is actually from the context of being about latin america. in his eyes, it was not enough
for us to simply resist against soviet influence. we will never fully appealed to the people of these countries. i do not think it is fair to quite look at an academic of that time in the way that you describe. kissinger was seen as unusual even by his close friend. eating to the right at harvard is an uncomfortable place -- being to the right at hartford -- harvard is an uncomfortable place, even then. puts kissinger in the 1960's setting, this is the key moment that i think reveals the idealist. he goes to the 1964 republican
convention and is uphold by what he sees. -- utterly appalled by what he sees. of whatmpletely clear is coming from the goldwater acceptance speech and he thinks it is like fascism. he writes in his diary, "this is terrifying." this is what i saw as a boy in germany. i think you have to remember what you care about. if you grew up in not see nazi germnay,n and you return many years later to find most of your family dead then that is the authority that you care about. you attach lower priority to the things that we may care about today.
>> we have a hand up right here in the front. >> my name is dimitri. i do not have an affiliation. i have two, quick questions. the first one to give backs off the other one. how does dr. kissinger see himself as a young person? does he see himself as naive and idealistic? the second question is about the united nations. how does he see them as a young person? as he have high hopes? how does it change? niall: i think it is fair to say that his view now of the book is that it is an accurate account of his young life. there are no major interpretations in it that he refutes. on the united nations, it is interesting that from very early on he is a skeptic about
collective security. this is, of course, partly based on the failure of the league as it was commonly thought of. it is also because kissinger comes to the view that collective security can never produce real alliances, and that alliances are the essential building blocks in the balance of power. it is fascinating to read, because it contains a very elaborate and profound account of the balance of power. a phrase that gets thrown about casually in our time -- kissinger makes a couple of important points in the book. one is that it is not spontaneously occurring. you have to have an active balancer to achieve equilibrium. the second point is the very notion of talents itself -- it
needs legitimacy. a revolutionary power can erode that by simply challenging the order. those other even in the most recent book "the world order." i think that presupposes that collective security cannot really deliver. you live in a world of combinations of powers and alliances. not in a world where the entire body of nations will come together to achieve peace. kissinger is always very hostile to that notion that there is a sort of legal solution to the problem of international conflict. writings areater critical of wilson.
there's not that much of that explicit critique in the first part of his life. it is interesting how little he andes about the 1920's 1930's. kissinger'swith academic life unfinished -- the problem to be solved in kissinger's mind was not world war ii but world war i. in that sense, very little of the early work is engaged with the product -- project that wilson had believed in. it in the incarnation of the form of united nations. >> yes, right here in the middle? >> a wonderful presentation. you mentioned the polarities of idealism and realism. are not the other polarities of three in practice -- theory and
practice? niall: i think kissinger, as a young man, would have necessarily seen theory and practice as so distinct from one another. his complaint was that practitioners that the people making decisions -- that practitioners -- the people making decisions in washington did not involve themselves in theory. the insect he has early on are from lawyers. by training, they take each crisis -- the insight he has early on is from lawyers. by training, they take each crisis. it is actually a system, and you have to understand it these. properties.
i think what he understood that the men with the theory and histories would come to this town of lawyers and set them straight. i think he was certainly capable effective in the situation room, because the theory and the history gave him an edge when it came to sizing up a situation. i heard it said by a diplomat that worked with -- who worked that no one1973 reacted more quickly to the news of the young to poor -- the kaporr poor -- the yon war then henry kissinger. i think that was the advantage. the theory in the history allowed him to quite quickly
size up a crisis, because it was not just an isolated case to him. it was part of an evolving national order. row?re, in the second >> i am retired. --r ascription of kissinger description of kissinger's 1965 memo on vietnam reminds me of the vietnam chapter in the book "to move the nation." he came out of the cia, the writer. if you are familiar with it, could you compare and contrast it? profoundly negative that regime.
read the book,ot but thank you very much for the reference. i will try to give a little more flesh onto the bone of what i have set. is key point to bear in mind that kissinger never quite stopped seeing the world as a counterintelligence agent. that was the role he played in the later phases of world war ii. when he was sent to korea as a reserve officer, he wrote a very professional critique of how the army was performing relative to its world war ii performance. , he he got to vietnam approached the problem in much the same way. the critique he writes in 1965 at the end of his tour is that the different government agencies in south vietnam are entirely at odds with what another. there is a lack of coherent
strategy, and they are essentially working against one another in key respects. of theis a critique inter-agency mess. it is also a critique of the disconnect between the senior officers and the people at the front lines. one of the things that he did which seems impressive to someone like me is to go to these positions and talk to really quite junior people. also, he spent a lot of time with cia people in saigon and elsewhere around the country. it was their testament that it was all going wrong, and he starts all of this huge skepticism of what this senior military commanders were saying in their briefings. he keeps coming back to this. who is in control at night?
tell me what it is like here at night. he has a sense of the granularity of war. he served. that is what makes the report so striking. it is very well researched. really did do his duty legend's on how things were going. igence on howl things were going. he spoke to members of the opposition, and he ends up painting this picture of a war that is already irretrievable. then, he has the problem of no one wanting him to say that back in washington. the ambassador once nothing to do with it. -- wants nothing to do with it. so, he writes a toned down version, but the original was quite devastating.
[inaudible] >> there is no microphone, so we cannot hear you. if you could just keep this brief -- variousman describes americans coming back from vietnam and reporting to kennedy. "did you comment was, people go to the same country?" niall: i think it is striking that his injury realizes that most people at or near the front line had only just arrived. it ensures that no local knowledge is built up. this speaks to my long-term interest in how empires succeed or fail. if you do not build up local partnerships, then you are bound to fail. it is amazing to read this stuff
and realized it all happened again. that nothing was really learned. certainly not in ways that influenced what happened in iraq. in the bushigure administration did write me an e-mail saying that he found the book utterly shattering to him to see how much iraq had mirrored vietnam. >> i am a retired foreign services officer. would you find about kissinger's relationship with kramer? in some ways, this is the most important relationship of all aside from his relationship to nancy. kramer was, as i described in the book, the mess -- the
mephistopheles of kissinger's life. this was quite conscious on kramer's part. he was the one that spotted kissinger's talent when they were both rabbits in -- both privates in the army. they hit it off. the relationship was very intense and the subsequent months of war. they were together at the battle of the bulge when they were the on the front line and came under german artillery apartment -- artment.t -- bomb they were so close, that kissinger would write from their joint vantage point. the relationship with kramer is in some ways the barometer of
the idealism. kramer is the man that has kind of invented himself as the man of conservative values. it is kramer that sets kissinger on the trail -- it is kramer that says to kissinger you cannot go back to city college. you have to go to harvard. kramer is a huge inspiration for what kissinger subsequently does. two retains his influence over him. two areers between the crucial to the development of the story. over time, they become more critical. in a volume one, kramer is about thessinger compromises he might be tempted
to take in his association with acceptance -- in his of the job from xm. there is no question in my mind that in volume two and absolutely pivotal moment will be the breach when kramer breaks from him. awfully important part of the story. most of the time, kissinger is reluctant to use german. when he is invited back to speak in germany, he says he would rather speak in english. kramer, his correspondence is in german until very later on. the letters are hand written and very difficult to read. some of the most painful parts of the research were plowing through those. they are still in terribly -- they are still terribly important.
>> a gentleman in the second row? >> we teach a course in nuclear policy for the air force. i think i may have gotten a little bit ahead, because i am --cinated by your comments but, to the degree that dr. kissinger decries the form perspective, did anything you read reflect his relationship with the senior officers with whom he dealt? service academies for the most part have always taught history except for about two decades ago -- the american history was dropped out of the curriculum of the air force academy. what would have -- what was kissinger's relationship with the senior officers with whom he associated?
associate withot them much in the army or as a reserve officer, but when he accepted the invitation from the council of foreign relations to act as the first minute keeper -- then author of the book when he went to cfr, he then came in contact with senior military officials for the first time. he quickly had his favorites that he would take considerable knowledge from. nuclear weapons and foreign policy is kind of an amazing book for a man whose speciality was the congress of vienna. what it is is a book that selects from the different committee members and expert witnesses what fits into an
argument that kissinger himself built. the doctrine of limited nuclear war was partly contested at the time, but it was a very big deal --the u.s. military because at the weapons could only be used once in the case of armageddon, that was kind of frustrating. if you had all different kinds of nuclear weapons from tiny to medium to huge, there was a whole lot more money to ask for. i think he gets sucked into this world perhaps a little unwittingly. it is an extraordinary book, because he subsequently breaks with it. not so many academics so soon after the publication of a book jose it is kind of wrong -- of a book will say it is kind of wrong. that is what he did. the vision that you needed a range of different nuclear
capabilities -- that insight was correct. natocame the basis of strategy right down to the end of the cold war. the strategy of the 1980's is nuclear weapons and for policy. kissinger care -- got cold feet and the book came under serious onslaught. the danger of moving out of your field of expertise into something new. many people have spent the lives studying foreign policy, and i have not. there is a terrible need for humility when you do this. you are going from people that will -- when you are learning from people that will always know more than you, that is how kissinger wrote the book. --relied heavily on people it is all caps allayed documented in the book it i think you'll find it -- in the book. much moreu'll find it
interesting if you understand more about the subject than i do. >> unfortunately, we have to bring this to a close. i believe we could go on for many more hours in discussion and questions. you can find a book outside for purchase. "kissinger: 1923-1968: the idealist," you can buy on your way out. we resume our seminar on the 19th. thank you to our participants. and thank you to niall ferguson. [applause] [inaudible] >> this weekend on american history tv on c-span3 -- at 8:00
and history,ctures a history professor at dartmouth college on native american history from the colonial era three westward expansion. ho presented themselves to us as allies and friends to the future were clearly our enemies. they are occupying our lands with troops that we were fighting against. by cutting off and withholding that isimiting trade, essentially a declaration of hostile intent. america, then reel 1966 campaign for california governor between edmund pat brown and ronald reagan. my experience turns me inevitably to the people to answers for problems instinctively.
i put my faith in the private , belief inhe economy the people's ability to run their own of tears. -- run their own affairs. >> every category that tells of california's -- economy is good proves that we have done a good job. >> road to the white house rewind, -- >> you will go to the polls and make a decision. when you make the decision you might ask yourself, are you better off than you were 4 years ago? >> our proposals are sound and carefully consider to stimulate jobs, improve the industrial complex of this country, create tools for american workers, and be anti-inflationary in nature. >> 1980 debate between jimmy carter and ronald reagan.
at 7:00 -- >> a realist would not have devoted his life to fighting slavery. a would not have said that dissolution of the union for the cause of slavery would be followed by a war by separate portions of the union. the result would be the extrication of slavery from the continent. that progress must be so glorious to be the final issue that god to judge me i dare to say it is not to be desired. historicalew york society, the author of "john quincy adams: militant spirit" and a historian and columnist debate the question, was john quincy adams a realist? talk about the foreign cause review and legacy of the sixth president. for our complete american history tv schedule go to c-span.org.