On Wednesday, the firm representing Henry Kissinger announced the passing of the influential diplomat at the age of 100. Kissinger, who served as secretary of state and national security adviser under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, continued to be a significant voice on foreign policy matters long after leaving government service in 1977.
Known for his approach of “realpolitik,” engaging with the world based on practical objectives rather than moral ideals, Kissinger played a key role in the secret diplomacy that facilitated a thaw in U.S.-China relations. However, he faced accusations of war crimes for actions such as the bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and support for Pakistan’s actions in Bangladesh.
Born as Heinz Alfred Kissinger in Germany in 1923, his Jewish family fled Nazi Germany in 1938, settling in New York City. After serving in the U.S. Army, where he became a naturalized citizen, Kissinger embarked on a distinguished academic career, eventually joining Harvard’s faculty.
In 1968, Nixon appointed Kissinger as his national security adviser, and later, he became secretary of state, holding both titles simultaneously in a historic first. Kissinger’s diplomatic efforts with the Soviet Union and China are credited with reshaping the direction of the Cold War, including landmark agreements like the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
While he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his role in Vietnam War talks, Kissinger faced criticism for his involvement in controversial actions, such as the U.S. carpet-bombing of Cambodia and support for undemocratic regimes in Chile and Pakistan.
After leaving government, Kissinger remained a prominent figure in foreign policy, advising multiple presidents and offering insights into global events. Even in his late 90s, he continued to contribute to discussions on international affairs.
Survived by his two children from his first marriage, Elizabeth and David, and his wife, Nancy, whom he married in 1974, Kissinger’s passing marks the end of an era for American diplomacy. His legacy is celebrated by some, while others remember the controversies surrounding his influential career.