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A Hipster’s Guide to Henry Kissinger


“All the geeks are Nixon appointees.” – Roy Cohn in Angels in America: Millennium Approaches

For hipsters, those champions of the ever-current and ever-obscure in the realms of pop culture, liking things comes with a gigantic heap of irony.  If hipsters can drink Pabst Blue Ribbon while wearing a My Little Pony™ t-shirt, can they also like Republican politicians ironically.  Hipsters sure know a lot about [insert current band name here], but what about Henry Kissinger, the Elder Statesman of the Right and champion of such foreign policy concepts like “linkage,” “the balance of power,” and the “madman theory” (originally the idea of Daniel Ellsburg).

How much do you know about international relations?

This guide works as a précis for the hipster.  Remember, knowledge in foreign policy and international relations adds to your Cool Factor™.  Knowing the line-up of the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and owning all their singles is cool and all, unless you can’t find Uzbekistan on a map.  Then you’re no cooler than those drones outside TRL and the Today Show.

(Since this author is in his thirties, lives in between urban metropolises, and is a resident of a Midwestern state, the epithet “hipster” does not apply.  But this author is also committed to educating the kids these days with their iPods and loungecore music or whatever they call it.)

Dr. Henry Kissinger has had a storied career.  Born in Germany, his family immigrated to the United States to escape the tyranny of Nazi Germany.  (Germany had socialized health care before the rise of National Socialism … and after.  So … yeah.)  After working in Army Intelligence during World War II, Kissinger taught International Relations at Harvard.  During the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations he worked as a “consultant.”  He wrote extensively about foreign policy in the nuclear age.

“What a funny little government.”  John D. Rockefeller.  Political cartoon from 1899.  Oil companies and government, an American tradition.  You didn’t think Cheney and Bush were the first ones to cash in on this?

In the 1968 Presidential election, Kissinger backed East Coast Elite Nelson Rockefeller.  (Rockefeller, a scion of John D. Rockefeller, belonged to a hyper-wealthy oil dynasty that helped build Rockefeller Center, the mouth of the American Pop Culture Mainstream.  It is also where Liz Lemon works.)  Following the Nixon win, Kissinger was brought on as National Security Adviser.  He kept this position throughout Nixon’s first term and into the second.  Following the slow-motion disaster of the Watergate Scandal – in actuality a ever-widening constellation of break-ins, cover-ups, staff shake-ups, and domestic intelligence abuses – Kissinger ended up as the only one standing.  Everyone else, from the President on down, either resigned in disgrace or did time.

Prior to the scandalous apocalypse, Kissinger ascended to the position of Secretary of State.  He held this position until 1976 during the benighted Ford Administration.  With numerous accolades and achievements (depending on who you ask) and a shiny new Nobel Peace Prize, Kissinger hit the private sector as an “elder statesman.”  Occasionally Kissinger reappears from private life and the lucrative glories of Henry Kissinger & Associates.  (If you want your investment firm to expand into areas occupied by US-friendly despots, dictators, and authoritarians, give him a call.)

Kissinger represents a unique figure at the crossroads of pop culture and politics.  As a foreign-born, Ivy League-educated, East Coast elitist, he represented everything Nixon was not.  To the Birchers, Tea Party Patriots, and ideologues of the Far Right like Roy Cohn and Pats Buchanan and Robertson, Kissinger did not represent “the Real America.”  (Whatever that is?  Am I right, folks?)  However, the intellectual Kissinger and the paranoid Nixon had personalities and ambitions oddly, strangely, perversely in sync.  Both nurtured the tough guy persona (Nixon wanted to be seen as Patton; Kissinger wanted the United States in a strong negotiating position), both wanted to win at any cost, and both used wiretaps to plug leaks in the name of “national security.”

Because of Kissinger’s eventful career and caricaturist physiognomy, he’s been portrayed as everything from the Funny Foreign Guy to The Evil Jewish Puppet-master.

In Nixon (Oliver Stone, 1995), Kissinger is played by Paul Sorvino.  Sorvino memorably played Paulie, the Mafia boss in Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas (1990).  At first sight it seems odd to cast the giant Italian-American actor as the German-born Jewish-American National Security Adviser, although it must have made sense to Stone.  Unfortunately, the effect seems like that of stunt-casting.  Anthony Hopkins, no stranger to menacing roles (like, say, Hannibal Lecter and Titus Andronicus), plays Nixon.

Four years later, in another film about Nixon, Saul Rubinek plays Henry Kissinger.  Rubinek, a notable character actor you’ve probably seen before, played the comical role with an uncanny accuracy.  Like Kissinger, Rubinek is a German-born Jewish-American.  His squat pudgy body fits that of the Nobel Prize winner.

A more recent depiction of Kissinger is Dr. Killinger (and his Magic Murder Bag) on the Adult Swim cartoon The Venture Bros.  Dr. Henry Killinger has, according to the Venture Bros. Wiki, expert organizational skills and his “suspiciously mysterious” motivations.  In the show, he quickly became the Monarch’s number two.

Dr. Henry Killinger and his Magic Murder Bag.

Kissinger has also been the subject of numerous political cartoons.  Depending on the source and their intention, they either play up his murderous past and/or his Jewishness.  One does not need to sniff the heady brew of conspiracy theory to accuse Kissinger of numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity.  At least to this writer (and one hopes to the rest of the populace one can deem sane), Kissinger’s Jewishness is immaterial to his crimes and misdemeanors.  Whether or not Kissinger should be charged for the decisions he made in office is up to the individual and the vagaries of the sovereign immunity laws that protect government officials from lawsuits.  If you are protected by litigation by the very people you’re supposed to represent, how does that encourage good governance?  Best leave that sort of discussion to the frothing pundits and talking empty heads who lower our political discourse to that of a middle school food fight.

Kissinger and Doctor Doom

As if he’s the only one …

Kissinger’s influence is felt to this day.

Kissinger and Dolly Parton.

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  1. October 3, 2011 at 1:27 am
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