Haldeman on Kissinger

August 03, 1994|By Eric Alterman

LET'S SET a few boundaries right off: If Henry Kissinger prefers to be the kind of Jew who rarely, if ever, darkens the door of his local shul, that's his business. (It also puts him into the majority of contemporary American Jewish religious practice.) And if Kissinger truly felt it was in the best interests of his nation for him to prostrate himself before various anti-Jewish, Arab dictators, that, too, need not reflect upon the man's private character. But what of a man who sits there quietly, cravenly, while his boss spews venomous anti-Semitic bile? At that point, we are justified in wondering, "Henry Kissinger, have you no shame?"

Among the many salutary historical functions the late H.R. Haldeman performed in having his diaries posthumously published is the light it sheds on President Nixon's relationship with Kissinger. While the latter may have been privately contemptuous of Nixon's clumsiness, both physical and intellectual, he was, in the president's presence, utterly servile. Thus, when Nixon, furious over New York City demonstrations against France's selling more than 100 Mirage jet fighters to Libya, informed his aides "not to let any Jews see him about the Middle East," and even decided to postpone what Nixon referred to as the "Jewish arms supply," Mr. Kissinger, who was present for the tirade, remained silent, according to the Haldeman diary. Moreover, Nixon, Haldeman wrote, would frequently rant about "the terrible problem arising from Jewish domination in the media."

He even wondered once whether the administration's problems derived from what his friend, the Rev. Billy Graham, called "Satanic Jews." Yet the only defense Mr. Kissinger raised, according to Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose, was to inform the president, occasionally, that, "there are Jews and then there are Jews."

The Kissinger family, of German-Jewish origin, lost 13 members in Nazi concentration camps. As a youth, Heinz Kissinger, as Henry was then called, daily confronted virulent anti-Semitism and even saw his father lose his job before the family escaped to the United States. Yet according to Walter Isaacson's masterly biography, "Kissinger," the former secretary of state has consistently minimized his Jewish heritage, describing his childhood as "typical middle-class German."

Mr. Kissinger's discomfort with his Jewish identity, however, has not stopped him from deploying his qualifications as a high-profile Jew to defend those in power who might minimize the importance of the Holocaust. When, in 1985, President Reagan made the horrendous decision to visit the Bitburg cemetery, with its graves of dead SS members, and defended his decision by referring to victims on both sides in the Holocaust, Mr. Kissinger rose to defend the decision, noting that "one can point out that the president's record on the issue of the Holocaust is impeccable."

In fact, before Bitburg, Mr. Reagan's primary statement regarding the Nazi death camps was his delusional claim to both Israel's Yitzhak Shamir and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal that he photographed the camps during the Allied liberation. This mystery aside, just what did Mr. Kissinger believe he was claiming on behalf of Mr. Reagan? Who, excluding perhaps former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and the ultraconservative Patrick Buchanan, in American electoral life has a record on Holocaust victims that is anything but "impeccable?"

Mr. Kissinger has always been openly and unapologetically committed to a philosophy of raison d'etat in international affairs. The Vietnamese, Cambodian, Angolan, Chilean and Chinese people, among many others, have been forced to pay a terrible price for the amoral basis of Kissingerian diplomacy. What Mr. Kissinger's silence during Nixon's anti-Semitic tirades suggests above all is the price that Mr. Kissinger himself must be paying for his contempt for the morality of others; beneath it, apparently, lies a powerful contempt for his own Jewish self.

Eric Alterman is the author of "Sound and Fury: The Washington Punditocracy and the Collapse of American Politics." He wrote this for Newsday.

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