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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

A diplomat whose counsel was long prized but who was also long vilified

Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger during a 2020 event in Berlin at which Angela Merkel, then Germany’s chancellor, was awarded the Kissinger Prize.

By Michael D. Shear

The death of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Wednesday, at the age of 100, prompted a surge of reaction online, with historians and friends hailing his diplomatic achievements, and critics assailing his foreign policy actions in Vietnam and elsewhere around the globe as murderous.

In a statement, the daughters of former President Richard Nixon called Kissinger “one of America’s most skilled diplomats,” adding that he had worked with their father in “a partnership that produced a generation of peace for our nation.”

Kissinger was Nixon’s chief diplomat at a time of deep division and strife in the United States over the war in Vietnam. His long career inspired decades of debate about the morality of his actions.

Friends like Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York mayor, said on X, formerly Twitter, that “his death is a loss for our country and the world — and for all of us who were fortunate enough to call him a dear friend and mentor.”

Bloomberg called Kissinger “one of the most consequential public figures in American history” and said that “his legacy will shape the world for decades and even centuries to come.”

But critics of the former secretary of state also flooded X. Many accused Kissinger, who was also the national security adviser to Nixon and his successor, Gerald Ford, of advocating a foreign policy that led to death and war across the globe. More than a few posts expressed pleasure at his passing.

Such strong reactions to the news of his death probably would not have surprised Kissinger, since his long career has evoked sharply divergent opinions for decades.

In 2014, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote a review of Kissinger’s book “World Order,” saying that Kissinger “is a friend, and I relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state.” She added that “he checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels.”

Two years later, during a presidential primary debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders would use those words against her.

“I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of the country,” Sanders said. “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.”

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement that the world had lost “one of the most dependable and distinctive voices on foreign affairs,” and he expressed admiration for Kissinger’s story: a young Jewish boy who fled the Nazis and later rose to become the United States’ top diplomat.

In his statement, Bush, who took up painting after leaving the White House, included an image of a Kissinger portrait that he had done. In Bush’s rendering, Kissinger has a shock of white hair, deep wrinkles and wire-rimmed glasses over deep blue eyes.

On the internet, many images were less flattering. The homepage of The Huffington Post showed a black and white photo of Kissinger’s face under the headline: “THE BELTWAY BUTCHER: WAR CRIMINAL KISSINGER DEAD AT 100.”

Rolling Stone tweeted: “Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies” with a picture of a young Kissinger testifying at a hearing.

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