Henry Kissinger, the toweringly influential former secretary of state who earned a reputation as a sagacious diplomat but drew international condemnation and accusations of war crimes for his key role in widening the American presence in Vietnam and the U.S. bombing of Cambodia, died Wednesday.
He was 100.
Kissinger, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, reached the pinnacle of the American political establishment and in turn became an unlikely household name. He was secretary of state and national security adviser under two Republican presidents, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and advised powerful leaders in both American political parties for decades.
He came to be seen as one of the leading diplomats and international relations intellectuals of the 20th century, an exponent of “realpolitik” who orchestrated the normalization of relations with China and helped ease tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the settlement that ended the Vietnam War, jointly receiving the award with Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam, who refused the honor. Kissinger helped open diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China during the Nixon administration in the early 1970s.
Heinz Alfred Kissinger was born to a Jewish family on May 27, 1923, in Fürth, a city in the Bavaria region of Germany. He faced intense antisemitism as a child, and in 1938 his family emigrated to the U.S. to escape Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Kissinger became a naturalized U.S. citizen on June 19, 1943. He joined the U.S. Army that year, serving as an interpreter and intelligence officer on the European front during World War II. He then entered Harvard University, earning a bachelor’s degree (1950), a master’s (1952) and a doctorate (1954).
The year he received his doctorate, he joined the Harvard faculty as an instructor. He became a professor of government in 1962 and directed the university’s Defense Studies Program from 1959 to 1969.
In time, Kissinger established himself as a policy specialist whose expertise on security was tapped by the U.S. government. He served as a consultant on security to various federal agencies from 1955 to 1968, a period that spanned the presidencies of Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Kissinger’s detractors denounced him for the central role he played in expanding U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, bringing a wide-scale bombing campaign to Cambodia and supporting brutal regimes in Argentina, Chile, Indonesia and Pakistan. His most vociferous opponents labeled him a war criminal, and some called on him to face charges at the Hague.
In academia and politics, Kissinger strove to “project the myth of being a no-nonsense, half-European realpolitiker capable of explaining to naive America how to behave on the international stage,” according to Mario Del Pero, who wrote the 2009 book “The Eccentric Realist: Henry Kissinger and the Shaping of American Foreign Policy.”
Kissinger’s worldview revolved around “great power competition” — the idea that decisions made by the U.S., its allies and rivals are generally motivated by their national interests, rather than concerns about others or even accepted moral norms.
Kissinger achieved a level of national celebrity rare for a member of a president’s Cabinet. He appeared on magazine covers and newspaper front pages.
He received several awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), the nation’s highest civilian honor, and the Medal of Liberty (1986), a prize given to 10 of America’s most culturally significant foreign-born luminaries.
Kissinger died at his home in Kent, Connecticut. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Maginnes Kissinger, two children, David and Elizabeth, and five grandchildren.
He will be interred at a private family service. At a later date, there will be a memorial service in New York City.