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The 20th century's greatest courtier: Henry A. Kissinger

By Michael Moriarty
web posted August 22, 2005

Henry KissingerIt's hard to say when Henry Kissinger decided he'd be a courtier and nothing but a courtier. Perhaps the decision came during his years at Harvard, when he was emboldened by his success at charming the faculty and student body with his heavy German accent. If I were to describe Kissinger in one phrase, I'd say he is the reincarnation of Karl Marx with a European star's interpersonal skills. A German Jew, like Marx, committed to a life of the intellect in the temple of American intellectualism – Harvard, where Kissinger went hunting for a new Napoleon.

The European film star element is more than evident. Norman Mailer's description of Kissinger at a Washington restaurant might have been a replay of some grand entrance by Orson Welles, the most European of American film directors, into Hollywood's famed Chasen's Restaurant. Mailer observed Henry the K as he approached him: the Secretary of State nodded to joking admirers, effortlessly dismissing the innuendoes that he might be more involved in the Watergate break-in than he'd admit. Within seconds, Kissinger knew he had charmed Mailer into his back pocket with the petits riens of his bon mots as they crossed the street toward the restaurant, the White House security holding off the cars as the two celebrities ambled to lunch. Yes, Kissinger was a courtier in all his glory. The famed power behind the throne.

Upon a friend's interjection – it's hard to know these days whether this courtier has any real friends left – the hefty German/American Richelieu barely confirms rumors that George McGovern might name Kissinger as his vice-presidential running mate with a statement he's sure of: "Twenty-two thousand people in the State Department will be very happy." The wit, of course, hangs on the side of his departure from a department that might be glad to see the last of him. The other side might be State's desire for their man to be only a heartbeat away from the presidency. In the courts of power, syllables dropped from such a man as Kissinger are crumbs the rest of us take to "dine out" on ourselves.

"He said what! What does that mean?"

That is always the secret of a courtier: leave everyone thinking, "What did he really mean by that?"

Paranoia is a courtier's bubble bath. He thrives on other people's doubt and indecision. It makes his audience automatically feel less intelligent. That is why Richard Nixon was such an easy mark for this greatest courtier of the 20th Century. The tears Kissinger shed for the "poor man" were like those Adolf Hitler shed for his favorite dog, Shatzy.

Kissinger has been the obsession of that quintessential Matriarchal Marxist, Christopher Hitchens, for years. That Henry was a courtier to the enemy camp of a Republican court makes Hitchens' job all the easier. Professor Henry of Harvard might have picked the Republican Party because he knew he'd be the biggest intellectual fish in the smallest intellectual pond.

Whereas Mailer described the great American villain as a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant
(General Cummings in The Naked and the Dead), Hitchens is sure the not-so-good Dr. K is the Strangelove of the Nixon Administration. It's easy to have these opinions. Kissinger has been vilified from every conceivable direction. That alone wins him the award as the greatest survivor among courtiers in the history of western civilization. My only understanding of court intrigue was shown me through the eyes of William Shakespeare. I think that lifelong study of the Bard qualifies me to hold an opinion. One of his greatest critics, Harold Bloom, claims, "Shakespeare invented us!" That greatest of all poets certainly showed us the possibilities and the realities of Elizabethan vibrancy, that wonderfully manic-depressive nation under Queen Elizabeth I.

What hounds Hitchens about Kissinger is not his affiliation with Nixon but the bizarre connection the courtier holds, through his Kissinger Associates, with Maoist China. What most Matriarchal Marxists struggle with is that their final bodyguard, their only real security is Mao Zedong. Mao's soul rules from beyond the grave. For a Marxist to admit of any single Messiah is as precarious as a Christian predicting the Second Coming. I doubt if Mao Zedong could be a savior to anyone, but he's certainly the last court of appeal for the United Nations and its Socialist Federations.

When Mailer lunched with Kissinger, the Doctor set rules for the interview. Mailer agreed to them and, with sighs of relief all around, the interview got underway. Mailer's final edit covers the styles of negotiation: the Soviets, the Vietnamese and the Court of Mao Zedong. Kissinger finds the Soviets easy to deal with, while the Vietnamese are justifiably paranoid.

Kissinger begins the interview with: "The character of men like (Mao's right-hand man) Chou En-lai must emerge to a great degree from experiences like the Long March…."

Here is where I must interject. There is so much of Edmund Wilson in Kissinger. Wilson was an apologist for Soviet tyrants and butchers. Kissinger would remind Wilson that while the Soviets and their "intellectual men of action" set the first mark for Communist ruthlessness, Mao Zedong and his metaphysical indifference to life itself raised the bar beyond all human reach. Kissinger would also remind Wilson that, whereas the literary critic only dreamed of his heroes, Kissinger actually met with the crème-de-la-crème of Maoist China.

"The greatest aphrodisiac is power!," Kissinger is known to have exclaimed after a libation or two. Here is where we return to Chou and his Long March, so carefully alluded to by the not-so-good Doctor. "And so I discovered," that you always had to deal with them on the real substance of the question."

Hmm. "The real substance of the question."… What follows is Chou simply saying no to one of Kissinger's requests. However, the way Mao's main courtier says it leaves the Secretary of State in "shame."

The request is permission to reword a clause in the peace agreement between the U.S. and Mao. The reply begins in perfect courtierese: "Explain to me why this point causes you difficulty, and if your explanation makes sense, I will cede it to you. If it doesn't convince me, then nothing can make me give it up. But I don't need or want your point…."

Here is where the petulance of power arises, an uncontrollable revelation of Mao's certainty that he is in the catbird seat and there's nothing America can do about it.

Chou goes on, "You can only give your points back to your President. You cannot give them to us." Mailer didn't punctuate that last sentence with an exclamation point but you can certainly imagine it. That's the genius of courtiers and why Shakespeare so loved creating them: exclamation points can be delivered with a whisper.

Tens of thousands of lives are hanging on the words exchanged between Kissinger and Chou. The Doctor, to save Nixon's administration at all costs, can really say nothing. That's his job. Get this over with and deliver a Peace Treaty back to the American people as fast as possible. Then why should Kissinger say, immediately after the Chou quote, "So he shamed me."

Shamed Kissinger? One of the most shameless men in American history? With what? Power. If the most erotic thing to Kissinger is power, then what is going on here? The same exact thing that went on in the mind, heart, soul and body of Edmund Wilson as he wrote To the Finland Station, his tribute to Lenin.

Kissinger's return to Washington must have been depressing, not because of the abject surrender in the terms of the treaty but because of his awareness of Washington's power when compared to the power in the Court of Mao Zedong.

Nixon's White House was well beyond sad. The entire Foggy Bottom community was a swamp of ineptitude, weakness, vacillation and cowardice. Even the restaurants when compared to those of Paris, were imitative and shameful to Kissinger.

More than 30 years later, Henry the K still keeps in weekly touch with Beijing. It's what his firm mostly does these days. It's not hard to determine which side of the Pacific Ocean Dr. Kissinger is laying his money on. Recent columns under his byline cover the War in Iraq, leaving the reader with no more new information or advice than before. These columns are a sop, in other words, the product of a chore to keep Kissinger's lackluster reputation as a diplomat tarnished enough not to cause any noticeable controversy. His business with Maoist China obliges him to remain utterly non-committal, yet seemingly patriotic. No one can dance that minuet better than the greatest courtier of the 20th Century. A minuet à minuit, as it were…

There is no doubt in the mind of Henry A. Kissinger who the ultimate Napoleon is: Mao Zedong. That is why I always think his middle initial stands for Adolf. By comparison to the body count of Maoist China, the tenacious ruthlessness of its policies and its ever-increasing sense of Chinese racial supremacy, the bloody excesses of the Third Reich are by comparison sideshows for the mega-horrors to come.

Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who has appeared in the landmark television series Law and Order, the mini-series Taken, the TV-movie The 4400 and Hitler Meets Christ, a surreal tragicomedy based on the actor's controversial New York stage play.

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