"The past is never dead. It's not even past." - William Faulkner
Recently American actress and activist Jane Fonda announced that she has been diagnosed with B-cell Non-Hodgins Lymphoma. Soon to be 85 years old, she puckishly noted that she wouldn’t worry about being cancer-free for “many decades;” this after many fans who also had suffered the “treatable” cancer encouragingly reported that they were in fact clinically free. Next May 27, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger will be 100 years old.
Nearly three decades ago, Kissinger wrote a furious and sarcastic letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, publicly accusing it of what he found to be a comparison most foul. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate claimed—rather than honor the legacy he and his former boss, Richard M. Nixon, left in Vietnam—that the business-friendly medium “in effect” endorsed “the Jane Fonda version of history.”
Wielding the journalistic equivalent of napalm, Kissinger’s bringing the actress’s name into his diatribe against the Journal’s review of the television film, “Kissinger and Nixon,” not only served as familiar rightwing guerrilla warfare on Hollywood. It also thrust the screenplay, and the WSJ, into fellow traveler status with Fonda. In the midst of the most jarring protests against the Vietnam War, in 1972 she was photographed in Hanoi posing atop a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. Nicknamed “Hanoi Jane,” Fonda was for a time effectively blacklisted in America’s entertainment capital. Members of Congress called for her to be prosecuted for treason.
Kissinger later said, “She knew precisely what she was doing. … What she did was totally immoral.”
Two years earlier, seeking to draw attention to atrocities committed in Vietnam in the wake of revelations about the horrific My Lai massacre carried out by U.S. troops, Fonda had been arrested for supposed suspicion of drug trafficking upon returning from a speaking tour in Canada. The pills turned out to be vitamins, but she was booked and her police “mug shot” conveniently leaked to the press. Fonda recalled later that, despite informing the officers that they were food supplements, she was handcuffed and advised that they were detaining her on orders of the Nixon White House. “I think they hoped this ‘scandal’ would … ruin my respectability.”
A recent avalanche of oral histories and declassified documents show that Kissinger helped Republican candidate Nixon sabotage peace talks with the North Vietnamese right before the 1968 presidential elections. When President Johnson became aware of Nixon’s conspiracy, he called Republican Senate Leader Everett Dirksen to tell him, “very confidentially, because I think that we’re skirting on dangerous ground … (The Nixon team) oughtn’t to be doing this. This is treason.” To which Dirksen replied: “I know.” For his part, famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward called it “one of the many drivers that put Nixon on the road to Watergate,” the interlocking scandals that forced him to escape impeachment only by being the only U.S. president to ever resign.
Once elected Nixon sought to keep hidden his treacherous handiwork; an official break-in of the not-for-profit Brookings Institution, less than a mile from the White House, was even on the table as the president sought to confiscate any possible documentary proof. “I want (the raid) implemented on a thievery basis,” he ranted. “Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.” When another senior Nixon aide noted that Johnson’s bombing halt negotiations tanked just a week before the November elections, Kissinger bragged, “You remember, I used to give you information about (the peace talks) at the time.” He was referring to his own role in the betrayal by dealing in insider diplomatic information.
“A politically ambitious … Kissinger 'was seeking high office in the next administration no matter who won,” former New York Times correspondent Tim Weiner later wrote. “He was dealing with both parties, trading in the hardest political currency: secret information.”
History teaches us that Kissinger’s role in the sabotage of the peace talks was followed by more than 25,000 Americans dying in combat, together with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of others and millions of refugees. It also came after telling North Vietnam’s Maoist Chinese patrons in July 1971 (a month after Kissinger regaled the president about his own role in the arguably treasonous plot) that, according to The New York Times, the Nixon administration was “determined to withdraw from Vietnam – even unilaterally, and even if it led to the overthrow of the government of South Vietnam.” (In Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s masterful work on Nixon’s extrication from the White House debacle, The Final Days, in chapter 14 they quoted Kissinger as referring pointedly to military men as "dumb, stupid animals to be used" as pawns for foreign policy. More than a quarter of a century later, the National Defense University Foundation at the Pentagon’s National Defense University seemed to endorse that view as it gave Kissinger its coveted “American Patriot Award” for his “extraordinary excellence,” whose “leadership and character … strengthened our nation’s strategic interests.”)
Nixon doppelganger and self-styled foreign policy czar Kissinger went on to promote and protect vicious dictators in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Greece, Peru, Portugal, Indonesia, Iran, Nicaragua, Spain, South Korea, and Uruguay, as well as Pakistan, at least. In 1989, following the Tianamen Square massacre, Kissinger denounced the U.S. House and Senate for voting to impose economic sanctions on China. Refusing to disclose the client list of Kissinger Associates, believed to include some of the world’s most notorious human rights violators, meant that private sector Kissinger was forced to withdraw as the head of the presidential commission created to study the failures of September 11, 2001.
In 2015, he was appointed to the board of advisors of Theranos, the now disgraced blood-testing company whose founder was on November 18 sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for defrauding investors. In 2016, Politico ran a story, “Kissinger, a longtime Putin confidant, sidles up to Trump.” In the wake of this year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine, the nonpartisan Atlantic Council issued an “Alert” bluntly titled: “Memo to Henry Kissinger: Appeasing Putin means enabling genocide.”
Just last year, the multinational financial services company headquartered in Frankfurt agreed to pay more than $130 million to resolve a U.S. criminal investigation into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and a separate investigation into commodities fraud. “Deutsche Bank engaged in a criminal scheme to conceal payments to so-called consultants worldwide who served as conduits for bribes to foreign officials so that they could unfairly obtain and retain lucrative business projects,” noted then Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme of the Eastern District of New York.
Earlier this year, following a law enforcement search of Deutsche headquarters on additional suspicions of money laundering, CNBC noted that the U.S. Department of Justice investigations over years; for example, over trades that authorities said were used to launder $10 billion out of Russia, which has led to the German bank being fined nearly $700 million. On November 1st, Germany’s scandal ridden Deutsche Bank announced the launching of Global Advisory Board in which Kissinger would help shape its response to a “rapidly changing world.”
The daughter of Henry Fonda, one of Hollywood’s greatest stars (his 1957 performance in 12 Angry Men makes it perhaps the definitive—and socially searing—courtroom drama on film), Jane Fonda has repeatedly apologized for her conduct during her trip to North Vietnam, particularly to U.S. Vietnam veterans. She went on to win two Academy awards, one for her sensitive role as the wife of a Vietnam War soldier in Coming Home. She has worked tirelessly in the women’s rights movement, in raising awareness on climate change, and continues to lend her efforts to Native American causes, including protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 at Standing Rock and Line 3 in 2020. Fonda also told friends about actually having met Kissinger on an elevator at Yankee Stadium, as the home team played the Atlanta Braves owned by her then husband Ted Turner. “As the doors closed on Ted, Jane, Henry and Nancy Kissinger, Fonda quipped, ‘Well, I see we’re still on opposite sides.’”
Kissinger is far more immoral than he portrayed Fonda as being. Yet, his apologies are few, mostly “damage-limitation” exercises, and never about the very worst of his conduct or to its attendant victims. The disgraced Nixon is central to Kissinger’s newest book (on leadership, no less); this as the nonagenarian brandishes his updated “Jane Fonda version of history,” warning about (in the supple rendition of one next generation media outlet) “education wokeness as a national security threat.”
Yet Kissinger has never apologized to Fonda for his two grossly self-interested public attacks. Given his propensity for the treasonous and his own particular rendition on leadership, Kissinger could at least diplomatically admit: It takes one to know one.
There is still time.