In a rather more judgmental time, history was sometimes written like this: 'The evils produced by his wickedness were felt in lands where the name of Prussia was unknown; and in order that he might rob a neighbour whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel, and red men scalped each other by the Great Lakes of North America.' 'Evil'? 'Wickedness'? The ability to employ these terms without awkwardness or embarrassment has declined, while the capacity of modern statesmen to live up to them has undergone an exponential rise since Lord Macaulay so crisply profiled Frederick 'the Great'. Walter Isaacson's new study of Kissinger shows beyond doubt that he rose to power by intriguing for and against an ally, the South Vietnamese military junta, whom he had sworn to defend, and that in the process of covering his tracks, consolidating and extending his power and justifying his original duplicity, he was knowingly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of non-combatants in lands where his name was hitherto unknown. He also played an immense part in the debauching of democracy in the North America of his adoption.
LRB 22 October 1992 | PDF Download