This seems to be a season for second thoughts among the powerful... or let's say among the “emeritus” powerful. First, Fidel Castro expresses (or seems to express) doubts as to the worth of the Cuban economic system – and yes, he did backtrack, but I'm not buying it. I think the truth leaked out at an unguarded moment. (Maybe he needs the verbal equivalent of Depends.) And now, just the other day, Henry Kissinger was quoted as saying, regarding the war in Vietnam, that the “central objective of preserving an independent, viable South Vietnamese state was unachievable”. Which means he was wrong – although you can be sure he didn't express it quite that directly. As usual, he shirks personal responsibility and markets collective guilt: “Most of what went wrong in Vietnam we did to ourselves.” Well, who is this “we”, Henry? The American people? The voters? Only the voters who voted for Nixon? The military? The administration? Or is he talking about the massive resistance to the war, which built slowly and then reached a crescendo during Nixon's administration. Kissinger also recalls that “America wanted compromise” whereas “Hanoi wanted victory”. Well, yeah – I guess we would have been satisfied with keeping Vietnam divided a la Korea and Germany... whereas the North wanted a united country without the artificial division ginned up by the European powers and the U.S. They also, I daresay, wanted to get rid of the festering den of corruption that the South Vietnam government represented, and which thereby resembled so many other puppet regimes we set up and supported over the years. Not that their solution was markedly superior – I don't claim that. But when you have nationalism (really tribalism) combined with communist idealism, fighting on its native soil, that's a mighty hard combination for ham-handed American forces overseen by cynical politicians to beat. And do I have to mention the impact of the draft on troop morale (and on the anti-war movement back home)? That effort was much more obviously doomed than even our follies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Henry the K goes on. He “regrets” that “what should have been straightforward disagreements over the U.S. approach to Vietnam became 'transmuted into a moral issue – first about the moral adequacy of American foreign policy altogether and then into the moral adequacy of America'”. In other words, it should all have been kept cold-blooded and clinical. Nowhere is it mentioned that the best “approach” to Vietnam would have been to not approach it at all – to just stay home. But once we were bogged down over there, how could it help but become a moral issue? When its citizens see this country fighting a hopeless war for reasons which are never stated (the true reasons, I mean, not the excuses), aren't they entitled to question “the moral adequacy of American foreign policy”? (And didn't people question the "moral adequacy" of everything else about the Nixon administration as well?) And won't those questions, if not quickly resolved, mutate into questions about “the moral adequacy of America”? One would certainly hope so. But not The Henry. As far as he's concerned, moral questions have nothing to do with it; it's just a matter of strategy. (Once the implicit moral decisions have already been made, that is.)
And don't expect Kissinger to get too upset about the massive social upheavals that accompanied the war either. Yes, he did mouth words about “the anguish that engulfed a generation of Americans as the war dragged on” -- but did he, at the time, express concern about this? Certainly not. He was in the driver's seat – or at least the co-pilot's – and it was time to “project American power” and not worry about all the wimps and pantywaists carrying picket signs and shouting through bullhorns on the home front. He says “the tragedy of the Vietnam war was... that the faith of Americans in each other became destroyed in the process.” Well, again, I don't recall him, or anyone else in the Nixon administration, expressing this sort of concern at the time. And really, I don't think Americans' faith in “each other” was destroyed so much as their faith in government – and I'm sure that Kissinger would find that of much more concern. The Vietnam era was, after all, a crossroads of sorts, where the manifest agenda and priorities of the government diverged dramatically from the needs and wants of the citizenry – never to return. As I've said before, the American people have been lied to, duped, and misled almost from the beginning... but at least they were accorded the grudging respect represented by the government using the right words to cover its misdeeds. Governmental hypocrisy paid tribute to the virtues of the citizenry, in other words. But with Vietnam, even that thin veneer fell off in large chunks, and we had to face the reality that the government simply did not care about the needs, wishes, hopes, and dreams of the American people... that it was going to pursue its own agenda come hell or high water... and that resistance was futile. And this has been the baseline assumption ever since – more or less unstated depending on circumstances; more or less benign; but always a core truth. It is, naturally, in times of war that this gulf between the rulers and the ruled comes out in highest relief – and as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are, in many ways, Vietnam redux, so is the more visible alienation of the citizenry from the government (no matter which administration is “in charge”). And this is not to deny that the majority of Americans are either pro-war or neutral on the matter; this was the case during Vietnam and it's the case now. But in each case there is a strong opposition, which serves to highlight the real issues in a way that people like Kissinger never could. And, let's admit, the "pro-war" segment of the population suffers the effects of war as well -- but in a worse way because they don't make any of the connections. Their ignorance and delusions put them under more stress, in a way, than those who constantly protest, because at least the latter see clearly what is going on.
And it must be easy, really, for a venerated “senior statesman” like Kissinger to make pronouncements from on high at this late date, when nothing he says is going to result in any "blowback". The damage has been done, the dead have been buried, and most of the remaining casualties are safely locked away in the back wards of VA hospitals. But Henry the K is out there in public, year after year, making excuses and having regrets... but still, after all this time, taking absolutely no responsibility for what happened. I have referred to the “locus of control” problem that seems to overtake lower-class people on a regular basis, but Kissinger clearly has the same problem – it's just expressed in more exalted, far-reaching, globalist terms. But it boils down to the same thing – no responsibility, no accountability. Just a bunch of droning speeches and “memoirs”.
And when you get down to it, Kissinger's relationship with the American public has always been... well, there hasn't been one, actually. He was always the ultimate globalist, the ultimate foreigner... someone who crawled up out of the swamps of academe in order to “advise” people who had a slightly greater claim to being real Americans. Their patriotism was twisted and delusional, for certain – but at least it was there. Can anyone recall Kissinger ever saying a single traditionally patriotic thing, ever? I sure can't. He would have found it profoundly distasteful -- not to mention untrue. And that's because his loyalty was always to globalism and to “ideas”, and never to any given country or political system (and certainly not to any political party or administration). He was, in fact, a proto-neocon before the term “neoconservative” was coined. And he remains today the most prominent voice of the globalist cartel – you know, those people who always know better than any citizen of any country or their leaders. His is the voice of sophistication and relativism – of “detente” (including the moral kind), and certainly not of nationalism or of anything having to do with national boundaries, traditions, interests, or pride. And yet he was put in charge of our foreign policy for many years – which kind of makes you wonder about the priorities of American administrations in general. I'm not sure he was even all that opposed to communism on principle – only that they were on the other side. For him, it was no more than a chess game – with real, flesh-and-blood people as pawns. And sure enough, for his actions, and his attitude, he earned himself a permanent seat at the table of the powerful... although I wonder whether, ultimately, he is really one of the power elite or just a high-ranking servant. People with true power also have to be willing to take on responsibility and accountability – even if they studiously avoid admitting it in public. And yet those two factors appear to be things that Kissinger avoids like Dracula avoids garlic. Nothing is ever his fault, and the buck never stops on his desk... because, after all, all he ever does is offer "advice". As such, he is the very model of the modern politician – albeit, one that was never elected to any office. But even so, it can be argued that we tend, over and over, to inflict Kissinger and his type on ourselves. We're always looking for “experts” and wise men, and so wind up being despised and exploited. Their game is to represent the world as much too complex to be comprehended by the rabble... the mere citizenry... the unwashed. So we have to hire them to first discover and define, then solve, all our problems, or we're doomed! Well, it seems to me that it's time to reclaim our self-respect – not as a nation, but as a people (then self-respect as a nation would follow). And yes, that might involve some simplification. Right now, the government is characterized by a Byzantine complexity that rivals that of the financial sector (or the income tax, or health insurance). But is this complexity any more “real” than the everyday experience of ordinary people? Is it even real at all? I say no – it is, by and large, a “created” complexity – created by others to further their own agenda. If we ever have (once again) the self-confidence to get rid of all the Kissingers of this world – I think it would be a much better, simpler, and more real place.