OWS vs Kissinger?
Image Credit: Adrian Kenyon

OWS vs Kissinger?


As the Occupy Wall Street protests continue in downtown New York, talk has turned to plans to occupy the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in midtown next week. Why?  On November 7, the New York Historical Society plans to honor former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with the 2011 History Makers Award at a dinner and ceremony there.

Ever since he served in the Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford administrations (as National Security Advisor in the former, and Secretary of State in both), Kissinger has been derided by progressive critics who hold him responsible for some of the United States’ most nefarious Cold War policies.

Certainly in Southeast Asia there appears plenty of ammunition for Kissinger’s critics. For a start, between March 1969 and May 1970, the United States engaged in aerial bombing campaigns in both Cambodia and Laos. Codenamed “Operation Menu,” the bombings were originally rationalized as an extension of hostilities against North Vietnamese troops operating along the borders with these two countries. However, the mission included bombing raids that were indiscriminate and which claimed thousands of lives.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

An extract from Canadian current events magazine Walrus offers a frank and troubling picture of the decision making process back then:

“Nixon was facing growing congressional opposition to his Indochina policy. A joint U.S.–South Vietnam ground invasion of Cambodia in May and June of 1970 had failed to root out Vietnamese Communists, and Nixon now wanted to covertly escalate the air attacks, which were aimed at destroying the mobile headquarters of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army (vc/nva) in the Cambodian jungle. After telling Kissinger that the US Air Force was being unimaginative, Nixon demanded more bombing, deeper into the country: ‘They have got to go in there and I mean really go in…I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?’

“Five minutes after his conversation with Nixon ended, Kissinger called General Alexander Haig to relay the new orders from the president: ‘He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies, on anything that moves. You got that?’ The response from Haig, barely audible on tape, sounds like laughter.”

Meanwhile, U.S. support for Suharto, Indonesia’s long-ruling dictator, has been well-chronicled. After the overthrow of Sukarno, the country’s previous autocrat, Suharto went on a rampage against his political opponents, especially Communists, that resulted in a bloodbath that rivaled Stalin’s endeavors in terms of sheer brutality. In December 1975, Indonesia invaded and occupied Timor-Leste, causing untold misery and close to 100,000 deaths over the course of the following quarter century.

In both instances, the United States, under Kissinger’s supervision, financially backed and armed the Indonesian government and military, which allowed it to undertake heinous action. Humiliated after the war in Vietnam, and still fearful of communism’s encroachment in the developing world, Kissinger justified Washington’s support for Suharto’s crimes by pontificating on the need for U.S. allies in the world, irrespective of their human rights records.

Progressive political action groups such as the East Timor Action Network and CodePink have hounded Kissinger for years, protesting outside of venues where he has given lectures and calling for his arrest for war crimes. At least half a dozen groups are planning to demonstrate outside the venue of his New York appearance.

For years, sections of U.S. civil society have attempted to hold former leaders accountable, even if their actions took place decades ago. Have the Occupy Wall Street protests given such efforts a shot in the arm?

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief