Robert Wood was my genial graduate adviser at University of Virginia. He conducted seminars in government and politics of Western Europe in a wide-ranging debate on foreign policy. The 1960s and 70s were a time of roiling controversy in America. The Vietnam War and American relations with the USSR were central to the survival of democracy in the world. The military draft drew millions of Americans into often heated arguments about truth and justice in foreign affairs. Millions of citizens—especially those of us men who were of draft age—felt a personal stake in the outcome of Washington policy debates.
Bob Wood let me express my fierce opposition to what we understood of Henry Kissinger’s Realpolitik. His personal story was legend, even then: a teenage refugee who fled Hitler’s Germany and then returned to his homeland with the U.S. Army as a skilled linguist. His service to America was honored—or should have been—by all of us.
We learned of his brilliant Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard on Prince Klemens von Metternich, the maestro of the Concert of Europe. Metternich seemed to be Henry Kissinger’s beau ideal of a careful, conservative, ultimately realistic statesman. He had labored tirelessly in 1815 to bring peace and order to a continent racked by twenty years of war.
Bob Wood’s encouragement of open debate was an expression of Thomas Jefferson’s nineteenth century “mission statement” for his Academic Village. UVA would be;
based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. for here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.
In Charlottesville, I was a loud opponent of Kissinger’s foreign policy initiatives—as I then only partially understood them. When I claimed that “nothing is more un-American than the world view of Metternich—or Henry Kissinger,” Bob Wood kindly and gently rebuked, but didn’t crush me.
Soon, I would line up with the Reaganauts in the Republican Party. They wrote the 1976 party platform foreign policy plank titled “Morality in Foreign Policy.” Without naming the incumbent Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, the stirring language of that plank invoked Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as Russia’s fearless advocate of freedom. It rejected detente for seeming to suggest a moral equivalence between the United States and the USSR.
A party so divided rarely enjoys electoral success. Still, Sec. Henry Kissinger had the unique experience for a refugee of receiving not one but two letters of resignation, first from the Vice President and then the President of the United States, the disgraced Spiro T. Agnew and then Richard M. Nixon.
Today, Henry Kissinger is one hundred years old. Many of his old antagonists and critics have died or mellowed. I certainly have (the latter). With the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Evil Empire, Reagan’s vision seemed to have been achieved—miraculously with barely a shot. We could afford, it seemed, to be more charitable toward an able statesman like Kissinger He had managed our relationships with USSR and China on his watch—without an explosion. No mean achievement.
Still, our spiking the ball in the end zone was premature. America in the 1990s took a “holiday from history.” We were distracted by endless antics in Washington with the endlessly scandalous conduct of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich and missed the chance for a new Marshall Plan that might have saved Russia from autocracy.
Now, the Kissinger the Centenarian continues to amaze. His son says his longevity is due to his endless curiosity. Henry Kissinger notes that we should have either barred the door to Ukraine membership in NATO—or, we should have brought her quickly under our nuclear umbrella. Kissinger seems to say we hung Ukraine outside our Western cabin like deer meat and the Kremlin bear’s lunge was inevitable. Today, he advocates Ukraine’s membership in NATO—which she seems each day to have de facto if not yet de jure.
Importantly, Kissinger argues that as a NATO member Ukraine, will be deterred from any revanchist moves against Russia. This is a key element of any peace negotiation. The 1992 Finno-Russian Treaty could yet be the basis of a settlement. We can say the United States will back Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty, but we will not give one dollar for месть (revenge). Photos of Ukrainian zealots vandalizing a statue of Pushkin shows vengeance leads to mindless hatreds.
I can heartily thank Bob Wood, Kissinger’s protégé, for his wise restraint—and, especially, for his assignment of Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. That work began my journey of a soul to faith in Christ. Today, I salute Henry Kissinger, a coruscatingly brilliant scholar, aged statesman, and venerable American patriot. For him, I’d offer this Russian toast:
снова сто лет—Again a Hundred Years!
His wisdom is a national treasure in this troubled twenty-first century.