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Kissinger on von Bismarck
April 3, 2011 2:42 AM   Subscribe

Henry Kissinger on Otto von Bismarck Von Bismarck was a formidable 19th century German statesman. via thebrowser.
posted by joost de vries (37 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
When I am 87, my thoughts may also turn to Otto von Bismark.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:45 AM on April 3, 2011


Didn't we Sink the Bismarck?

Or was that the Bisquick?
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:02 AM on April 3, 2011


Or was that the Bisquick?

I think that's irrelevant to the larger issue of the German pancake.

By the way, I like German pancakes. They feed my hunger. For power.

That was a joke! Don't kill me!
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:11 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


And with your blessings and guidance, dear statesman Kissinger, the US dropped some 6.2 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. I'd like to think that this hideous statistic will be brought forth in another 150 years or so, in, say, an article much similar to yours here, recounting your deeds on the world stage. And that you will be duly reviled by the as-yet-unborn generations who will read about you in the New York Times, or whatever the "newspaper of record" may happen to be in said future. With any luck, the article will even be written by a Vietnamese, a Cambodian, or a Laotian. I don't imagine the portrait will be quite as full of glowing admiration as yours of Bismarck, but hey, them's the breaks.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:19 AM on April 3, 2011 [18 favorites]


Not just bombing Vietnam. But also winning a Nobel Prize. A Nobel Peace Prize.
posted by DU at 3:57 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]



Not just bombing Vietnam. But also winning a Nobel Prize. A Nobel Peace Prize.


The very definition of "doing it wrong."
posted by louche mustachio at 4:00 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two quotes I found interesting given Kissingers own political track record:
He fought three military campaigns, each with limited political objectives — intended to co-opt, rather than humiliate, the adversary.

On the restraint of his diplomacy:
he responded to the suggestion of a pre-emptive war against Russia with: “Woe to the statesman whose arguments for entering a war are not as convincing at its end as they were at the beginning.”
posted by joost de vries at 4:03 AM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


For whatever it's worth, Kissenger has been aggrandizing historical world-political figures of questionable ethical status since even before he personally became a historical world-political monster; consider, for example, his doctoral dissertation, which was devoted to lionizing (albeit more or less insightfully) Metternich.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:12 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eric Idle on Henry Kissinger Kissinger is a former Secretary of State and
wanted war criminal
.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:48 AM on April 3, 2011


You know who else won a Nobel Peace Prize?
posted by fredludd at 5:37 AM on April 3, 2011


Meatbomb, you are mistaken. Everybody knows that a military power that is not defeated cannot have war criminals.
And even if the US does have war criminals it will just invade the country of the International Criminal Court.
posted by joost de vries at 5:37 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everybody knows that a military power that is not defeated cannot have war criminals.

Exactly. But don't forget, the US was defeated by Vietnam.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:42 AM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I meant defeat in the sense that Saddam Hussein was defeated. Because of its power the US can't be wrong.
posted by joost de vries at 5:51 AM on April 3, 2011


I meant defeat in the sense that Saddam Hussein was defeated.

I hear you. Personally, I am very disappointed that Ho Chi Minh didn't find a bedraggled, bearded Richard Nixon hiding out in a hole somewhere in Maryland.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:03 AM on April 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm glad to see that so far, this thread is tightly focused on the book that Kissinger is reviewing instead of Kissinger himself.

Oh wait...
posted by tgrundke at 6:40 AM on April 3, 2011


...this thread is tightly focused on the book that Kissinger is reviewing instead of Kissinger himself.

Goddam celebrity reviewers! They ruin everything!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:47 AM on April 3, 2011


Bismarck was shot three times in the back and then turned and wrestled his assailant to the ground.

/Historically hardcore
posted by jb at 6:52 AM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bismarck’s opponents were still wedded to the 18th-century concepts of the international system as a great clockwork with intricately meshed parts: the science of Newton. Bismarck foreshadowed an age whose equilibrium was an ever-changing interaction of forces, themselves in constant flux, like later atomic physics. Its appropriate philosopher was not Descartes but Darwin; not “I think, therefore I am,” but the “survival of the fittest.”
this is the worst sort of cocktail party pablum.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:03 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to see that so far, this thread is tightly focused on the bookhistorical ass-kicking that Kissinger is reviewing instead of Kissinger himselfso richly deserves.


Polarizing figures and those who perpetuate atrocities deserve to have their other works put firmly into the contexts they themselves. create.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:06 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to see that so far, this thread is tightly focused on the book that Kissinger is reviewing instead of Kissinger himself.


Yup, this is an act of shaming. Many cultural conservatives believe that, beyond the government's legal machinery, a society's ability to shame someone is a useful method of control, of discouraging bad acts. Commentators such as Bill Bennett bemoan the fact that people are no longer ashamed of their bad actions, and fob off responsibility to an external factor, like addiction, society, or Realpolitik.

Henry Kissinger has interesting things to say; but first, as a society, we're going to remember his shameful actions.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:08 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, having dealt with the shaming (sorry for the derail), on to the review.

Despite having read a lot of history, it still sometimes surprises me that the world wasn't always the way I learned it was in high school. The single entity I known as Germany was assembled just some 150 years ago. [Somehow my brain has papered over the split into BRD and DDR for 50 years. I think of them like the two halves of a magician's assistant sitting in their boxes -- temporarily separated, properly one entity.]

I realize that I like my history organized around geography, or time periods, not individuals, so I'm probably not going to read this book, but it's prompted me to pull down my History of Prussia and re-read the last bits.

Some of the language in the review is positively creepy:
.... a highly complex person who incarnated the duality that later tempted Germany into efforts beyond its capacity
I'm not sure what the "efforts beyond its capacity" were, but I'm guessing a lot of people died. And I wish I had "a tempted duality" to take the hit for my bad actions.

As tgrundke pointed out, we ought to be discussing the book, not the reviewer. But let's face it, the reason we are even discussing this is the reviewer. And when the reviewer writes:
Steinberg’s hostility toward Bismarck’s personality sometimes causes him to overemphasize personal traits at the expense of his strategic concepts, which were usually quite brilliant.
I have to think the reviewer has projected himself onto the subject of the book he's reviewing.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:43 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


As tgrundke pointed out, we ought to be discussing the book, not the reviewer. But let's face it, the reason we are even discussing this is the reviewer.

and it's a terrible review. either kissinger is phoning it in or he really has a shallow grasp on 19th century history. i vote for the latter, his main claim-to-fame has always been playing the syncophant and courtier to more intelligent but even less well-educated men e.g Nixon and Johnson.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:09 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cultural conservatives believe in a hierarchical world view, that great men at the top decide and control world affairs. As opposed to an egalitarian view that sees change as organic to social trends that are driven from the bottom up, that is, Bismark was a symptom of something larger and thus by himself not very interesting, other than a self-serving monster who used his position for the betterment or detriment of society. It's unclear from this review what kind of book it is, a Great Man hagiography/biography, or a history of Germany with Bismark as the narrative protagonist.
posted by stbalbach at 9:19 AM on April 3, 2011


I have always been baffled by the admiration by his worshippers, and the grudging admiration by his critics, of Herr Kissinger. Seems to me he was mostly a failure, but I am ignorant of the complexities of foreign affairs. Can someone enlighten me? (seriously)
posted by tommyD at 9:39 AM on April 3, 2011


In what way is it a terrible review ennui?
posted by joost de vries at 9:42 AM on April 3, 2011


In what way is it a terrible review ennui?

Well, terrible is perhaps a bit of hyperbole. It is a shallow review, and this is damning given the source. The reader comes out with barely more than "Bismark unified Germany." If you look for further insight you get statements like:
Bismarck dominated because he understood a wider range of factors relevant to international affairs — some normally identified with power, others generally classified as ideals — than any of his contemporaries.
gee, tell me more...
Bismarck’s originality consisted of being neither in the camp of power nor in that of ideology.
neither a borrower nor a lender be... and so on:
Power, to be useful, must be understood in its components, including its limits. By the same token, ideals must be brought, at some point, into relationship with the circumstances the leader is seeking to affect. Ignoring that balance threatens policy with either veering toward belligerence from the advocates of power or toward crusades by the idealists.
For someone with a Ph.D. in European history and an eminent man who saw himself in the mode of Bismarck, he seems to have precious little to say beyond rank platitudes. And then you throw in the intellectual bon mots like:
Bismarck’s opponents were still wedded to the 18th-century concepts of the international system as a great clockwork with intricately meshed parts: the science of Newton. Bismarck foreshadowed an age whose equilibrium was an ever-changing interaction of forces, themselves in constant flux, like later atomic physics. Its appropriate philosopher was not Descartes but Darwin; not “I think, therefore I am,” but the “survival of the fittest.”

Cynicism by itself produces a shallow opportunism. Any serious policy requires a fixed point from which to alter the world. Bismarck’s Archimedean point was the belief in the uniqueness of Prussian institutions.
which is transparently silly, and you get a picture of someone who is not simply talking down to reader, forming platitudes that business executives and politicians can repeat, but actually has a fundamentally shallow view of history.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:21 AM on April 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


tommyD: coincidentally, a couple of days ago I was browsing through a volume of the State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States that covers diplomatic relations between the US and China in the early 1970s. Some of the conversations among Kissinger, Chairman Mao, and Chou En-Lai are just gobsmacking. Whatever you may think of him, Kissinger could hold his own in diplomatic ballet with any leader the world stage could throw at him – I'd love to have seen him with Genghis Khan, say. I highly recommend the bizarre entertainment value of this conversation with Mao and Chou that touches on, among other things, Hitler's romantic feelings toward England, and Mao's analysis of German mistakes on the Russian front in WWII. And there are lots of others as odd, like the one where Mao jokingly suggests that they could solve part of China's population problem by sending a lot of Chinese women to the US to marry American men. Kissinger never bats an eye (so far as the transcripts suggest), no matter how strange the conversational turns get. So that's part of what's behind his reputation.
posted by Creosote at 10:26 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


What Creosote said. Kissinger was instrumental in the US opening up relations with mainland China, even if the US was behind a few other Western nations in doing so.
posted by riruro at 11:28 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only thing I would like to really here from Henry:
"Yes, I masterminded Nixons fall on my long path to salvation and I am using Bismark to help clear land mines in Cambodia"

China.
IMO, they wanted and needed that little pow-wow just as much as we did.
posted by clavdivs at 12:14 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Since we've essentially lost the cold war to China, I'm not sure how much credit ought to accrue to the man who opened what have turned out to be the surrender negotiations.

What I'd really like to know, however, is whether Kissinger was the architect of Nixon's 'secret plan' to end the Vietnam War, which became an important feature of his last presidential campaign. If Kissinger was not the lead in this plan, that would make it almost unique in the foreign policy of the Nixon administration.

The current view, as I understand it, is that Nixon's 'secret' was the use of nuclear weapons, but that Nixon was dissuaded by the huge anti-war demonstrations after his reelection.

Kissinger may only be in the second rank of great criminals of the Twentieth century, and of such stature that we may only be able to distinguish his feet behind the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao in the group photograph, but not for any lack of ambition, perhaps.
posted by jamjam at 12:24 PM on April 3, 2011


I just visited Cambodia.

I really - really - am not interested in reading one word written by a war criminal like Kissinger. Why people take him seriously baffles me, particularly considering that pretty well every foreign policy decision he made ended up disastrously. He should be disgraced and in jail, considering himself lucky he wasn't executed.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:50 PM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


And I should add that the fact that the NYT is willing to give money to this mass murderer says an awful lot about their ethical nature, or lack thereof.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:57 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The blue could use a good Bismarck post. It could probably use a good Kissinger post. But together....

As to Kissinger, well, he started off as a teacher. Which is traditionally what those who cannot do, do.

As to Bismarck, well, Bismarck was the man. And according to Bismarck, Disraeli was the man. Man had an eye for talent.

(BTW, it wasn't just memories of Napoleonic Europe that motivated Bismarck. Germany had been a soccer field for European conflict with grotesque results for centuries. Old men forget....)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:32 PM on April 3, 2011


Fuck Kissinger.

OK, now that I've cleared that up, let's concentrate on Bismarck. He was a fascinating character, much underrated outside of Germany. While in many ways a product of his time, he also was completely at odds with it. He was a convinced monarchist who held monarchs in barely disguised contempt, an archconservative who introduced the first social security and health insurance laws in the world, and a militarist who started three wars and nevertheless said: "Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a dying warrior will think hard before starting a war. "

Coming back to Kissinger, while I can see what he sees in Bismarck, I doubt Bismarck would have liked him much. For once, he had a strong dislike of colonialist adventurers.
posted by Skeptic at 4:37 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


By coincidence, just this afternoon I read a admiringly positive review of a newly published biography of said Bismarck by Johnathan Steinberg. An intriguing study of a remarkable career.
It was in The London Review of Books.
In it I found out that Wilhelm became Emperor (Kaiser Bill) thanks mainly to the machinations of Otto v B and the ceremony for proclaiming the new Empire was held in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.

I was there only last november, looking at an art exhibition (weird Muraki (?) stuff amongst the imperial displays).
And I was so taken with the juxtaposition of his odd figures and the dusty noble regalia and glorifying portraiture that now finding that I'd been in that very room just recently was rather satisfying.

Just saying.
Now I'll read the post.
Though I should go to bed really.
Keep getting diverted.
posted by jan murray at 5:44 PM on April 3, 2011


Bismarck is the shining center of the crowning in the hall of mirrors.
posted by joost de vries at 7:05 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Trouble naming my japanese artists. It was Murakami I meant. Him with the "Lonesome Cowboy" though that work was not included

Here in the Hall of Mirrors was this.
posted by jan murray at 9:19 AM on April 4, 2011


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