The life and legacy of Henry Kissinger

The death of Henry Kissinger, after literally a century of remarkably active and effective life, provides an opportunity to reflect on his importance for his adopted United States and the world at large.

Master strategist, successful policy leader, dedicated public official, ruthless power player, disciplined author and scholar, relentless publicity-seeker - these qualities and more describe a man whose historical impacts and significance are undeniable. His parents were Jewish school teachers in Bavaria who fled Nazi Germany with their sons in 1938 for an undeniably safer but also uncertain life in the United States.

Kissinger, accused by numerous critics of numerous failings and faults, including war crimes, was consistent in stating throughout his professional life that he was first and above all else a committed citizen of the United States. He was dedicated to the security and goals of his and his family's adopted nation.

We live in an ugly time with tendencies to tear down and destroy public officials. The importance of our nation as a humane example and positive engine for international change is easily overlooked. Realistic immigrants provide a vital service in reminding us all of just how fortunate we are to be Americans.

Henry Kissinger served in the United States Army in World War II and saw action in the European Theatre. Initially in the infantry, he was transferred to counterintelligence.

During the Battle of the Bulge, the desperate final offensive of Nazi Germany during the winter of 1944-1945, specially trained elite German troops fluent in English, wearing American uniforms and carrying American weapons, created confusion and killed Allied soldiers. Kissinger, with a heavy German accent, had at least one nearly fatal encounter with fellow American soldiers.

His remarkable abilities and ambition were evident early. After receiving undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard, he joined the faculty and eventually received tenure.

Early on, his book "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy," which considered using nuclear weapons in limited war, generated extensive attention and was required reading in the Eisenhower White House. He landed a consulting job with the Kennedy administration, but that proved to be brief.

Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York, principal leader of the Eastern liberal wing of the Republican Party, hired Kissinger as policy adviser. After former Vice President Richard Nixon won the White House in 1968, Kissinger became the new president's national security adviser. He transformed the position into a powerful center of policy implementation, not just advice.

Nixon and Kissinger proved to be a highly effective foreign policy team, and personified profound changes in our society. Both began as "outsiders."

Until the Vietnam War, foreign policy was the preserve of the traditional upper class, concentrated on the East Coast, transcending Democratic and Republican administrations. Vietnam shattered the Cold War foreign policy consensus, based on "containment" of communist powers. The war became a poison, first in the military, then in wider American society, feeding the turmoil and violence of the 1960s. We became trapped in a massive quagmire in Southeast Asia.

Nixon and Kissinger pursued comprehensive strategy. Slow withdrawal of U.S. forces was combined with securing peace including some protection for South Vietnam, arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and opening to China. They also ended the 1973 Mideast War. Strategic success was reflected in Nixon's landslide reelection in November 1972.

The Watergate scandal forced Nixon's resignation in 1974. Kissinger never again held high public office.

Nonetheless, their significant strategic policy successes endure.

• Arthur I. Cyr,, of Northbrook, is a former vice president of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, and teaches political science at Carthage College in Kenosha. He is author of "After the Cold War."

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