Institutional Amnesia

Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger uses the telephone in Deputy National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft's office to get the latest information on the situation in South Vietnam (Wikicommons)
Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger uses the telephone in Deputy National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft’s office to get the latest information on the situation in South Vietnam (Wikicommons)


WASHINGTON — The name Kissinger besmirches all too many buildings, awards, and endowed chairs. It was announced Thursday that the Henry A. Kissinger Institute of Global Affairs, to be housed at SAIS, has been added to that disreputable list.

It is hard to think of any action that could more damage SAIS’s credibility than so lavishly honoring Kissinger. The crimes of the former Secretary of State — notorious for his intimate involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile and subsequent dictatorship, Pakistan’s bloody repression of Bengali independence, and the Indonesian invasion of East Timor — have been known for decades. Somehow, time has softened his image in the Washington establishment, and he is sought out by aspiring politicians for large photo-ops and small talk.

SAIS used not to be so apathetic when it came to moral values. When Kissinger spoke here in 1970, anti-war students protested and accused him of being a war criminal. As related by John-Paul Ferguson in a 2002 SAIS Review article, “For more than twenty years after that day, [Kissinger] refused to set foot inside the school.” If only that continued to be the case. In 2007, the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (itself a dubious enterprise) gave Kissinger an award for enhancing Sino-American relations. Of SAIS’s latest venture, JHU President Ronald Daniels says, “There is a need for an approach in international relations education that transcends the narrow confines of short-run policymaking. The Kissinger Institute is created to address that need.” Needless to say, short-run policymaking is the hallmark of Kissinger’s foreign policy approach. I have yet to see how the death and torture meted out by his United States-backed regimes contributed one iota to the collapse of the Soviet Union or the preservation of American security. The fact is, for all his aura of strategy and wisdom, Kissinger has no accomplishments to his name, only a constellation of fellowships.

My only comfort is that the presence of this institute will be fleeting. South African students recently forced the removal of a 1934 statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town; I imagine that future SAIS students will in much the same way hasten a renaming. But surely we can do better than 81 years. Let’s show the administration that we’ve actually learned something about foreign policy and start protesting immediately.

8 thoughts on “Institutional Amnesia

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  1. Who is Andy Gottlieb, and why does he think that the Hopkins-Nanjing Center – whose purpose is to enhance Sino-American relations – is “a dubious enterprise”?

  2. Everyone’s gotta have an outlet I guess, but sometimes freedom of speech can be abused and …regrettable. You have the right to be angry and opinionated but please, as a SAIS student, be classy and respectful – your behavior reflects on the school and civil debate is more becoming of a sophisticated, educated citizen such as yourself.

    Unless you’re just a troll.

    1. I can’t tell if you’re responding to me or to the article, since I expressed neither anger nor a specific opinion. I am a student at HNC, and I think it is well within the bounds of civilised discourse to inquire about the writer’s identity and credentials (neither of which are specified), as well as to ask for the reasoning behind his backhanded swipe at the HNC.

  3. Tristian, are you responding to the article or to John?
    For those of us at the HNC, we would appreciate an explanation regarding the “dubious” nature of our institution.

  4. Henry Kissinger arguably did more to ruin the image of United States as a promoter of democracy abroad then any other figure in US history. But I would like to ask the author directly: how is an evaluation of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center relevant to this discussion and what is the extent of your experience with the HNC?

  5. Apologies for the confusion to the HNC students, my comment was directed to the author Mr. Gottlieb. I respect and admire your institution and concur that his comment was irrelevant and insulting. With regard to his views regarding Kissinger, Mr. Gottlieb ought to remember not only his age but consider if he or any politician or diplomat today could do any better than Kissinger. His accomplishments and failures do not cancel each other out but rather are proof that the game can never be played perfectly.

  6. Reluctant as I am to be drawn into the comments section, I’ll add just this elaboration on HNC:
    I am opposed to universities establishing satellite campuses in autocratic countries (Georgetown in Doha and NYU in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai being other examples). It makes a mockery of academic freedom and only serves to legitimize the host regime. That HNC is a joint venture with Nanjing University, which is needless to say a state-run institution, only compounds the problem.

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