Henry Kissinger was born in Fürth, Franconia, Germany on May 27, 1923 as Heinz Alfred Kissinger. The Kissingers, a Jewish family, fled Germany in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution, immigrating to New York, where he attended high school before moving on to City College. Kissinger became a citizen of the United States on June 19, 1943, and was drafted into the army that year. Kissinger was trained at Clemson College and became a German interpreter working in counter-intelligence. After the war he served as captain of the Military Intelligence Reserve until 1949.
During the postwar years Kissinger earned his B.A. (1950), M.A. (1952) and Ph.D. (1954) from Harvard University. His dissertation confronted the difficulties of peace in the 1812-1822 period. Kissinger served as a member of the Harvard University Faculty from 1954 until 1971, both in the Department of Government and the Center for International Affairs, becoming Associate Director for the latter in 1957, a post he would hold 1960. During the period he also directed several special study courses and programs and authored a number of monographs on foreign affairs, national security, and diplomacy. Outside of the academy Kissinger served in the Operations Research Office (1951), Director of the Psychological Strategy Board (1952), on the Operations Coordinating Board (1955), on the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1959-60), the National Security Council (1961-62), the Rand Corporation (1961-68), in the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (1961-68), and as a consultant to the Department of State (1965-68).
A highly respected scholar and diplomat, Kissinger's many honors and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship (1965-66), the Woodrow Wilson Prize for the best book in the fields of government, politics and international affairs (1958), the American Institute for Public Service Award (1973), the International Platform Association Theodore Roosevelt Award (1973), the Veterans of Foreign Wars Dwight D. Eisenhower Distinguished Service Medal (1973), the Hope Award for International Understanding (1973), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), and the Medal of Liberty (1986).
Kissinger, a liberal republican and admirer of the realpolitik school of policy, advised New York's Governor Nelson Rockefeller in the 1960, 1964 and 1968 presidential campaigns. When Richard M. Nixon was elected in 1968, he offered Kissinger the job of national security advisor. Kissinger showed a facility for political maneuvering outmatched his more experienced peers, gaining the president's ear, becoming a force in Nixon administration policy, and lending to the national security advisor position the prestige and influence that it continues to hold today. In 1973, Kissinger became Secretary of State, a position he would continue to hold after Nixon's resignation under President Gerald Ford. Kissinger was not implicated in the Watergate Scandal and thus, as a "clean man," remained popular despite his connections to the now sullied Nixon administration.
Kissinger played a dominant role in the foreign policy of the U.S. between 1969 and 1977. After he left office with Ford in 1977, however, he played only a minor role in the republican party, as his views clashed with those of strong conservatives like Ronald Reagan. Kissinger's détente policy was even labeled "appeasement" by some at the time who believed that his policies in relation to the Soviet Union may have unduly extended the Cold War and weakened the west's position. Kissinger continued to speak, write, and consult, however, and from 1983-1984 he served as chairman of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America. In 2002 Kissinger was named chairman of the committee to investigate the 9/11 attacks by President George W. Bush. Kissinger stepped down from the position on December 13, 2002 amidst criticism about possible conflicts of interest related to his consulting firm, Kissinger and Associates, which advises foreign clients.
Over the years Kissinger's political mastry and deft, at times brutally pragmatic practice of realpolitik have led to his being sued, charged with war crimes, and threatened with law enforcement action in or in regard to events in a number of nations, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, East Timor, Chile, Bangladesh, Cypress, Greece, Pakistan, and others—a state of affairs that has impeded his travels to some extent. He regularly takes legal advice before leaving the United States for any other nation, in particular after the legal precedent set by the arrest of Chilean dictator August Pinochet in 1998 in London under a Spanish-issued "international arrest warrant." Given the longevity of Kissinger's role in the upper echelons of the international policy establishment, accusations of political meddling, complicity in the military-industrial complex, ruthless support for self-serving strategies in the third world, or similar entanglements are not surprising.
Kissinger has been married twice, the first time to Ann Fleischer from 1949 until their divorce in 1964, with whom he had two children, Elizabeth and David. Kissinger was re-married in 1974 to Nancy Maginnes, with whom he currently lives in Kent, Conneticut. At the height of his popularity, he was even considered to be something of a sex symbol. In December 1975 he became honorary citizen of his native Fürth (Fuerth), receiving the Gold Medal for Distinguished Citizens. In addition to his role at Kissinger and Associates, Kissinger is currently Chancellor of William & Mary College south of Washington, D.C. Thomas J. Weiler
Hersh, Seymour M. The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House. New York: Summit Books, 1983.; Hitchens, Christopher. The Trial of Henry Kissinger. London: Verso, 2001.; Isaacson, Walter. Kissinger. A Biography. London: Faber and Faber, 1992.; Kissinger, Henry. The White House Years. Boston: Little Brown, 1979.; Kissinger, Henry: Diplomacy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.; Schulzinger, Robert D. Henry Kissinger: Doctor of Diplomacy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
Thomas J. Weiler