Henry Kissinger is one of the most influential and controversial figures in American foreign policy. He served as the national security adviser and the secretary of state under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and played a key role in shaping the U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, the Middle East, and other regions during the Cold War. He is also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a prolific author, and a geopolitical consultant. In this article, we will explore his biography, family, education, career, and net worth.
Henry Kissinger was born as Heinz Alfred Kissinger on May 27, 1923, in Fürth, Bavaria, Germany. He was the son of Louis and Paula Kissinger, who were Jewish and of German descent. He had a younger brother, Walter. He grew up in a prosperous and cultured family, but faced increasing persecution and discrimination from the Nazi regime. In 1938, he and his family fled Germany and immigrated to the United States, settling in New York City. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1943.
Kissinger attended George Washington High School in Manhattan, where he excelled academically and became the editor of the school newspaper. He also developed an interest in history and politics, and joined a youth group that supported the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. After graduating from high school in 1940, he worked in a shaving brush factory to help support his family. He also enrolled in night classes at the City College of New York, where he studied accounting.
In 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the 84th Infantry Division during World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and participated in the liberation of a concentration camp in Ahlem, Germany. He also worked as a translator and an intelligence officer for the 970th Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment, interrogating Nazi prisoners and officials. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service.
After the war, he returned to the United States and resumed his studies at Harvard University, where he received a scholarship. He graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government in 1950. He then continued his education at Harvard, earning his Master of Arts degree in 1951 and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1954. His doctoral dissertation, titled “Peace, Legitimacy, and the Equilibrium (A Study of the Statesmanship of Castlereagh and Metternich)”, was a comparative analysis of the diplomacy of the British and Austrian statesmen who shaped the post-Napoleonic order in Europe. He also studied under William Yandell Elliott, a prominent political scientist and historian who influenced his views on realism and balance of power.
Kissinger began his career as a professor of government at Harvard, where he taught from 1954 to 1969. He also became the director of the Harvard International Seminar and the Harvard Defense Studies Program. He established himself as an expert on nuclear strategy, European politics, and international relations. He also wrote several books, such as Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (1957), The Necessity for Choice (1961), and The Troubled Partnership (1965).
Kissinger also became involved in politics and public service, serving as a consultant to various government agencies and officials. He advised Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson on foreign policy matters, especially regarding the Soviet Union and Vietnam. He also participated in the 1956 and 1960 Bilderberg conferences, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1967 Six-Day War.
In 1968, he supported the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon, who appointed him as his national security adviser in 1969. In this position, Kissinger became the principal architect of Nixon’s foreign policy, which aimed to reduce the tensions and conflicts between the U.S. and its adversaries, such as the Soviet Union and China, and to end the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He also expanded the role and influence of the National Security Council, making it the primary forum for decision-making and coordination on foreign affairs.
Some of the major achievements and initiatives of Kissinger’s tenure as national security adviser include:
- The opening of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, which had been isolated and hostile to the U.S. since the 1949 Communist revolution. Kissinger secretly visited Beijing in 1971 and arranged for Nixon’s historic visit in 1972, which paved the way for the normalization of ties and the recognition of the “one China” policy.
- The pursuit of détente with the Soviet Union, which involved the easing of tensions and the promotion of cooperation on various issues, such as arms control, trade, and regional conflicts. Kissinger negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty), which limited the nuclear arsenals and missile defenses of both superpowers. He also supported the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which recognized the post-World War II borders in Europe and affirmed the human rights of the people living under Communist regimes.
- The ending of the Vietnam War, which had been a costly and divisive conflict for the U.S. and its allies since the 1950s. Kissinger engaged in secret talks with the North Vietnamese representative Le Duc Tho in Paris, and reached a ceasefire agreement in 1973, which allowed for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the release of prisoners of war. He also tried to maintain the stability and security of South Vietnam, which eventually fell to the Communist forces in 1975. For his efforts to end the war, Kissinger and Tho were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, although Tho declined to accept it.
- The mediation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which had been a source of violence and instability in the Middle East since the creation of Israel in 1948. Kissinger conducted what became known as shuttle diplomacy, traveling back and forth between the leaders of Egypt, Israel, Syria, and Jordan, and brokering several agreements that ended the hostilities and established the basis for future negotiations. He also supported the Camp David Accords of 1978, which were signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and which led to the first peace treaty between the two countries.
In 1973, Kissinger also became the secretary of state, succeeding William Rogers. He held both positions until 1975, when he resigned as national security adviser and was replaced by Brent Scowcroft. He continued to serve as secretary of state until 1977, under both Nixon and Ford, who became president after Nixon’s resignation in 1974 due to the Watergate scandal. As secretary of state, Kissinger maintained and expanded his foreign policy agenda, while also dealing with new challenges and crises, such as the 1973 oil embargo, the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the 1975 Angolan Civil War, the 1976 Soweto uprising, and the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier.
After leaving office, Kissinger remained active and influential in the fields of diplomacy and international affairs. He founded Kissinger Associates, a consulting firm that advises governments and corporations on global issues and strategies. He also wrote several books, such as White House Years (1979), Years of Upheaval (1982), Diplomacy (1994), and World Order (2014). He also served as a member or chairman of various commissions, councils, boards, and organizations, such as the 9/11 Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and the International Olympic Committee.
Kissinger has been married twice and has two children. His first wife was Ann Fleischer, whom he married in 1949 and divorced in 1964. They had two children, Elizabeth and David, who are both lawyers and academics. His second wife is Nancy Maginnes, whom he married in 1974. She is a former aide to Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York and the vice president under Ford. She is also a philanthropist and a board member of various institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the International Rescue Committee.
Kissinger has amassed a considerable fortune from his career as a diplomat, politician, political scientist, and consultant. He has also earned income from his books, speeches, and investments. His exact salary and net worth are not publicly known, but some sources estimate that his net worth is around $20 million to $25 million as of 2022. He also owns several properties, such as a mansion in Kent, Connecticut, and an apartment in New York City.
Henry Kissinger is a prominent and polarizing figure in American history and politics. He has been praised and criticized for his role in shaping the U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War and beyond. He has also been honored and condemned for his achievements and controversies. He has been described as a visionary and a pragmatist, a realist and an idealist, a peacemaker and a warmonger, a statesman and a power broker. He has been called a hero and a villain, a genius and a criminal, a friend and an enemy. He has been admired and respected, as well as hated and feared, by many people around the world. He has been a witness and a participant, a leader and a follower, a teacher and a student, of the events and trends that have shaped the world order in the 20th and 21st centuries. He has been, and still is, Henry Kissinger.
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