Restoring Henry Kissinger

Michael O'Donnell in Washington Monthly:

1509-odonnell_bk_article01In 1940 the young Henry Kissinger, caught in a love quadrangle, drafted a letter to the object of his affections. Her name was Edith. He and his friends Oppus and Kurt admired her attractiveness and had feelings for her, the letter said. But a “solicitude for your welfare” is what prompted him to write—“to caution you against a too rash involvement into a friendship with any one of us.”

I want to caution you against Kurt because of his wickedness, his utter disregard of any moral standards, while he is pursuing his ambitions, and against a friendship with Oppus, because of his desire to dominate you ideologically and monopolize you physically. This does not mean that a friendship with Oppus is impossible, I would only advise you not to become too fascinated by him.

Kissinger disclaimed any selfish motive for writing, loftily quoted from Washington’s farewell address, and regretted with some bitterness Edith’s failure to read or comment on the two school book reports he had sent her. Would she please return them for his files?

It is unfair to judge a man’s character by a jealous letter that he drafted (and did not send) at age sixteen. Yet here, to a remarkable extent, is the future nuclear strategist, national security advisor, and secretary of state. The reference to Edith’s attractiveness bespeaks the charm and flattery for which Kissinger would become famous. Secrecy and deceit are present also: he went behind his friends’ backs and coyly advised against a relationship with “any one of us,” which of course really meant the other guys. By trashing his buddies in order to get a girl, Kissinger displayed ruthlessness. The letter is written in what Christopher Hitchens memorably described as Kissinger’s “dank obfuscatory prose,” which relies on clinical-sounding phrases like “dominate you ideologically.” And, of course, the letter betrays vanity. How could anyone fail to be dazzled by his book reports!

More here.