Jewish World Review April 5, 1999 /19 Nissan 5759
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After watching Henry Kissinger hawking the latest installment of his self-serving memoirs on Crossfire last week, a viewer in the know might want to shout: "Don’t buy lies from those who worked with crooks."
It was amazing how many untruths passed between the lips of the Doctor in so short a time. With Chile’s Gen. Augusto Pinochet in the news—the House of Lords in England was about to declare that Pinochet, arrested on charges of crimes against humanity, was not entitled to immunity—cohost Bill Press thought it a propitious time to query Kissinger on the efforts he oversaw in 1970 to overthrow Chile’s democratically elected government of Salvador Allende when Kissinger was Nixon’s secretary of state.
"What business did we have trying to overthrow a president of another country?" Press inquired.
In response to Press, Kissinger pointed the finger: "Much of this was conducted on the recommendation of an ambassador—our ambassador in Chile, who was a Democratic appointee from the Johnson administration and was held over."
Kissinger was referring to Ambassador Edward Korry. To anyone familiar with the history of the U.S. secret plots against Allende, this was a howler. Kissinger was at a Sept. 15, 1970, meeting in the White House when Nixon ordered CIA Director Richard Helms to get rid of Allende, and the CIA, according to Helms’ notes, was to make sure there was "no involvement of [the U.S.] Embassy."
Ambassador Korry was to be kept in the loop on the plans concerning an anti-Allende propaganda and political action program but he was to be kept in the dark about the so-called Track II scheme to encourage the overthrow of Allende.
Kissinger did briefly try to defend the get-Allende policy. He noted that Allende had won office in a tight three-way race, which meant that a majority of the voters had not chosen Allende. Kissinger was suggesting that, consequently, Allende’s electoral win did not deserve to be honored.
Under his logic, a foreign nation could oust Jesse Ventura and claim he was not really the people’s choice. Then Kissinger fell back on the old chestnut: "Our concern was that Allende...was going to bring about a communist government in Chile." But as CIA analysts observed, there was no reason to assume that, and Allende, during the three years he served as president before losing his life in the Pinochet-led coup, did not move to bring communism to Chile. Bad guess, Henry. How unfortunate it led to bloodshed and the installation of a murderous dictatorship in Chile.
Well, it wasn’t that unfortunate, in Kissingerian terms, since Kissinger has acknowledged he preferred Pinochet—who banned political parties, shut down newspapers and ran a torture state—over Allende, a socialist who told aides he would leave office if diselected by the voters.
Later in the show, Press grilled Kissinger about the bundles of White House and State Dept. papers Kissinger took with him when he left government. The records included transcripts of his telephone conversations with world leaders (Kissinger had his secretary eavesdrop and transcribe) and thousands of memos and pieces of correspondence—material that would be quite useful to Kissinger when he was writing his memoirs.
To maintain exclusive access to the transcripts, Kissinger fought a suit brought by media representatives, including William Safire, who were seeking the transcripts. He argued that these documents were his personal property, not public property (which is hard to believe since the records were created by a government official, and they referred to official government business).
The lower courts didn’t buy Kissinger’s claim. Subsequently, the Supreme Court vacated those rulings, but only because it believed that Kissinger’s pursuers did not have standing to bring suit. All the material is now stored in the Library of Congress, but it stays under Kissinger’s control. Anyone who wants to compete with Kissinger in the history-writing business cannot utilize these crucial records. Press asked Kissinger if he would release all these papers and telephone transcripts. "They’ve always been released," a defiant Kissinger retorted.
"This is totally not true," says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies and counsel to the nongovernmental National Security Archive.
"Nobody gets to see the telephone transcripts without Henry Kissinger’s permission, until five years after his death." He has allowed State Dept. historians to view the transcripts, but it remains up to Kissinger to decide who gets a look. (John Karlin, the archivist of the United States, is now considering a move to reclaim the telephone transcripts for the public.)
And Kissinger’s other papers at the Library of Congress cannot be examined without his permission. He has attempted to monopolize history, and he refuses to be honest about that (as well as about Chile). But that makes sense: Kissinger apparently does not want history to be honest about him.
Oh the perils of predictive journalism.
The elections of 1998 and the entire last year should have prevented me from ever again daring to foretell the future. Yet I did not learn. In this column two weeks ago, when I reported on my visit to the SAG Awards in Los Angeles, I noted the bright moment of the evening was the pick of Roberto Benigni as best male actor.
"Can you envision the stodgy and conservative Academy selecting a foreigner who delivered a non-English performance over Tom Hanks?" I snidely asked. "Hooray for the Hollywood populists of SAG."
Well, I blew that. As anyone who survived the 437-hour-long Academy Awards ceremony will recall, Benigni walked on the furniture and talked about making love to the entire audience after winning in the best actor category.
I can only figure that while Edward Norton and Ian McKellen were never in the running, Nick Nolte (the sentimental pick) and Tom Hanks (dependable Mr. Box Office) split the Academy’s nationalist vote, providing Benigni an opening. Can one extrapolate from this that, under the right conditions, third parties have a chance? Benigni was, in a way, the Jesse Ventura of the evening. He looked ready to climb into the ring, and he said whatever came to mind.
At least my Oscar flub wasn’t as bad as presidential hopeful Steve Forbes’. On Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked Forbes to crystal-ball the best actor contest. Forbes mumbled, "Good one... Kevin... Who played the lead in Private Ryan?" This man wants to be president of the United States, and he doesn’t know who Tom Hanks is? Cut!
To the Academy, I apologize, which is not something you’ll ever hear Elia Kazan say. I thought there was no chance this conventional and parochial bunch would reward Benigni’s performance. In fact, I handicapped Benigni’s chances as equal to those of Dan Quayle winning the White House.
03/31/99: The Flynt Fizzle
03/31/99: The Flynt Fizzle