Kissinger, 100, died on Nov. 29. He served as secretary of state and national security advisor for President Nixon and President Ford. By 2021, he was the lone surviving member of Nixon’s cabinet.
In several obituaries, Kissinger has been described using arguably passive adjectives like "controversial" or "divisive," an unfortunately common practice when it comes to memorializing leaders whose impact extends far beyond being merely complicated figures.
But there have been more to-the-point obituaries published in the hours since Kissinger's death, as well, including this one from Nick Turse for The Intercept and this one from Travis Waldron and George Zornick for HuffPost. The latter dubs Kissinger as "America's most notorious war criminal" for his deadly influence on the world. Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman, writing for Rolling Stone, noted that not even Oklahoma City terrorist Timothy McVeigh "killed on the scale of Kissinger."
Following news of Kissinger's death on Wednesday, many drove these same points home through a different but no less effective method: memes.
Below, we take a look at some of the more horrific instances of Kissinger's policies in action.
This facet of Kissinger's legacy is one that has received considerable attention over the decades, even becoming a point of contention in a recent U.S. presidential election.
During a 2016 debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who were then both running for POTUS (a title that ultimately went to the former host of The Apprentice), Kissinger’s actions in Cambodia during the Nixon administration were mentioned by the former. Per Sanders, who was making a point of distinction between himself and Clinton by broaching the topic, Kissinger is not someone from whom he would take advice.
In fact, Sanders added at the time, he is “one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country.” Furthermore, per Sanders, Kissinger’s actions led to “one of the worst genocides in the history of the world” in 1969.
"I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend," Sanders said in 2016. "I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger. And in fact, Kissinger’s actions in Cambodia, when the United States bombed that country, overthrew Prince Sihanouk, created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in, who then butchered some 3 million innocent people, one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. So count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger."
The late Anthony Bourdain also didn't mince words when it came to Kissinger and Cambodia. In his 2001 book A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, he pointed to Cambodia as “the fruits of [Kissinger’s] genius for statesmanship,” like so:
"Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia – the fruits of his genius for statesmanship – and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević."
Shortly after Kissinger’s 100th birthday, the Just Security analysis forum—comprised of domestic and international policy experts—published a piece stating that Kissinger “could be questioned for his role in aiding and abetting Pakistan’s atrocities during the civil war in 1971.”
In short, Nixon and Kissinger turned a blind eye to the killings of hundreds of thousands of people in what was then East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) and the fleeing of millions to India. Furthermore, Nixon and Kissinger approved the transfer to Pakistan of U.S. bombers.
Kissinger is credited with pushing Nixon to help overthrow the Allende government. In the words of Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project, documents are available that show “the verdict of history on Kissinger's singular contribution to the denouement of democracy and rise of dictatorship in Chile.”
In 1975, both Kissinger and Nixon met with the president of Indonesia. During the meeting, they gave a greenlight to the president’s impending plans for invasion of East Timor, which ultimately began one day later and is estimated to have resulted in the deaths of up to 200,000 people.
When it comes to declassified documents, plenty exist that display Kisser's relationship with Argentina's military, not to mention his support for dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. At one point, per a memo that was later made public, Kissinger told Argentine Foreign Minister Admiral Cesar Augusto Guzzetti in a meeting that the U.S. understood they “must establish authority,” even encouraging them to do so with speed.
"If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly,” Kissinger said in 1976. “But you should get back quickly to normal procedures." The Kissinger-backed "Dirty War" is estimated to have caused the deaths of as many as 30,000 people.