They had known each other since their days at Harvard when Kissinger was a graduate student and Morgenthau, a visiting professor from the University of Chicago. They came to the United States from Germany. They were separated in age by a generation; Morgenthau was born in 1904, Kissinger in 1923. Each made international relations their life’s work but here the similarity of career occupations ends: Kissinger sought and achieved national office by cultivating relationships with men of power and influence; Morgenthau remained a teacher, writer, and scholar and founder of a school of political thought in which the primacy of national interest was its central principle. Kissinger never elaborated any formal theory of international politics. Morgenthau established his in his earliest writings. Morgenthau opposed the war from day one. Kissinger never opposed the war.
In my forthcoming book on the Vietnam War Debate, I record a segment of that debate in which Morgenthau points out the flaws in a proposal to end the war devised by Kissinger in 1968 but put forward by Kissinger’s financial benefactor, Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York. Morgenthau’s criticism of the proposal was that it contained the same premises and assumptions of those who were waging the war. Hence, it could not work because it amounted to more of the same. Kissinger, greatly upset, wrote Morgenthau who said he found the criticism both unjust and painful. Morgenthau replied that he was sorry for the pain, but he could not alter his criticism that the proposal was worthless. In 1969, Kissinger was anointed by Nixon as his national security adviser; later, his Secretary of State.
After Morgenthau died in July, 1980, a eulogy by Kissinger appeared in The New Republic. “Hans Morgenthau was my teacher. And he was my friend,” Kissinger begins. “We knew each other for a decade and a half before I entered office.” He writes that while they disagreed, “they shared identical premises,” that while we both “believed America was overextended, we both sought a way out of the [Vietnam] dilemma.”
Eulogies typically contain pro forma sentiments but Kissinger’s claim that they shared “identical premises” and “sought” an end to the war is blatantly egregious. Similarly outrageous is Kissinger’s claim that “Through all these disagreements I never ceased admiring him or remembering the profound intellectual debt I owed him.”
The problem here is that there is nothing in the Kissinger writings that expresses either admiration or “intellectual debt.” There are dedications in the Kissinger memoirs to Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, to General Creighton Adams and to Nelson Rockefeller. In close to 4,000 pages of text, there is only one reference to Morgenthau. In his 2003 book Ending the War in Vietnam, Kissinger expresses disdain for Morgenthau as the leader of “the radical wing” of the anti-war movement. Here Kissinger writes: “No less a figure than Hans Morgenthau” was moved to proclaim “America’s immorality” in pursuing the war. For Kissinger, the war was moral. For Morgenthau, there was nothing moral in “the waging of this kind of war.”
For six years, from 1969 to 1975, under Kissinger’s stewardship, another 20,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese died in the fighting. The war was a failure. Kissinger’s policies compounded that failure. Kissinger was a failure.