Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the last surviving member of former President Richard Nixon’s Cabinet, died on Wednesday. He was 100 years old.
Kissinger, the only presidential appointee to serve contemporaneously as national security adviser and secretary of state, was one of Nixon’s most trusted Cabinet members and secured lasting changes to US foreign policy in the 20th century through an emphasis on realism and de-escalation of tensions between great world powers.
While serving under Nixon and former President Gerald Ford from 1969 and 1977, he negotiated a rapprochement with China that began a new strategic alliance and initiated a policy of détente to engage with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for helping to end US involvement in the Vietnam War and led peace talks the same year between Israel and Arab states that brought the Yom Kippur War to an end.
Ford also awarded Kissinger, who served as his national security adviser, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, for having “wielded America’s great power with wisdom and compassion in the service of peace”.
His legacy has also been attacked by critics who point to the subsequent fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese communist forces and accuse him of enabling the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime that massacred two million Cambodians in 1975.
The son of German Jews, Kissinger escaped with his family from Nazi rule just days before the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, only to return six years later as a private and then sergeant in the US Army.
He was awarded a Bronze Star for his intelligence work as a member of the Army’s 84th Infantry Division during World War II, serving briefly as a military governor of a small town just 200 miles from where he was born.
Kissinger, who worked in a New York toothbrush factory as a teenager while teaching himself English and attending night school, began his post-military career as an academic, completing his dissertation at Harvard in 1957.
He got his start as a foreign policy adviser in his mid-30s working for former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination twice before serving as vice president under Ford.
After leaving public office in 1977, the statesman formed a geopolitical consulting firm, Kissinger Associates, and went on to author more than a dozen books on history and diplomacy, his personal memoirs and, most recently, the implications of artificial intelligence.
He was sought for his advice by world leaders and Washington powerbrokers until his final days.
“Not only has he outlived most of his peers, eminent detractors and students, but he has also remained indefatigably active throughout his 90s,” Kissinger’s son, David, wrote in a May Washington Post op-ed.
“My father’s longevity is especially miraculous when one considers the health regimen he has followed throughout his adult life, which includes a diet heavy on bratwurst and Wiener schnitzel, a career of relentlessly stressful decision-making, and a love of sports purely as a spectator, never a participant.”
Kissinger was known to have a droll sense of humour as he conducted his official duties. Former Minnesota Republican senator Rudy Boschwitz, who was also born in Germany two years before his family fled the nation during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, relayed one such exchange with The Post.
“Well Rudy, the Constitution says we can’t be President,” Kissinger reportedly told Boschwitz, noting their shared heritage. “But it doesn’t say anything about Emperor.”
“We both had a good laugh,” Boschwitz told The Post.
This article originally appeared on NY Post and was reproduced with permission