Why Do People Hate Henry Kissinger: The Unpopular Opinions and Widespread Contempt Explored

Henry Kissinger is a controversial figure in American politics and foreign policy. He served as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford in the 1970s. During this time, he engineered major foreign policy initiatives like the opening of relations with China and detente with the Soviet Union.

However, Kissinger has been a polarizing figure ever since, with many people criticizing his policies and actions during his time in government. He has been accused of war crimes and prolonging wars like Vietnam. His aggressive realpolitik approach to foreign policy troubles many people.

So why do so many people harbor such animosity towards Henry Kissinger decades after he left office? Here is an in-depth look at the main reasons.

Role in the Vietnam War and Cambodian Bombing

One of the biggest sources of criticism against Kissinger is his involvement in the Vietnam War. He is blamed for helping expand the conflict by overseeing the secret bombing of Cambodia.

The Bombing of Cambodia

In 1969, Kissinger began a massive covert bombing campaign in neutral Cambodia without the knowledge of Congress or the American public. The bombing aimed to destroy North Vietnamese troop sanctuaries and supply lines.

Over four years, the U.S. dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs, more than the Allies dropped in WWII. This destabilized Cambodia and helped the genocidal Khmer Rouge come to power. Kissinger denied this bombing campaign until records were declassified in the 2000s.

Prolonging Vietnam War

Many people believe Kissinger deliberately prolonged the Vietnam War by sabotaging the 1968 Paris Peace Accords. This was to help Nixon get elected in 1968 by promising he had a “secret plan” to end the war. Some critics argue Kissinger’s policies needlessly cost thousands of American and Vietnamese lives.

War Crime Accusations

In the late 1990s, Christopher Hitchens, an investigative journalist, presented evidence claiming Kissinger was guilty of war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. Hitchens accused Kissinger of illegally targeting and bombing civilian populations in these countries. However, various tribunals have failed to formally charge and convict Kissinger of war crimes.

Involvement in Coups and Human Rights Abuses

Another major source of hatred against Kissinger is his alleged support of coups and repressive regimes infamous for human rights violations in the 1970s. Here are some examples:

Chile Coup

Docs show Kissinger backed the 1973 coup in Chile by General Augusto Pinochet that overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende. The coup ushered in years of brutality and repression under Pinochet’s military junta that killed over 3,000 people.

Argentine Dirty War

There is evidence Kissinger gave the green light for Argentina’s dirty war against left-wing activists from 1976-1983 that caused 30,000 disappearances and killings. Documents reveal Kissinger urged the Argentinian government to “get back on the offensive” before the war began.

Support for Suharto and East Timor genocide

Kissinger backed General Suharto’s coup in Indonesia in 1965 that killed 500,000 suspected communists and led to the invasion and genocide in East Timor claiming over 100,000 lives. Newly released docs show Kissinger encouraged the invasion knowing it could be “very messy.”

“Realpolitik” Foreign Policy Approach

Kissinger practiced realpolitik, a pragmatic foreign policy based on practical geopolitical interests rather than ideology or ethics. Many criticize this aggressive approach as too ruthless or amoral. Here’s an overview:

Ethics vs Security

Critics argue Kissinger’s policies show a callous disregard for human rights, democracy, and ethics. They claim he cooperated with brutal regimes solely for US security interests without considering ethical costs. His realpolitik is seen as too cold-blooded by placing security and power above ethical considerations.

Short-Term Gains, Long-Term Problems

Others argue his policies like backing coups or bombing Cambodia created major long-term problems. While they achieved some short-term gains, they bred instability and anti-American resentment in the long run. His critics believe a more principled foreign policy would have better served both US interests and world peace.

Tilting Too Far Towards China and USSR

In his eagerness to build ties with China and the Soviet Union, critics argue Kissinger tilted too far towards these powers and neglected America’s allies. They believe this excessive accommodation boosted up repressive communist regimes and betrayed democratic U.S. partners. A more balanced policy would have better served US global leadership.

Accusations of War Profiteering

Another complaint is that Kissinger has profited enormously from his government experience by serving foreign governments. This has created accusations of conflict of interest:

  • After leaving office, he created a lucrative international consulting business and served foreign clients seeking influence in Washington.
  • He served as a paid advisor to controversial foreign leaders like the Shah of Iran or Muammar Gaddafi.
  • He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 alongside Le Duc Tho which many believe was undeserved.

Critics claim he has essentially profited from war through this consulting work as it trades off his foreign policy power and connections. This mixes his personal financial interests with politics in an unethical manner, according to his detractors.

Role in Major Foreign Policy Disasters

As National Security Advisor and Secretary of State from 1969-1977, Kissinger played a central role in shaping US foreign policy during these tumultuous Cold War years. He has been blamed for making major policy errors and miscalculations that hurt US interests.

Policy Failures with the Soviet Union

Some argue his detente policy with the USSR was naive and gave too many concessions. It failed to properly address Soviet human rights abuses or halt their global aggression and nuclear buildup. This created problems leading to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Relationship with Middle East

His neglect for democracy in the Middle East and reliance on dictators as allies is believed to have bred discontent and harmed US relations in the region in the long run. Eg – his support for the Shah of Iran despite his repression later brought about the anti-US Iranian Revolution in 1979.

China Opening Backfired

Some say his opening of China led to massive outsourcing of US jobs to China which hollowed out American manufacturing. It greatly boosted China’s economy which later became a threat to the US. They argue a more cautious China policy would have been wiser.

Perception as a War Criminal Evading Justice

Despite various accusations and legal efforts, Kissinger has never been convicted of war crimes. He remains wanted for questioning in several nations but US protection has sheltered him from prosecution. The lack of accountability fuels anger at Kissinger among activists supporting war crimes legislation.

Legal Efforts Failed

Countries like Chile, Argentina, and France have unsuccessfully sought Kissinger’s extradition, testimony, or arrest at various times. In 2001, relatives of victims killed in Chile under Pinochet tried to have Kissinger arrested during a visit to Paris.

US Protection

Kissinger has avoided questioning and prosecution largely thanks to protection under US laws. Critics argue this demonstrates a double standard whereby the US shields its own officials from war crimes charges that lesser countries face. The sense Kissinger has evaded justice despite alleged major war crimes angers many.

Damaged Reputation of Nobel Prize

Many argue Kissinger’s controversial Nobel Peace Prize has tarnished the reputation of the award. There have been various calls to rescind his prize but the Nobel Committee has refused to do so. This fuels more anger at Kissinger and the perception he is an unaccountable war criminal.

Arrogance and Cold Persona

Beyond his policy record, Kissinger is also personally disliked by many due to his arrogant demeanor and cold persona:

Arrogance Turns People Off

Kissinger is known for his enormous ego. His arrogance in proudly defending controversial policies for decades strikes many as showing insufficient regret or humility given the moral complexities involved. This turns people off.

Cold Personality

Others dislike his coldly detached persona and calculating personality. They see him as a fairly emotionless and amoral character who appears to lack empathy when discussing delicate human rights situations. His professorial speaking style strikes many as pretentious also.

Humorless Image

He also cultivates a serious and humorless public image compared to warm and charismatic contemporaries like Bill Clinton. His impersonal and aloof aura makes him hard to relate to or like for the average person.

Perception He Is Out of Touch with His Past

Now in his late 90s, some critics argue Kissinger seems out of touch with debates about his controversial legacy and insufficiently reflective about past errors.

Lack of Regret

When discussing his policies in Vietnam or Cambodia that cost thousands of lives, critics argue he shows inadequate regret or sorrow. He appears detached when defending decisions from decades ago.


In conclusion, Henry Kissinger remains such a controversial and polarizing figure mainly due to his central role in several foreign policy debacles that cost thousands of lives, his support for coups and repressive regimes, his ruthless realpolitik approach that neglected ethics and human rights, accusations of war profiteering, and evading justice for alleged war crimes.

Beyond the policy grievances, he is also resented on a personal level for his arrogant personality, cold demeanor, and continuing unwillingness to show regret or humility regarding the huge ethical and human costs of his actions as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State between 1969-1977.

For supporters, Kissinger deserves praise for achievements like opening China, stabilizing the Middle East via shuttle diplomacy after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and easing tensions with the Soviet Union through arms control treaties.

Yet his critics decisively outweigh his admirers in the court of public opinion. Vocal condemnations continue from human rights groups, political activists, and victims from nations negatively impacted by his policies.

Until Kissinger shows more public regret and accountability for controversial past actions, he will likely remain a reviled figure among a significant portion of the American and international public. The full facts surrounding his role in major Cold War tragedies may never be known given the secrecy and obfuscations that still cloud events 45+ years later.

Yet the core grievances around human rights violations, armed interventions, ethical compromises, and perceived war crimes seem unlikely to dissipate or be satisfactorily addressed before Kissinger passes from the scene. Henry Kissinger’s legacy will thus continue be intensely debated between defenders and critics for decades to come.


What are the main criticisms against Henry Kissinger?

The main criticisms are his role in prolonging the Vietnam War, bombing Cambodia, supporting coups/repressive regimes, his aggressive realpolitik approach, war profiteering from his consulting work, evading justice for alleged war crimes, and his arrogant personality/lack of humility about past controversies.

What human rights abuses is Kissinger accused of enabling?

As National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Kissinger allegedly green-lit or encouraged human rights abuses and state terror in nations like Chile, Argentina, East Timor, Bangladesh during the 1970s that killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Why do people say Kissinger committed war crimes?

People accuse Kissinger of committing war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bangladesh by illegally bombing and targeting civilian populations during the Vietnam War era. Despite various legal efforts, he has avoided prosecution due to US legal protection.

How has Kissinger evaded justice for alleged war crimes?

Nations like France, Chile, Argentina have unsuccessfully sought Kissinger’s arrest or extradition over the year for questioning about alleged war crimes. He has avoided prosecution mainly thanks to protection under US law and refusals to extradite him.

How could Kissinger be prosecuted for alleged war crimes?

Realistically, the main way Kissinger could still face prosecution is if a future US administration allowed his extradition to another country requesting it like France or Chile. However, this remains unlikely due to Kissinger’s enduring clout in Washington.

Why do some say Kissinger profited from war?

After leaving office, Kissinger created a lucrative international consulting business and allegedly profited from his foreign policy influence by taking controversial clients seeking access in Washington like the Shah of Iran, China, or Saudi Arabia. This mixing of private gain with public policy strikes critics as unethical war profiteering.

Did Kissinger deserve his Nobel Peace Prize?

Many argue Kissinger undeservedly won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Le Duc Tho for the Vietnam peace deal. Critics say this deal was negotiated cynically to help Nixon in the 1972 election rather than achieve real peace. His prize remains extremely controversial.

What are Kissinger’s main foreign policy achievements?

Kissinger’s defenders credit him with opening China, achieving detente with the Soviet Union, and executing shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. They argue these achievements offset policies that remain more debatable like Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile etc.

Why do some people find Kissinger personable despite controversies?

Despite the hatred Kissinger provokes, he maintained amicable relations with politicians across the spectrum due to his wit, charm, and intellect. Some are still enthralled by his charisma and grasp of geopolitics despite strong reservations about his policy record.

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