We Are All Kissinger Now

We have met Dr. Kissinger, and he is us.

Henry Kissinger has come under withering outrage for volunteering to his famously anti-Semitic boss these words of realpolitik concerning the emigration of persecuted Soviet Jews to Israel:

And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern.  Maybe a humanitarian concern.

How horrible, we think.  But we don’t think about the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

What does that have to do with anything?  Everything.

Nearly five and a half million people have died in the Congo’s ongoing civil war.  And no, this isn’t just about war casualities.  It is a crime of world-historical proportions: more than 200,000 women raped, forcible recruitment of child soldiers, and continuing atrocities committed by all sides and particularly the Orwellian-named “Lord’s Resistance Army.”  If you are talking about numbers of people slaughtered, Congo puts Darfur to shame.  I’m proud to say that the American Jewish World Service, with which I’ve been involved for a while, supports several human rights organizations there, but the security and human rights situation is so bad there that AJWS can’t even list them on its website for fear of brutal and violent reprisals.

And what has been the American official response to this monstrous disaster?  Yawn.  Is it ignoring the popular will?  Hardly.  Most Americans don’t know and don’t care about what is happening in this far-away place about which we know little.  And why?  It’s not really regarded as being central to US vital national interests.  It’s not a principal national security concern. I recently discovered that here at RBC “Human Rights” is listed as an “older thread.”  Yawn again.

In other words, the ongoing atrocities in the Congo aren’t really an American concern.  Maybe a humanitarian concern. 

So maybe there is some justification for the attacks on Kissinger.  But perhaps it’s time to press the pause button on the self-righteousness and look in the mirror.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

8 thoughts on “We Are All Kissinger Now”

  1. Wee, one thing Hitchens got right was the huge need to bring Strangelove to trial for murdering tens of thousands with his personal involvement in war crimes. No time like the present. If we put Dr. K in prison for the balance of his miserable life before his assignment to the flames for eternity, then we might have standing to do something about other genocidal maniacs emulating him.

  2. If there is a comforting response to this challenging post, I sure don't know it. The particular Nixon-Kissinger conversation is jaw-dropping, in part for the light it casts on the repellent relationship between these two men. Listening to the earnest but bumbling diplomatic communiques that regularly emerge regarding the Congo, I can't help but be reminded of similar pronouncements released with equal sincerity at the failed Evian conference, which doomed so many European Jews. Someday, not soon, we will have strong global institutions with the muscle and the mandate to tackle our massive collective action problem in preventing such catastrophes. Until then we will sit nervously by, signing onto earnest and eloquent diplomatic statements, knowing that we are abandoning huge numbers of desperate strangers to their fate.

  3. "Is it ignoring the popular will? Hardly. Most Americans don’t know and don’t care about what is happening in this far-away place about which we know little. And why?"

    It's not because "we" are all Kissinger; In the immortal words of Tonto, "What you mean 'we,' kemosabe?"

    It's because our media are all Kissinger. They don't COVER the ongoing atrocities in the Congo. If they did, "we" might know about them, and care.

  4. "democratic republic of the congo" site: nytimes.com About 220,000 results (0.22 seconds)

    "democratic republic of the congo" site: usatoday.com About 61,300 results (0.60 seconds)

    "democratic republic of the congo" site: cnn.com About 798,000 results (0.47 seconds)

    Moving on.

  5. This discussion goes all the way back to George Washington, doesn't it?

    When "American interests" get redefined to mean wherever bad things happen in the world, even tremendously bad things, then we're Phil Ochs' "cops of the world."

  6. Phil, there shouldn't be a space between the "site:" connector and the domain. The number of hits I get on is about 1290. Compare , which returns about 432,000 hits.

  7. Shoot, it took out the strings, which I'd placed between angle brackets. The strings were

    site:nytimes.com congo

    site:nytimes.com "9-11” OR "sept 11" OR "september 11"

    But I just noticed when I did this that the congo string brought back 25,800 hits. Weird.

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