Thursday February 6, 2003   |   |   online since 1994
Campus News
Police Beat
People & Places
Online Crossword

Write a letter to the Editor

Contact the Daily Wildcat staff

Search the Wildcat archives

Browse the Wildcat archives

Employment at the Wildcat

Advertise in the Wildcat

Print Edition Delivery and Subscription Info

Send feedback to the web designers

Arizona Student Media info

UATV - student TV

KAMP - student radio

Daily Wildcat staff alumni

Section Header
Movie Review: Kissinger roasted in new documentary

By Mark Betancourt
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday February 6, 2003


Official Website
Kissinger Website

A crowd of people mill around in the bright February sunshine outside the Loft Theater in Tucson. Most of them are middle-aged, dressed in post-hippie leftovers from the sixties mixed with polo shirts and brand new cross-trainers.

They're here for the opening of "The Trials of Henry Kissinger," a new documentary film based on a book of the same name. As the title suggests, the film takes on the extensive career of diplomat and international relations adviser Henry Kissinger. The goal is to prove that Kissinger is a war criminal for orchestrating the massacre of thousands of people through his manipulation of US military forces while serving as U.S. secretary of state during the 1960s and '70s.

It's not just the film the guests are here for. A panel of experts on Kissinger - including the author of the book, Christopher Hitchens - will speak about the film and its subject after the screening.

The film begins en medias res, tossing together a few images of Kissinger speaking and getting out of cars before it launches right into the case against him. It seems strange that we haven't been given any information about him by the half-hour mark, just a bunch of rhetoric from varying sources about why he should or shouldn't be tried by an International Tribunal.

Eventually, the film slows down and takes a few moments to explain that Kissinger was born in Germany to a Jewish family and had to leave during the rise of Hitler when he was only 15 years old. As for the significance of this history, well it's not really in there.

This is the first big tip that maybe this isn't so much of a biographical film as an indictment. The rest of the film is a relatively scattered list of horrors committed by Kissinger, or rather through his diplomatic policies as adviser to the Nixon, Johnson and Ford administrations. These include illegal bombings of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, giving the green light to Indonesia to invade East Timor and massacre its people, and all kinds of other violations of an unspecified and severely oxymoronic "war morality."

The film goes on to discuss how Kissinger was a superstar with the media and dated a lot of beautiful women. This seems to serve only to vilify him further as some kind of sexual aberration out to rule the world and take honest rich men's women. Since the film is clearly not a biography of Kissinger, this is the only possible reason for such a discussion of his personal character.

Through the whole thing, the audience titters like school children, as if they've gotten together to hear someone roasting the worst bully in seventh grade.

The film ends much as it began, with a pathetic excuse for an unbiased "Is he guilty? Who knows?" thrown in over some narration about how Kissinger is the only person left untried for the crimes of the Nixon administration.

One of the first things Christopher Hitchens says when the panel gets going is that he wishes the film "had less of a question mark." According to him, his book is even more unambiguous about its purpose than the film. It's hard to imagine a more biased documentary. It's clear that none of the information given is false, but it's given with such overt goals in mind that anyone who wants to know the truth will immediately mistrust its rhetoric.

One of the other speakers, UA political science professor Michael Schaller, makes a good counterpoint to Hitchens' remark about the film. He says the film "lacks a certain context, which is to say that not all stupid or failed political operations are war crimes." He goes on to defend the administrations of which Kissinger was a part, saying, " ... The world was a complicated place."

It seems, also, that Hitchens is disproportionately fixated on burning Kissinger. Anyone who has ever controlled military power in the history of our country is responsible for the death of innocent people. One could argue that wielding the kind of power the United States government does precludes the luxury of moral high ground.

Schaller warns the panel and the audience that, "We have to think about what the definition of war is." If killing innocent people is a war crime, then our President Bush and his administration are already guilty and should also be tried in a Tribunal.

This film attacks a man who did his job the best way he knew how, brutally. Unfortunately, trying Kissinger won't bring back the people who died under the bombs he sent to Cambodia. But Kissinger is not really responsible. He was merely the most visibly efficient arm of the political will of a superpower.

Kissinger isn't a war criminal any more than Bush or Cheney or whoever will come after them. He merely used violence to make the United States powerful, exactly the way our leaders are expected to. Until it is recognized that war itself is a crime, the term "war crimes" will be utterly meaningless.


Webmaster -
© Copyright 2002 - The Arizona Daily Wildcat - Arizona Student Media