Henry Kissinger is still alive and still in possession of the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 1973. Time will eventually address the former issue; as to the latter, the Nobel Foundation has declared that “none of the prize awarding committees in Stockholm and Oslo has ever considered [revoking] a prize once awarded.”
This year marks both the fiftieth anniversary of Kissinger’s peace prize and his 100th birthday. At this point, questioning the former Secretary of State’s right to retain the award might seem both futile and vindictive. It is neither.
Kissinger remains a lauded and deeply entrenched member of the Washington establishment. Although Joe Biden is the first President since Richard Nixon not to invite “Dr. K” to the White House, this has not kept Kissinger from making headlines. In 2022, Politico revealed that the Biden Administration has consulted Kissinger regularly; he published a new nonfiction bestseller, Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy; he spoke at a Council on Foreign Relations lecture and warned that if a country’s educational system—ostensibly America’s—“becomes increasingly focused on the shortcomings of its history,” then that country’s “capacity to act internationally will be diverted into its internal struggles.”
Kissinger has always been adept at controlling the narrative of history, not least because he simply had the time to do so. Most of his similarly notorious political colleagues are gone: Richard Nixon died in 1994; Kissinger’s successor as National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, died in 2020; Vietnamese general and politician Lê Đức Thọ, the co-recipient of the 1973 peace prize who declined the award, died in 1990; and Robert C. Hill, a State Department employee, ambassador, and eventual whistleblower who incurred Kissinger’s wrath more than once, died in 1978 at the age of sixty-one.
Hill’s is not a name you see in “this day in history” listicles. In fact, it is not a name you’ll often find in history books about the 1960s, Nixon, or Kissinger. In part, this is due to his death more than forty years ago, but it is also due to the trajectory of his career, which began with powerful roles within the Republican Party machinery and in Nixon’s inner circle, but ended with Hill sounding alarms about human rights abuses and murders from his post as ambassador to Argentina during the 1976 military coup. As is the case with most whistleblowers, Hill’s attempts to draw attention to wrongdoing in Argentina—and his habit of questioning the State Department bureaucracy—led to career marginalization and his erasure from history.
Self-described “history detective” and author of a book on the Argentine military dictatorship, Dossier Secreto, Martin Edwin Andersen is working to highlight Hill’s career arc from political party insider to questioner of the party line. Andersen himself is a former Justice Department employee whose career has been derailed due to his whistleblowing. In two recent articles for the research journal A Contracorriente, Andersen contrasts Hill’s journey from collaborator to dissident with Kissinger’s legacy of what Washington insiders have studiously avoided calling war crimes.
Born in 1917, Hill’s first ambassadorship was to Costa Rica. Prior to that, he had worked as a banker and diplomat and gained experience in Latin American culture and politics through his work with W.R. Grace & Company, a global entity involved in the fabric, fertilizer, and machinery trades. In subsequent years, he would serve as ambassador to El Salvador (1954-1955), Mexico (1957-1960), Spain (1969-1972), and Argentina (1973-1977). He was influential in Republican Party politics, serving as an aide-de-camp to Nixon as the two campaigned on behalf of the party ticket in 1964 and 1966, and in his role as chair of the Republican National Committee Foreign Policy Task Force from 1965 to 1968.
As Andersen reveals in his article “The Ultimate Unmasking of Henry Kissinger,” in 1968, Hill was not only an insider, but also a collaborator in the possibly treasonous sabotage of the Vietnam War peace process. In 1968, as Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey faced off in a close and contentious presidential contest, Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration was engaging in the 1968 Paris Peace Talks meant to end the Vietnam War. What happened next was something that Christopher Hitchens, in his 2001 book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, claims was an “open secret” in Washington: “In the fall of 1968, Richard Nixon and some of his emissaries and underlings set out to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations on Vietnam. The means they chose were simple: They privately assured the South Vietnamese military rulers that an incoming Republican regime would offer them a better deal than would a Democratic one.”
This secret has long been whispered, but it has taken decades and numerous investigative journalists and historians to more substantively piece together the mechanisms by which the peace talks were derailed. In 2000, Andersen notes, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan’s book The Arrogance of Power finally revealed Hill’s role in the failure of the 1968 peace talks. For Nixon and his campaign to be able to communicate their willingness to offer a better deal to the South Vietnamese should the Republicans win the presidency, Nixon needed a way to communicate with the government in Saigon. He found his conduit in former journalist and Republican Party fundraiser extraordinaire Anna Chennault, who agreed to use her contacts in South Vietnam to get Nixon’s overtures delivered to South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu.
The link between Nixon’s people and Chennault was none other than party stalwart Robert C. Hill, who knew Chennault and, in 1967, personally escorted her to a meeting at Nixon’s New York City apartment. At that meeting, Chennault agreed to act as Nixon’s liaison to South Vietnam and later indicated she would always be reachable through Hill.
On the other side of the equation, a consultant to the Johnson Administration on the peace process stood ready to pass information from the 1968 peace talks to Nixon, who then did his utmost to sabotage them, even though, according to the Logan Act, it is illegal for U.S. citizens “to engage in unauthorized diplomacy with foreign countries with intent to ‘influence the measures or conduct’ of a foreign government.” The informant from within the talks? None other than Henry Kissinger, who used his role as Johnson’s adviser at the peace talks to help secure Nixon’s 1968 victory.
The war in Vietnam would continue until, as Hitchens notes, “four years later the Nixon Administration concluded the war on the same terms that had been on offer in Paris [in 1968].” The difference was, of course, that in the intervening four years, thousands more U.S. military personnel would die, as well as an unknown but believed to be immense number of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian military members and civilians. On January 23, 1973, the peace talks’ two main negotiators, Kissinger and North Vietnamese military leader and Politburo member Lê Đức Thọ, initialed what became known as the Paris Peace Accords, the agreement meant to end the Vietnam War. The accords were signed by the participating governments on January 27.
In 1968, Kissinger and Hill had worked together for the greater political gain of their candidate. Kissinger’s rewards became clear during Nixon’s first term: In 1968, Nixon named him his National Security Adviser; in 1973, Nixon also made him his Secretary of State. He continued in both roles—the first and only person to hold them both simultaneously—until late 1975.
Hill failed to achieve similar heights in his political career. Although he was instrumental in the 1968 machinations that gave Nixon the presidency, Hill’s habit of paying more attention to the situations on the ground in the countries where he served than to consolidating his own power and influence had long made him feel like an outsider in the State Department establishment. As early as the late 1950s, while serving as ambassador to Mexico, Hill tried to warn then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles about Fidel Castro’s communist connections, and that a regime change from Fulgencio Batista to Castro might be disastrous for U.S. interests. This was not what Dulles or his colleagues back in Washington wanted to hear. After meeting with his staff and asking them, “Is it worth it for me to get canned, to go to the White House to fight this one out?” Hill decided it was not.
But the clearest divergence between Kissinger and Hill came in 1973 and beyond, with Kissinger entrenched in his double roles as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State, and Hill serving as ambassador to Argentina.
Kissinger has always been adept at controlling the narrative of history, not least because he simply had the time to do so.
On March 24, 1976, Argentine Army Commander General Jorge Rafael Videla, along with two others in a three-man military junta, overthrew President Isabel Perón and took the oath of office. Over the course of the next several years, Videla’s military dictatorship would engage in what became known as Argentina’s “Dirty War,” during which “more than 20,000 people, including leftist guerrillas, nonviolent dissidents, and even many uninvolved citizens” were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered, as Andersen wrote in an open letter to President Barack Obama in 2016.
In a 1987 article for The Nation titled “Kissinger and the ‘Dirty War,’ ” Andersen noted that Hill, still the ambassador in Buenos Aires after the 1976 coup, reported on the increasingly troubling human rights violations occurring in the country. In September of that year, Hill wrote a confidential memo to Kissinger, urging the United States to vote against giving Argentina an international bank loan, in the hopes that denying the loan would give him leverage to encourage the Argentine leaders to ease up on their violent crackdowns on dissidents. That memo was given to Assistant Secretary of State Harry Shlaudeman, who advised Hill that Kissinger wanted to approve the loan. If Hill persisted, Shlaudeman suggested, Kissinger might fire him. Hill told Shlaudeman to send the memo anyway.
By 1977, Hill was so disillusioned by what he had seen of Kissinger’s fanning the flames in the aftermath of the coup that he met with President Jimmy Carter’s Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, Patricia Derian, to reveal his smoking gun about a meeting between Argentina’s foreign minister, Admiral César Guzzetti, and Kissinger, that had taken place in June 1976. The Argentines had gone into that meeting, Hill reported, worried that Kissinger would “lecture to them on human rights,” only for Kissinger to conclude by merely suggesting to Guzzetti that whatever the military dictators felt they needed to do to “clean up the problem,” they should do it before the end of the year. Hill described this as Kissinger giving the Argentines the “green light” for their murderous activities.
In 2004, Kissinger’s statement in the meeting with Guzzetti was confirmed in a declassified document released by the National Security Archive. In that document, Kissinger was quoted as saying, “We are aware you are in a difficult period. It is a curious time, when political, criminal, and terrorist activities tend to merge without any clear separation. We understand you must establish authority.”
In assuring Guzzetti that the administration would look the other way while the leaders of Argentina’s junta did their bloody work, Kissinger was following a playbook that had already worked for him barely a year earlier. In late 1975, the former Portuguese colony of East Timor (now Timor-Leste) was invaded by Indonesia, the opening act in Indonesia’s occupation of that country until 1999 that resulted in, by some estimates, nearly 200,000 casualties. In 2001, declassified documents would prove that President Gerald Ford and Kissinger told Indonesian President Suharto during a December 1975 meeting in Jakarta that they would not oppose the invasion. Ford told Suharto, “We understand the problem and the intentions you have.” Kissinger, meanwhile, worried about how to make the Indonesian invasion, undertaken with American weapons in violation of Congressional restrictions, look like a self-defensive maneuver. As he would in Argentina, Kissinger told Suharto, “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly.”
Although there have been requests to get Kissinger to testify in court regarding his past, as well as attempts by activists to arrest him for war crimes, his reputation has largely remained untarnished. In contrast, Kissinger took at least one opportunity to try and posthumously disparage Hill. In 1987, after Andersen’s piece ran in The Nation, publisher Victor Navasky received a letter from Kissinger in which the former Secretary of State claimed—snarkily, and with little fear of rebuttal, as Hill had been dead for nearly a decade—that nobody ever remembered Hill as a “passionate human rights advocate.”
There have, however, been calls for questionably awarded Nobel Peace Prizes to be revoked, and Kissinger’s prize is often at the top of those lists.
In addition to never considering the revocation of a peace prize once given, the Nobel Committee has also stated that it will “never comment upon what the Peace Prize Laureates may say and do after they have been awarded the prize.” Unni Turrettini, the author of Betraying the Nobel: The Secrets and Corruption Behind the Nobel Peace Prize, tells The Progressive that she believes this policy does a disservice to the award: “The Nobel Committee, when refusing to revoke prizes in light of new and damaging information, not only erodes trust and credibility in the peace prize as an institution, but it also harms the efforts of people they are championing. If new evidence against Kissinger proves he never was worthy of Nobel’s prize, allowing him to keep it is an insult to Alfred Nobel, the other laureates, and to the world.”
Like the machinations of Kissinger’s global negotiations, many of which were not revealed until decades later, the Nobel Committee also shrouds its work in secrecy; deliberations about the peace prize are kept confidential for fifty years after they are awarded. In January 2023, it was finally revealed that the committee awarded the prize to Kissinger and Lê Đức Thọ even though it recognized there was a good chance the 1973 Peace Accords would not actually lead to peace.
Andersen concludes in his 2022 exposé that “Hill underwent a palpable process of cognitive dissonance and political redemption; Kissinger chose all manners of complicity in crimes heinous and cruel.”
Kissinger’s greatest skill has been manipulating the political narrative to his advantage, despite decades of evidence to the contrary. It will take actual leaders, truly devoted to raising society to visions of peace, to bring about the revocation of Kissinger’s peace prize, and to begin to undo his blood-soaked legacy.