Henry Alfred Kissinger is an American diplomat, and geopolitical consultant. He served as United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under president Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. For his actions negotiating a ceasefire in Vietnam, Kissinger received the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize under controversial circumstances.

Henry Kissinger Early Life

  • Henry Kissinger was born Heinz Alfred Kissinger on May 27, 1923, in Fürth, in the Bavaria region of Germany. 
  • Kissinger was born Heinz Alfred Kissinger in Furth, Bavaria, Germany in 1923 in the family of German Jews. His father was a schoolteacher and his mother, Paula was a homemaker. 
  • Kissinger grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household. As a child, Kissinger encountered anti-Semitism daily. 
  • Kissinger was a shy, introverted and bookish child. Sometimes he wasn’t outgoing enough, because he was lost in his books. 
  • Kissinger excelled at the local Jewish school and dreamed of attending the Gymnasium, a prestigious state-run high school. However, by the time he was old enough to apply, the school had stopped accepting Jews. 
  • Sensing the impending tragedy of the Holocaust, his family decided to flee Germany for United States in 1938, when Kissinger was 15 years old. 
  • On August 20, 1938, the Kissingers set sail for New York City by way of London. His family was extremely poor upon arrival in the United States. Kissinger immediately went to work in a shaving brush factory to supplement his family’s income. 
  • At the same time, Kissinger enrolled at New York’s George Washington High School. He learned English with remarkable speed and excelled in all of his classes. 

Henry Kissinger as Soldier in WW2

  • Although Henry Kissinger assimilated quickly into American culture, he never lost his pronounced German accent, due to childhood shyness that made him hesitant to speak.
  • Henry Kissinger graduated from high school in 1940 and continued on to the City College of New York, where he studied to become an accountant. 
  • In 1943, Kissinger became a naturalized American citizen and, soon after, he was drafted into the army to fight in World War II. 
  • Thus, just five years after he left, Kissinger found himself back in his homeland of Germany, fighting the very Nazi regime from which he had once fled. 
  • He served first as a rifleman in France and then as a G-2 intelligence officer in Germany  due to fluency in German and his intellect
  • Kissinger saw combat with the division, and volunteered for hazardous intelligence duties during the Battle of the Bulge.

Henry Kissinger Academic Life

  • Over the course of the war, Henry Kissinger decided that he wanted to become an academic with a focus on political history. 
  • In 1947, upon his return to the United States, he was admitted to Harvard University to complete his undergraduate coursework. 
  • Upon graduating summa cum laude in 1950, Kissinger decided to remain at Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. in the Department of Government. 
  • Kissinger married Ann Fleischer on February 6, 1949. They had two children, Elizabeth and David, and divorced in 1964. Later on March 30, 1974, he married Nancy Maginnes.
  • After receiving his doctorate in 1954, Kissinger accepted an offer to stay at Harvard as a member of the faculty in the Department of Government. 
  • Kissinger first achieved widespread fame in academic circles with his 1957 book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. Later he opposed President Dwight Eisenhower’s policy of holding out the threat of massive retaliation to ward off Soviet aggression. 
Henry Kissinger
Henry Kissinger
  • Instead, Kissinger proposed a “flexible” response model, arguing that a limited war fought with conventional forces and tactical nuclear weapons was, in fact, winnable. 
  • He served as a member of the Harvard faculty from 1954-69, earning tenure in 1959. However, Kissinger always kept one eye outside academia on policymaking in Washington, D.C. 

Henry Kissinger in Various Government Position

  • From 1961-68, he served as a special advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on matters of foreign policy. 
  • Then in 1969, Kissinger finally left Harvard when President Richard Nixon appointed him to serve as his National Security Advisor. 
  • As National Security Advisor from 1969-75, and then as Secretary of State from 1973-77, Kissinger would prove one of the most dominant, influential and controversial statesmen in American history. 

Role in Ending Vietnam War

  • A proponent of Realpolitik, Kissinger played a dominant role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. In that period, his policy led to a significant relaxation in US–Soviet tensions and played a crucial role in 1971 talks with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.
  • In office, and assisted by Kissinger, Nixon implemented a policy of Vietnamization that aimed to gradually withdraw U.S. troops.
  • Seeking to achieve “peace with honour,” Kissinger combined diplomatic initiatives and troop withdrawals with devastating bombing campaigns on North Vietnam.
  • Soon his action improved the American bargaining position and maintain American credibility with its international allies and enemies.
  • Along with North Vietnamese Politburo Member Le Duc Tho, Nobel committee Kissinger awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1973. He won award for his work in negotiating the ceasefires in the Paris Peace Accords.

Henry Kissinger Legacy

  • With his intellectual prowess and tough, skillful negotiating style, Kissinger ended the Vietnam War. He greatly improved American relations with its two primary Cold War enemies, China and the Soviet Union. 
  • Historian also associate Kissinger with controversial policies such as U.S. involvement in the 1973 Chilean military coup. Later he also supported US allies  Pakistan during the Bangladesh War despite the Pakistan led genocide. 
  • After leaving government, he formed Kissinger Associates, an international geopolitical consulting firm. Kissinger has written over one dozen books on diplomatic history and international relations.

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