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Kissinger Dies at 100, Sparks Vicious Debate

Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, has passed away at 100 years of age. His death on November 29th ushered in the usual response- official tributes from heads of state and loving memorials from friends and family. Yet in this case, Kissinger's passing has incited more than just a few words of mourning. A wave of online controversy has swallowed the internet in the wake of his death, spurring nasty sentiments from his passionate detractors around the world. All of this swirling public discussion is a sign that in the internet age, little is sacred, and legacies are up for debate. So what does this mean for Kissinger's memory, and the legacies of other leaders worldwide? From a scathing Rolling Stone article to hundreds of memes celebrating his death, the end of Kissinger's life may mark a similar conclusion to an era of uncontested respect for public figures. 

Most famous for his role as Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977, Kissinger has long been revered by politicians on both sides of the aisle as an efficient strategist. His storied career spans the length of multiple international conflicts, most notably the Vietnam War; he even received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to negotiate its end. But his awarding was hugely controversial at the time, leading to the resignation of two Nobel panelists. Despite his work to secure peace in the region as well as his diplomatic endeavors in China, Kissinger was hotly criticized for authorizing the bombing of Cambodia, which had horrific consequences for its citizens. According to the Washington Post, approximately 500,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the country during Kissinger's reign, which led to the deaths of around 150,000 people. This violence was kept secret from the American public for years; now that it is freely accessible on the internet, the bombing has drawn more widespread criticism than ever before. 

Cambodia and Vietnam were not the only areas of the world in Kissinger's involvement. He also pursued U.S. interests in South America, especially in Chile and Argentina. Collaborating with then-president Nixon, his administration played a key role in overthrowing the democratically elected governments of both countries, leading to an era of autocratic rule and unspeakable violence. According to the Guardian, he continued to support the ensuing dictatorships through "Operation Condor, which linked the military regimes in an intelligence-sharing network to hunt down leftwing dissidents". Between his meddling in South American affairs and his oversight in Cambodia, it seems that Kissinger's influence on the world cannot be overstated. And in death, his dogged pursuit of Western interests has been thrust into the spotlight for a contemporary audience to interpret.

While his political career is certainly objectionable in the eyes of many, the diplomat received a plethora of support from his allies and friends upon his passing. In an article from The Associated Press, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message to Kissinger's late wife calling him "a wise and far-sighted statesman" and went on to praise his achievements in U.S.-Russian relations. The secretary also received words of sympathy from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Counsel spokesman John Kirby. His legacy even touched the world of sports; the iconic baseball team the New York Yankees issued a statement on his death, saying, "The Yankees are profoundly saddened by the passing... he will be deeply missed." 

At the same time, the late secretary was lambasted by countless internet users and public figures. An infamous X account dubbed "Is Henry Kissinger Dead Yet" may be evidence in itself of his divisive legacy; its announcement of his passing received nearly 450,000 likes and 130,000 reposts. Articles such as this Rolling Stone piece take a decidedly negative stance on his life, even subtitling the work with the words "Good Riddance". As his name went viral across the internet, a barrage of hatred and mockery erupted from platforms like X, Instagram, and Facebook, with users often touching upon his most reproachable decisions and unflattering soundbites. A quote from the late television star Anthony Bourdain began to resurface online, in which he said, "Once you've been to Cambodia, you'll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands...". While many controversial figures have died in recent years, Kissinger has unleashed an unprecedented level of backlash. All of this derision is nothing if not a sign of the times; what once might have been an uneventful death notice is now a litmus test of public opinion. And those opinions are often unforgiving. 

It seems that this 100-year-old ghost of an American era will be remembered exactly as he was- a deeply controversial hand in the events of the 20th century. Kissinger's death has shed new light on both the peace he achieved and the violence he helped to engineer. Regardless of his moral character, the outcry upon his death is a fascinating study of our current landscape. His passing signals the end of an era of unilateral support for American foreign policy. For better or for worse, the public has unlimited access to declassified information, and it might be changing the tide of how the next generation views its government. It may just be that we are beginning to sour to the underbelly of world history, and those who sanctioned its darkest moments. 


Edited by: Victoria Muzio




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