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Part contemporary investigation and part historical inquiry, documentary follows the quest of one journalist in search of justice. The film focuses on Christopher Hitchens' charges against Henry Kissinger as a war criminal - allegations documented in Hitchens' book of the same title - based on his role in countries such as Cambodia, Chile, and Indonesia. Kissinger's story raises profound questions about American foreign policy and highlights a new era of human rights. Increasing evidence about one man's role in a long history of human rights abuses leads to a critical examination of American diplomacy through the lens of international standards of justice. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
This is an indictment. You'll have to read Kissinger's memoirs for the defense. I'm not planning on doing that myself, time constraints and other things to do being what they are.
In this 80-minute documentary, director Eugene Jarecki follows the intent of the book by Christopher Hitchens, which was to put Kissinger on trial before a world court with himself as prosecutor. By the way, note the slight, but perhaps significant difference in the title: the book is The Trial (singular) of Henry Kissinger. In a strange way the plural title of this documentary almost suggests The Struggles of Henry Kissinger, which would be irony number one.
I also thought it strange that Jarecki doesn't include Hitchens in the credits. I would say, one wonders why, but I really don't care.
What I care about here is:
First, the incredible irony of Kissinger being a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. But then one recalls that Yasser Arafat also won one of those. Maybe I should win the literary prize for writing this review.
Second, the bizarre irony of Kissinger being a German Jew with relatives who died in the concentration camps becoming a man who ends up regarding his fellow human beings with the same sort of cattle to the slaughter mentality that characterized the Nazis. I think Henry called it "realpolitik."
Third, the slippery irony of Kissinger working for Democrat Lyndon Johnson, liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller, and conservative Republican Richard Nixon, while having loyalty only to his own lust to power and his delight in exercising it.
Fourth, the comedic irony that now in the 21st century, decades after the fact, with Kissinger in his eighties, we get a call for a war crimes trial. Is this some kind of joke?
Fifth, the theoretical irony of realizing that it is Kissinger himself who believed that heads of state (and their top lieutenants) operate according to laws different than those imposed on private citizens because people in such elevated positions are often faced with only "a choice of evils," and so inevitably end up doing evil themselves.
Sixth, the media circus irony of Henry Kissinger being thought of as sexy and a Playgirl kind of centerfold because "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac," an image that delighted Kissinger who was quoted in the New York Times (Jan 19, 1971) as saying "Power is the great aphrodisiac."
Seventh, the judicial irony of Kissinger being put on trial for war crimes when it was his boss, the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, who had the ultimate responsibility for what happened in, for example, Cambodia.
Finally, it may be a kind of historical irony that it is George W. Bush who is most adamant that the US not give authority to a World Court that might try American government officials.
This is an easy documentary to view, done according to the "Sixty Minutes" formula. We are shown official documents with blacked out lines, archival footage, and interviews with some of the people who are still alive. There's Nixon's one time Chief of Staff Alexander Haig who sticks up for Kissinger (his old boss), but there is also the son of Chilean General Schneider who was assassinated in order to bring the horrific Pinochet to power and to protect American interests. And of course, the documentary reports that the principal indictee himself, Henry Kissinger, refused to be interviewed.
However I think the emphasis in any documentary that covers the material that this one covered should have been on our Cold War foreign policy itself (hardly original or unique to Kissinger), a policy that led the United States to commit and support the most amazing atrocities in the name of anti-communism, atrocities for which we are still paying the cost in world opinion, especially in the Middle East.
I should note that there's something wrong with the DVD in that it gives great close ups of the talking heads, but truncates their names and titles.
I also didn't care much about that.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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