The world bid farewell to Henry Kissinger this week, a visionary statesman who shaped global diplomacy with his profound insights and strategic acumen.

Even if it was never the life plan of Kissinger, he became one of the most recognised personalities within the international forum of the 20th century. 

Kissinger died on Wednesday at his home in Connecticut. 

Henry Kissinger’s legacy

This innate diplomat not only served his country but also the rest of the world with his involvement in historic moments such as the opening of Sino-American bilateral relations in the 1970s, his engagement in what became known as shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East to end the Yom Kippur War, his collaboration with the arms control talks between the Soviet Union and the USA, and his participation in the Paris Peace accords that ended the involvement of American troops in the Vietnam War. 

Kissinger served during the Nixon and Ford administrations, holding positions as both Secretary of State and national security advisor. 

As a proponent of realpolitik, he played a pivotal role in US foreign policy for almost a decade. Nevertheless, the impact of his actions still has consequences in today’s world. 

The recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize did not attend the award ceremony, donated its proceeds to charity, and eventually offered to return the medal after certain events that tainted the honouring exercise. 

A controversial life

Many see this centennial man as one controversial personality. Examples include his alleged intervention in the Chilean coup 50 years ago, his remarks against Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (which he later regretted), his own discomfort about his handling of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and the way he was seen by patronising the actions of Suharto against Timor Leste in Southeast Asia and in Africa with Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. 

His longstanding relationship was marred at some point by an interview given by Kissinger to journalist Oriana Fallaci. Nevertheless, he remained faithful to the disgraced president during the critical days of the Watergate crisis and is considered the strength that kept said administration on its feet until its last days. 

End of an era

The question remains: in the context of contemporary political correctness, how should we assess a man who did so much good and some harm at the same time? 

Kissinger’s legacy to international diplomacy will remain undisputed. As a young Jewish boy, he fled Germany with his family before the last Great War, later becoming an American citizen. However, he ultimately fell victim to the pitfalls of fame and its impact on human traits. Beyond the dark side of his complicated political spectrum, this intellectual man will always be remembered by generations to come for his contribution to world peace.

Henry Kissinger talks at a Citi Foundation lecture in New York City in 2013. Image: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy University of Michigan / Flickr.