A historian specializing in American foreign policy mines newly available archives to expose Henry Kissinger as a lying, self-serving, and incompetent presidential adviser who collaborated with Richard Nixon to allow the North Vietnamese victory against the American-backed South Vietnamese.
Although countless words have been published about the Vietnam War, Brigham (History and International Relations/Vassar Coll.; The United States and Iraq Since 1990: A Brief History with Documents, 2013, etc.) explains that his book is the first to use certain material from Kissinger’s papers housed at Yale University, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, and “South Vietnamese sources contained in the National Archives in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.” As Brigham evaluated the fresh material, he compared it to Kissinger’s publicly stated definition of American “success” in Vietnam. The touchstone of Kissinger’s definition could be stated as “peace with honor” before the U.S. military withdrew troops; he had hoped to achieve peace with honor tactically by waging “war for peace.” In section after section throughout the book, Brigham quotes from specific Kissinger documents and then comments on how and why Kissinger’s tactics failed. The evidence builds chronologically as each of the lengthy chapters explores how each failed tactic led Kissinger to double down on his lying while becomingly increasingly reckless with military lives and budgetary resources. One of the most compelling elements of the book is Brigham’s portrayal of Kissinger’s manipulation of an emotionally insecure Nixon. The president often responded by expressing doubts about Kissinger’s methods, but he did Kissinger’s bidding more often than not out of desperation to win over the American electorate during the 1972 election cycle. As the author methodically chronicles the turmoil inside the U.S. government, his research is especially illuminating about how Kissinger sabotaged the credibility of Secretary of State William Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird.
If readers accept Brigham’s evidence, which is considerable, the still-living Kissinger deserves to be disgraced.