Henry Alfred Kissinger, who served as Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, seemed to be the invisible president during those eight years. Foreign and domestic leaders sought him for guidance and advice or blamed him for the American policy failures.
Born on May 23, 1923, in the Bavarian city of Fuerth, he was the second son of Paula (Stern) and Louis Kissinger. The elder Kissinger was a school teacher and after Hitler's rise to power, the family immigrated to London in 1938. After a short stay, they moved to Washington Heights in New York City. Kissinger attended high school at night and he worked in a shaving brush factory during the day. While attending City College of New York, in 1943, he was drafted into the Army and became a German interpreter for the 970th Counter-intelligence Corps. When Germany surrendered in May 1945, Kissinger held various positions in the military government.
After his discharge, he went to Harvard, where he earned his B.A. Degree SUMMA CUM LAUDE in 1950. He then went on to earn his M.A. and his Ph.D. by 1954. He used his doctoral thesis as a basis for his first book, A World Restored: Castlereagh, Metternich and the Problems of Peace (Boston, 1957), where he saw history as a struggle between revolutionary and conservative forces.
By 1962, he became a professor at Harvard University and he associated himself with the Council on Foreign Relations and with Governor Nelson Rockerfeller. He wrote a book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (New York, 1957), in which he took the position that America's survival and victory depended not only on its strength, but also on its ability to recognize and fight aggression in all of its forms. The publication of this book established his reputation.
When Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, Kissinger was brought into the administration, later to become Secretary of State. During the presidencies of Nixon and Ford, he emerged as a very powerful man. Kissinger initiated shuttle diplomacy, played a major role in negotiating the Middle East peace treaty, and in negotiating a Vietnam peace treaty after many ups and downs in the fighting. He initiated detente with the Russians and established relations with China.
Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1973. He shared this award with Le Duc Tho, a North Vietnamese peace negotiator. Henry Alfred Kissinger has always been the target of political criticism for he had the courage to follow-up on what he thought was the best course to take at the given time. Time will place Henry Alfred Kissinger in his proper place in American history.