A necessarily political review by Glenn Erickson
The Trials of Henry Kissinger is a highly charged political docu using the same title and
some of the same reasoning from Christopher Hitchens' accusatory book. It has focus, it's
scrupulously annotated with actual transcripts and key-source interviews, and makes a strong
case for indicting Henry Kissinger as a war criminal under the same statutes used to
convict despots and mass murderers in other countries.
The docu has at its basis the idea that being American and powerful does not entitle one to play
at war and overthrow governments overseas. Writer Alex Gibney makes a big issue of the fact that
Americans are enthusiastic about the idea of world courts and world justice, but only if America
and its leaders are exempt. This is the real conflict between the US and the UN.
Viewers with the firm belief that America is the exception because it is always right, or
because it has a
responsibility to defend the world's interests no matter what, should watch this show with open
eyes. Unless one is an ideologue believing that self-interest justifies anything, this film is a key
starting point to begin a questioning of American foreign policy.
The thesis 'indicts' Kissinger for using secrecy and lies to maintain his influence and power. Everything
is spelled out, and proven through transcripts and testimony from people on his own
State Department team.
In 1968, Kissinger purposely quashed a Johnson cease-fire agreement in Paris for the purpose
of insuring Nixon's re-election, and to earn himself a high un-elected office.
When the Vietnam War ended seven years later, the truce terms were almost identical, only tens of
thousands more American had died, and hundreds of thousands more Vietnamese and Cambodians. The
destabilization of Cambodia led directly to the rise of the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge and millions
more dead. All because Nixon wanted to clinch the Presidency.
Kissinger promoted the idea of secretly invading and bombing Cambodia, helping Nixon expand the
War into a neutral country and exceeding the authority of the Executive branch. Kissinger promoted
mass bombings to make minor bargaining points, and to calm the nerves of America's
puppet leader of South Vietnam.
With Vietnam lost, Kissinger and Gerald Ford covertly armed and encouraged Indonesia to overrun
East Timor. The invasion became another mass slaughter of civilians. Kissinger is on film in
repeated denial of any involvement, but the paper record shows him managing the affair from afar
and trying to maintain secrecy.
Kissinger's most ugly maneuver was the direction of the attempted coups against Salvador Allende in
Chile. Documents show him personally arranging a hit on a loyalist General and concealing
US involvement, in the style of Al Capone. Once again, overthrowing an elected
government is okay if it's in the interest of keeping another Marxist state out of the Western
Hemisphere. The docu uses news film and more documents to show that Chile was overthrown so that
Nixon would retain the money backing of big corporations like AT&T. To stay in office, Nixon and
Kissinger sanctioned and supplied the Pinochet government, which murdered and tortured thousands.
Kissinger and Nixon went on to cement a three-way Cold-War stalemate that was actually a model of
diplomacy, and lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Critics of The Trials of Henry
Kissinger can use the argument that fighting a cold war is messy, and we were lucky to have
leaders that knew they had to use secrecy to get the job done, as 'the people' would never have
understood. But the docu establishes that Nixon and Kissinger weren't idealistic statesmen, but power-hungry
opportunists who broke laws and lived behind a curtain of lies. Henry was an 'advisor,' but
instituted his policies as would an autocrat. Close associates of Kissinger tended to resign when
he chose to handle State Department business alone and in secret. Close associates of Nixon
tended to be scapegoated and sent to prison.
The show uses mocking material very sparingly, as when we see John Belushi imitate Kissinger on
Saturday Night Live to illustrate the jarring fact that Kissinger was given the Nobel
Peace Prize in 1973, and then continued keeping the war going for two more years. We mostly get
prime interviews and filmed speeches. Kissinger condemns
himself out of his own mouth time and again. Alexander Haig has a lot of screen time, and seems
a not-very-bright ideologue. He calls author Hitchens a 'sucker of sewer pipes.' With nobody to
put him on the spot, Christopher
Hitchens comes across very smoothly - the show advocates his positions, after all. Verification of
Hitchens' claims are nicely presented through interviews with people like Anna Chennault, a woman
whose job it was to take the secret messages from Kissinger to the President of South Vietnam and
so undermine the 1968 Vietnam peace effort in Paris.
The Trials of Henry Kissinger was made by sane hands, that wisely don't extend their documented
lessons of into wholesale condemnation of America or its policies. It's not difficult to
connect the dots, however. At one point Kissinger delivers a calm on-camera rationalization that
national executives are above morality and the law. It's all we need to understand why America
is running amok today, alienating her allies and creating new legions of enemies sworn to destroy us.
First Run Features' The Trials of Henry Kissinger is handsomely presented with anamorphic
enhancement. There's some evidence of less-than-top notch encoding, but most of the images look
very good. Many file photos, newsreels and found video footage of course have flaws. The sound
The extras include an audio commentary where the filmmakers appear both sane and responsible.
There's an on-camera interview with the filmmakers as well, a piece on the film's reception
at Sundance, and an original trailer.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Trials of Henry Kissinger rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Very Good
Supplements: Commentary, Interview with filmmakers, Sundance reaction, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 1, 2003
The movie shows us Kissinger's
controversial 1967 book about atomic weapons and foreign policy, where he advocated limited nuclear
wars. But we aren't told if he was the direct model for either Kubrick's Dr. Stranglove, or Burdick and
Wheeler's Dr. Groteschele of Fail-Safe.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson