UPDATE: Tonight was good.
After correcting a typo on my leaflet — yes, on each piece of the few hundred or so pieces of paper — I set up next to the entrance and started passing them out to people coming in to the library. It reminded me of my canvassing days except I was relieved to tell people that I wrote this rap myself. After a while I met Queena Bass, who has run for mayor multiple times since 1999 on a social justice platform. We exchanged leaflets.
Originally I thought I would be a lone weirdo forcing a piece of paper in the hands of frowning passersby but it turns out there was a loosely organized meet protest scheduled for tonight. I think dissenters tend to underestimate how many comrades they have. I went into this thinking, “Well I have to go, because otherwise that old toad Kissinger will live through another night in the warm blanket of the American political consensus.” Several of us must have felt the same way. All told, about a dozen of us ended up standing outside the library chanting (“Hey, Kissinger, what do you say? How many kids did you kill today?” “Kissinger, you can’t hide! We charge you with genocide!”) and holding signs. It was a pleasingly diverse group — two parents with their children, the father from Chile; a young woman wearing a skull mask and holding handcuffs; a guy rattling a rumba shaker of some sort, keeping the rhythm of our chants. One or two people who were on their way into the library stood outside with us for a little while.
Eventually a library security guard came up and asked us to climb down the stairs and protest on the sidewalk. I found my first reaction was to comply, which is embarrassing. But one woman, who I ran into at an anti-war protest outside city hall last Thursday, responded to the officer that we had every right to be standing there as this was a public place. He said something about just doing his job and backed off. Shortly thereafter I noticed a cop from the Civil Affairs unit approach and take up a spot by the front entrance, and then several other police officers. At one point I noticed a man in a suit approach the cops from inside. I overheard him tell the cops he was with “Mr. Kissinger’s entourage.” He asked each cop in a jovial tone whether or not they thought the Good Doctor was a war criminal and they made polite noises at him. They chatted for a while, Kissinger’s man occasionally tossing a “Can you believe these wackos?” look at the cops. I realized I’d tried to pass him a leaflet earlier in the night and he politely, if laughingly, declined to take it.
The protesters and the cops didn’t interact again until after we started to disperse and one police officer came down to talk to the same woman who refused to clear the stairs.
“We’re just out here making sure everything goes smoothly and you all were very peaceful,” the cop said. She was a breath quicker than me in making the requisite joke about Kissinger being the man you need to keep an eye on. The cop was lingering around and seemed to want to talk to us. I thought about how he’d been standing there an arm’s length from us for almost an hour, silent, as we hollered and pointed and confronted the crowd. He must have been planning this little speech the whole time. We were here tonight protesting someone we thought was a murderer, he understood, and the cops are here to make sure we do so peaceably. “But somebody’s going to get murdered in Philly tonight.” Where is the protest about that, he asked? People were protesting because of a murder in Ferguson, MO — why not in Philly? (It’s remarkable how Philly cops will concede things like that openly, especially when you consider that as of tonight, there have already been 191 murders committed in the city this year. And that’s down 37% from 2007. In 2012 there were 259 homicides at this point in September.)
I mention it not because it’s particularly interesting argument. Rather, it’s what you’d expect to hear from a fairly conservative-minded police officer and the woman who talked to him made the salient point that she didn’t need his assistance nor his permission to be exercising her right to assemble in a public place. (Demonstrating against Kissinger is not mutually exclusive from lamenting the horrible murder rate in Philly, one also wants to point out to the officer. And Michael Brown’s murder was made more outrageous by the fact that it was committed by a cop who will not go to jail for it.) But I bring it up because I think there was something about this little gathering that worked its way into the cop’s mind. He felt compelled to speak his piece after having listened to us disturb the peace. And isn’t that precisely what we were there to do? I happen to be writing a somewhat pessimistic piece about the People’s Climate March in New York that took place earlier this month and it was just refreshing to be a part of a much smaller affair and realize that, in its own small way, it worked. It pissed off Kissinger’s groupies and revved up his enemies and got a few people thinking about it who weren’t previously.
You can find the text of the leaflet I distributed below. But there’s one more relevant detail from this week that can’t go unmentioned. Over the weekend I heard about the death of Fred Branfman, a storied and accomplished anti-war activist. I only learned about him very recently, doing research for this leaflet in fact, while reading The Trial of Henry Kissinger. I’ll refer you to chapter three of that book (“Kissinger’s War Crimes in Indochina”), but here’s an excerpt to give you an impression of Branfman’s noble struggle:
“He was able to make a dramatic appearance on Capitol Hill on 22 April 1971, at a hearing held by Senator Edward Kennedy’s Senate Subcommittee on Refugees. His antagonist was the State Department’s envoy William Sullivan, a former ambassador to Laos. Branfman accused him in front of the cameras of helping to conceal evidence that Laotian society was being mutilated by ferocious aerial bombardment. … Ambassador Sullivan was so disturbed by these pictures, some of them taken in areas known to him, that his first reaction was to establish to his own satisfaction that the raids had occurred after he left his post in Vientiane.”
Respect. You can read a lovely essay Branfman wrote about Laos called “When I Saw Noam Chomsky Cry.”
ORIGINAL POST: Henry Kissinger is at the Free Library of Philadelphia tonight hawking his new book. Below is the text of a leaflet I wrote and plan to hand out to people attending the event.
DON’T LET HIM GET AWAY WITH IT AGAIN!
Tonight the Free Library of Philadelphia is hosting one of the most notorious war criminals in modern history. What you’ll read below is merely a glimpse of some of Henry Kissinger’s more egregious adventures; to research his career is to embark on a whirlwind tour of global criminality. It’s a catastrophe for international law that a man who has had in so many atrocities can walk down the street with impunity as a free man. But the fact that he is lauded as a statesman and deferred to as an academic is an insult to human dignity. For that reason I urge you to go into this event today and ask Henry Kissinger some of the questions he has been dodging for years. Don’t let him hide behind his prestige and power! You can be the voice of his countless victims in…
In December of 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor and waged a brutal campaign of violence on the civilian population. It is estimated that 150,000 to 200,000 civilians were murdered. This invasion was carried out and consolidated using weapons that were provided by the United States. The foreknowledge of this massacre and the unfaltering material support for the Suharto regime is nothing short of collusion to commit genocide. The day before the invasion was launched, Suharto met with Kissinger and President Ford. The transcript of the meeting has Ford assuring Suharto that “we understand the problem and intentions that you have” and “will not press you on the issue.” Kissinger then warns that “the use of U.S.-made arms could create problems … It depends on how we construe it.”
“What I saw was my own government very much involved in what was going on in East Timor. We were providing most of the weaponry, helicopters, logistical support, food, uniforms, ammunition – all the expendables that the Indonesians needed to conduct this war. You can be one hundred percent certain that Suharto was explicitly given the green light to do what he did.” –C. Phillip Liechty, Senior CIA officer in Indonesia
The United States began bombing Cambodia in March 1969 just months after President Nixon took office with Henry Kissinger as his national security advisor. Over the course of 14 months the U.S. ran 3600 bombing missions and dropped 110,000 pounds of explosives on this neutral country. The entire military operation was kept secret from Congress and the State Department; the bombers were rerouted into Cambodia mid-flight to keep the actual targets from appearing on the flight plans. Kissinger oversaw the details of this bombing campaign and micromanaged it to the extent that he personally selecting which villages would get attacked. When reports of this secret bombing campaign began to leak, Kissinger assembled a team to find out which staffers were talking to the press (This group would become known as the “Plumbers,” who were fatefully sent to break into the Watergate Hotel.) An estimated 150,000 Cambodian civilians died in the bombing campaign.
“The motivation for the secrecy is because it was illegal. That’s simple.” –Elizabeth Becker, New York Times
In 1970, Salvador Allende was democratically elected the president of Chile. The CIA immediately plotted to overthrow him, under direct supervision by Kissinger without the knowledge of the US embassy in Chile, nor the Departments of State or Defense. Kissinger’s contempt for democracy can be summed up in his own words: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people.” Kissinger ordered the removal of Gen. René Schneider, the head of the military who refused to participate in the coup. He was assassinated in October 1970. CIA officers testified at the Church committee that Kissinger and Alexander Haig was kept informed of all details surrounding the operation, even after 15 October when he claimed to have “turned off” the plot. After Schneider’s assassination, one of the killers was paid over $30,000. Allende was overthrown shortly thereafter and was killed during the coup. Kissinger denies any involvement.
“He’s a liar.” –Col. Paul Wimert, U.S. military attaché who worked as a liason between the CIA and Chilean coup plotters
THE UNITED STATES AND VIETNAM
Kissinger was assisting the Johnson administration during the Paris Peace talks of 1968 when he called Nixon’s campaign and offered them secret information. Nixon and Kissinger then conspired to undermine the negotiations by opening a secret back channel with South Vietnam. President Thieu pulled out of the talks a few days before the election being promised that if Nixon was elected president, his administration would be able to get them a better deal. FBI surveillance of Nixon’s campaign, ordered by Johnson when it became clear someone else was engaging in their own private negotiations, confirms their collusion to undermine the peace process. When the war finally ended, it was settled on terms nearly identical to the 1968 proposal. 31,000 U.S. soldiers died in the Vietnam War after the failed ‘68 peace treaty – and untold numbers of civilians.
“I thought it was a terrible travesty that he should be awarded a peace prize when in fact he was a war-maker, not a war-ender.” –Roger Morris, National Security Council staffer who resigned in protest after the 1970 Cambodian invasion
“Kissinger would not be recalled in history as a Bismarck, Metternick or Castlereagh but as an odious schlump who made war gladly.” –Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22
“That this man could operate at such a horrible level and not get exposed for year after year – how many people came out against him? It’s an embarrassment to my profession. I got to tell you, the dark side of Henry Kissinger is very dark.”
–Seymour Hersh, investigative journalist and author of The Price of Power
“There is now no reason why a warrant for the trial of Kissinger may not be issued, in any one of a number of jurisdictions, and why me may not be compelled to answer it.”
–Christopher Hitchens, author of The Trial of Henry Kissinger
“All revolutions are impossible until they happen. Then they become inevitable. One of the things that’s happened is that this movement has acquired an air of inevitability.”
–Michael Ligar, human rights lawyer