Immortality is impeccable moral character.
To borrow from Pericles, to famous men and women all the earth is a sepulcher; and their virtues are testified to not only by their epitaphs but by an unwritten imprint of the mind, which more than any monument or obelisk remains with everyone forever.
Henry Kissinger is no immortal. He will fade into obscurity without leaving footprints in the sands of time. At key points in his ego-driven career, he was confronted with a choice between power and moral principle. He chose power, and became a moral dwarf.
Imagine Kissinger conversing with Shakespeare's equally designing Lady Macbeth. To disarm Macbeth against dishonoring his pledge to murder King Duncan to ascend the Scottish throne, Lady Macbeth scolds, "I have given suck, and know How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have pluck'd my nipple from the boneless gums, And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this."
Kissinger would have cold-bloodedly comforted: "Dashing the baby's brains out is not a Scottish concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern."
That Kissinger is devoid of moral scruple or noble character is confirmed by a recently released Oval Office tape recording his volunteered advice to then President Richard M. Nixon regarding the free emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel to escape persecution: "And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern." None of John Donne's sentiment, "Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee."
Mr. Kissinger fled Nazi Germany for the United States on the brink of the Holocaust. If he and his family had been turned away like the hapless Jews on the St. Louis, Kissinger might have perished in a gas chamber. Amazing how quickly power corrupts the soul and dims memory.
President Nixon was notoriously anti-Semitic. He pontificated to his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman: "The Jews are irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards... [Washington] is full of Jews" and "most Jews are disloyal...But, Bob, generally speaking you can't trust the bastards. They turn on you."
Kissinger had no quarrel with Nixon's racism. In a 2005 interview on MSNBC, he denied his political benefactor was anti-Semitic, euphemistically characterizing the bigotry as "sort of standard phrases." But the phrases were indistinguishable from the Blood Libel or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion routinely employed to justify pogroms or the Holocaust.
As President Nixon's National Security Adviser, Kissinger was complicit in the illegal secret bombing of Cambodia. He insisted that the FBI continue the two-month wiretapping of suspected leakers of the illegal Cambodian misadventure to enable the targets to establish a "pattern of innocence." Kissinger defended the United States intervention in Chile to overthrow President Salvador Allende with an arrogance more to be marveled at than imitated: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people...."
Mr. Kissinger never quarreled with President Nixon's chilling creed, "If the President does it, it's legal," which probably caused Sir Thomas More to stir in his grave.
Kissinger's moral emptiness and craving for power would have made him a poor candidate to support Socrates against the Athenian jury, the American Revolution, the abolition of slavery, or the women's franchise campaign launched at Seneca Falls in 1848. He was inaudible during the heroic Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He has sneered at Edmund Burke's admonition: "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
Kissinger might insist that he is indispensable. But graveyards are filled with indispensable men and women.
True greatness extracts the better angels of our nature. George Washington scorned a crown coveted by Lady Macbeth in favor of a Republic. Abraham Lincoln counseled charity for all and malice towards none. Martin Luther King, Jr. died in advancing a color-blind society. Socrates chose the hemlock over intellectual or moral vassalage.
All Kissinger can muster over putative gas chambers for Jews in the Soviet Union is that the genocide might raise a humanitarian concern.
Kissinger's has childishly sermonized, "Power is the great aphrodisiac," more a projection of himself than a universal truth. Is that puerility a precept for raising children or inspiring adults?
There may be better ways to embolden the brutish reptiles of our nature, but if there are, they do not readily come to mind.