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Keeping Kissinger Out of Columbia's Classrooms

By David Johns and Suzanne Silverman

For the past several months Columbia University, represented by its President, has been negotiating with Henry Kissinger '50 the possibility of his appointment to a chair in the Department of Political Science. Since the appointment has moved recently from the realm of secrecy and rumor to the relative daylight (the light of openness at Columbia is pretty dim), opposition in the university community has taken firm root and grown.

The objections to the appointment are several and raise many questions: what is the role of the university? Can there be a place for a man who has both directed and participated in the murder of hundreds of thousands, violated international law and the U.S. constitution on countless occasions and on many occasions expressed his moral vacuousness? In considering the Kissinger appointment, the university administration has violated usual departmental procedures; is this an indication of the sort of effect Kissinger will have on an institution already rather distant from institution already rather distant from democracy in its operation? These are issues which are important not just to Columbia, but to all universities. It is a national issue and an issue that concerns all people concerned with justice.

If the 1960s have any lesson for us, it is that the university serves the state and that academic freedom, when raised by them, is merely an attempt to obfuscate the issues. In any event, academic freedom is a myth. The universities are free and open--the source of their funds, the social and ecnomic position of the trustees, and the manner in which they are run, all indicate that the university is responsive to the needs and requirements of the powers that be in Washington and Wall Street. The opening of former Columbia President Grayson Kirk's files in 1968 confirmed this. The products of the university all suggest anything but a broad faculty orientation. There is no shortage of professors who support Kissinger's general position; indeed, they form the overwhelming preponderance of professors. Many of them work closely with the government. The university, being tied so closely by money, direction and participation, not surprisingly reflects the basic power relationships of the larger society. As the university is presently constituted, we must admit that in some instance Kissinger would fit quite nicely--as would Rusk, Rostow, and others. But we do not acquiesce to the present state of the university or society. In our position as students, it is imperative that we struggle to make the university a truly free and open place, and not a factory for grinding out submissive policy advisors, responsive only to the needs of power. We want a free, open university that is responsive to the needs of the great bulk of the community, and in this sense our struggle is linked to the larger social condition. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that we resist the appointment of Kissinger in the strongest possible way, for he is a symbol as well as a practitioner of what the university should stand against. Instead, Kissinger's personal contempt for academic freedom, as demonstrated by his actions, not his words, makes him unfit.

The university wants Kissinger in order that he might provide a magnet for students and money, and enhance the prestige of the institution. Noam Chomsky, an MIT professor, has suggested that appointment to a Chari of Death might be appropriate; at least the university could then be considered honest in its position. But a Chair in International Relations would only serve to condone his previous behavior and further erode the respect for human life, human rights, and human growth that is already in such short supply.

Just what previous activity would such an appointment condone? Can it be argued that previous behavior is even germane to the hiring of Kissinger? President McGill has stated the university's position that those objecting to the appointment have applied extraordinary moral considerations and that "standards of review must be the same for all faculty members." The New York Times in an editorial has argued that no test beyond simple allegiance to country should be required. We do not feel that we are applying extraordinary standards. Judgments as to character are made as a matter of course in the appointment procedure. What makes the Kissinger case seem extraordinary are not special standards, but rather his extraordinary conduct--and we are speaking of actions, not his viewpoint--that violated even the most minimally acceptable standards of behavior for teaching. One does not normally need to inquire how much blood is on the hands of a prospective professor, or if there is such blood. Allegiance to the country, i.e. to the government of the United States without regard to law, both constitutional and international, was judged at Nuremburg to be no excuse for certain kinds of behavior. Kissinger made policy, he was in a position to choose, to weigh the factors of law, morality, and a commitment to values of human life and freedom from oppression. He chose, he acted; and he did so in such a way as to betray fundamental universal principles of law, of respect for life and regard for the right of people to determine their own destiny.

The list of violations, betrayals and criminal acts is long, and we can only cite a few instances here. Surely Kissinger's actions as regards American intervention in the Viet Nam War must rank among his worst crimes. While he inherited rather than initiated American involvement, he continued to prosecute it for five long and bloody years; while Kissinger talked of peace, the war was widened to Cambodia and Laos. The heaviest and most destructive bombing of the war occurred while Kissinger talked peace. Some of the largest and most destructive land operations involving the heaviest casualties to civilians occurred after 1968, while Kissinger talked peace. In violation of international law and treaties to which the U.S. is a party, as well as any principles of humanism, Kissinger pursued a scorched earth policy, making large areas of Vietnam unsuitable for life any form, including cultivation. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were brutally removed from their land and placed in camps; 2 million Cambodians were made refugees; weapons of enormous and indiscriminate destruction were used. This indiscriminate terror went on while Kissinger talked peace.

To compound these crimes, Kissinger lied to both the American people and the United States Congress. Many of these operations were in violation of the expressed will of Congress; they were kept secret. Prior to the widening of the war into Cambodia, the Kissinger-Nixon administration pursued a policy of heavy bombardment of supposed Communist base areas in Cambodia and Laos. When international press reports began to filter in, Kissinger lied in response to questions. When news of the bombing was finally leaked by persons on the National Security Council staff, Kissinger responded by tapping the phones of several staff members and reporters. Kissinger denied that he initiated such action, merely approving the taps. John Mitchell and FBI officials state that Kissinger was in control of the taps. Among men of such sterling character it is indeed difficult to determine who is telling the truth. Perhaps a civil law suit filed by wiretap victims will soon serve to clarify some of these matters.

During the Paris peace talks, Kissinger again lied to the American people and to Congress. In October, just prior to the November elections in which peace was a central issue, Kissinger announced that "peace was at hand." Nixon won a mandate, despite growing concern over Watergate, in large part over foreign maneuvers such as this. Over Christmas, Kissinger played a central role in the decision to bomb Hanoi. More lives were lost; yet more of Vietnam was laid waste. When the accords were finally signed, Kissinger again lied, stating categorically that there were no secret protocols or understandings. He swore the same before Congress. Since that time a number of secret protocols have come to light, including a pledge to reintervene. A pledge that was not acted upon, but a pledge similar to others involving the U.S. in illegal operations and improper commitments.

The entire process of Vietnamization was a lie. It was not an attempt to wind down the war--as we have seen, its ferocity increased. Rather, as Elsworth Bunker has stated, it was a policy aimed at "chaning the color of the corpses." It was not the deaths that concerned Kissinger, but rather the death of Americans and the division it created in America. By substituting dead Vietnamese for dead Americans, he hoped to be able to continue the war with political impunity. Such racism must be condemned.

Incursions into Laos and Cambodia were kept secret; when rumors started they were denied; finally, when it could be hidden no longer, it was admitted to the American people. The American people were the only ones who were kept in the dark. Those being attacked knew; the Russians and Chinese knew; it was the American people and the Congress who did not know.

In other areas Kissinger was able to leave his mark as a wielder of American power. In Latin American, Kissinger presided over the American group that pursued destabilization of the Allende regime. This destabilization, along with efforts to prevent Allende from taking power both before and after he was elected, enabled the coup of 1973 to take place--a coup which resulted in the murder of hundreds including the Chilean President, and the torture and imprisonment of thousands. In dealing with the crimes of this regime, Kissinger pleads non-intervention; but it was American intervention that helped to create these conditions. Kissinger was nearly cited for contempt of Congress by the House Intelligence Committee for refusing to answer questions and provide information. Is this a man who doesn't know and wasn't involved?

There are other problems with the Kissinger appointment that must be addressed. These are more particularly university issues and involve procedural questions. The negotiations with Kissinger have been handled entirely by the president's office in an attempt to minimize opposition and without attention to clearly established guidelines for faculty and student review of all appointments. These violations would seem to indicate that the university administration thinks it has good reason to pursue the appointment in a secret way--that there is something about its behavior that would not stand the light of day. A similar mentality has prevailed in a recent national administration.

Also of importance is the question of Kissinger's capacity to fulfill full professorial duties, given his outside commitments. It seems clear that the administration wants Kissinger as an ornament to draw money, students, and reputation, and is not concerned with his performance. This violation of procedure must be questioned, no matter who the prospective candidate is.

These later two issues pale somewhat compared to the other objections, but they are mentioned for two reasons. They highlight the fact that the appointment in every respect and in every sense is improper and ill considered. Secondly, the procedures established are important because they represent one of the few concessions to democracy in the university, which allows student and faculty input into the appointments process. In short they are tools in our struggle to open up the university. It is clear from the Kissinger appointment that the concerns of the university administration are not for a free and open university, nor for academic freedom. The students of the committee opposed to the appointment of Kissinger will not support an attempt to honor Henry Kissinger with an endowed Chair of Political Science. We are asked to judge Henry Kissinger and we have. We find him unfit to hold an appointment at Columbia.

David Johns and Suzanne Silverman are students at Columbia and members of Graduate Political Science Students Opposed to the Appointment of Kissinger.

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