The Trials of Henry Kissinger
Studio: First Run Features
Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 80 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 enhanced widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
Release Date: NOW
To the scholars and the keeners, I apologize in advance for any incorrect information I’ve provided below. This is my summary on Kissinger based on the information presented to me from the filmmakers of The Trials of Henry Kissinger.
Henry Kissinger – a man whose power pushed him to celebrity status made him the most famous American diplomat in history. To some he was a brilliant man, a good companion, and claimed by President Nixon to be one of the few major scholars in America. To others Kissinger was a war criminal, a liar, and responsible for kidnapping and murder. What are we to make of these accusations? Are we to believe that he made crimes against humanity? People will fall on either side. While The Trials of Henry Kissinger isn’t an assault on the man, this documentary does present material to make one side against him.
The film opens up with the arrest of Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet. He was arrested in London under the request of Spain for killings and torture of Spanish people in Chile. Human rights activists believed that his arrest was a triumph for all people against crimes against humanity. It is said that this arrest would have caused Kissinger to become concerned considering that people perceived him in playing a major role of sending this dictator to power.
People like author Christopher Hitchens, who wrote the book “The Trial of Henry Kissinger” in early 2001, accused Kissinger for war crimes and asks for a full legal enquiry. Kissinger’s aids say that people like Hitchens also accuse Mother Theresa and say the Holocaust never happened, but yet never pressed charges for the ‘false’ accusations. If charges were laid closure on the subject would be needed thus prompting a search into Kissinger’s background.
But Kissinger’s background is filled with impressive accomplishments: he was a global strategist who, during the cold war, found a balance between superpowers China and Russia, and helped retain a roll in the world for the United States after the failure of the Vietnam war. He has even received the Nobel Peace Prize for the work he has done.
Kissinger was a Jew who grew up in Germany during the Second World War. Him and his family moved to the United States in 1938 where he grew up only to go back and help fight the Germans in 1944 for the USA. When the war was over he returned to his home town and found all was burned to the ground. With an image like this before him it could do one of two things: make him against war and all it stood for because of the brutality involved, or with this instance, as he saw it, that for such change to happen required power and have a desire to obtain it also. …and now it was power that Kissinger was out to seek.
Upon returning home Kissinger enrolled in Harvard University and became fascinated with politics. Through his studies and his activism in politics Kissinger became an advisor to the Johnson administration during the Vietnam War where he had access to privileged information. But with the next presidential election coming up, Kissinger took both sides of the camp into his grasp in hopes of whoever came into power he would be assured a position within government. Thus the privileged information Kissinger received was shared with the Nixon camp to undercut Johnson during the Paris Peace Talks, and information from Nixon’s side was passed to Johnson’s. The Peace Talks ultimately failed because Nixon apparently told South Vietnam to hold off signing, and thus Nixon just made it to power and so would Kissinger.
Kissinger eventually chaired many committees and saw what was going on internally. He ended up selecting his own staff for the national Security Council and became the liaison with the pentagon and formed military policy. Kissinger’s concern was for America not to look weak, and the best way to back out of a problem was, in Vietnam’s case, to use force. This ‘peace with honor’ would form “The Madman Theory” and would eventually lead to the green light to bomb the war-neutral Cambodia that was occupied by North Vietnamese military groups and in the process have thousands of civilians killed. This secret bombing Kissinger ordered was to be concealed from military records. All of this was accomplished as he was distracting the public with his swinging personal life to cover up his political life, and playing off Nixon’s staff in hopes of achieving a higher position within. Nixon would eventually turn to Kissinger for strategy.
The film continues to charge Kissinger with his ordering of a few more brutal bombings in North Vietnam during Christmas 1972 in order to make public relations with South Vietnam. In 1973 he signed a peace Accord with North that was similar to that Johnson would have done in 1968. Many people mumble charges against Kissinger for the senseless deaths of civilians and soldiers that could have been avoided if he hadn’t given information to Nixon that prevented the finalization of the Paris Peace Talks. Yet he authorized the bombing until 1975 and people now say that no one authorized war in Cambodia. The side effect of those bombings raised a radical group there that killed off three million Cambodians.
Indonesia was another area where Kissinger meddled because he feared there was a communist threat that would throw off the balance of world power, as they wanted to separate from Portugal. Kissinger had authorized military weapons to be supplied to Indonesians in the fight for East Timor.
Lastly, to wrap up the film’s beginning, the discussion of Kissinger’s involvement with Chile is brought up again. Apparently American corporations such as Pepsi and IT&T had stations in Chile and feared that the growing of a certain left-wing movement would destabilize the country and cause problems for the corporations. They approached Kissinger to do something about the communization of Chile under Allende who won the popular vote. The CIA did an investigation and said that there was no threat under his rule – but Kissinger insisted he wouldn’t allow another country fall under communism because of the irresponsibility of the people. So Nixon, Kissinger, and Richard Helms of the CIA met in the Oval office and revealed a plan to prevent Allende from continuing power which required no involvement with the embassy and granted ten million dollars or more if necessary. “Drastic actions were needed to shock Chileans.”
With known murderers to do the dirty work, a kidnap was planned with a large financial award and ultimately the man was murdered. Kissinger said there was no plot ever involved, and after areas of Chile were bombed a dictator rose who performed crimes against humanity. The victim’s family would later sue Kissinger on September 11th, 2001, but the news would be overshadowed by other events of that day. Today he is still a successful businessman whose business helps other businesses around the world.
So after viewing this film would you be convinced that this program is not biased against Kissinger? I wasn’t, and it was convincing of the charges. I am not familiar with the man but I do find the political life fascinating and how power can corrupt individuals. The facts presented above were based on my interpretation of this well-done and interesting documentary. So is Kissinger admirable for the work he has done in the eye of the public or is he the manipulative and secretive man others make him out to be? You be the judge while you watch this film.
Video Quality? /
As a documentary I expected for many of the scenes to look pretty rough since there is a lot of archival footage. The transfer is clean as a whistle with unnoticeable compression artifacts or noise. The newly produced footage of interviews are sharp with neutral fleshtones. Infrequently it can look a little grainy but overall the image is quite satisfying. All footage – new and old – are presented in 1.78:1 enhanced widescreen.
Audio Quality? /
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack is also satisfying. Its frequency response is nicely balanced with the music score which is recorded at a low volume. Dialogue dominates this film, which is expected but never sounds too forward. At times voices are a little distorted. I enjoyed the music soundtrack in the background that I found myself listening to it over and over on the ‘main menu’ screen. It has that slow ‘late night sound’ if you know what I mean.
Special Features? /
There are a few extras on this disc. First you get to enjoy the commentary from both Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki who are the makers of this film. There are also two featurettes: interview with directors (4m23s) which give insight on how the movie could not be funded in the USA and how they looked to the BBC. This is presented in 1.78:1 enhanced widescreen, although some original 4:3 is stretched.
Next is a short five minute Sundance After Effect featurette that explains people’s reactions after they saw the film in theatres. You will also get to see thirteen photos of Kissinger in the photo gallery, check up on some related reading with a link to declassified documents and the film’s website. Also included is a theatrical trailer of this film (in 1.78:1 non-enhanced) plus a trailer gallery of other First Run features.
Since the only TV I ever watch are channels like History or Discovery, I found this documentary to be very informative. I wouldn’t use this film to formulate your final opinion on Kissinger because there is always that slant against him. On might suggest the perceived slant is there because evidence supports it, but still more research would be necessary before any final convictions are laid. Because of a signed agreement, we can always find out more about his administration twenty-five years after the fact, or wait for five years after his death – whichever comes first.