This April, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger will headline the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program’s Fifth Annual Disinvitation Dinner. The Dinner is largely a symbolic affair, representing a recommitment to the Buckley Program’s stated values of free speech and intellectual diversity. But by honoring Kissinger, a man who was instrumental in crushing those very same values throughout Latin America and South Asia, the Buckley Program has demonstrated that its leadership has no grasp of these ideals or what they actually mean. Unable to recognize this pathetic irony, the Buckley Program’s leaders have revealed themselves as complete and utter hypocrites.
Established in 2015, the Buckley Program’s Disinvitation Dinner provides platforms to controversial speakers who have been protested or disinvited for their views. It’s a countermeasure to the fabled epidemic of censorship that has supposedly infected our nation’s campuses. Previous guests have included the likes of Charles Murray, a political scientist infamous for his “work” on race and IQ, and George Will, a conservative columnist who has been protested for his statements on sexual assault. The nature of the dinner itself is somewhat reactionary and troll-esque, as much about “owning the libs” as it is about expanding political discourse.
Kissinger, however, differs from previous guests in a rather significant way. Although both Murray and Will possess questionable beliefs and policy stances, it would be absurd to label either of them as a war criminal. We cannot say the same of Kissinger.
A devoted practitioner of Realpolitik, Kissinger eschewed all ethical considerations when crafting foreign policy under Nixon and Ford, instead concerning himself solely with the pursuit of American material interests. His ideology and strategic decisions can thus most accurately be described as diplomatic psychopathy. The list of his crimes is long, so I’ll only include a few highlights for the sake of brevity.
First, in 1971, Kissinger chose to maintain American support of West Pakistan, even as its military engaged in the blatant genocide of thousands of Bengalis; all the while, horrified American diplomats voiced their dissent. Next, in the mid-’70s, Kissinger greenlit the Argentinian military junta’s use of death squads to hunt down political dissidents, resulting in unspeakable crimes against humanity and the deaths of countless innocent students, journalists, artists and activists. And finally, after remaining complicit in the overthrow of democratically elected Chilean president Salvador Allende in 1973, Kissinger oversaw support of the subsequent president, bloodthirsty dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Now this isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be any type of intellectual engagement with Kissinger’s policy decisions and their political ramifications. On the contrary, I think conversations about the legacies of American imperialism are of the utmost importance.
I simply believe that the individuals one chooses to venerate are a reflection of their character. By inviting Kissinger, who is reviled for the systematic stamping out of life and liberty he has helped orchestrate, the Buckley Program is tacitly endorsing his actions as acceptable. And by making him their guest of honor, the main event, they have also made thoughtful engagement with the issues at hand next to impossible. It seems that the Buckley Program has been blinded by its supposed commitment to free speech, forgetting that not all individuals are deserving of a platform, especially those who have sought to wipe out free speech and platforms themselves.
Of course, these standards regarding who we honor and associate with ought to apply to the Left as well. The Left has a not insignificant problem with antisemitism. There are a number of prominent left-wing activists, politicians and thinkers who have made highly questionable or outright bigoted statements regarding Jews. This is in no way acceptable, and although it is perfectly fine to debate their other views and ideas, these individuals should in no way be honored.
There are a plethora of other controversial conservatives the Buckley Program could invite. Perhaps it would be wise of them to opt for a different guest, one whose entire political career is not antithetical to the very values the Buckley Program claims to uphold. If not, come April, the Dinner’s attendees will be applauding a man who would’ve happily had many of them imprisoned or killed were they living in ’70s Argentina or Chile.
To quote the Buckley Program’s mission: “ideas have consequences.”
Ian Moreau is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .