Henry Kissinger turned 100 years old on May 27. Kissinger, a former secretary of state and national security advisor, has been involved in decisions such as the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia that killed an estimated 150,000 civilians. Another policy involving his direction occurred 50 years ago on Sept. 11: the United States’ backing for the coup in Chile, which instituted a brutal military dictatorship that eventually murdered and tortured thousands of people. The Kissinger centennial, marked by a party at the Yale Club of New York City, has led many commentators to reflect on the prominent diplomat’s legacy. 

We call on Yale – which has a fellowship in honor of Kissinger and major donors who have sought to promote Kissinger’s approach to “grand strategy” – to reflect. Alongside reflection, we propose that the university adopt an institutional “grand strategy” towards the promotion of peace.

Scholars like Yale’s own historians, Ben Kiernan and Greg Grandin GRD ’95 GRD ’99, have extensively documented Kissinger’s track record. Let’s ask ourselves: Is it wrong to indiscriminately bomb civilian areas? Is it immoral for a country to arm an ally that is committing genocide? If the answer to such questions is yes, then we have clear grounds to grade Kissinger’s legacy: A for Atrocious.

Unfortunately, Yale’s coziness with people who directed unjust foreign policy extends beyond Kissinger. Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister and champion of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, was a Howland Distinguished Fellow back in 2008. US generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, both of whose records include serving as the top commander in the war in Afghanistan, have been senior fellows in the Jackson School of Global Affairs. Another senior fellow was John Negroponte ’60, a key proponent of the war in Iraq and US-backed regime change in Nicaragua. 

The devastation unleashed by these decisionmakers is staggering. The Costs of War Project estimates that 432,093 civilians were directly killed by armed groups in the post-9/11 wars across five countries while 3.6-3.8 million people were indirectly killed. The US government refuses to join the International Criminal Court and remains unwilling to properly investigate, let alone remedy, the countless transgressions committed throughout its chain of command during these wars. Should a globally-minded institution honor powerful individuals who have faced no accountability for their leadership during enormous abuses?

For Yale to advance Lux et Veritas, we suggest a strategy for how the University can tangibly promote peace and human rights. While the strategy may dampen the university’s access to certain billionaire donors and lucrative investments, it would improve its commitment to virtue, setting an example for generations of students to follow.

First, Yale must confront its role in a culture of imperial impunity. After the 2021 controversy surrounding the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy – when the program’s director Beverly Gage ’94 resigned over donor pressure to teach “the way Henry Kissinger would” and have Kissinger as an advisor – Yale rightly released a statement on academic freedom and completed a gift policy review. However, there was no evaluation of the university’s affiliation with Kissinger. It’s shocking that warmongers who harmed myriad communities can be readily embraced in ivory towers. Should fellowships, honors and positions – which are scarce, coveted and up to private discretion – really be given to people who unapologetically committed mass atrocities? Yale must live up to its mission of promoting noble service by affiliating with those who have exemplified understanding and moral leadership through their careers.

Second, Yale must better use its resources to promote humanitarian concerns. The university should divest from bomb manufacturers and industries that inherently aid and abet violence — note the endowment’s policy against assault weapon retailers. In relevant reporting from the Yale Daily News back in 2003, the endowment’s ethics chairman explains, “There’s no policy that Yale has either for or against military stocks.” 

To lead by example, we call on Yale to adopt a policy against war profiteering and the military-industrial complex and to openly conduct ethical reviews of its endowment portfolio this year. 

Additionally, there must be a consistent standard behind the university’s response to foreign affairs. Yale released a prompt statement condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and expressing the endowment’s lack of exposure to Russia. The university’s leadership should be equally steadfast in responding to other atrocities. For example, it should stand against the horrendous US role in the Saudi-led bombings and blockades in Yemen and divest from the entities fueling related crimes.

As Yale is “committed to improving the world today and for future generations,” it needs to have an institutional strategy that is truly grand. Such a strategy must center justice and depart from the Kissinger & Co. legacy. Imagine the possibilities if our university embraces a stronger stance to advance human dignity. We implore this community to consider.

DAUD SHAD is a Yale College graduate of the class of 2021 from Berkeley College. Contact him at daud.shad@yale.edu

STANLEY HELLER is a Yale College graduate of the class of 1969. Contact him at stanley.heller@att.net.