Vanderbilt historian says Kissinger’s legacy offers relevant lessons for today

VU Television News Archive contributes to Schwartz’s new biography of famed diplomat

environmental photo of Thomas A. Schwartz
Vanderbilt University historian Thomas A. Schwartz (photo credit: Evie Kirschke-Schwartz)

Lessons learned by famed 20th-century diplomat Henry Kissinger while leading U.S. foreign policy are particularly relevant for presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump, according to Vanderbilt University political historian Thomas A. Schwartz.

Schwartz, distinguished professor of history and political science, is the author of Henry Kissinger and American Power (Hill and Wang, August 2020).

“The Nixon administration, during which Kissinger served as national security advisor and secretary of state, experienced the first great retrenchment of American power,” Schwartz said. “There was a realization that there were limits to what the United States could control, such as the outcome of the Vietnam War,” Schwartz said. “In 2020, we have a similar world map with competing powers and what I believe is a rather chaotic and scattered foreign policy. Kissinger provided direction and a sense of what needed to be achieved, even if some Americans did not agree with him. That is an important lesson for whoever serves as president for the next four years.”

Schwartz conducted extensive research “to reintroduce” Kissinger to the American people as well as to an international audience.

Kissinger, the first immigrant U.S. secretary of state, was born in Fürth, Germany, in 1923. He experienced anti-Semitism growing up and fled with his family to the United States to escape the Nazis in 1938. After earning his doctorate at Harvard University, Kissinger remained there on the faculty until Richard Nixon appointed him national security advisor in 1969. Schwartz’s research primarily focuses on the eight years that Kissinger worked in the administrations of Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Highlights of Kissinger’s tenure include a 1971 secret trip to China to pave the way for President Nixon’s historic visit to the Communist superpower and the thawing of U.S.-China relations. Kissinger also carried out “shuttle diplomacy” between Egypt, Israel and Syria after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and led the negotiations to end the Vietnam War, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

headshot of Henry Kissinger
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

A unique aspect of Schwartz’s work is the use of the Vanderbilt Television News Archive

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