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THE PRICE OF PARADISE

It is not unusual, actually it's testament to the audacity of U.S. leaders, that on the day that I write this review, President George W. Bush is greeted in Brussels by hundreds of protesters carrying banners that read "George W. Bush: Wanted for crimes against the environment and humanity." Many Europeans are appalled at Bush's refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming and by the prolific number of capital punishments over which he's presided as Governor of Texas and as U.S. President.

Also, today, June 13, 2001 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Daniel Ellsberg's unauthorized release of the 47-volume Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. The papers document the more than 20-year history of U.S. covert operations in Indochina, specifically actions leading up to and during the Vietnam War. By extension, the deception of the American public. In an interview by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, Ellsberg commented, "Things haven't changed. U.S. officials often undertake secret foreign policies that are totally at odds with what they tell the public."

Christopher Hitchens wrote the Trial of Henry Kissinger as a "basis for legal prosecution (of Henry A. Kissinger) for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture." If Hitchens' evidence stands up in court remains to be seen. Nevertheless, he writes a passionate, provocative, frightening, and all too realistic peek underneath the cloaks of realpolitik. Disclosed in Trial are the real actions statesmen do not disclose to their fellow citizens, the types of policies that are totally at odds with the public.

Hitchens begins the book just as Kissinger walks onto the Indochina scene. Which happened to be the last year chronicled by the Pentagon Papers. In 1968 Kissinger along with Richard Nixon and others allegedly sabotaged the Paris peace negotiations on Vietnam. They offered the South Vietnamese a clear-cut deal. They assured the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal from the Republicans than from the Democrats, so asked them to wait until Nixon got into office and could work with them on a proposal for peace. The only excuse for this act of treason is an alcoholic-like thirst for power. So lustful that they were willing to pay with the lives of thousands of American soldiers as well as Vietnamese soldiers and citizens.

As Kyle Conner writes in his poem "Finesse Filibuster", "...the dream only works if we don't try to penetrate beyond it." One dream that many of us live is that our elected and appointed officials always work in our best interest. They do not deliberately commit mass killings of civilian populations in Indochina. Nor do they collude in mass murder and assassination in Bangladesh. Never do they suborn and plan the murder of a senior constitutional officer, General Schneider of Chile, for example, in a democratic nation with which the United States is not at war. Never plan to murder a head of state in the democratic nation of Cyprus. Never incite and enable genocide in East Timor. Or plan to kidnap and murder a journalist, Elias P. Demetracopoulous, living in Washington, D.C. On the contrary, perhaps they do. These are the list of charges that Hitchens brings against Kissinger. It is what he discovered when he penetrated the dream.

Hitchens passionately deconstructs the notorious split personality of Kissinger. He is the respected veteran statesmen, often called on by the national media, for example, Charlie Rose or Nightline, to help us, the dunderheaded masses, understand complex international politics and economics. He bills speaking fees of at least $25,000 per appearance. Rick Perlstein of the Village Voice explains that Kissinger rose to these heights from humble beginnings, a Jewish Bavarian immigrant who earned his way through City College working in a brush factory, won advanced degrees from Harvard, then quickly became Nelson Rockefeller's chief foreign-affairs adviser by the age of 30. Yet, Hitchens bitingly debunks this popular myth. He depicts a despicable charlatan motivated by greed and a lust for power, whose crowning achievement has simply been to get everyone to call him Doctor. Hitchen's reminds us that complex issues are not impossible to understand, and understand we must if we are too create a healthy peaceful world. If we don't grasp and address said issues we will continue to get more of the same-risky business, coups d' etat, and covert-ops all directed toward the monetary gain and the fulfillment of the megalomoniacal dreams of the few who wear blue suits and carry diplomatic pouches. In which, for example, according to Hitchens, Kissinger delivered the gun that shot General Schneider.

Hitchens' news may be old to those who've been on the case all these years, like my ex-yippie drinking buddy who's been active on the Lower East Side for more than 40 years. Every time we're at the pub he provides me with loads of information on the atrocities perpetrated by the Alphabet Soup-CIA, NSA, FBI, BIA, etc. Yet, Trial, along with Hitchens' series of articles in Harpers, which culminated in the book, is a mindblower to those that have not been in-the-know. It enables those too young to remember Kissinger other than a giant-head rolled onto the evening news, or for those not hip to the Mr. Hyde side of the Doctor, to employ a battery of information from which to reevaluate not only the Doctor's actions but those of all leaders'. Despite the Economists' accusation that Trial is unconvincing (of course they would think that) I find Hitchens' evidence well substantiated and convincing. Even if it will not prove Kissinger's guilt beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt, it does raise enough questions to warrant a more thorough investigation.

Luckily for Hitchens and not for Kissinger, Trial has been released at a time when we as a nation and international community are re-evaluating our violent past, holding leaders accountable for their actions, and questioning the policies of the United States. General Augusto Pinochet, the bloody dictator who took control of Chile following the overthrow of Allende, recently was summoned by Spain to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This certainly should have Kissinger worried. He clearly supported Pinochet's style of rule and control. If a trial does happen, the paper trail will certainly lead back to the Doctor. Also, Ex-Senator and current president of the New School University, Bob Kerrey was questioned by 60 Minutes about his leadership of a midnight raid in the Mekong Delta on February 25, 1969 where several innocent civilians were killed. The thread to investigate is not were Kerrey's actions morally wrong or rogue, but how are they connected to the general orders and strategy of the war's leaders. If so, who is ultimately responsible for giving these orders? Among the many actions by the international community that challenges U.S. authority, clearly revealed during President Bush's visit to Europe, the most indicting is the United Nation's voting off the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission. The wall protecting powerful leaders from culpability in international crimes has begun to crumble. If this continues, and Hitchens is right, Kissinger should be as scared as a mouse at a cat convention, or as scared as an average South Vietnamese citizen of American soldiers between 1968 and 1973.

Ultimately the most infuriating lesson to learn from Trial is the impunity and audacity with which our leaders commit crimes. Currently in the U.S. more people than ever are incarcerated during the lowest crime rate in decades. More prisons are being built than schools. As the Woody Guthrie song goes, "Everything is against the law in Winston-Salem, against the law to walk, against the law to talk...." Everything has been against the law in most big cities in America for a long time. Recently the much touted quality-of-life law approach to policing is being used to incarcerate more and more people for smaller and smaller crimes. It's almost a national epidemic. Death-penalty feverish leaders like President Bush may say this is the price of paradise. Yet the men in blue suits who commit murder in the name of freedom, democracy, or free-trade need not worry about spending even a minute in jail. They know it and they abuse this common law. It's time we give our leaders a lesson in justice and hold them accountable to the laws to which they hold all citizens.
--For Clamor, September 2001