Skip to content
A photo of Henry Kissinger from 1975

Kissinger, Henry 1923-

Henry A. Kissinger, a German immigrant, served as Secretary of State for Richard Nixon and was one of his principal advisers during the Vietnam War.


A photo of Henry Kissinger from 1975

Henry Kissinger was born in Fürth, Germany as Heinz Alfred Kissinger into a family of Jewish religion. In 1938, fleeing Adolf Hitler's persecution his family moved to New York City. Kissinger was naturalized a U.S. citizen on June 19, 1943.

He spent his high-school years in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan but never lost his pronounced German accent. Kissinger attended George Washington High School at night and worked in a shaving-brush factory during the day. While attending City College of New York, in 1943, he was drafted into the army and became a German interpreter for the 970th Counter-intelligence Corps.

Henry Kissinger received his BA degree summa cum laude at Harvard College in 1950. He received his MA and Ph.D. degrees at Harvard University in 1952 and 1954, respectively. His doctoral dissertation was titled A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812–22. It is often said that his Ph.D. dissertation is the longest among Harvard Ph.D. dissertations.

Politically ambitious, he cultivated relations with Nelson Rockefeller. When, in 1968, it became clear that Richard Nixon would be elected president, Kissinger became an advisor to Nixon.

Kissinger was Richard Nixon's National Security Advisor and later his Secretary of State.

While working for Nixon, Kissinger established the policy of détente with the Soviet Union. He also negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (culminating in the SALT I treaty) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In July and October 1971, Kissinger made two secret trips to the People's Republic of China to confer with Premier Zhou Enlai and to set the stage for the groundbreaking 1972 summit between the PRC and the US as well as the normalization of relations between the two countries. Today, Kissinger is often called by Chinese leaders "the old friend of the Chinese people." His talk with Zhou Enlai was highly secretive. Recently declassified documents show that the talk focused on the Taiwan issue.

He was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Le Duc Tho of Vietnam, for their work on the Vietnam peace accords.

In 1973, Kissinger negotiated the end of the Yom Kippur War. The war began with Egypt's invasion of the Sinai and Syria's invasion of the Golan Heights. Israel was unprepared for the intensity of the first several days of the attack. Kissinger negotiated an end for the war on the basis of understanding between the several pan-Arab powers and Israel that Israel lost the war. This was not necessarily the case.

Despite occasional allegations of underhanded dealings in foreign countries, Kissinger was largely popular with the public and became one of the better-liked members of the increasingly unpopular Nixon administration. Kissinger had little involvement with the Watergate scandal that would eventually bring down Nixon and many of his closest aides – a fact which greatly increased Kissinger's reputation as the "clean man" of the bunch. At the height of his popularity he was even regarded as something of a sex symbol and was seen dating starlets such as Jill St. John, Shirley MacLaine, and Candice Bergen.

Following Nixon's 1974 resignation, Kissinger stayed on as Secretary of State under new President Gerald Ford.

After the Ford administration, he played a relatively minor role in subsequent governments (perhaps, some have alleged, due to a bad relationship with George Bush), although he continued to participate in policy groups such as the Trilateral Commission and do political consulting, speaking, and writing.

In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed Kissinger to chair a committee to investigate the events of the September 11 attacks. His appointment led to widespread criticism, generally taken from the position that Kissinger has never been supportive of the public's right to know, but also from the position that Kissinger is viewed by many as a war criminal in his own right. In response, Congressional Democrats insisted that Kissinger file financial disclosures to reveal any conflicts of interest. Both Bush and Kissinger claimed that Kissinger did not need to file such forms, since he would not be receiving a salary. When the Democrats insisted, however, Kissinger resigned from the commission. On December 13, 2002, he stepped down as chairman, citing conflict of interest with his clients.

With his first wife, Ann Fleischer, he had two children, Elizabeth and David. He currently lives with his second wife, the former Nancy Maginnes, in Kent, Connecticut. He is currently the head of Kissinger and Associates, a consulting firm.

Popular Documents

February 27, 1972

Joint Communique between the United States and China

The United States and China pledge to improve relations with one another in the famous "Shanghai Communique."

February 21, 1972

Memorandum of Conversation between Chairman Mao Zedong and President Richard Nixon

Mao Zedong and Richard Nixon focus on "philosophic problems" in relations between China and the United States during their first meeting.

November 12, 1973

Memorandum of Conversation between Mao Zedong and Henry Kissinger

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai. The three discussed a large range of topics from Sino-Soviet relations to the Middle East to the influence of Chinese communism.

February 17, 1973

Memorandum of Conversation between Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Henry Kissinger

Mao Zedong and Kissinger's meeting was aimed at establishing political relations between China and the United States. They discussed the following issues: U.S.-Chinese cooperation, the differences in ideology, Western German policy towards the Soviet Union, the amount of American overseas troops, the Vietnam War, trade barriers between two nations, Chinese-Japanese relations, and the historical issues between Germany and Britain during WWII.

October 21, 1975

Memorandum of Conversation between Mao Zedong and Henry A. Kissinger

U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met Chairman Mao at his residence in Peking. The two argued about the importance of U.S.-Chinese relations in American politics. Mao repeats that the United States' concerns order America, the Soviet Union, Europe, Japan, and lastly China. Kissinger responds that the Soviet Union, as a superpower, is frequently dealt with, but in strategy China is a priority. Throughout the conversation, Mao continues to point out his old age and failing health. The leaders also discuss European unity, Japanese hegemony, German reunification, and the New York Times.