A political scientist, geopolitical consultant, and one of the United States Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger was one of the leaders who sharply divided opinions across the globe. Everything aside, he was an academic giant who knew what he stood for. In fact, President Richard Nixon described him as a man who, in his head, never thought to be wrong. Here are some mind-blowing Henry Kissinger facts to help you learn more about the man.

1. He Was Awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize

In 1973, Henry Kissinger was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for the United States’ involvement in stopping the Vietnam War. However, considering the war had not ended yet, the decision sparked a lot of debate, making it one of the most controversial in the history of the awards.

First, two members of the Nobel Committee resigned following Henry Kissinger’s selection. Then, the person picked to share the award with him, Le Duc Tho, a Vietnamese diplomat, declined it. This further fueled the controversies around the winner’s credibility.

2. Henry Kissinger Once Visited 17 Countries in 18 Days

Following the Watergate Scandal and the resignation of William P. Rogers, the then secretary of state, President Richard Nixon appointed Henry Kissinger to fill the position. Even though he had shortcomings, Kissinger was known to go above and beyond to do his job, including working brutal hours a week. At one point, the political scientist visited 17 countries in 18 days. He also spent 33 consecutive days negotiating disengagement between Syria and Israel in the Middle East.

3. The Phrase “Power Is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac” Is Attributed to Henry Kissinger

When Henry Kissinger was asked what motivated him to achieve so much success, he responded by saying, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” The phrase is widely used today, especially in political settings. Even though he paraphrased Napoleon 1, a French military commander and emperor, the phrase has been attributed to the diplomat ever since.

4. Henry Kissinger Served in the U.S. Military for Some Time

After becoming a United States citizen by naturalization when he was 20, Henry Kissinger underwent basic training at Camp Croft in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He was reassigned to the 84th Infantry Division, where he was acquainted with Fritz Kraemer, another German immigrant.

With his friend’s help, Kissinger joined the military intelligence, where he was deployed to Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. There, he helped translate and gather information, which was dangerous and against his parent nation.

5. He Was a Jewish Refugee

Henry Kissinger was a Jewish refugee who fled his country, Germany, with his German-Jewish family in 1938. He was born Heinz Alfred Kissinger but changed his name after being “born-again” while in the United States. According to an interview that he did in 2022, Kissinger narrated how he learned of Adolf Hitler’s election and how, together with his friends, they suffered under the dictator’s youth gang.

6. Henry Kissinger Loved Soccer

One of Henry Kissinger’s hobbies when he was young was playing soccer. He played for the SpVgg Furth youth team, which was among Germany’s best soccer teams at the time. The veteran politician often found himself on the wrong side of the Nazi racial laws as he snuck into soccer stadiums to watch matches. He was heavily beaten by the security guards.  

7. He Was a Harvard University Graduate

Henry Kissinger was a bright student with a willingness to learn. After migrating to the United States from Germany when he was 15, he quickly assimilated into the American culture. He studied accounting at the City College of New York before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa in political science from Harvard University.

8. Henry Kissinger’s Undergraduate Thesis Was So Long That It Prompted Changes

As a senior undergraduate, Henry Kissinger wrote a thesis of more than 400 pages. Titled The Meaning of History: Reflection on Spengler, Toynbee and Kant, the paper marked the beginning of the current length limit of 35,000 words.

9. He Served As Secretary of State under Two Presidents

Even though he was appointed the United States Secretary of State by President Richard Nixon, his tenure continued under President Gerald Ford (Nixon’s successor). He played a crucial role in shaping the country’s foreign policies during the 1970s, dealing with problems presented by the Cold War with the Soviet bloc.

10. Henry Kissinger Was Accused of Aiding and Tolerating War Crimes

Because of his strong allegiance to Realpolitik, a type of political approach that emphasizes pragmatic geopolitical considerations over ideological or moral values, Henry Kissinger was accused of aiding and tolerating war crimes, especially those committed by United States allies.

Before his death, a group of activists and human rights lawyers sought to prosecute him. They wanted him liable for the U.S. bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, giving the “go-ahead” for Argentina’s military junta to continue with their Dirty War and America’s involvement in the 1973 Chilean military coup.

11. He Was Highly Loathed in Some Parts of the World

According to what Anthony Bourdain famously wrote in A Cook’s Tour, many people thought of Henry Kissinger was evil. They are of the opinion that he facilitated war crimes, conspired to commit murder, and aided abductions that led to the torture of many victims. As such, in the author’s words, “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands.” He was disliked by many.

12. He Was Once Rated the Most Effective United States Secretary of State

While most people, especially those outside the United States, sharply disagreed with how Henry Kissinger ruled, American International relations scholars thought otherwise. Apparently, a poll result showed he was the best secretary of state the country had seen 50 years before 2015. The poll was conducted by the College of William & Mary in 2014; Kissinger served as the school’s 22nd Chancellor.

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Last Update: November 30, 2023