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Man of War

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Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger bears responsibility for some very bad things. Those things -- the then-secret bombing of Cambodia, mass murder in East Timor, political assassination in Chile -- may even classify him as a war criminal; The Trials of Henry Kissinger makes that point chillingly clear. But the documentary also demonstrates how extreme antipathy for one man can offer inadvertent absolution to his complicit government.

Trials, directed by Eugene Jarecki and written by Alex Gibney, was spawned by journalist Christopher Hitchens' 2001 book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger. A smart man and a peerless wordsmith, Hitchens loves nothing so much as the sound of his own voice crying in the wilderness, and he's been hollering after Kissinger for some time now. It's gotten quite nasty, Hitchens calling Kissinger a liar and a murderer and Kissinger suggesting that Hitchens is a Holocaust revisionist.

It's hard to argue with the film's laundry list of Kissinger-engineered atrocities. Jarecki and Gibney, armed with new historical footage and declassified documents, are ardent witnesses for the prosecution. But there seems to be only guilt, never guilt by association. Kissinger relied on the sanction of his superiors, as well as on the acquiescence of his underlings. The film fails to adequately acknowledge that his formidable will to power didn't exist in a vacuum; he found a reflection of his own darker angels in Richard Nixon and a president not his equal in the too-malleable Gerald Ford. And if American accountability to an international tribunal is the future, the film does precious little to examine the complicated and unpredictable practicalities of that possibility -- a question the filmmakers claim to have tackled.

And so we are left with beautiful propaganda, well-crafted but half-finished. For a documentary that purports to speak truth to power, The Trials of Henry Kissinger doesn't speak nearly enough truth to nearly enough power.

No man is an island: The Trials of Henry Kissinger fails to name the former secretary of state's as-of-yet unindicted co-conspirator Richard Nixon.
  • No man is an island: The Trials of Henry Kissinger fails to name the former secretary of state's as-of-yet unindicted co-conspirator Richard Nixon.

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