The impulse to sanitize the legacies of people whose decisions during their lives have shaped world history has a name: political correctness.
The first time I remember this happening was when Nixon died. Suddenly he was the man of principle who at least resigned instead of dragging the country through an impeachment. I just remember being dumbfounded listening to literally everyone talk about how Nixon "wasn't all that bad". I was floored.
The same sort of pearl-clutching we get every time one of these monsters of history dies is always by people who benefit from the power accumulated by said monsters. The only pity is he wasn't awaiting sentencing in The Hague and screaming in agony when he died.
I said it when Shinzo Abe died and I'll say it again, if they didn't want me to speak ill of them they shouldn't have done shit that would justify that.
Given the number of people who died or were tortured because of his policies, Kissinger doesn't deserve a comfortable place in history. Not speaking ill of the dead can find a space on the same dusty shelf where every other WASPy social convention that causes more harm than good to those who aren't White, Anglo Saxon, Protestant, or in power belongs.
Politicians will always have a complicated relationship with history, because they're human beings, not gods, and the good they do is often accompanied (and sometimes offset) by the mistakes they make. Kissinger, however, is a member of that pantheon of 20th century despots who left hundreds of thousands of dead in their wake, along with Pol Pot and the other monsters he either helped create or outright supported.
MSNBC was lousy with Kissinger's former colleagues, all telling us what a great guy he was, occasionally the host would introduce a segment with "The controversial Henry Kissinger" without telling us why he was controversial.
But then David Corn of The Nation, appearing on Joy Reid's show, apparently didn't get the memo, because in 5 minutes he laid out, point by point, the full extent of Kissinger's monstrousness from Cambodia and Laos to East Timor and Chile. Seems you can only get the truth after dark when the kids are safely in bed.
The tendency to sanitize and deify politicians when they die is symptomatic of the bigger issues with much of Beltway journalism. They go to cocktail parties with these people. They socialize with them. They see themselves as part of the same political class. They refuse to see this as part of their bias. It's the reason access journalism is so terrible.
Yeah. I mean fuck Kissinger. But sure if someone feels that way about a powerful and/or famous person I like, they still are allowed to say the same thing. Heck even my grandfather, if he was a racist piece of shit, any should be able to call him out.
You're on a roll this week for topics I find personally interesting to think and talk about! Have a good weekend!
"These are not our friends. These are people who, during their lifetimes, are entrusted with immense and world-changing power."
100% this. I'm often exasperated with this relationship a lot of people have with politicians - I guess "parasocial" might describe it? These people are given power ostensibly with the purpose of serving the public, we should be demanding things of them and judging them by how well they do them or what they even do or don't do. Them dying doesn't change that.