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gerald caplan

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks during a ceremony unveiling a statue of former U.S. president Gerald Ford in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, you were looking for some escape from the daily grind on a gorgeous spring evening. Some Torontonians might want to go hear a real live accused war criminal, who's been invited to town shortly. Or let's say you decided to relax by making a list of some of the more notorious crimes against humanity of the past several decades, as we enjoy doing in my family. You'd likely include the following:

The American war against Vietnam, the Pakistani massacre of Bengalis in 1971 (an estimated 1.5 million killed), the operations of the Shah of Iran's secret police, the brutal Pinochet years in Chile, the secret U.S. bombing of Cambodia that made possible the Khmer Rouge's genocidal killing fields (1.5 to 2 million dead), the bloody 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus (an estimated 150,000 refugees), the betrayal of the Kurds in 1974-75, the Indonesian slaughter of some 100,000 East Timorese, the war against the government of Angola, the entrenchment of apartheid in South Africa.

No one will ever know how many millions of ordinary citizens were killed, maimed, tortured, brutalized or displaced in these merciless operations. A U.S. Senate subcommittee on refugees estimated that more than three million civilians were killed, injured or rendered homeless in Southeast Asia alone from 1969 to 1975.

And we do know this: By a curious coincidence, all of these horror stories have in common the very man who's soon coming to Toronto, Dr. Henry Kissinger (somehow the only PhD in the world who's regularly called Dr.). As Richard Nixon's national security adviser and both Mr. Nixon and Gerald Ford's secretary of state, Dr. Kissinger enabled or endorsed every one of them. Readers should know that this statement is really quite uncontroversial. The sources are multiple and well-documented, and include Christopher Hitchens's book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, which explicitly accuses him of being a war criminal.

But my main source is far more anodyne than Mr. Hitchens, the provocateur. It's the 1992 best-selling biography Kissinger by Walter Isaacson, an ultra-establishment American then running Time magazine. Besides Dr. Kissinger's complicity in the crimes listed above, Mr. Isaacson found his subject to be a two-faced, deceitful, callous, paranoid, duplicitous, devious, lying, conspiratorial, amoral megalomaniac who caused untold human suffering. Otherwise, he was a pretty swell guy.

Okay, two more little anecdotes of the thousands available. In 1973, Israeli prime minister Golda Meir requested American intervention on behalf of Jews being persecuted in the Soviet Union. According to tapes released last year by the Nixon Library, here's what Henry the K., a Jew whose family fled Nazi Germany in 1938, advised the president: "The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern." Maybe a humanitarian concern. Maybe not.

Mr. Nixon agreed with Dr. Kissinger, not being crazy about the Chosen People anyway. As the president elegantly put it, "the Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality."' In his book Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, Robert Dallek reports that Mr. Nixon used to call Dr. Kissinger, to his face, "my Jewboy." Dr. Kissinger in turn acknowledged that his behaviour in Mr. Nixon's presence was "obsequious excess" while behind Mr. Nixon's back Dr. Kissinger referred to him as a "madman" and a "drunk" who was "unfit to be president." He chose neither to protest nor to resign.

Reflecting this singular record, Dr. Kissinger is among America's most admired celebrities. He has been consulted by every president for the past four decades, he's lionized by other celebrities, he's a media darling quoted with awe by pundits and reporters, his company is eagerly sought by Washington and New York's most exclusive hostesses, his own consulting business is booming, he's offered huge bucks to sit on corporate boards like the one Conrad Black once controlled which then crow lustily about their great coup,

Not even his shameless public support for the dictators in Beijing during the Tiananmen massacre, at the exact same time they were making him rich by opening their doors to his American corporate clients, could sully his reputation, a fact neither his new book on China nor the fawning reviews have thought fit to mention.

Now it's Canada's turn to be graced by the good doctor. The hoopla is already well advanced. In a couple of weeks he'll be in Toronto to star in the latest of the high-profile Munk Debate series. His debating partner will be Time magazine's Fareed Zakaria, who greeted Osama bin Laden's murder last month by lumping him in with Hitler as "two of history's great mass murderers." I wonder where exactly he'll situate Dr. K.

Lucky locals have the opportunity to pay between $25 and $90 to see and hear a real live accused war criminal. In return, I'm told Dr. Kissinger's fee is likely between $50,000 to $100,000, but this is not confirmed. Presumably he's not doing it out of the goodness of his heart, and while such a sum is mere pocket change for Dr. Kissinger these days, it's considerably more than he'd get where he belongs - in the dock at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The Munk Debates are an initiative of a foundation set up by Peter Munk, the founder and chairman of Barrick Gold Corporation. According to the website, the debates "benefit from the advice" of an advisory board that includes Andrew Coyne, Allan Gotleib, George Jonas, Margaret McMillan and Janice Gross Stein. Whether any of them or Mr. Munk himself approved the choice of Dr. Kissinger is not known, but there is no record of any protest and none seems to have resigned to date.

The moderator and co-organizer of the debates is Rudyard Griffiths, who has a reputation for advocating measures to develop knowledgeable citizens with "robust civic values." He too has not resigned in protest at having to interact with Dr. Kissinger and to get paid to do so.

The debate will be held at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall, which seats 2,630 people. A jammed house is fully anticipated. Unless some will attend in order to issue a citizen's arrest against Dr. Kissinger - it's been attempted in London and Dublin, and international arrest warrants were issued by judges in Spain and France - that means 2,630 Torontonians are prepared to pay good money to listen to a man responsible for untold human misery. This number is somewhat smaller than the 3,200 people murdered by the Pinochet regime in Chile that Henry Kissinger did so much to install and support.

I'm sure the Kissinger saga tells us something about both the United States and our own country. But I'm not sure I want to know what it is.