No. 115: Henry Kissinger Was an Idealist?

Niall Ferguson has put together a fascinating biography of Henry Kissinger. Well, at least the 17 chapters I have worked through have been extremely thought provoking. Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist covers the first half of Kissinger’s life (For those that don’t know, Kissinger is still quite alive at 92). Ferguson just took a fellowship position at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and plans to finish the second volume while there.

The first thing that stood about the book was it’s title. No where have I seen Kissinger and idealist in the same sentence. My mind immediately went to my government class with Mr. Nat Jobe, where I got my first introduction to Kissinger and realpolitik. Ferguson aims to make the case that Kissinger is actually an idealist, at least in his days leading up to 1968. I look forward to seeing how well he does so.

The second thing that stood out and was a bit distracting was the effort Ferguson made to swat away conspiracy theories about Kissinger in the introduction. I found that a bit unfair to the reader. Why not go through the history and let the reader make a judgement?

Kissinger’s intellect became evident early in the book. Ferguson recounts Kissinger reading Dostoyevsky at a very young age. My mind went to elementary school when I picked up Crime and Punishment because it was worth an absurd number of Accelerated Reader points. I perhaps got through a chapter before returning it to the library, and haven’t taken a look at it since.

What has been troubling about the biography has been events that brought my mind to frustrating events unfolding today. Here are a few examples.

The rise of Nazi Germany felt so fast in the biography. The support of parts of the Christian church in Germany for Hitler was troubling. Ferguson quotes a prayer by a pastor thanking God for Hitler. Ferguson does a helpful job explaining the divide between the two camps of Jews in Germany – the orthodox and reformed. Out of fairness, he probably could have done the same with the Christians, pointing out the dissenting voices of folks like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but maybe that is irrelevant for the purposes of the biography.

Today, we often see Christian leaders point to Islam as a violent religion and pointing to parts of the Qu’ran as evidence of that, while repudiating those who try to make the argument that ISIS, Boko Haram, and others like them do not represent Islam. Looking over the history of Christianity, there are many points of severe violence. Often, I hear a similar refrain that the Christianity of those who brought that violence should be questioned. It is interesting that some Christians do not offer Muslims the ability to do the same.

The experience of Jews in the US around the time of Kissinger’s arrival in New York was fascinating. Teenage Kissinger’s observations of America are interesting: the enormous opportunity in this country, the stark contrast between the ultra wealthy and the desperately poor, his disdain for the individualism of American society, and a particular shock at the lack of serious introspection when it came to things of spirituality.

A troubling anecdote about the racism Jews faced in the US was the image of a father approaching a police officer, with an Irish Catholic name like O’Brien, to report a case of his son being beaten up. The officer, while grinning, says that the boys were just having some fun. Imagine the frustration. Today, we are seeing frustration in the black community at the high rates of violence at the hands of police. It is frustrating to see this brushed off as griping.

Alright. Need to get the little one ready for school. If you are reading this biography, I would welcome a chance to discuss it with you as we progress. Over the course of 900 pages, there will be lots of opportunity to come up for a breath.

No. 3: Ending the Hiatus

So, I’m looking through the splits of the men’s 4x400m relay at the NCAA East Regional meet, and I see, “43.94 FR Kirani James.” To provide more context: A 17-year old freshman at the University of Alabama ran a lap around the track in 43.94 seconds!  That’s the type of performance that keeps me perusing track results looking for the next track and field star. This guy is from Grenada. He won the 400m dash at the World Youth Championships last year in a time of 45.24.  That’s .01 secs. faster than what Lashawn Merritt ran when he won the World Junior Championships back in 2004.  Lashawn went on to win the 400m at the Beijing Olympics a full second ahead of the second place athlete – Jeremy Wariner, another athlete who stamped his mark as a star at a very young age. His sophomore year at Baylor University, Jeremy won the 400m dash at both the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships, the US Championships, and the Athens Olympics.

I owe you an apology for taking so long to update the blog.  Life had been really busy leading up to my wedding on May 1.  My wife and I are settling well into married life. I’m really grateful to have her as my teammate.  She’s been gently nudging me to honor my commitment to maintain this blog.  The amazing performances athletes have posted have also nudged me to keep my readers up-to-date on what is going on in the world of track and field.  Late in the spring, 20-year old Teddy Tamgho broke the indoor world record in the triple jump. Today, Chaunte Lowe set the American record in the high jump. University of Oregon senior Ashton Eaton set the indoor world record in the decathlon.  This has been a happening year in athletics!

My favorite performance to date is Tyson Gay breaking a record held by an icon in both the athletics world and Civil Rights Movement.   Tommie Smith is best known for raising his gloved right fist into the air after winning the 200m dash at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.  A few weeks ago, Tyson Gay ran 19.41 in the straightline 200m dash. Back in 1966, Tommie Smith ran the straightline 200m dash in 19.5 secs a world record.  Since this event is no longer in official competition, Tommie Smith still holds the official record.  Notice the speed suit Tyson is wearing.  The suit Jesse Owens wore when he mastered the 1936 Berlin Olympics is the inspiration for this design.

Tyson Gay is in great form, and will continue to run some amazing times as the summer progresses.  He left me wide-eyed with his 44.89 in the 400m dash at a meet back in April: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os2Q0QSAqNM.  He is the first athlete to run under all three significant time barriers: 10 secs in the 100m dash, 20 secs in the 200m dash, and now 45 secs in the 400m dash.  Moreover his 9.69 sec 100m and 19.58 sec 200m make him the second fastest human ever in each of those events.  I believe he is in better shape than Usain Bolt at the moment, and may threaten Bolt’s current dominance of the 100m and 200m dash. Look forward to my updates.