December 6, 2023

Henry Kissinger, 1923-2023

Dr. Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and Marshall Foundation Award honoree, died last week at 100. Below are his remarks from the 2017 Marshall Foundation Awards.


After hearing these eloquent introductions, I’m reminded of an occasion in which I introduced Lord Carington to a speech in England in what I thought was extreme eloquence, and he got up and said, “After hearing this, I can hardly wait to hear what I’m going to say.” [Laughter] But I have no trouble knowing what to say.

First of all about my colleague being honored here, Mike Bloomberg. The task of a leader is to take his society from where it is to where it has never been, and for that he’s always on a tightrope. If he moves too fast, he falls off. If he moves too slowly, his society stagnates. Mike has made a tremendous contribution to our society by being on a tightrope for decades, with a wisdom and a courage that has served us all, and I have had the good fortune of a friendship that is deep and moving.

I would like to say a word also about Tom Pickering. The relationship of the Secretary to the Foreign Service always has a certain ambivalence, partly because the Secretary knows that not every Foreign Service Officer is convinced that the Secretary could have passed the Foreign Service exam. [Laughter] Also, every Secretary learns that in order to get his job done he needs the experience, the dedication, the commitment of the Foreign Service. It is a group of men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving this country in distant outposts. Tom has been one of the premier leaders of the Foreign Service. It’s in his blood, so that out of office, he has participated in many so-called track-two negotiations that greatly advance the cause of peace and the fundamental interests of the United States.

There are so many other people here, like Vartan Gregorian, who have meant much in my life and to our society. Walter Isaacson has been a friend and colleague and with whom I have had debates and many common views. Thank you all for what you have said and for what you have contributed.

For me, the Marshall Foundation Award means a great deal. I started my public service in 1943 as a draftee in the Second World War, of which General Marshall was described as the engineer of victory. I returned from the war and in the fall of 1947, entered Harvard as a beneficiary of the GI Bill of Rights. George Marshall had come to the campus three months earlier, five months after hanging up his uniform to become Secretary of State. He celebrated the first normal commencement the university had conducted since the outbreak of the war. His speech proved to be seminal for the structure of the post-World War order.

George Marshall was a leader, not a scholar. His guiding principle was service, not the fulfillment of personal ambition. To him, service was its own reward. There is a story of his reaction to being informed by a duty colonel that our troops had landed on Omaha Beach at three in the morning. “And what do you expect me to do about it,” he said. He put forward the Marshall Plan in the same understated manner. Witnesses later recalled that the general rarely looked up from the crumpled pages he had carried to the podium in his jacket pocket. Duty, to Marshall, could only be impaired by embellishment.

Before VE-day, Roosevelt had told Churchill that America could not remain involved in Europe for more than a few months after the end of the war. Now, in June 1947, Marshall called on the United States to implement ideas and values we shared with Western Europe and called on America by doing whatever it was able to pursue their common future. The Marshall Plan challenged the nostalgia of isolationism by making this long-term commitment. When Marshall declared war on hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos in Europe, America took responsibility for advancing stability, a responsibility that has not ended to this day. It was a clarion call. America would participate permanently in the construction and maintenance of world order, and its quest would be enduring, imbued with the values in whose defense the United States had ended the war.

From June 1947 to its termination at the end of 1951, the Marshall Plan contributed roughly $100 billion in today’s money to the recovery of Europe. It laid successfully the foundation for the contemporary period. It began as an economic undertaking but it gained momentum by decision and leadership of both Americans and Europeans on both sides of the Atlantic: Truman, Acheson, [unclear], Adenauer are just a few of those names. It evolved into an economic union and from there to the European Coal and Steel Community, which became the European Union, and eventually a security union in the form of NATO. These commitments are permanent expressions of values. They had to be adjusted in their execution from time to time, but they cannot be altered because they represent fundamental interests.

But with all of these achievements, success has [unclear] to a new set of problems. The history of national sovereignty in Europe has been modified, but some of its legacies have prevented the emergence of a full political complement to its economic unity, leaving Europe, to some extent, suspended between its history and its future. But to fill this gap and to relate it to the values and needs on this side of the Atlantic was a vision at the time of General Marshall and is a necessity today.

The world has globalized. Every nation for the first time in history is interacting with the others. New nations have arisen to affect the global balance of power, so the contemporary challenge can no longer be met by individual technical economic programs, however important. What is required are programs reflecting an evolution towards a new concept of world order, and here the efforts that were initiated by General Marshall remain vibrant and validated. Because of what the great British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called our common heritage and experience of liberty, the Marshall Plan succeeded in both America and Europe. They developed a vision of a joint future and put their faith in it.

A lesson for our period is that, of course, we are aware of [unclear] and, by definition, the word is never completed and therefore always lacking in some aspects. But the work of defining world order, including within it the transatlantic relationship, is far from done. In fact, the challenge on whether that effort, which is imposed on us by necessity, will continue to be done by a united Atlantic community adapted to new conditions is a continuous process. It demands of us the same conviction and creativity as our predecessors displayed, among whom George Marshall stands as a giant, and in whose name it is an honor to receive this award.

Thank you all for coming.