Henry Kissinger, the son of a grocer, was born in Furth, Germany, on 27th May, 1923. His family were Jewish and became concerned about the emergence of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. In 1938 the family emigrated to the United States. During the Second World War Kissinger served in the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps.
Educated at Harvard University he obtained a PhD degree in 1954. He was a member of the teaching staff of Harvard and taught in the Department of Government and served on the Council of Foreign Relations (1955-1956), as Associate Director of Center for International Affairs (1957-1960) and as Director of the Harvard Defense Studies Program (1958-1971).
Kissinger also published several books including A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-22 (1957) and Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (1957).
In 1969 Richard Nixon appointed Kissinger as his adviser on National Security Affairs and he played an important role in the improved relations with both China and the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. He also arranged peace talks between the Arabs and the Israelis.
Kissinger later admitted that in September 1970, Nixon ordered him to organize a coup against the government of Salvador Allende. Kissinger also said that he called off the operation a month later. The government documents, however, indicate that the Central Intelligence Agency continued to encourage a coup in Chile.
In 1972 Nixon was warned that a victory in Vietnam was unobtainable. Kissinger was put in charge of peace talks and In October, 1972, he came close to agreeing to a formula to end the war. The plan was that US troops would withdraw from Vietnam in exchange for a cease-fire and the return of 566 American prisoners held in Hanoi. It was also agreed that the governments in North and South Vietnam would remain in power until new elections could be arranged to unite the whole country.
The main problem with this formula was that whereas the US troops would leave the country, the North Vietnamese troops could remain in their positions in the south. In an effort to put pressure on North Vietnam to withdraw its troops, Nixon ordered a new series of air-raids on Hanoi and Haiphong. It was the most intense bombing attack in world history. In eleven days, 100,000 bombs were dropped on the two cities. The destructive power was equivalent to five times that of the atom bomb used on Hiroshima.
The North Vietnamese refused to change the terms of the agreement and so in January, 1973. Nixon agreed to sign the peace plan that had been proposed in October. However, the bombing had proved to be popular with the American public as they had the impression that North Vietnam had been bombed into submission. As a result of bring the Vietnam War to an end Kissinger was controversially awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Kissinger became Secretary of State in 1973. On 9th August, 1974, Richard Nixon was forced to resign over the Watergate Scandal. Kissinger continued to serve under his successor, Gerald Ford. He held the post until Jimmy Carter became president in 1977.
After leaving government service Kissinger founded Kissinger Associates, an international consulting firm. He returned to public office in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan appointed him to head a bipartisan commission on Central America.
Books by Kissinger include The White House Years (1979), Years of Upheaval (1982) and Diplomacy (1994).