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Maging a moggery

Main business of the week was the showdown between Kissinger and Frost (LWT), an edited version of the NBC encounter which in America had caused a certain amount of fuss, since Kissinger had insisted on eking out the question-and-answer with a few prepared speeches. By the time NBC’s doctored version reached your screen via LWT, it was looking a bit bitty. Nevertheless it was gripping stuff. Frost nowadays sings instead of talks, but if you could compensate mentally for his fluctuating intonation it gradually became apparent that he had done a certain amount of homework and was wiling to put the modern Metternich on the spot if he could.

Kissinger had few vocal devices with which to combat Frost’s deadly technique of delivering his questions as fragments of a baritone aria. All Kissinger could do was fall back on his old trick, or drick, of substituting, or subsdiduding, ‘d’ for ‘t’. His line on Vietnam was familiar. ‘We inherided a dragedy.’ This standpoint being not without substance, he was able to defend it with some force.

Indeed Frost’s questioning, though admirably implacable, was often wide of the mark. Frost had obviously bought the entire anti-war package on Cambodia, up to and including the idea that the North Vietnamese had scarcely even been present within its borders. They were there all right. There was considerable military justification for US intervention in Cambodia, as even some of the most severe critics of Nixon and Kissinger are prepared to admit. ‘Now jusd a minude,’ fumed Kissinger. ‘With all due respecd, I think your whole line of quesdioning is maging a moggery of whad wend on in Indo-China.’

Well, not quite. Nixon and Kissinger might have had short-term military reasons for their policy on Cambodia, but the ruinous long-term consequences were easily predictable. Nor, despite Kissinger’s plausible appeal to international law, was there anything legal about the way he and his President tried to keep the bombing secret. In fact they conspired to undermine the United States Constitution. Kissinger’s personal tragedy is that his undoubted hatred of totalitarianism leads him to behave as if democracy is not strong enough to oppose it.

Unfortunately his personal tragedy, when he was in power, transformed itself into the tragedy of whole countries. The most revealing part of the interview was not about South East Asia, but about Chile. It transpires that a 36 per cent share of the popular vote was not enough to satisfy Kissinger that Allende had been democratically elected. Doubtless remembering Hitler, who had got in on a comparable share of the total vote, Kissinger blandly ascribed Allende’s electoral victory to a ‘peculiaridy of the consdidution’. But Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister of Great Britain by the same kind of peculiarity, and presumably Kissinger, if he were still ruling the roost, would have no plans to topple her. By what right did he topple Allende?

Kissinger couldn’t even conceive of this as a question. ‘Manipulading domesdig affairs of another goundry’, he explained, ‘is always gombligaded.’ It is not just complicated, it is often criminal. The Nixon-Kissinger policy in Chile was an unalloyed disaster, which delivered the population of that country into the hands of torturers and gave Kissinger’s totalitarian enemy their biggest propaganda boost of recent times. You didn’t have to be Jane Fonda to hate the foreign policy of Nixon and Kissinger. All you had to be was afraid of Communism.

These were general points which, if Frost had borne them firmly in mind, might have led him to ask more searchingly specific questions. He deserves some credit for having tried hard, but finally he was out-matched. Kissinger, for all his faults, is a man of wide culture and real intellect.

Year Zero (ATV) featured John Pilger in Cambodia. Most of what he had to show was hard to look at. Already it has become apparent that Pol Pot’s crimes, like Hitler’s and Stalin’s, are too hideous to take in, even when you are faced with the evidence. Nevertheless Pilger might have found a few unkind things to say about the North Vietnamese, who, I seem to remember, have recently taken to offering their internal enemies the opportunity of going on long yachting expeditions with insufficient regard to safety precautions.

Pilger loudly accused the international relief organisations of playing politics, but forgot to mention the possibility that the North Vietnamese might be playing politics themselves. The way he was telling it, they were philanthropists. He was there and we were here, but it was hard to quell the suspicion that one of the reasons he was there was that North Vietnam likes the way he presents such a neat, easily understandable picture.

Panorama (BBC1) portrayed the Czech Government engaged in the unending totalitarian act of impoverishing its own country by persecuting anybody courageous enough to insist on the objective nature of truth. The defendants were accused of ‘subversion of the State on a grand scale’ and locked up ‘in order to safeguard the dictatorship of the proletariat’. Why does it need so much safeguarding?

4 November, 1979