On the 45 year anniversary of being awarded his Nobel Peace Prize, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was interrupted four times and told to “rot in hell” by protestors on Tuesday evening during a talk at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
Kissinger has often been called a war criminal for his role in the bombing of Cambodia and North Vietnam and the overthrow of democratically-elected Chilean president Salvador Allende, among other things. Once it was made public that he would be a guest at the Stern speaker series, “In Conversation with Lord Mervyn King,” over a dozen student groups organized a protest against him titled “No War Criminals at NYU” and wrote a letter calling on the university to cancel the event.
Around 100 people gathered at Gould Plaza with a heavy police presence nearby. With their voices amplified by megaphones, they yelled “Hey, Kissinger, what do you say? How many kids have you killed today?” Holding signs bearing messages like “Prosecute Kissinger,” they hurled other insults at the former diplomat, now 95 years old, throughout the duration of the event, from 5 p.m. to its close at approximately 7 p.m.
Inside, protesters were equally rowdy. Though the event was invite-only — and no press were allowed in — the conversation with King was interrupted on several occasions by people in the room. One criticism aimed at Kissinger was personal.
“You are responsible for the murders of thousands of Latin Americans, including people who are close to my family!” one audience member yelled as he pointed at Kissinger. Security removed him from the event as another audience member yelled “Get him out!” with regards to the protestor.
Another student stood up and belted: “You are a war criminal, you have committed genocide.”
— Esor🌹 (@EsorFas) October 16, 2018
The protestors within Kaufman Management Center were escorted out after each outburst.
CAS senior Grace Klein is a member of the NYU chapter of the International Socialist Organization, one of the groups that organized the protest.
“It’s important to talk about [the fact] that NYU thought that someone who represents the [United States] imperial project was an appropriate person to come,” Klein said. “I think that this shows very clear allegiances.”
CAS first-year Miranda Coplin was also among the crowd protesting Kissinger in Gould Plaza.
“[NYU doesn’t] understand how it affects students that, you know, still see the damage being done in their countries from the destabilization he’s caused,” Coplin said. “I think it’s just very careless and insensitive to say to students who have been personally affected by that, that the institution seems not to care.”
Remaining quiet throughout the insults, Kissinger spoke about his experience as a diplomat around the time of the Cold War, his opinions on populism, his time fighting in the U.S. Army against his home country of Germany, his thoughts on the Israel-Palestine conflict, his views on Donald Trump’s popularity and even his interest in artificial intelligence.
As King reminded the audience to write their questions down for the question-and-answer portion of the event, another audience member voiced her frustration.
“Are you serious?” she said. “Are you telling me that you’re not a war criminal? That you do not deserve to go to jail for the crimes you’ve enacted? You deserve to answer to your crimes, to crimes against humanity. You deserve to go to jail and rot in hell.”
The other interruptions accused Kissinger of having committed genocide, being “as bad as the Nazis” and “having blood on [his] hands.”
Kissinger also spoke of his roughly six-week-long visit to Vietnam.
“I came to the conclusion that the war could not be won by the military means that were employed,” Kissinger said of his time there. “I was not in favor of total withdrawal. I was in favor of developing a strategy and a negotiation.”
University spokesperson John Beckman said the university welcomed dissent — but would do its best to ensure that the event would not be interrupted.
“The free exchange of diverse ideas and viewpoints is a fundamental value at NYU,” Beckman said in an email to WSN. “As such, an invited speaker should be able to be heard without disruption. We also recognize the importance of dissent. As is the case for all events on campus, particularly those that involve controversy, the University will take the appropriate steps to ensure that this event takes place and speaker is able to carry on.”
Kissinger’s closing words included a sentiment that the effects of the devastation in Vietnam still have repercussions.
“I think the debate that started over Vietnam has never stopped in this country and has inhibited us in a whole series of other crises,” Kissinger said. “The most important thing an American president could do or a new administration could do is to see whether we can transcend this bitterness and viciousness.”
Email Victor Porcelli and Sarah Jackson at [email protected]m.