Ginsburg calls, Kissinger answers

Monday, 23 April, 2012

On this day in 1971, US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger took a phone call from the poet Allen Ginsberg. The icon of the Beat generation proposed a meeting between the Nixon administration and various peace advocates to discuss ending the Vietnam War. Snippet:

Ginsberg: I am calling to request partly of Senator McCarthy… My idea is to arrange a conversation between Helms, McCarthy, and maybe even Nixon, with Rennie Davis, Dellinger, and Abernathy. It can be done at any time.

Kissinger: Henry Kissinger I have been meeting with many members representing peace groups, but what I find is that they have always then rushed right out and given the contents of the meeting to the press. But I like to do this, not just for the enlightenment of the people I talk to but at least give me a feel of what concerned people think. I would be prepared to meet in principle on a private basis.

Ginsberg: That’s true, but it is a question of personal delicacy. In dealing with human consciences, it is difficult to set limits.
Kissinger: We can’t set limits to human consciences, but —
Ginsberg: We can try to come to some kind of human understanding.
Kissinger: You can set limits to what you say publicly.
Ginsberg: It would be even more funny to do it on television.
Kissinger: What?
Ginsberg: It would be even more useful if we could do it naked on television.
Kissinger: [Laughter]

Famously, President Richard Nixon used a voice-activated taping system to record his telephone conversations. Henry Kissinger, however, had secretaries listen to his phone conversations, take notes and type them up afterwards (PDF). Before leaving office in 1977, he donated the transcripts to the US government archives, stipulating that none of them be released in his lifetime. But some 20,000 pages of the conversations have been made available to the public by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Backgrounder: Heinz Kissinger was born in Fürth, in northern Bavaria. He played football for the youth side of one of Germany’s top teams at the time, SpVgg Fürth, before the family fled Nazi persecution for New York in 1938. Despite this trauma, Kissinger, now Henry, remains a fan of the team, now SpVgg Greuther Fürth, and he vowed that if the side were ever promoted to the first division of the Bundesliga, he’d visit his homeland to see them play. Guess what’s happened?

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