White House Years

In This Review

White House Years

By Henry A. Kissinger
Little, Brown, 1979
1,521 pp. $22.50

In every generation in this century, in the immediate aftermath of an epoch in American foreign policy, a commanding work by or about the President's most important adviser has appeared. In the 1920s we had The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, edited by Charles Seymour; in 1948 we had Robert Sherwood's Roosevelt and Hopkins, now Kissinger's gargantuan White House Years, with another volume on the State Department yet to come. All of these works were the first to combine literary distinction with the revelation of great quantities of evidence not available to the outsider. They all illustrate the fact that the battle to control a historical reputation has only begun when the events are over. In time the works on Colonel House and on Harry Hopkins were corrected and challenged in considerable detail. The same fate awaits White House Years-but not for a long time, not until historians have access to the full archival record and the time to digest it.

Kissinger's literary monument to himself is a work of description, exhortation and scorn. He gives the reader more detail about the events of 1969-1973 than has yet appeared and he draws extensively on his famous notes and recordings as well as on secret memoranda and cables. He exhorts us to see the world as he does and above all to affirm (this is the major theme) that "diplomatic skill could augment but never substitute for military strength. In the final reckoning weakness has invariably tempted aggression and impotence brings abdication of policy in its train." And nearly everywhere there is scorn-masquerading as condescending praise for Nixon, but explicit for colleagues like William Rogers, and for his critics. The work is worthy in every way of the achievements of the man.

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