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Kissinger and Words
Mom with a View

Kissinger and Words

Will your words come back to haunt you?


Now that the storm has died down over Henry Kissinger (“Henry Who?’ asked my kids), it may be appropriate to reflect more soberly on the recent revelation of his ill-chosen (to say the least!) words. As we all now know, while acting as Nixon’s Secretary of State, Kissinger spoke very cavalierly about the gassing of Jews. “If they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern.”

Yes, he has an explanation. Yes, he has apologized. But the words were said. They can’t be taken back – and no description of the context, the circumstances, the time and the place – can change that.

Words have power. This is emphasized throughout the Torah. What we say means something. Our words are a reflection of who we are. And words can hurt. Badly. Deeply. Irrevocably.

The words of people in positions of power and leadership are even more powerful. They shape policy, they affect nations; they alter the course of history. Not always for the worse. Everyone is inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. They lift us to a better place, to the kind of people we’d like to be. John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you…” is another example. Even Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, denied his place in history for pitching a perfect game, only had words of compassion and understanding for the umpire who mistakenly spoiled his chance. He used his words to heal tensions instead of inflame them.

Yet stacked against this positive use of the power of the tongue are not just the destructive speeches of Hitler, Stalin and Mao but the vitriol of Helen Thomas or the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Words make a difference. Each of us in our own little world affects those we care about through the way we speak and the things we say.

We all have to choose our words carefully. We all have to be like the wise man in Ethics of Our Fathers who foresees the consequences of his words and deeds.

I don’t know if Henry Kissinger’s career would be considered illustrious or not. I don’t know if he was a good or wise or thoughtful Secretary of State. But fair or not, he will be remembered for those words on that tape, the words that seemed to suggest a completely lack of empathy for or identification with the plight of his fellow Jews.

And it’s sobering for every one of us. We all need to watch what we say. We want to our words to make us and those who know us proud, not to, God forbid, come back to haunt us.

January 8, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 16

(15) Anonymous, March 27, 2011 8:36 AM

Was Kissenger a real Jew?

Just because a person was born Jew ish does not make him Jewish! He is only Jewish because people say he is! He belongs to that class of interlectuals who feel they are above the common man! He lives a non-Jewish life!

(14) Anonymous, January 23, 2011 8:47 AM

It is wise to watch your words. But truly even your thoughts are not hidden. You may think so, but one day a person comes to know that it wasn't so. Therefore it is also a good idea to guard your thoughts. They too will make a comeback.

(13) Michael Schneider, January 18, 2011 2:59 PM

One has to know the circumstances.

Mr. Kissinger was secretary of state under a president who, by some reports, may have been anti-semitic and, on the surface, seems to have been unsuitable for the his job in many other ways. . This comment column seems to prove that it's very difficult to forecast the effects our words will have in the future. As the saying says,"Words are like dust. They fly out into space and settle here and there, plant roots and often produce a poisenous fruit ." It's possible that Mr. Kissinger said what he said to his boss to humour him and and thereby be of help to the Jewish people, (think of Queen Esther), not intending for his words to be stolen and published. The fact is we just don't know the circumstances and it is not for us to judge him as some of writers to this column have done. Only when one can look into the mind of another person can we even begin to judge him. Until then, shouldn't we be be more circumspect in our criticisms and consider what harm they may cause in the future?

(12) David Brown, January 15, 2011 2:12 PM

Let history and HaShem be his judge.

Kissinger wore many hats in the 70's and none of them bore the Star of David. Had they, his role in the release the Egyptian 3rd Army and the Camp David peace accords may not have occured.---Let the sum of his deeds be judged by history and the Holy One.

(11) Anonymous, January 12, 2011 7:53 PM

Kissinger has always distanced himself from his background as a German-Jewish refugee. While his family was orthodox, he is married to a gentile. He does not exhibit love for his heritage nor observe his traditions. He is a total egotist, primarily focused on enhancing his image.

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