Today we look at the quote attributed to Henry Kissinger in which he allegedly stated that military men were “dumb, stupid animals.”
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein published their 1976 book entitled The Final Days, which was a follow-up to their popular 1974 book All the President’s Men. Whereas All the President’s Men focused on the Watergate scandal, The Finals Days concentrated on the last 100 days of the Nixon presidency.
The forward for The Final Days notes that their sources were to remain confidential, which has come into play in debates regarding the quote in question. In the book’s forward, dated December 1975, the authors write that the book “is based on interviews with 394 people.” All interviews were done with the “assurance that the identity of the source would remain confidential.” It is further noted that “Nothing in this book has been reconstructed without accounts from at least two people,” although they concede, “We did not accord equal weight to all sources.”
On page 194, the book discusses “the abuse that Kissinger heaped on” Alexander Haig.
In Haig’s presence, Kissinger referred pointedly to military men as “dumb, stupid animals to be used” as pawns for foreign policy. Kissinger often took up a post outside the doorway to Haig’s office and dressed him down in front of the secretaries for alleged acts of incompetence with which Haig was not even remotely involved. Once when the Air Force was authorized to resume bombing of North Vietnam, the planes did not fly on certain days because of bad weather. Kissinger assailed Haig. He complained bitterly that the generals had been screaming for the limits to be taken off but that now their pilots were afraid to go up in a little fog. The country needed generals who could win battles, Kissinger said, not good briefers like Haig.
It does not appear that Kissinger or Haig ever responded the quote in question, leaving those to debate its veracity based on speculation, and trust in the authors of The Final Days.
Those who defend Kissinger point out that the quote was never confirmed by a known first-hand source. Conversely, it doesn’t appear to have been denied by Kissinger or Haig, either.
It is also pointed out that Kissinger served in the Army from 1943 through 1946, as he explained to PBS in 2004:
I served with the 84th infantry division in France and Germany and then when our division reached Germany I was moved to the G2 section of the intelligence section. I was a rifleman until then. And then I worked in the intelligence section – G2 section – for about a year.
Kissinger vs Haig
The quote in question is not cited in other biographies, unless it is quoted from The Final Days. Kissinger’s verbal abuse of Haig is well-documented, however. Walter Isaacson in Kissinger: A Biography notes that Kissinger treated Haig “brutally.” (p. 277), but that their slurs were often mutual. The book quotes James Schlesinger (p. 389) who said that Haig bad-mouthed Kissinger with “a strong streak of anti-Semitism, which came through in the denigrating comments he would make.” Haig was also known to mock Kissinger when he would leave a room. In Haig’s defense, Isaacson points out that Kissinger’s “temper could be brutal, and Haig bore the brunt of it…” He also noted that, “Whenever there was even the smallest problem…Kissinger would charge out of the office and proceed to berate Haig in front of whoever was around.”
Kissinger’s temper tantrums are well documented. Isaacson notes that as early as the 1950’s, Kissinger was “notoriously short-tempered with subordinates” (p92) and often referred to them as “idiots” and “morons.”
Kissinger on Quotes
While there does not appear to be a direct response from Kissinger or Haig regarding the quote in question, Kissinger did address some of his questionable statements during his years at the White House. Isaacson quotes Kissinger as describing his words as based on “the needs of the moment” rather than “to stand the test of deferred scrutiny.”
Those debating this quote typically take one of three stances:
- He said it, and a source close to Kissinger or Haig revealed the quote verbatim to the authors.
- He said it – or something like it – but it was either taken out of context or it was merely aimed at Haig as an example of Kissinger’s verbal abuse.
- He didn’t say it at all, and the authors and/or their sources were wrong.
Because the authors have kept their sources confidential, and because there are no points of reference associated with the quote, there seems little recourse in determining with complete certainty the veracity of the quote.
We found no evidence to refute or confirm the quote attributed to Henry Kissinger. Belief in the veracity of the quote lies entirely on the reader’s confidence in the authors of The Final Days. Kissinger was known to verbally assault Haig regularly, and Kissinger later said that some of his statements behind closed doors at the White House were intended for the “needs of the moment.”
Do you think Kissinger spoke the quote in question?
Updated August 26, 2016
Originally published May 2014