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Henry Kissinger is an American political scientist and diplomat who won the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to broker a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam War.
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He served first as a rifleman in France and then as a G-2 intelligence officer in Germany. Over the course of the war, Kissinger abandoned his plan to become an accountant and instead decided that he wanted to become an academic with a focus on political history. In 1947, upon his return to the United States, he was admitted to Harvard University to complete his undergraduate coursework. Kissinger's senior thesis, completed in 1950,
was a 383-page tome that tackled a vast subject matter: the meaning of history. His daunting manuscript which, though unrefined, showed flashes of brilliance, inspired Harvard to impose "the Kissinger rule" limiting future theses to about one-third that length.
Upon graduating summa cum laude in 1950, Kissinger decided to remain at Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. in the Department of Government. His 1954 dissertation, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822, examined the efforts of Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich to reestablish a legitimate international order in Europe in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Metternich proved a profound influence on Kissinger's own later conduct of foreign policy, most notably in his firm belief that even a deeply flawed world order was preferable to revolution and chaos.
After receiving his doctorate in 1954, Kissinger accepted an offer to stay at Harvard as a member of the faculty in the Department of Government. Kissinger first achieved widespread fame in academic circles with his 1957 book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, opposing President Dwight Eisenhower's policy of holding out the threat of massive retaliation to ward off Soviet aggression. Instead, Kissinger proposed a "flexible" response model, arguing that a limited war fought with conventional forces and tactical nuclear weapons was, in fact, winnable. He served as a member of the Harvard faculty from 1954-69, earning tenure in 1959.
However, Kissinger always kept one eye outside academia on policymaking in Washington, D.C. From 1961-68, in addition to teaching at Harvard, he served as a special advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on matters of foreign policy. Then in 1969, Kissinger finally left Harvard when incoming President Richard Nixon appointed him to serve as his National Security Advisor. As National Security Advisor from 1969-75, and then as Secretary of State from 1973-77, Kissinger would prove one of the most dominant, influential and controversial statesmen in American history.
The great foreign policy trial of Kissinger's career was the Vietnam War. By the time Kissinger became National Security Advisor in 1969, the Vietnam War had become enormously costly, deadly and unpopular. Seeking to achieve "peace with honor," Kissinger combined diplomatic initiatives and troop withdrawals with devastating bombing campaigns on North Vietnam designed to improve the American bargaining position and maintain American credibility with its international allies and enemies.
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When Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel died in 1896, he left his fortune to create an annual series of prizes for the individuals who confer "the greatest benefit on mankind." The most prestigious of the awards is the Nobel Peace Prize. Historians believe Alfred Nobel wanted to award people who work for peace to compensate for his own role in inventing dynamite. Since its establishment, the prize has gone to many courageous individuals who have fought for peace and human rights around the world.
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