Henry lets his hair down.
Mr. Shearer, co-editor of The Pentagon Watchers (Doubleday), is a member of the conversion action study group of the Cambridge Institute.
The Nation did not know in advance of the meeting here described by Derek Shearer, nor did it ask that he submit his article to us. One previous article by Mr. Shearer has appeared in The Nation, but he is not a staff contributor or in any other way connected with the magazine.-The Editors
On the weekend of January 29 to 31, while the United States bombarded southern Laos in preparation for an offensive by South Vietnamese troops, and the astronauts blasted off for the moon, I attended a conference at which Presidential adviser Henry Kissinger spent two hours talking and answering questions on American foreign policy. The meeting, as are all at which Kissinger appears, was officially off the record. Kissinger reminded us that if his remarks were reported it would make it difficult for him to meet with other groups in the future. Some group might then be denied the experience we enjoyed of hearing Henry Kissinger explain, “We are trying to end the war . . . . The trend line is down and I assure you it will continue to go down” on the eve of a new invasion, blacked out, of course, by a press embatgo.
In Nixon’s domestic war strategy, Kissinger’s role is that of pacifying the intellectuals. For the past few months, he has been crisscrossing the country, meeting with editors and publishers, businessmen, alumni groups and, on rare occasions, with students, and giving his performance–an ostensibly sincere and certainly suave testimony on the difficulties of withdrawing from Vietnam without reverting to the neo-isolationism which, in Kissinger’s view, is what radical-liberal critics of the Nixon Administration have done. To acquiesce in the charade that gentlemen can discuss the finer points of foreign policy in private, while the United States daily pounds the people of Indochina with bombs, seems to me to make one complicit with the policy, no matter how many “tough” questions one might ask Kissinger at such sessions. If Kissinger felt he could no longer conduct his road show with impunity, it would hurt the Nixon Administration more than it would those who might be deprived of Kissinger’s supposedly candid insider explanations of the war.
Moreover, policy makers, especially those who are appointed and given as much power as Kissinger enjoys, should be responsible to the public for the policies which they help shape.
The gathering that Kissinger addressed on Friday evening, January 29, was sponsored by an ad hoc organization called Project Runnymede. The idea for the project goes back to last spring, when American troops invaded Cambodia and moderate MIT students demonstrated in front of a number of defense firms on Boston’s Route 128. The students approached Franklin Lindsay, president of Itek, a firm that specializes in making optical reconnaissance devices for the military. Lindsay and the students decided to convene a meeting of responsible students, academics and businessmen to discuss the foreign policy crisis and what might be done about it. The students invited other moderate students from around the country: members of the Ripon Society, former Congressional interns, et al. Also Jerome Wiesner, provost of MIT; Jeremy J. Stone, executive director of the American Federation of Scientists; Matthew Meselson of Harvard; Howard Johnson, president of MIT, and other academics. Lindsay arranged for the businessmen–Cyrus Vance, former Deputy Secretary of Defense; William Eberle, president of American Standard and co-chairman of Common Cause; Robert Manning, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, Osborn Elliott, editor of Newsweek, and Arthur Taylor, vice president of the International Paper Co. I was invited at the last minute, along with a few others associated with the Institute for Policy Studies, because the student organizers,had just seen a copy of our study, The Pentagon Watchers, which deals with national security policy.