Protesters gather outside NYC's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on May 23 to oppose Henry Kissinger receiving the Intrepid Freedom Award. Credit: Timothy Bidon
Protesters Challenge Kissinger Role in 'Preserving Freedom and Democracy'

Henry Kissinger is one, if not the most, controversial secretaries of state the United States has ever had. Serving in the Nixon and Ford administrations, Kissinger oversaw an estimated 180,000 deaths at the hands of Indonesia’s then-dictator, Suharto.  Cable leaks published by WikiLeaks demonstrate Kissinger's direct role in overseeing bloody invasions in East Timor, West Papua, Cambodia as well as overseeing the ongoing war in Vietnam, to name only a few, and there are warrants out for Kissinger's arrest in both France and Spain.

But despite this controversial record, many Americans still regard Kissinger as a champion of democracy and freedom. On Thursday, Kissinger was given the Intrepid Freedom Award by the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum for ‘preserving freedom and democracy.’ The Intrepid also honored David Koch, the infamous conservative Super PAC donor who has been found to be polluting many parts of the country.

As throngs of people made their way through the rain in their tuxedos and dresses to take their places at the awards dinner, they were met with a group of about 25 braving the weather to protest the awards just across the street. It was a bleak scene, as the massive ship stood under cloudy skies. The protestors were dressed in ponchos, in staunch contrast to the attire those attending the event. The action was organized by a number of groups, including Chelsea Neighbors United to End the War (CNUEW) and World Can’t Wait (WCW).

Carrying signs bearing phrases such as “Kissinger’s a war criminal,” and “Don’t Do Koch,” the group of activists attempted to alert attendees and passersby to the hypocrisy behind giving Kissinger and Koch awards for their roles in preserving democracy.

The fact that Kissinger is getting some sort of award for his peace efforts is ludicrous,” said Roberto Rodriguez, a CNUEW member and the first to arrive for the action. He went on to state that Kissinger had played a “critical role” in insuring invasions and bloodshed throughout Indochina.

Those machinations of his were not to induce democracy, but instead to create a climate of war,” said Rodriguez. He added that the award gives a “false representation of what has occurred.”

In 1975, Kissinger and Ford gave Suharto the go ahead to invade East Timor. WikiLeaks documents reveal that Suharto was hesitant to invade, fearing that the United States would cut off arms supplies to Indonesia. With Kissinger’s assurance of no such thing happening, Indonesia invaded.

Kissinger also played a key role in developing the “Act of Free Choice” that was introduced in West Papua, which forced natives to live under brutal Indonesian military occupation.

Sharon Pavlovich is another activist who was in attendance from WCW.  “I’m old enough to have a very good memory of the many places that Henry Kissinger destroyed, murdered maimed, carpet bombed, all around the world,” she said. “He did some very horrendous things, in Indochina in particular, all in the name of stopping Communism.”

Pavolich explained that she believes similar tactics are being used today. “Back then, the government allowed the killing of people to stop the ‘horrors of communism.’ Now we’re doing the same to stop the ‘horrors of terrorism.’ It’s the same thing, just a new form,” she said.

Activists were not only protesting Kissinger but Koch as well.

I'm here because Kissinger’s a war criminal and David Koch’s just a dickhead,” said Mike Edison, an activist unassociated with an organization. “He [Kissinger] is getting this award because he’s one of the elites and they’re kissing up to him. The same with David Koch,” he added. “Koch makes money polluting areas of the country, as well as promoting global warming denial.”

Despite the extensive evidence showing the wrongdoing on the part of both Koch and Kissinger, many Americans still regard the two in a positive light. Edison thinks the American public remains misinformed, because “they read the mainstream media and they believe what they read,” he said.

In 1973, despite all the war efforts he was a part of, Kissinger was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Pavolich thought this occasion was not much different: “It’s the same occasion, for the same reasons.”

All three activists explained that this moment was similar to President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, despite his subsequent use of drones in the “War on Terror.”

And despite the activists’ presence outside the Intrepid, people continued to stream into the awards dinner, many of them not even listening to what the protestors had to say. Perhaps in another country, this event would have had a larger turnout. “I wish Kissinger would make his way to France or Spain where they have a warrant out for his arrest,” said Pavolich.