5 Minutes with Henry Kissinger

June 7, 2012 – The August Issue of Yankees Magazine will include a “5 Minutes with” Q&A feature that I will relish for a very long time.

On May 29, I interviewed former United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger for about a half hour in his New York City office.

Kissinger, who began attending games at the old Yankee Stadium soon after he moved from Germany to the United States in 1938, spoke about his beloved Yankees in the first part of the interview.

“At that time, I could only afford bleacher seats,” Kissinger said. “The bleacher seats at Yankee Stadium were pretty far from home plate, but nothing like the Polo Grounds, where you really couldn’t see well. From the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, I had a great view of Joe DiMaggio playing centerfield. That’s how my interest in baseball really evolved.

“Joe was an enormously graceful outfielder,” Kissinger continued. “When a ball was hit to him, he sometimes looked as if he were loping, but suddenly he would get to the ball. I identified the Yankees with Joe DiMaggio, but in those days — at which time I was working in a factory — it never occurred to me that some day I would meet him. That was beyond the American dream.”

Kissinger then shared his memories of watching Yankees’ games with DiMaggio after the great centerfielder’s career came to an end.

“Joe had an unbelievable memory,” Kissinger said. “I was sitting with him once, and I told him that I had been in Griffith Stadium in Washington — which must have been 15 years earlier — and I saw him hit three home runs in the first game of a double header. And he said, ‘Yes, but in the second game, I hit two drives that went further than the home runs, and they were caught.’”

I also asked Kissinger a few questions about his impact on the world, and his responses were even more brilliant than I expected them to be. When I asked Kissinger how he handled the immense pressure during the time in which he was negotiating a conclusion to the conflict in Vietnam, I felt as if he brought me back to that pivotal time.

“I would fly from Washington, D.C. to Paris to meet the Vietnamese negotiators,” Kissinger said. “I would spend between five and 10 hours with the Vietnamese in each negotiating session. They tried to break our spirit by dragging out the negotiations, but I knew that I couldn’t let those tactics affect me.

“In those situations, you have to do what you have to do,” he continued. “I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself or to complain about the pressure. Just like in sports, pressure is part of the job, but when you’re in that job, you either perform or you drop out.”

At the end of the interview, Kissinger compared his achievements in China to those in the Soviet Union.

“Both relations were important because with the Soviet Union and America possessing large numbers of nuclear weapons, the survival of mankind in a way was at stake,” Kissinger said. “With the Chinese being the largest, most populous country in the world, our ability to establish a cooperative relationship with them would determine the possibility of similar progress around the world. At any rate, you couldn’t make good progress unless you had good relations with China.”

There are several more interesting parts of this interview, which was with the fourth United States secretary of state to appear in Yankees Magazine since 2010  — Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton were the others — and I believe it is a must-read.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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