FROM THE UNDERGROUND
marx defends kissinger
A SATIRE ON IMPERMISSIBLE SATIRE
is a member of the Political Science Department at Moravian College
in Bethlehem, PA.
1000 Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
in The Atlantic that Cole Bolton, The Onion’s
editor in 2015, said that his publication is devoted to “calling
out bullshit” and has “had an anti-corporate rebellious
streak throughout [their] editorial history.”
that mission seriously, I submit to you the satire below.
spirit of speaking truth to power,
MARX DEFENDS HENRY KISSINGER BEFORE THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL
parallel universe, Henry Kissinger is being prosecuted for war
crimes and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal
Court at The Hague in the Netherlands. Seated at the table with
Kissinger is his cunning choice for Chief Defense Counsel, none
other than Karl Marx.
ICC’s Chief Prosecutor addresses the three-judge Trial Chamber,
reminding them that the preamble of the Rome Statute establishing
the court states “that the most serious crimes of concern
to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished.”
draws upon a myriad of impeccable sources, including historian
Greg Grandin’s new book Kissinger’s Shadow.
The judges are stunned by the prosecutor’s searing portrayal
of the defendant’s alleged responsibility for so many deaths
-- six million in Indochina alone. An anguished look crosses the
face of Norwegian judge Olaf Ingeborg as he watches some unspeakably
macabre visual evidence.
verdict seems inevitable.
chin falls to his breast as Marx, a man demonized in the West
for some 175 years, rises to address the judges. Not only does
Marx readily concede the veracity of the prosecution’s evidence,
he adds a few graphic details about the defendant’s role
in the East Timor genocide. Kissinger thinks he mishears when
Marx adds, “Dr. Kissinger’s behaviour was not a result
of unusual circumstances, honest mistakes, or individual ambition.”
is distraught as his legal counsel has seemingly hammered the
final nail into his coffin. For the first time in his life, Kissinger
wonders if he has outsmarted himself by choosing Marx to save
him from prison and an ignominious legacy.
then Marx continues:
justices, I have not come to The Hague to send Dr. Kissinger to
prison. And I’m sure it was an oversight when my learned
friend, the Chief Prosecutor, neglected to mention that the defendant
received the Nobel Peace Prize, or that President Obama recently
bestowed on my client the Distinguished Public Service Award,
the Pentagon’s highest honor for a civilian.
his own lights and conscience, my client is a bona fide
civilian war hero acting on firm principles of objective necessity.
without any appreciation for context and motives, are not germane
to arriving at a guilty verdict. I submit to you that the ‘facts’
presented here today are only the end result of certain policies.
members of this tribunal, if you can set aside any preconceived
notions, here are the 'actual' facts of the matter, something
you may not have learned in Economics 101. Dr. Kissinger operated
under the global capitalist moral imperative that 'requires' the
endless accumulation of capital on the one hand and escalating
impoverishment on the other. Once you accept this fact, you surrender
autonomy, and other options cease to exist. If economic disparity
is necessary, suppressing radical efforts to reduce it are ethically
I wrote the book on class struggle -- three volumes, in fact --
and the mantra of the capitalist is, ‘Accumulate! Accumulate!
This is Moses and the Prophets.’ Expand or perish! The chronic
crises produced by this system must be addressed, sometimes in
the most brutal and barbarous fashion. And the defendant would
be the first to tell you that he was the quintessential geostrategic
game player of his era.
know these accusations against Dr. Kissinger call to mind the
Nuremberg trials after World War II, the grainy images of Goering,
Frank, Streicher and Hess. But would the surviving Nazi officials
have been accorded the praise, honour, and gratitude that have
accrued to Dr. Kissinger?
the critical distinction: The Nazi term for those they exterminated
and/or exploited was Untermenschen -- subhumans. By contrast,
the basic humanity of the casualties associated with Dr. Kissinger’s
crimes was never in doubt. It’s only that their lives mattered
slightly less than some other lives, perhaps including your own.
of innocent people did not deserve to die. But the defendant knew
that incalculably grotesque violence—so many killings --
had preceded his time in office. Many of the survivors felt aggrieved,
and, because they no longer feared death, they posed either an
imminent or eventual threat to the post-WWII international order.
He was conversant with Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s
declaration that ‘there are no boundaries in this struggle
to the death.’
the Nazis, Dr. Kissinger wasn’t ‘just following orders’
from his superiors, but obeying a higher law, the sometimes brutal
but unyielding first law of capitalism that I spoke of earlier.
He believed the service he performed was a moral act. As Dr. Kissinger
has advised us more than once, ‘We must learn to distinguish
morality from moralizing.’
justices, it’s easy to blame statesmen for errors in judgment,
and sometimes it’s justified. But here we have an individual
who assumed the awesome responsibility of burning Vietnamese children
alive with napalm in order to protect his country’s free
market system, a system which is now the world’s dominant
economic system. And he’s hardly been alone in assuming
this moral obligation.
this exchange, aired on 60 Minutes in 1996 between Leslie Stahl
and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright regarding
U.S. sanctions on Iraq:
Stahl: We have heard that a half million children have died.
I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima.
And, you know, is the price worth it?
Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price
-- we think the price is worth it.
sensing her compassion and empathy might be in doubt, Albright
added, ‘I regretted coming across as cold-blooded and cruel.’
during Secretary Clinton’s watch, Libya descended into a
failed state on the heels of the U.S.-led intervention. Later,
hundreds of children perished at sea when their refugee boats
sank. But Dr. Kissinger’s disciple championed the U.S. role
because she knew that Col. Gaddafi’s insolent noncompliance
with Washington made him an impediment for U.S. investors in gaining
critical access to resource-rich Africa. She was abiding by the
adage of her mentor, Dr. Kissinger, who sagely said, ‘The
absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.’ She
acted on objective reality. But lest you suspect this make Secretary
Clinton a moral monster, recall her pledge that ‘every child
in America should be able to reach his or her God-given potential.’
and not to belabour the point, but aren’t President Obama’s
Hellfire missile-armed Reaper drones that vaporize children only
abiding by this same economic and moral calculus? Remember what
I said about mere ‘facts’ divorced from motives. It’s
the distinction between human facts and strategic facts. Obama,
like Kissinger, believes he’s acting virtuously on behalf
of advancing the interests of the penultimate economic system
ever devised by humans, the Holy Grail of modern economics for
the entire world. And recall that Obama also received the Nobel
Peace Prize.” Again, Norway’s Judge Ingeborg’s
face registers discomfort.
judges, we can all agree that The Netherlands is a most felicitous
setting, but do you really want to spend the remainder of your
term putting leaders on trial for simply doing their jobs?
to convict the defendant of these charges, you must be convinced
the prosecution has established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt;
in legal terms, it’s sometimes called moral certainty. If
you believe the alleged crimes could have been committed due to
circumstances, conditions, and causes not contained in the indictment,
you must vote for acquittal. Your vote is a profoundly moral one
that will determine the fate of another human.
justices, the defense rests.”
Marx’s statement, Kissinger notices confusion and even doubt
creeping onto the faces of the three judges. Inwardly, he congratulates
deliberation ensues. The Australian justice says, “As to
the death of children -- the most vexing charge we heard -- my
husband and I have a precious new granddaughter, so it’s
not abstract for me. I know I may sound harsh, but, given the
wretched conditions confronting the poor and given the world’s
frightening overpopulation problems, this suffering will only
become more pronounced. To Herr Doktor Marx’s point that
Dr. Kissinger’s actions were morally necessary to save the
system, couldn’t we add that the deaths of these children
-- unusually and mercifully swift -- was a prophylactic measure?
This policy protected not only our long-term interests, but theirs
as well. Finally, I’ll say out loud what many are thinking:
A certain percentage of these adorable children would have grown
up to be terrorists.”
Justice Michael Cooper responds, “I’m leaning towards
acquittal, but for very different reasons. If we convict the defendant,
aren’t we letting the system off the hook, making Kissinger
the scapegoat, and feeling self-righteous about it? Part of me
wishes capitalism, itself, could be in the dock.”
Ingeborg is largely silent, confining himself to rereading the
portion of the official transcript describing moral certainty.
after two days, an acquitted Kissinger walks free.
drained and visibly relieved defendant approaches Marx, extends
his hand and effuses, “Dein Genie hat mir sowohl mein
Leben als auch mein Vermächtnis gerettet. Danke! (Your
brilliance has saved both my life and legacy! Thank you!)”
brushes the hand aside and, refusing to speak German, mutters,
“I don’t shake hands with mass murderers.”
stammers, “But, but, you . . .”
cuts him off. “I defended you because it gave me an opportunity
on the world stage to explain how saving humanity, and saving
the world, requires eliminating the power of the capitalist class,
not individuals. And there’s precious little time.
guilty verdict would have been personally gratifying, but it would
have been a misdirection, a distraction from the truth. My statement
identified the ultimate guilty party. As someone said in a different
context, I think the price for your acquittal is worth it. And
speaking of precious little time, I saw the Grim Reaper lurking
in the parking lot next to your car. Auf wiedersehen,
you for your submission. We’re proud that The Onion
has been praised by media experts for “being at the forefront
of a politically and socially conscious niche of satire.”
Earlier this year, the media titan Univision Communications acquired
a 40% controlling interest in The Onion. As the new executive
editor, and having recently moved over to The Onion from
Univision’s corporate headquarters, I can assure that we
will continue to be the trailblazer for this mission, especially
with Millennials, who constitute our primary target audience and
bread and butter is making people laugh, but, of course, we’re
primarily in the entertainment business. We must show a healthy
profit for our shareholders, or we’ll cease to exist. Some
people claim that satire’s highest obligation is to speak
truth to power. I disagree. It’s not that truth is unimportant,
but, when compared to competing needs and demands, it’s
an overrated virtue.
our ability to absorb, assimilate, and commodify art, including
satire, is virtually limitless. We see an exceedingly bright future
for political satire as a valuable commodity. Satire sells.
you’ve egregiously misinterpreted Cole Bolton’s statement
about “calling out bullshit.” Our lampooning of episodic
corporate greed and stupidity is a far cry from what your narrator
does in his defense of Dr. Kissinger.
a publication that prides itself on our hard-earned reputation
that “everything is fair game.” An ICC guilty verdict
would have tracked well with some of our readership. The only
submissions we won’t consider for The Onion are
transgressive ones like your own, with its neo-Swiftian overtones
of indicting the entire free market system.
might consider starting your own blog, a popular option for satirists
who fail to pass muster in mainstream publications.
The Onion/Univision Communications, Inc.
receiving your rejection letter, I noted that Haim Saban is Univision’s
chairperson and co-owner. As reported in a New Yorker profile,
Saban revealed that one of his preferred methods for influencing
American politics is to gain control of media outlets. This all
cries out for a delicious, over-the-top satire. Clearly, it won’t
appear in The Onion.
Mr. William Wood
The New Yorker
1100 Park Avenue
that the magazine occasionally publishes satire, I'm submitting
my piece "Karl Marx Defends Henry Kissinger Before the International
agreed that while your piece was engaging and neo-Swiftian in
both style and substance it's not a good fit for us.
Andy Borowitz, our satirist-in-residence is fond of saying, "I
just want to make people laugh." Neither our subscribers
nor our advertisers would be amused by a wholesale indictment
of the global capitalist system. We'll pass.
The New Yorker
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
1818 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10034
please find my writing sample, “Karl Marx Defends Henry
Kissinger Before the International Criminal Court.” I’ve
long been of the opinion that, by just taking a few more risks,
your program, and, before that, The Daily Show, could
serve as the response to the rhetorical question, “Where
is Jonathan Swift when we need him?”
slight twist on Russell Peterson’s distinction between pseudo-satire
and real satire, I’m suggesting that the former only reveals
the empire’s nudity, while the latter explains how we’ve
been manipulated into never seeing that nakedness.
undoubtedly aware, Swift turned to satire like Gulliver’s
Travels and A Modest Proposal when his earlier,
non-satirical writing on Britain’s brutal colonialism in
Ireland was ignored. Because incomparably worse situations exist
in our day, I immediately thought of your show when looking for
an appropriate venue for my writing.
for your submission. At our weekly reading of submissions, several
staff laughed aloud and a few even applauded your audacity in
employing this form of neo-Swiftian satire.
same time, we all agreed that your piece cuts too close to the
bone. When Marx argues that free market capitalism is the primary
culprit for U.S. domestic problems and mischief abroad, that’s
off-limits for us. One staffer noted that it’s actually
one thing for Stephen to skewer politicians like Trump or brilliantly
excoriate President Bush at the White House Correspondent’s
Dinner in 2006. It’s quite another -- as your narrator does
-- to exhibit outright contempt for the free market system that’s
made the United States the envy of the world. Swift satirically
portrayed the evils of English colonialism, but we both know a
neo-Swiftian would never be invited to perform for dinner guests
at the White House! Stephen was accorded fulsome praise from many
critics for his courage, integrity, and, frankly, his cojones.
Sec. Kissinger guested on The Colbert Report, Stephen
respectfully introduced him as: “A winner of the Nobel Peace
Prize, an adviser to seven presidents, and friend of the show,
Dr. Henry Kissinger.” Displaying an endearing, self-deprecating
sense of humour, Dr. Kissinger has also been on the show in a
dance party clip with Stephen and judging a guitar solo concert.
He even crooned, “We’ll Meet Again” during Stephen’s
rousing farewell show. By all accounts, the audience loved Dr.
Kissinger, who graciously remained after the show to sign autographs.
worked on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show when
Dr. Kissinger accepted Jon’s invitation to guest on the
program. He sat on the couch and kibitzed with Jon, who referred
to him throughout as “sir.” Jon encouraged Dr. Kissinger
to expound on his new book. We pride ourselves on taking liberties,
but we recognize the permissible boundaries of satire. (Parenthetically,
South Park, a quite different Comedy Central satire,
absolutely prides itself on performing merciless social satire
where nothing is sacred and all ideas are mocked).
event, you almost seem to suggest that Jon or Stephen should have
just come out and asked Dr. Kissinger if his public career was
about killing millions of people on behalf of capitalism and empire.
That’s beyond ludicrous. It’s also rude, insolent,
and bordering on defamatory. Understandably, Dr. Kissinger would
never again grace us with his presence on our show.
our treatment of Dr. Kissinger confer a certain cultural legitimacy
on his invaluable public service to our nation? Absolutely. We
make no apologies for that. We’ll take an emphatic pass
on your employment application.
-- and this is purely a personal aside -- you might exhibit some
humility and gratitude for being a citizen of the United States,
the freest country in the world, where you can write this frothy
revolutionary venom and pursue publishing options without fear
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
1818 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10034
Dear Mr. Thackeray,
I’m indebted to you for clarifying the boundaries of permissible
you cited South Park as evidence of no-holds-barred satire. Paul
Cantor writes approvingly that Viacom executives pumped so much
money into South Park “not because they value free speech
or trenchant satire but because the show has developed a niche
market and is profitable.” No doubt they also share Cantor’s
encomium for the show when he says that South Park “celebrates
the most developed defense of capitalism.” Co-creators Trey
Parker and Matt Stone are self-identified libertarians who’ve
voiced disgust for the liberal left. When Stone was asked, “So,
what’s it like working for a multinational corporation,”
he replied, “It’s pretty good, you know? We can say
whatever we want.”
not long after receiving your rejection letter, I came across
a 2004 interview with Liz Winstead, the long-departed co-creator
of The Daily Show. Asked about Jon’s soft interviews, Winstead
replied, “When you are interviewing a Richard Perle or a
Kissinger, if you give them a pass, then you are becoming what
you are satirizing. You have a war criminal sitting on your couch
-- to just let him be a war criminal sitting on your couch means
you are having to respect some kind of boundary.”
Jonathan Swift composed his own epitaph in a final effort to influence
future readers of to pursue social justice. The words are found
on his grave site inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin,
[Here is deposited the body
of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Sacred Theology
Dean of this Cathedral Church
Where fierce indignation can no longer
Rend his heart.
Go traveler, if you can
And imitate this earnest and dedicated
Champion of Liberty.]
these words are not for your edification. But if, per chance,
my essay and correspondence with you and other prominent satire
editors finds a publisher, Swift’s words might be taken
to heart and find renewed meaning and inspiration among his kindred
all the respect you are due,
note: All three responses to my submission are fictitious.
Robert Walpole, W.M. Thackeray and William Wood were three of
Jonathan's Swift's fiercest political enemies and frequently the
target of his satires on British colonialism.
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