A protester disrupted Henry Kissinger’s appearance at an NYU business school event yesterday. Ethan Frankel, an NYU student, took the megaphone and announced he had interrupted the event to several dozen protesters at Gould Plaza.
In a video, Frankel can be seen standing up a few rows from the front and beginning to make a statement about Kissinger’s involvement in the Vietnam War, to groans from the crowd, before he was escorted out. Then another student stood up, yelling “Henry Kissinger, you have blood on your hands”; she also mentioned Kissinger’s involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected President Allende in Chile, before being escorted out.
“Let’s get back to where we were,” said Mervyn King, an NYU professor and the event host, to laughter from the crowd.
— Esor (@EsorFas) October 16, 2018
The Stern School of Business event fell on the anniversary of the day Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a ceasefire in the Vietnam War. The co-awardee, the North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho, declined the prize, on the grounds that the US had repeatedly violated the terms of the agreement.
The award remains controversial because Kissinger served as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State in the Nixon administration, which continued the war for seven more years. Kissinger oversaw the four-year bombing campaign of Cambodia and Laos during the war; 3 million tons of explosives were dropped on the two countries—both of which were neutral parties in the Vietnam War— killing as many as 100,000 civilians. The resulting instability in Cambodia preceded the Khmer Rouge regime, which killed, by some estimates, more than 1.5 million people during the Cambodian genocide.
Won Kim, a Stern student who’s attended similar talks in the past, said he decided to protest Kissinger’s appearance because of the damage his actions have done in countries his classmates come from. “NYU has a responsibility to represent the student body. There have been a lot of international students from countries that have been directly affected by Kissinger’s actions,” he said.
The indiscriminate use of artillery against civilians is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, which is part of the reason critics call Kissinger a war criminal.
Thirteen NYU student groups previously released an open letter calling on the university to cancel the event. “We ask for accountability from university administration in regards to the process through which white supremacists, eugenicists, and war criminals are invited to speak on campus,” the letter states.
“When this man is publicly celebrated as a wise sage of diplomacy, national security, and foreign affairs, his despicable hawkishness is implicitly endorsed.”
The invite-only event was announced via email to Stern students, faculty and alumni; the email does not specify the topic of conversation, but speakers in the series normally talk about their careers. The event was not open to the press.
An NYU spokesperson, John Beckman, noted that NYU schools regularly hold private, RSVP-only events. “The free exchange of diverse ideas and viewpoints is a fundamental value at NYU. As such, an invited speaker should be able to be heard without disruption,” he wrote in a statement. (As an NYU spokesperson, Beckman is also part of the communications team serving Bedford + Bowery).
On-campus appearances by controversial speakers, like Bell Curve author Charles Murray, have sparked protests in the past; in February of last year, an appearance by Proud Boy leader Gavin McInnes led to 11 arrests.
“I think it’s cool that our business school invited people who at one point made an impact on the economic world,” said Judy, an NYU Stern student, “even if we agree or don’t agree with them, just to give us their perspective.”
Frank Wong, a Stern student, wanted to attend the event because Kissinger was a key figure in US-China relations. After hearing about the protest, he read up on Kissinger’s record. “I did some research on what he did in Vietnam and Cambodia. That was my first time learning this information, and I think it’s appalling,” Wong said. He had still hoped to attend the event, which was full, to hear what Kissinger had to say.
“It’s not that I think he doesn’t have the right to speak,” said Jeremy Montano, a protester. “I don’t think the school has a responsibility to provide a platform for him to speak. He shouldn’t be able to speak in polite society all the time, as he does.”
“Would they allow a Nazi to speak here?” asked Ted Auerbach, a Democratic Socialists of America member who attended the protest.
“NYU is incredibly hypocritical,” he added. “An international criminal court is where he belongs.”
After the second protester was escorted from the event, host Mervyn King remarked, “It’s the troubles in the world today that we should really be worried about.” (King did not respond to B+B’s request for comment.)
But the protesters’ letter stated that “the results of Kissinger’s foreign policy are not a thing of the past.” Undetonated explosives in Cambodia and Laos continue to kill and injure people there; in Vietnam, leftover explosives have killed or maimed over 100,000 people since the war ended in 1975. Kim, the Stern student, noted that as a university with an increasingly international presence, it can not afford to continue promoting a US-centric lens.
“People alive today suffer because of [Kissinger’s] actions,” the letter read, “and his presence at NYU normalizes and condones that suffering.”