Anthony Bourdain never shied away from expressing his contempt for Henry Kissinger.
While having drinks with guests on an episode in Indonesia for his “Parts Unknown” program, the celebrated chef shared a cutting joke. The conversation had turned to discussing how the United States supported the brutal dictatorship of Suharto, Indonesia’s president, during the Nixon and Ford administrations, and Bourdain didn’t hold back.
“Henry Kissinger and a penguin walk into a bar. I’m not asking what you’d do, but would it displease you if I walked over and punched Henry Kissinger in the face? Would you find that entertaining?” he asked in the episode, which aired in October 2018, several months after Bourdain died by suicide.
“Would you feel that justice is in some small way served?” Bourdain said.
One of the men sitting with him at the bar guffawed and said: “You hate him!”
“I hate him, yeah. Because in my travels, I stumble across his good works everywhere I go,” Bourdain said.
Bourdain visited more than 80 countries — a number of them in Southeast Asia — during his career and frequently shared his disdain for Kissinger while documenting his travels. After Kissinger died at age 100 Wednesday, several of his scathing comments recirculated on social media.
In his 2001 memoir, “A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines,” Bourdain expanded upon his condemnation of Kissinger and the violence his decisions inflicted on innocent civilians in Cambodia.
“Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking,” he wrote.
From 1969 to 1973, Kissinger directed the bombing of large swaths of Cambodia as national security adviser and secretary of state under President Nixon, the Washington Post reported. The bombing campaign was kept secret for decades, and historians have pointed to its role in the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime. Under its rule, an estimated 2 million people in the country were killed.
Both Kissinger and President Ford also gave Suharto the green light for Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor that left at least 200,000 dead, documents declassified in 2001 revealed. Kissinger had long denied giving his approval. When the extent of his involvement in Cambodia and elsewhere was revealed Kissinger dismissed those calling him a “war criminal.”
But Bourdain believed Kissinger deserved to be brought to justice.
“Witness what Henry did in Cambodia — the fruits of his genius for statesmanship — and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to [Slobodan] Milosevic,” he wrote in his memoir, referring to the former Yugoslav president who went on trial in 2002 on charges of genocide and war crimes, which ended without a verdict after he was found dead in prison in 2006. “While Henry continues to nibble nori rolls and remaki at A-list parties, Cambodia, the neutral nation he secretly and illegally bombed, invaded, undermined and then threw to the dogs, is still trying to raise itself up on its one remaining leg.”
Several months before he died, Bourdain retweeted the passage.
“Frequently, I’ve come to regret things I’ve said,” he said. “This, from 2001, is not one of those times.”
One person called his assessment “the only eulogy to Henry Kissinger worth reading.”
When Bourdain was interviewed for a profile in the New Yorker in 2017, his criticism of Kissinger was brought up. Pushing back against the idea that he had “become a statesman” through his show, Bourdain quipped that “I’m not going to the White House Correspondents’ dinner.”
“I don’t need to be laughing it up with Henry Kissinger,” he continued. “Any journalist who has ever been polite to Henry Kissinger, you know, [expletive] that person. I’m a big believer in moral gray areas, but, when it comes to that guy, in my view he should not be able to eat at a restaurant in New York.”
When journalist Patrick Radden Keefe noted Bourdain had made “similarly categorical denunciations of many people,” only to forgive them or overlook his problems with them later, Bourdain shot back.
“Emeril didn’t bomb Cambodia!” he said.