Fact Check

Did Anthony Bourdain Call Henry Kissinger a 'Treacherous, Prevaricating, Murderous Scumbag'?

The outspoken celebrity chef criticized Kissinger for his role in enabling brutal violence in Cambodia.

Published Nov 30, 2023

 (Kasa Fue/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Kasa Fue/Wikimedia Commons
Claim:
Author and chef Anthony Bourdain called former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger a “treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag” for his role in ordering bombings in Cambodia and the ensuing violence. Bourdain also wrote, “You will never understand why [Kissinger] is not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to [Serbian President] Milosevic.”

On Nov. 29, 2023, Henry Kissinger, a noted U.S. diplomat and former secretary of state, died at the age of 100. While praised for being one of the most important diplomats of the Cold War era who was instrumental in opening up U.S. relations with China and negotiating an end to the Vietnam War, he was widely criticized and reviled for his human rights record.

One of his fiercest critics in later years was prominent chef, author and documentarian Anthony Bourdain, known for his political commentary and activism while reporting on international cuisines. As news of Kissinger’s death spread, many online shared a snippet from Bourdain’s writings about Kissinger:

The excerpt reads in full:

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. 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 [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milošević.

This is indeed an authentic quote from Bourdain’s writings. We found it on page 162 of an online copy of his 2002 book “A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines,” saved in the Internet Archive.

The paragraph continued:

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.

For reference, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was prosecuted in The Hague in 2002 on charges of genocide and war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

According to The Washington Post, from 1969 to 1973, as national security adviser and secretary of state under President Richard Nixon, Kissinger had directed the carpet bombing of large swaths of Cambodia. U.S. officials at the time claimed the region was a sanctuary for Communist insurgents from Vietnam and North Vietnamese soldiers. The scale of the bombing campaign (estimated to be 500,000 tons of bombs that killed 150,000 civilians) was kept a secret from the American public and personally directed by Kissinger, according to declassified documents.  

Kissinger was labeled a “war criminal” by many activists and critics, though he continued to defend his record throughout his life, saying the bombings were milder than American drone attacks in recent years, according to a 2014 interview. Historians dispute his accounts, however, and many also say the carpet bombings contributed to the rise of the Khmer Rouge totalitarian regime that carried out a genocide of minority groups in Cambodia.

This was not the only time Bourdain criticized Kissinger. In a 2017 New Yorker profile, Bourdain said, “I’m not going to the White House Correspondents’ dinner. I don’t need to be laughing it up with Henry Kissinger. [...] Any journalist who has ever been polite to Henry Kissinger, you know, fuck 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.”

Kissinger was not only criticized for his actions in Cambodia. He stood behind the West Pakistan government’s slaughter of civilians in East Pakistan (that would later become Bangladesh) in order to leverage Pakistan as a counterweight to China and India, even approving weapons shipments to the U.S.-backed military regime. Princeton scholar Gary J. Bass reported how Kissinger ignored warnings of an impending genocide in East Pakistan. In secret recordings Kissinger expressed disdain for people who showed sympathy for “the dying Bengalis.” He also supported anti-communist dictatorships in Latin American countries, and plotted with the CIA in 1970 on how to topple the Marxist, democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende.

The list of countries and regions impacted by Kissinger's far-reaching and often blood-stained influence goes on.

Sources

Bourdain, Anthony. A Cook’s Tour : Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines. New York : Ecco, 2002. Internet Archive, http://archive.org/details/cookstourglobala00bour. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023. 

“Henry Kissinger, Dominant U.S. Diplomat of Cold War Era, Dies Aged 100.” Reuters, 30 Nov. 2023. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/henry-kissinger-american-diplomat-nobel-winner-dead-100-2023-11-30/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023. 

Keefe, Patrick Radden. “Anthony Bourdain’s Moveable Feast.” The New Yorker, 5 Feb. 2017. www.newyorker.com, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/13/anthony-bourdains-moveable-feast. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023. 

Sanger, David E. “Henry Kissinger Is Dead at 100; Shaped the Nation’s Cold War History.” The New York Times, 30 Nov. 2023. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/29/us/henry-kissinger-dead.html. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023. 

Slobodan Milosevic | Biography, Facts, & Trial | Britannica. 17 Nov. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Slobodan-Milosevic. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023. 

What Kissinger Did in Cambodia: U.S. Carpet Bombing, Explained - The Washington Post. 30 Nov. 2023, https://web.archive.org/web/20231130144359/https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/11/30/henry-kissinger-cambodia-bombing-war/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023. 

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.