Henry Kissinger turns 100. An internet meme is eagerly awaiting its death.

Henry Kissinger, who served as national security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford, will turn 100 on May 27, and to mark the occasion he recently sat down for an interview with CBS “Sunday Morning” lead contributor Ted Koppel. The segment was largely friendly, except for a testy exchange mid-stream. “There are people on our show who question the legitimacy of even do an interview with you,” Koppel said. “They’re very into what they consider, I’m going to put it in a language they would use, your criminality.”

“It’s a reflection of their ignorance,” Kissinger replied. Koppel referred to Kissinger’s role in the US bombing campaign in Cambodia, which took place from 1969 to 1973, killing perhaps as many as 150,000 civilians and hastening the overthrow of the Cambodian government by the genocidal Khmer Rouge. After some back and forth, Kissinger said, “It’s a program you’re doing because I’m going to be 100. And you pick a topic about something that happened 60 years ago. You should know that it was a necessary step. Today, the younger generation feels that if they can elevate their emotions, they don’t have to think. If they are thinking, they will not ask this question.

Kissinger’s centenary was greeted with the glowing editorials a seasoned statesman might expect – his biographer Niall Ferguson says “events of the last decade…have brought us back, with a series of jolts that give to think about, in Kissinger’s world”. But the younger generation — or at least, the left of them — does indeed let their own thoughts (and, yes, emotions) be known on the internet. There, shedding light on Kissinger’s eventual death — and his remarkable longevity — has been a popular meme for years.

There are several new Twitter accounts that provide updates on whether Kissinger is still breathing, and the death of a major public figure often trends Kissinger’s name on the platform. The general feeling – why not Kissinger? – is perhaps best captured in a visual meme depicting the grim reaper picking up a person in an arcade claw machine; one iteration is captioned “Queen Elizabeth II?! Is Henry Kissinger even into this thing?

The passage from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s 2001 book “A Cook’s Tour”, which begins with “Once you are in Cambodia, you will never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands”, is also frequently shared on Twitter and other social networks. (Additionally, Kissinger has been accused – perhaps most famously in Christopher Hitchens’ fiery 2001 book “The Trial of Henry Kissinger” – of war crimes in Vietnam, East Timor and elsewhere.)

When a Vox writer tweeted about the Economic Club of New York’s 100th birthday celebration for Kissinger on Tuesday, asking “What would you ask Dr. Kissinger?”, the responses were withered. “Can he already feel the flames of hell gently tickling his toes?” read a. On Thursday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) intervened with “Which war crime weighs the most on your conscience?” (The Wiley Agency, the literary firm that represents Kissinger, did not respond to emails requesting feedback on the meme.)

And then there’s the Kissinger Death Tontine, an online charity jackpot concocted by a group of Bay Area socialists over drinks in 2018, the prize of which is a “selection of liquors from countries where Kissinger overthrew the democratically elected leader”.

Shanti Singh, a 32-year-old tenant organizer from San Francisco who was shamelessly involved in the creation of Kissinger Death Tontine, has a few theories as to why Kissinger remains the object of such intense fascination on the left. “He is one of the most decorated war criminals in the history of the 20th century,” she said, citing her Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. “I think he captures the imagination because there were absolutely no consequences for him. If anything, he’s being brought up by both parties. We saw in the 2016 Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton said, “He’s a really good friend of mine,” and Bernie Sanders said, “Are you sure you want to brag about that?”

Alex Turvy, a Tulane University PhD student who researches memes, said the dark jokes have a strong emotional component. “Kissinger’s steadfast refusal to die represents something bigger for people, like the fact that there are forces of evil greater than you that you have no power over,” Turvy said. “And memes are kind of a way to release some of that pent-up energy.”

He explained that Gen Zers and very online millennials, who weren’t even about to be born under the Nixon administration, have “a lot of comfort with irreverence and jokes about someone’s death. that don’t play as well offline. You know, if you repeat some of those jokes to your mom, whether she likes Kissinger or not, it’s not gonna sound so funny.

Millennial conservative commentator Ben Shapiro once tweeted that those wishing Kissinger dead are “simply a mob looking for a victim”. But even among young progressives, not everyone is comfortable with the fixation on Kissinger’s disappearance. Take Sam Weinberg, the 22-year-old executive director of DC-based Path to Progress, a Gen Z-focused think tank. “Henry Kissinger is not someone with an admirable legacy, far from it.” , Weinberg said. “But at the same time, I feel like as progressives and leftists, we’re supposed to be compassionate and loving. We’re supposed to be tolerant, support restorative justice and oppose the death penalty. So, when I see people online spending so much time wishing for the death of just one person, it’s strange, it’s off-putting, it’s kind of disgusting.

Discourse Blog editor Jack Mirkinson, a 35-year-old New Yorker who writes an occasional obituary titled “Henry Kissinger Is Right There,” dismissed the notion that his work is offensive, given the amount of “blood on (Kissinger’s) hands.” He added: “I would consider the things he’s done and the crimes he’s guilty of to be a bit more tasteless than the people making jokes about him and the end of his life.”

The 26-year-old Peruvian law student (who spoke on condition of anonymity) behind the small Twitter account Is Henry Kissinger dead? was even more blunt: “I think Americans in particular are very sensitive to this very dumb idea which is wrong to celebrate the death of an evil person,” he wrote in a direct message on Twitter.

One thing these watchers can agree on is that when Kissinger dies, it will be a loud day on Twitter for his critics. Miles Klee, a 38-year-old Los Angeles-based culture writer for Rolling Stone who explained why Kissinger is still trending on Twitter, anticipates “a ton of fun memes, dunks, and Photoshop,” though “it won’t be not the case”. a totally joyful thing, because he lived to be a hundred years old.

Klee sees Twitter’s inevitable reaction to Kissinger’s death as a kind of counter-programming to mainstream media obituaries, as one might expect. Greg Grandin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning history professor at Yale University and author of “Kissinger’s Shadow” in 2015, agreed. Kissinger’s actions, he said, “will be dismissed as controversial, but you know, he will be presented as a great statesman. You can already (predict) the New York Times obituary.

When the big day finally arrives, the creator of Is Henry Kissinger Dead? said he would simply tweet “Yes” and “enjoy the jubilation”. He also noted that Kissinger has survived several other Twitter accounts reporting on the current state of his existence.

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