Kissinger On National Character and the World Cup


The NYT offers a selection Brazilian, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, German, and English writers on how their soccer team’s style of play reflects deep national characteristics:

HOW WE PLAY THE GAME
PRODUCED BY ANDREW DAS, ALICIA DESANTIS, AND JOSH KELLER

Every team is simply trying to score goals while preventing its opponent from doing the same. But they all seem to go about it in distinct ways, don’t they? To understand what is happening on the fields in Brazil at the World Cup, one must learn a bit about each country’s history, and literature, and music, and regionalism, and economy – not to mention bicycles and pottery. If you look closely enough at the X’s and O’s, you just might find a national poem.

The classic in this mode was Henry Kissinger’s 1986 essay “World Cup according to character.” This exemplifies the deepest level of Kissinger’s thought. I recently reread his 1982 memoir on his tumultuous 1973-74 years as Secretary of State and that’s how he closes out each account of a foreign power. When he gets to the last time he mentions, say, France or Japan, he reflects for about a page on what advice he can give American statesmen on what to expect from France or Japan in the future. And it always turns out to be roughly: France will probably keep acting Frenchy or Japan Japanesey. (Of course, Kissinger says it more elegantly and wittily.)