George F. Kennan
George Frost Kennan (16 February 1904 – 17 March 2005) was an American diplomat and historian, who served as ambassador to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. He was known best as an advocate of a policy of containment of Soviet expansion during the Cold War on which he later reversed himself. He lectured widely and wrote scholarly histories of the relations between the USSR and the United States. He was also one of the group of foreign policy elders known as "The Wise Men".
- If humiliation and rejection are to be the rewards of faithful and effective service in this field, what are those of us to conclude who have also served prominently in this line of work but upon whom this badge has not yet been conferred?
We cannot deceive ourselves into believing that it was merit, rather than chance, that spared some of us the necessity of working in areas of activity that have now become controversial, of recording opinions people now find disagreeable, of aiding in the implementation of policies now under question. … In no field of endeavor is it easier than in the field of foreign affairs to be honestly wrong; in no field is it harder for contemporaries to be certain they can distinguish between wisdom and folly; in no field would it be less practicable to try to insist on infallibility as a mark of fitness for office.
- In defense of a colleague undergoing investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951; published in Memoirs : 1950-1963 (1967), p. 218
- A political society does not live to conduct foreign policy; it would be more correct to say that it conducts foreign policy in order to live.
- Lecture at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey (March 1954); published in “The Two Planes of International Reality” in Realities of American Foreign Policy (1954), p. 4
- There is, let me assure you, nothing in nature more egocentrical than the embattled democracy. It soon becomes the victim of its own war propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts everything else. Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil. Its own side, on the other hand, is the center of all virtue. The contest comes to be viewed as having a final, apocalyptic quality. If we lose, all is lost; life will no longer be worth living; there will be nothing to be salvaged. If we win, then everything will be possible; all our problems will become soluble; the one great source of evil--our enemy--will have been crushed; the forces of good will then sweep forward unimpeded; all worthy aspirations will be satisfied.
- From Russia and the West under Lenin by George Kennan (1960)
- Now this problem of the adjustment of man to his natural resources, and the problem of how such things as industrialization and urbanization can be accepted without destroying the traditional values of a civilization and corrupting the inner vitality of its life — these things are not only the problems of America; they are the problems of men everywhere. To the extent that we Americans become able to show that we are aware of these problems, and that we are approaching them with coherent and effective ideas of our own which we have the courage to put into effect in our own lives, to that extent a new dimension will come into our relations with the peoples beyond our borders, to that extent, in fact, the dreams of these earlier generations of Americans who saw us as leaders and helpers to the peoples of the world at large will begin to take on flesh and reality.
- Lecture at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey (March 1954); published in “The Unifying Factor” in Realities of American Foreign Policy (1954), p. 116
- A foreign policy aimed at the achievement of total security is the one thing I can think of that is entirely capable of bringing this country to a point where it will have no security at all. And a ruthless, reckless insistence on attempting to stamp out everything that could conceivably constitute a reflection of improper foreign influence in our national life, regardless of the actual damage it is doing to the cost of eliminating it, in terms of other American values, is the one thing I can think of that should reduce us all to a point where the very independence we are seeking to defend would be meaningless, for we would be doing things to ourselves as vicious and tyrannical as any that might be brought to us from outside.
This sort of extremism seems to me to hold particular danger for a democracy, because it creates a curious area between what is held to be possible and what is really possible — an area within which government can always be plausibly shown to have been most dangerously delinquent in the performance of its tasks. And this area, where government is always deficient, provides the ideal field of opportunity for every sort of demagoguery and mischief-making. It constitutes a terrible breach in the dike of our national morale, through which forces of doubt and suspicion never cease to find entry. The heart of our problem, here, lies in our assessment of the relative importance of the various dangers among which we move; and until many of our people can be brought to understand that what we have to do is not to secure a total absence of danger but to balance peril against peril and to find the tolerable degree of each, we shall not wholly emerge from these confusions.
- Radcliffe Commencement Address (16 June 1954), published as "The Illusion of Total Security" in The Atlantic Monthly, # 194 (August 1954)
- Trotsky, and all that Trotsky represented, was Stalin's real fear.
- I lived, particularly in childhood but with lessening intensity right on to middle age, in a world that was peculiarly and intimately my own, scarcely to be shared with others or even made plausible to them. I habitually read special meanings into things, scenes and places — qualities of wonder, beauty, promise, or horror — for which there was no external evidence visible or plausible to others. My world was peopled with mysteries, seductive hints, vague menaces, "intimations of immortality."
- A passage from the first volume of his Memoirs as quoted in Political Realism in American Thought (1977) by John W. Coffey, p. 26
- A guest of one's time and not a member of its household.
- Referring to himself, as quoted in Political Realism in American Thought (1977) by John W. Coffey, p. 26
- For the love of God, for the love of your children and of the civilization to which you belong, cease this madness. You are mortal men. You are capable of error. You have no right to hold in your hands — there is no one wise enough and strong enough to hold in his hands — destructive power sufficient to put an end to civilized life on a great portion of our planet.
- As quoted in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Vol. 37 (1981); also in Boston Globe obituary of George F. Kennan by Mark Feeney (18 March 2005) D23. Cited in James Carroll, House of War, Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., (2006), chapter 7, note 140, p. 581.
- The best thing we can do if we want the Russians to let us be Americans is to let the Russians be Russian.
- As quoted in US-Soviet Relations : The First 50 Years WNET TV (17 April 1984)
- The very concept of history implies the scholar and the reader. Without a generation of civilized people to study history, to preserve its records, to absorb its lessons and relate them to its own problems, history, too, would lose its meaning.
- As quoted in The New York Times (27 May 1984)
- Not only the studying and writing of history but also the honoring of it both represent affirmations of a certain defiant faith — a desperate, unreasoning faith, if you will — but faith nevertheless in the endurance of this threatened world — faith in the total essentiality of historical continuity.
- As quoted in The New York Times (27 May 1984)
- Fig leaves of democratic procedure to hide the nakedness of Stalinist dictatorship.
- On postwar accords regarding Eastern Europe, as quoted in The Wise Men (1986) by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas
- The best an American can look forward to is the lonely pleasure of one who stands at long last on a chilly and inhospitable mountaintop where few have been before, where few can follow and where few will consent to believe he has been.
- On trying to understand Soviet policies, as quoted in The Wise Men (1986) by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas
- Russia, Russia — unwashed, backward, appealing Russia, so ashamed of your own backwardness, so orientally determined to conceal it from us by clever deceit. So sensitive and so suspicious in the face of the wicked, civilized west. I shall always remember you — slyly, touchingly, but with great shouting and confusion — pumping hot water into our sleeping car in the frosty darkness of a December morning in order that we might not know, in order that we might never realize, to how primitive a land we had come.
- Written about an incident where hot water was pumped from a switch engine on the next track into a diplomats sleeping-car; as quoted in George Kennan and the Dilemmas of US Foreign Policy (1988) by David Allan Mayers, p. 30
- There will be no room, here, for the smug myopia which views American civilization as the final solution to all world problems; which recommends our institutions for universal adoption and turns away with contempt from the serious study of the institutions of peoples whose civilizations may seem to us to be materially less advanced.
- As quoted in Kennan and the Art of Foreign Policy (1989) by Anders Stephanson, p. 160
- Reading, in contrast to sitting before the screen, is not a purely passive exercise. The child, particularly one who reads a book dealing with real life, has nothing before it but the hieroglyphics of the printed page. Imagination must do the rest; and imagination is called upon to do it. Not so the television screen. Here everything is spelled out for the viewer, visually, in motion, and in all three dimensions. No effort of imagination is called upon for its enjoyment.
- “American Addictions” in New Oxford Review (June 1993)
- I write to say that in the idea of the three American states' ultimate independence, whether separately or in union, I see nothing fanciful. [Such] are at present the dominating trends in the U.S. that I see no other means of ultimate preservation of cultural and societal values that will not only be endangered but eventually destroyed by an endlessly prolonged association … with the remainder of what is now the U.S.A.
- In a 1993 letter to Thomas Naylor, on the idea of the secession of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont from the US, as quoted in "Most Likely to Secede" by Christopher Ketcham in Good magazine (10 January 2008)
- We are, if territory and population be looked at together, one of the great countries of the world — a monster country, one might say, along with others such as China, India, the recent Soviet Union, and Brazil. And there is a real question as to whether "bigness" in a body politic is not an evil in itself, quite aside from the policies pursued in its name.
- Around the Cragged Hill : A Personal and Political Philosophy (1994), p. 143
- I said that wherever these people, meaning the Soviet leadership, confronted us with dangerous hostility anywhere in the world, we should do everything possible to contain it and not let them expand any further. I should have explained that I didn't suspect them of any desire to launch an attack on us. This was right after the war, and it was absurd to suppose that they were going to turn around and attack the United States. I didn't think I needed to explain that, but I obviously should have done it.
- [P]erhaps it is not too late to advance a view that, I believe, is not only mine alone but is shared by a number of others with extensive and in most instances more recent experience in Russian matters. The view, bluntly stated, is that expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.
- "A Fateful Error", New York Times (5 February 1997)
- Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.
- I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.
- Quoted in Foreign Affairs; Now a Word From X, New York Times, (2 May 1998) (Kennan’s response to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman 1998 question about the US Cold War strategy of containment—about NATO expansion)
- Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things on your mind as a purpose of what you are doing, but in the end, you found yourself fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before … In other words, war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it. Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end.
- Whenever you have a possibility of going in two ways, either for peace or for war, for peaceful methods of for military methods, in the present age there is a strong prejudice for the peaceful ones. War seldom ever leads to good results.
- As quoted in "George Kennan Speaks Out About Iraq" at History News Network (26 September 2002)
- A doctrine is something that pins you down to a given mode of conduct and dozens of situations which you cannot foresee, which is a great mistake in principle. When the word ‘containment’ was used in my ‘X’ article, it was used with relation to a certain situation then prevailing, and as a response to it.
- As quoted in "George Kennan Speaks Out About Iraq" at History News Network (26 September 2002)
Memo PPS23 (1948) edit
- We must be very careful when we speak of exercising "leadership" in Asia. We are deceiving ourselves and others when we pretend to have answers to the problems, which agitate many of these Asiatic peoples. Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3 of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. All of the Asiatic peoples are faced with the necessity for evolving new forms of life to conform to the impact of modern technology. This process of adaptation will also be long and violent. It is not only possible, but probable, that in the course of this process many peoples will fall, for varying periods, under the influence of Moscow, whose ideology has a greater lure for such peoples, and probably greater reality, than anything we could oppose to it. All this, too, is probably unavoidable; and we could not hope to combat it without the diversion of a far greater portion of our national effort than our people would ever willingly concede to such a purpose.
In the face of this situation we would be better off to dispense now with a number of the concepts which have underlined our thinking with regard to the Far East. We should dispense with the aspiration to 'be liked' or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism. We should stop putting ourselves in the position of being our brothers' keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice. We should cease to talk about vague — and for the Far East — unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.
- "Memo PPS23", written 28 February 1948, declassified 17 June 1974
American Diplomacy (1951) edit
World War I edit
- There are certain sad appreciations we have to come to about human nature on the basis of these recent wars. One of them is that suffering does not always make men better. Another is that people are not always more reasonable than governments; that public opinion, or what passes for public opinion, is not invariably a moderating force in the jungle of politics. It may be true, and I suspect it is, that the mass of people everywhere are normally peace-loving and would accept many restraints and sacrifices in preference to the monstrous calamities of war. But I also suspect that what purports to be public opinion in most countries that consider themselves to have popular government is often not really the consensus of the feelings of the mass of the people at all, but rather the expression of the interests of special highly vocal minorities — politicians, commentators, and publicity-seekers of all sorts: people who live by their ability to draw attention to themselves and die, like fish out of water, if they are compelled to remain silent. These people take refuge in the pat and chauvinistic slogans because they are incapable of understanding any others, because these slogans are safer from the standpoint of short-term gain, because the truth is sometimes a poor competitor in the market place of ideas — complicated, unsatisfying, full of dilemma, always vulnerable to misinterpretation and abuse. The counsels of impatience and hatred can always be supported by the crudest and cheapest symbols; for the counsels of moderation, the reasons are often intricate, rather than emotional, and difficult to explain. And so the chauvinists of all times and places go their appointed way: plucking the easy fruits, reaping the little triumphs of the day at the expense of someone else tomorrow, deluging in noise and filth anyone who gets in their way, dancing their reckless dance on the prospects for human progress, drawing the shadow of a great doubt over the validity of democratic institutions. And until people learn to spot the fanning of mass emotions and the sowing of bitterness, suspicion, and intolerance as crimes in themselves — as perhaps the greatest disservice that can be done to the cause of popular government — this sort of thing will continue to occur.
- A democracy is peace-loving. It does not like to go to war. It is slow to rise to provocation. When it has once been provoked to the point where it must grasp the sword, it does not easily forgive its adversary for having produced this situation. The fact of the provocation then becomes itself the issue. Democracy fights in anger — it fights for the very reason that it was forced to go to war. It fights to punish the power that was rash enough and hostile enough to provoke it — to teach that power a lesson it will not forget, to prevent the thing from happening again. Such a war must be carried to the bitter end.
This is true enough, and, if nations could afford to operate in the moral climate of individual ethics, it would be understandable and acceptable. But I sometimes wonder whether in this respect a democracy is not uncomfortably similar to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: he lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath — in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat. You wonder whether it would not have been wiser for him to have taken a little more interest in what was going on at an earlier date and to have seen whether he could have prevented some of these situations from arising instead of proceeding from an undiscriminating indifference to a holy wrath equally undiscriminating.
Memoirs 1925 - 1950 (1967) edit
- Here, for the first time, I felt an unshakable conviction that no momentary military advantage — even if such could have been calculated to exist — could have justified this stupendous, careless destruction of civilian life and of material values, built up laboriously by human hands over the course of centuries for purposes having nothing to do with war. Least of all could it have been justified by the screaming non sequitur: "They did it to us." And it suddenly appeared to me that in these ruins there was an unanswerable symbolism which we in the West could not afford to ignore. If the Western world was really going to make a pretense of a higher moral departure point — of greater sympathy and understanding for the human being as God made him, as expressed not only in himself but in the things he had wrought and cared about — then it had to learn to fight its wars morally as well as militarily, or not fight them at all; for moral principles were a part of its strength. Shorn of this strength, it was no longer itself; its victories were not real victories; and the best it would accomplish in the long run would be to pull down the temple over its own head. The military would stamp this as naïve; they would say that war is war, that when you're in it you fight with every means you have, or go down in defeat. But if that is the case, then there rests upon Western civilization, bitter as this may be, the obligation to be militarily stronger than its adversaries by a margin sufficient to enable it to dispense with those means which can stave off defeat only at the cost of undermining victory.
- Written in regard to the Allied destruction of Hamburg and other German cities, p. 437
Russia — Seven Years Later (September 1944) edit
- The average Russian of mature age today may some day have the moral satisfaction of seeing his government exercise a power unprecedented in history over the land masses of Asia and Europe. But it is not likely that he will ever know the comforts, in the line of housing, clothing, and other conveniences of civilized living, comparable to those that have existed in the advanced countries of the West. That renunciation of comfort is his involuntary contribution to something: either to the future comfort of his own children or to the increased military power of Russia. He hopes — and we hope with him — that it will not be only the latter.
The Kennan Diaries edit
edited by Frank Costigliola, published in 2014
- Although the Georgian nationalists do not like Stalin, they have every reason to be thankful to him.
- The Caucasus, March, 1936
- This is to me one of the most poignant communities of the world: a great, sad city, where the spark of human genius has always had to penetrate the darkness, the dampness, and the cold in order to make its light felt, and has acquired, for that very reason, a strange warmth, a strange intensity, a strange beauty. I know that in this city, where I have never lived, there has nevertheless, by some strange quirk of fate—a previous life, perhaps?—been deposited a portion of my own capacity to feel and to love, a portion, in other words, of my own life; and that this is something which no American will ever understand and no Russian ever believe.
- Leningrad, September 1945
- The dilemma is this: We all know that this aid cannot materially affect the course of events of China. We are obliged to put the bill before Congress by virtue of our past commitments and of the pressures that exist in favor of aid to China.
- January 27, 1948
- Talked at lunch with a gentleman just returned from Japan, who told me some disturbing things about the influences behind our policies of extreme democratization and de-concentration of economic life in Japan.
Of all the failures of United States policy in the wake of World War II, history will rate as the most grievous our failure to approach realistically the responsibilities of power over the defeated nations which we ourselves courted by the policy of unconditional surrender.
- January 30, 1948
- My own position is somewhere in between. I am not sure that the economic arguments for an early step toward real union are very compelling. I have deep feelings, however, about the political necessity of creating in Western Europe an international framework which would bridge national sovereignties to such a degree as to give a different aspect to the German question by providing a home for the German people other than the national home and thus lifting German horizons beyond those national limits with which the Germans have shown themselves so incapable of coping.
- October 17-21, 1949
- I am like a person who has placed poison in one of two glasses before a person he loves—and looks back upon his act with horror and incredulity—but still does not know from which glass the person will drink.
- Princeton, April 2, 1951
- I have never been any good at training children or dogs; that is why I am no good at training myself.
- April 6, 1951
- At one time, I was an actor in the conduct of foreign policy. I became convinced that I was accomplishing nothing in that capacity, that the problems were deeper, that the answer lay in a direct approach to the public and in an effort to explain to the public what it was really about. Today, even that seems futile. Myths and errors are being established in the public mind more rapidly than they can be broken down. The mass media are too much for us. There is nothing that can be done about it. To correct this, you would have to educate the educators. I must say that I have lost all confidence in the freedom of the mass media. The fact of the matter is that in this country McCarthyism has already won, in the sense of making impossible the conduct of an intelligent foreign policy.
- April 17, 1951
- Surely one of the reasons for our continued failures throughout these areas [Asia and the Middle East] has been our inability to understand how profound, how irrational, and how erratic has been the reaction generally of the respective peoples to the ideas and impulses that have come to them from the West in recent decades. This applies particularly to the intellectuals who play so prominent a part in political leadership and in the molding of public opinion. To ascertain the reasons for the intensely anti-American attitudes manifested by these people would be to delve deeply into psychological reactions and the origins of various forms of neuroses. I have thoughts about these matters, but will not take up your time with them here.
Only one thing I would emphasize. The respective reactions are obviously emotional and subconscious, and not likely to be altered by any attempts on our part to meet them by any verbal appeal to rational processes.
- January 23, 1952
Quotes about Kennan edit
- It was his enormous curiosity that kept him alive so long. He had an enormous interest in the world, and I remember, even toward the end, he would get so angry at the paper, angry at the TV.
- His oldest daughter, Grace Kennan, after his death at the age of 101, as quoted in "Known worldwide, at home in Princeton" in The Daily Princetonian (21 March 2005)
- Concerned about Communism on the global level, and about the stability of Europe and the future of Germany, the Americans, both government and public, did not intend to repeat their interwar isolationism when they had not responded to the expansion of Nazi Germany and, without getting the blame, had, in practice, been prominent among the appeasers. Containment as a concept that was to be applied in American political and military strategy received its intellectual rationale in 1947 from George Kennan, the acting head of the American diplomatic mission in Moscow. The emphasis on inherent Soviet antagonism under Stalin in Kennan’s ‘long telegram’ of 22 February 1946 had an impact in Washington and elsewhere. Kennan’s thesis was understood as advocating containment, a view also taken by the Canadian Escott Reid. Kennan followed up with a ‘Mr X’ article, drawing on the ‘long telegram’, in Foreign Affairs in April 1947, an article that made much use of the word containment. In 1947, Kennan, who argued that the division of Europe was reversible, became Director of Policy Planning in the State Department. The concept of containment was developed with the Truman government advancing the idea of America’s perimeter of vital interests. The perimeter was to be consolidated by the establishment of regional security pacts, notably the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), created in 1949.
- Jeremy Black, The Cold War: A New History (2015)
- The Great Siberian Road has been feelingly described by Mr. Kennan.
- [His ideas] were misinterpreted both by those who shared them as well as by those who rejected them.
- The hagiography of George Kennan’s foreign policy acumen omits some blemishes on his record. For all of his conceptual clarity, Kennan erred in many of his predictions. He opposed the creation of NATO, the most successful alliance in world history. By the early 1990s, when he wrote Around the Cragged Hill, he clearly believed the United States was doomed to decline. Asserting that the United States was devoid of “any sort of discriminating administration,” he proposed several democracy-restricting measures. And the less said about Kennan’s view of non-WASPs, the better. While Kennan was a brilliant analyst of the Soviet Union, he evinced little understanding of his own country.
- Daniel Drezner, The Ideas Industry (2017), Chap. 1 : Do Ideas Even Matter?
- This new firmness in Washington coincided with a search for explanations of Soviet behavior: why had the Grand Alliance broken apart? What else did Stalin want? The best answer came from George F. Kennan, a respected but still junior Foreign Service officer serving in the American embassy in Moscow. In what he subsequently acknowledged was an "outrageous encumberment of the telegraphic process," Kennan responded to the latest in a long series of State Department queries with a hastily composed 8,000-word cable, dispatched on February 22, 1946. To say that it made an impact in Washington would be to put it mildly: Kennan's "long telegram" became the basis for United States strategy toward the Soviet Union throughout the rest of the Cold War. Moscow's intransigence, Kennan insisted, resulted from nothing the West had done: instead it reflected the internal necessities of the Stalinist regime, and nothing the West could do within the foreseeable future would alter that fact. Soviet leaders had to treat the outside world as hostile because this provided the only excuse "for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifices they felt bound to demand." To expect concessions to be reciprocated was to be naive: there would be no change in the Soviet Unions strategy until it encountered a sufficiently long string of failures to convince some future Kremlin leader—Kennan held out little hope that Stalin would ever see this—that his nations behavior was not advancing its interests. War would not be necessary to produce this result. What would be needed, as Kennan put it in a published version of his argument the following year, was a "long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies."
- John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (2005), p. 29
- In the winter of that year (1890) the radical ranks were aroused over the report brought from Siberia by George Kennan, an American journalist. His account of the harrowing conditions of the Russian political prisoners and exiles moved even the American press to lengthy comments.
- Emma Goldman, Living My Life (1931)
- Very well known representatives of your society, such as George Kennan, say: We cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus, we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against communism's well planned world strategy. There are no other criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and meaning of events. In spite of the abundance of information, or maybe because of it, the West has difficulties in understanding reality such as it is. There have been naive predictions by some American experts who believed that Angola would become the Soviet Union's Vietnam or that Cuban expeditions in Africa would best be stopped by special U.S. courtesy to Cuba. Kennan's advice to his own country -- to begin unilateral disarmament -- belongs to the same category. If you only knew how the youngest of the Kremlin officials laugh at your political wizards. As to Fidel Castro, he frankly scorns the United States, sending his troops to distant adventures from his country right next to yours.
- Churchill’s warning was echoed by a young and talented US diplomat, George F. Kennan, who had served in Moscow during the war. Kennan’s Long Telegram, as it became known, sent from Moscow on 22 February 1946 to the State Department, became an influential, widely distributed document in the Administration. In it Kennan described Moscow’s policy as inherently aggressive and expansionist because of its Marxist-Leninist ideology. While the Russian people preferred peace, they were held hostage by a party that exploited traditional Russian insecurities against the more advanced parts of Europe. The past had told Russians that only through destroying an enemy could security be achieved. And the current Soviet aim was to weaken foreign powers, through splits and subversion, until Moscow’s predominance was complete.
- Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A World History (2017)
- George Kennan’s message was more a summing up of where many US policy-makers were already heading than an innovative policy prescription. It was also in parts contradictory: the Soviets were inherently aggressive but also able to compromise. But for officials hungry for ways of explaining an increasingly complicated world, it resonated. In spite of some compromises being reached at the Paris foreign ministers’ meeting, other worries, such as a new flare-up of the Greek civil war and new Soviet demands on Turkey, darkened the picture in late 1946. Truman was increasingly concerned that the Soviets were planning to take control of the Black Sea Straits and help the Communists win in Greece. Such a breakthrough would put the Soviet Union in control of the eastern Mediterranean. It would also be a serious blow to Britain, the traditionally predominant power there, at a time when the British domestic economic situation seemed to be going from bad to worse. In a calculated attempt at getting the United States to back up London’s interests in deeds as well as words, the British Labour government formally appealed to Truman for assistance.
- Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A World History (2017)
- The original purpose of this essay was to clear up confusion about George Kennan's containment policy, to determine what Mr. "X" really meant. However, after thoroughly analyzing the record for 1944-47, one is left with the unsatisfying conclusion that Kennan did not fully recognize the implications of his own policy. His mastery of the English language is undeniable, but one should not confuse the gift of expression with clarity of thought. In fact, this gift may have been one of his problems, for according to colleagues, once Kennan committed ideas to paper the could become "intellectually locked in." Being a stylist, he was reluctant to alter his analysis or the flow of his language.
- C. Ben Wright, "Mr. "X" and Containment", Slavic Review, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Mar., 1976)
- Collection of all of Kennan's articles published in Foreign Affairs
- George F. Kennan on the Web
- Traces.org biography
- CNN profile
- Remembering George Kennan: Lessons for Today? U.S. Institute of Peace (May 2006) (Audio available)
- 9-11: Prescient Memorabilia
- The Daily Princetonian
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
- The New York Times
- The Washington Post
- Commentary on "Kennan's profound global effect" in the Christian Science Monitor
- Commentary on "The Paradox of George F. Kennan" by Richard Holbrooke in the Washington Post
- "The Legacy of George F. Kennan" in Counterpunch