George Frost Kennan (February 16, 1904 – March 17, 2005) was an
American diplomat and historian. 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
USSR and the United States. He was
also one of the group of foreign policy elders known as "The Wise
During the late 1940s, his writings inspired the
Truman Doctrine and
U.S. foreign policy
U.S. foreign policy of "containing" the Soviet Union. His "Long
Moscow during 1946 and the subsequent 1947 article "The
Sources of Soviet Conduct" argued that the Soviet regime was
inherently expansionist and that its influence had to be "contained"
in areas of vital strategic importance to the United States. These
texts provided justification for the Truman administration's new
anti-Soviet policy. Kennan played a major role in the development of
Cold War programs and institutions, notably the Marshall
Soon after his concepts had become U.S. policy, Kennan began to
criticize the foreign policies that he had seemingly helped begin.
Subsequently, prior to the end of 1948, Kennan became confident that
positive dialogue could commence with the Soviet government. His
proposals were discounted by the Truman administration and Kennan's
influence was marginalized, particularly after
Dean Acheson was
appointed Secretary of State in 1949. Soon thereafter, U.S. Cold War
strategy assumed a more assertive and militaristic quality, causing
Kennan to lament about what he believed was an abrogation of his
In 1950, Kennan left the Department of State—except for two brief
ambassadorial stints in
Moscow and Yugoslavia—and became a realist
critic of U.S. foreign policy. He continued to analyze international
affairs as a faculty member of the
Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Advanced Study from
1956 until his death at age 101.
1 Early life and career
2 Cold War
2.1 The "Long Telegram"
2.3 Influence under Marshall
2.4 Differences with Acheson
2.5 Ambassador to the Soviet Union
2.6 Kennan and the Eisenhower administration
2.7 Ambassador to Yugoslavia
3 Academic career and later life
5 Death and legacy
6 Cultural views
8 See also
11 External links
Early life and career
Kennan was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Kossuth Kent Kennan, a
lawyer specializing in tax law, a descendant of dirt-poor Scotch-Irish
settlers of 18th-century
Connecticut and Massachusetts, who was named
after the Hungarian patriot
Lajos Kossuth (1802–94), and
Florence James Kennan. Mrs. Kennan died two months later due to
peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, though Kennan long believed that
she died after giving birth to him. The boy always lamented not
having a mother; he was never close to his father or stepmother,
however, he was close to his older sisters.
At the age of eight, he went to Germany to stay with his stepmother in
order to learn German. He attended St. John's Military Academy in
Delafield, Wisconsin, and arrived at
Princeton University in the
second half of 1921. Unaccustomed to the elite atmosphere of the
Ivy League, the shy and introverted Kennan found his undergraduate
years difficult and lonely. After receiving his bachelor's degree
History in 1925, Kennan considered applying to law school, but
decided it was too expensive and instead opted to apply to the newly
formed United States Foreign Service. He passed the qualifying
examination and after seven months of study at the Foreign Service
School in Washington he gained his first job as a vice consul in
Geneva, Switzerland. Within a year he was transferred to a post in
Hamburg, Germany. During 1928 Kennan considered quitting the Foreign
Service to attend college. Instead, he was selected for a linguist
training program that would give him three years of graduate-level
study without having to quit the service.
In 1929 Kennan began his program on history, politics, culture, and
Russian language at the University of Berlin's Oriental Institute.
In doing so, he would follow in the footsteps of his grandfather's
younger cousin, George Kennan (1845–1924), a major 19th century
Imperial Russia and author of Siberia and the Exile System,
a well-received 1891 account of the Czarist prison system. During
the course of his diplomatic career, Kennan would master a number of
other languages, including German, French, Polish, Czech, Portuguese,
In 1931 Kennan was stationed at the legation in Riga, Latvia, where,
as third secretary, he worked on Soviet economic affairs. From his
job, Kennan "grew to mature interest in Russian affairs". When the
U.S. began formal diplomacy with the Soviet government during 1933
after the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kennan
William C. Bullitt
William C. Bullitt to Moscow. By the mid-1930s
Kennan was among the professionally trained Russian experts of the
staff of the embassy in Moscow, along with
Charles E. Bohlen
Charles E. Bohlen and Loy
W. Henderson. These officials had been influenced by the long-time
director of the State Department's division of East European Affairs,
Robert F. Kelley. They believed that there was little basis for
cooperation with the Soviet Union, even against potential
adversaries. Meanwhile, Kennan studied Stalin's Great Purge, which
would affect his opinion of the internal dynamics of the Soviet regime
for the rest of his life.
Kennan found himself in strong disagreement with Joseph E. Davies,
Bullitt's successor as ambassador to the Soviet Union, who defended
Great Purge and other aspects of Stalin's rule. Kennan did not
have any influence on Davies's decisions, and the latter even
suggested that Kennan be transferred out of
Moscow for "his
health". Kennan again contemplated resigning from the service, but
instead decided to accept the Russian desk at the State Department in
Washington. By September 1938, Kennan had been reassigned to a job
at the legation in Prague. After the occupation of the Czechoslovak
Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II, Kennan
was assigned to Berlin. There, he endorsed the United States'
Lend-Lease policy, but warned against displaying any notion of
American endorsement for the Soviets, whom he considered to be an
unfit ally. He was interned in Germany for six months after Germany,
followed by the other Axis states, declared war on the United States
in December 1941.
In September 1942 Kennan was assigned as a counselor in Lisbon,
Portugal, where he begrudgingly performed a job administrating
intelligence and base operations. In January 1944 he was sent to
London, where he served as counselor of the American delegation to the
European Advisory Commission, which worked to prepare Allied policy in
Europe. There, Kennan became even more disenchanted with the State
Department, which he believed was ignoring his qualifications as a
trained specialist. However, within months of beginning the job, he
was appointed deputy chief of the mission in
Moscow upon request of W.
Averell Harriman, the ambassador to the U.S.S.R.
The "Long Telegram"
In Moscow, Kennan again felt that his opinions were being ignored by
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman and policymakers in Washington. Kennan tried
repeatedly to persuade policymakers to abandon plans for cooperation
with the Soviet government in favor of a sphere of influence policy in
Europe to reduce the Soviets' power there. Kennan believed that a
federation needed to be established in western Europe to counter
Soviet influence in the region and to compete against the Soviet
stronghold in eastern Europe.
Kennan served as deputy head of the mission in
Moscow until April
1946. Near the end of that term, the Treasury Department requested
that the State Department explain recent Soviet behavior, such as its
disinclination to endorse the
International Monetary Fund
International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank. Kennan responded on February 22, 1946, by sending a
lengthy 5,500-word telegram (sometimes cited as being more than 8,000
Moscow to Secretary of State James Byrnes outlining a new
strategy for diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. At the
"bottom of the Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is the
traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity". After the
Russian Revolution, this sense of insecurity became mixed with
communist ideology and "Oriental secretiveness and conspiracy".
Soviet international behavior depended mainly on the internal
necessities of Joseph Stalin's regime; according to Kennan, Stalin
needed a hostile world in order to legitimize his autocratic rule.
Stalin thus used
Marxism-Leninism as a "justification for the Soviet
Union's instinctive fear of the outside world, for the dictatorship
without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did
not dare not to inflict, for sacrifice they felt bound to
demand ... Today they cannot dispense with it. It is the fig leaf
of their moral and intellectual respectability".
The solution was to strengthen Western institutions in order to render
them invulnerable to the Soviet challenge while awaiting the mellowing
of the Soviet regime.
Kennan's new policy of containment, in the words of his later 'X'
article, was that Soviet pressure had to "be contained by the adroit
and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly
shifting geographical and political points".
This dispatch brought Kennan to the attention of Secretary of the Navy
James Forrestal, a major advocate of a confrontational policy with
regard to the Soviets, the United States' former wartime ally.
Forrestal helped bring Kennan back to Washington, where he served as
the first deputy for foreign affairs at the
National War College
National War College and
then strongly influenced his decision to publish the "X"
The goal of his policy was to withdraw all the U.S. forces from
Europe. The settlement reached would give the Kremlin sufficient
reassurance against the establishment of regimes in Eastern Europe
hostile to the Soviet Union, tempering the degree of control over that
area that the Soviet leaders felt it necessary to exercise.
Meanwhile, in March 1947, Truman appeared before Congress to request
funding for the
Truman Doctrine to fight Communism in Greece. "I
believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support
free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed
minorities or by outside pressures."
Kennan in 1947
Main article: X Article
Unlike the "long telegram", Kennan's well-timed article appearing in
the July 1947 issue of
Foreign Affairs with the pseudonym "X",
entitled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct", did not begin by emphasizing
"traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity"; instead
it asserted that Stalin's policy was shaped by a combination of
Marxist–Leninist ideology, which advocated revolution to defeat the
capitalist forces in the outside world and Stalin's determination to
use the notion of "capitalist encirclement" in order to legitimize his
regimentation of Soviet society so that he could consolidate his
political power. Kennan argued that Stalin would not (and moreover
could not) moderate the supposed Soviet determination to overthrow
Western governments. Thus,
the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union
must be a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of
Russian expansive tendencies ... Soviet pressure against the free
institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained
by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of
constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding
to the shifts and manoeuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be
charmed or talked out of existence.
His new policy of containment declared that Soviet pressure had to "be
contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a
series of constantly shifting geographical and political points".
The goal of his policy was to withdraw all the U.S. forces from
Europe. "The settlement reached would give the Kremlin sufficient
reassurance against the establishment of regimes in Eastern Europe
hostile to the Soviet Union, tempering the degree of control over that
area that the Soviet leaders felt it necessary to exercise".
Kennan further argued that the United States would have to perform
this containment alone but if it could do so without undermining its
own economic health and political stability, the Soviet party
structure would undergo a period of immense strain eventually
resulting in "either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet
The publication of the "X" article soon began one of the more intense
debates of the Cold War. Walter Lippmann, a leading American
commentator on international affairs, strongly criticized the "X"
article. Lippmann argued that Kennan's strategy of containment was
"a strategic monstrosity" that could "be implemented only by
recruiting, subsidizing and supporting a heterogeneous array of
satellites, clients, dependents, and puppets". Lippmann argued
that diplomacy should be the basis of relations with the Soviets; he
suggested that the U.S. withdraw its forces from Europe and reunify
and demilitarize Germany. Meanwhile, it was soon revealed
informally that "X" was indeed Kennan. This information seemed to give
the "X" article the status of an official document expressing the
Truman administration's new policy toward Moscow.
Kennan had not intended the "X" article as a prescription for
policy. For the rest of his life, Kennan continued to reiterate
that the article did not imply an automatic commitment to resist
Soviet "expansionism" wherever it occurred, with little distinction of
primary and secondary interests. The article did not make it obvious
that Kennan favored employing political and economic rather than
military methods as the chief agent of containment. "My thoughts
about containment" said Kennan in a 1996 interview to CNN, "were of
course distorted by the people who understood it and pursued it
exclusively as a military concept; and I think that that, as much as
any other cause, led to [the] 40 years of unnecessary, fearfully
expensive and disoriented process of the Cold War".
Additionally, the administration made few attempts to explain the
distinction between Soviet influence and international Communism to
the U.S. public. "In part, this failure reflected the belief of many
in Washington", writes historian John Lewis Gaddis, "that only the
prospect of an undifferentiated global threat could shake Americans
out of their isolationist tendencies that remained latent among
In a PBS television interview with
David Gergen in 1996, Kennan again
reiterated that he did not regard the Soviets as primarily a military
threat, noting that "they were not like Hitler". Kennan's opinion was
that this misunderstanding:
all came down to one sentence in the "X" article where 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.
The "X" article meant sudden fame for Kennan. After the long telegram,
he recalled later, "My official loneliness came in fact to an
end ... My reputation was made. My voice now carried."
Influence under Marshall
Between April 1947 and December 1948, when
George C. Marshall
George C. Marshall was
Secretary of State, Kennan was more influential than he was at any
other period in his career. Marshall valued his strategic sense and
had him create and direct what is now named the Policy Planning Staff,
the State Department's internal think tank. Kennan became the
first Director of Policy Planning. Marshall relied heavily on
him to prepare policy recommendations. Kennan played a central
role in the drafting of the Marshall Plan.
Although Kennan regarded the
Soviet Union as too weak to risk war, he
nonetheless considered it an enemy capable of expanding into Western
Europe through subversion, given the popular support for Communist
parties in Western Europe, which remained demoralized by the
devastation of the Second World War. To counter this potential source
of Soviet influence, Kennan's solution was to direct economic aid and
covert political help to Japan and
Western Europe to revive Western
governments and assist international capitalism; by doing so the
United States would help to rebuild the balance of power. In June
1948, Kennan proposed covert assistance to left-wing parties not
Moscow and to labor unions in
Western Europe in order
to engineer a rift between
Moscow and working-class movements in
As the United States was initiating the Marshall Plan, Kennan and the
Truman administration hoped that the Soviet Union's rejection of
Marshall aid would strain its relations with its Communist allies in
Eastern Europe. Kennan initiated a series of efforts to exploit the
schism between the Soviets and Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia. Kennan
proposed conducting covert action in the Balkans to further decrease
The administration's new vigorously anti-Soviet policy also became
evident when, at Kennan's suggestion, the U.S. changed its hostility
to Francisco Franco's anti-communists regime in Spain in order to
secure U.S. influence in the Mediterranean. Kennan had observed during
1947 that the
Truman Doctrine implied a new consideration of Franco.
His suggestion soon helped begin a new phase of U.S.–Spanish
relations, which ended with military cooperation after 1950.
Differences with Acheson
Kennan's influence rapidly decreased when
Dean Acheson became
Secretary of State, succeeding the ailing George Marshall during 1949
and 1950. Acheson did not regard the Soviet "threat" as
chiefly political, and he saw the
Berlin blockade starting in June
1948, the first Soviet test of a nuclear weapon in August 1949, the
Communist revolution in China a month later, and the beginning of the
Korean War in June 1950 as evidence. Truman and Acheson decided to
delineate the Western sphere of influence and to create a system of
This policy was realized as NSC 68, a classified report issued by the
United States National Security Council in April 1950 and written by
Paul Nitze, Kennan's successor as Director of Policy Planning.
Kennan and Charles Bohlen, another State Department expert on Russia,
argued about the wording of NSC 68, which became the basis of
Cold War policy. Kennan rejected the idea that Stalin had a grand
design for world conquest implicit in Nitze's report and argued that
he actually feared overextending Russian power. Kennan even argued
that NSC 68 should not have been drafted at all, as it would make
U.S. policies too rigid, simplistic, and militaristic. Acheson
overruled Kennan and Bohlen, endorsing the assumption of Soviet menace
implied by NSC 68.
Kennan opposed the building of the hydrogen bomb and the rearmament of
Germany, which were policies encouraged by the assumptions of
NSC 68. During the
Korean War (which began when North
Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950), when rumors started
circulating in the State Department that plans were being made to
advance beyond the 38th parallel into North Korea, an act that Kennan
considered dangerous, he engaged in intense arguments with Assistant
Secretary of State for the Far East Dean Rusk, who apparently endorsed
Acheson's goal to forcibly unite the Koreas.
Kennan lost influence with Acheson, who in any case relied much less
on his staff than Marshall had. Kennan resigned as director of policy
planning in December 1949 but stayed in the department as counselor
until June 1950. In January 1950, Acheson replaced Kennan with
Nitze, who was much more comfortable with the calculus of military
power. Afterwards, Kennan accepted an appointment as Visitor to the
Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Advanced Study from fellow moderate Robert Oppenheimer,
Director of the Institute.
Despite his influence, Kennan was never really comfortable in
government. He always regarded himself as an outsider and had little
patience with critics. W. Averell Harriman, the U.S. ambassador
Moscow when Kennan was deputy between 1944 and 1946, remarked that
Kennan was "a man who understood
Russia but not the United
Ambassador to the Soviet Union
In December 1951, President Truman nominated Kennan to be the next
United States ambassador to the USSR. His appointment was endorsed
strongly by the Senate.
In many respects (to Kennan's consternation) the priorities of the
administration emphasized creating alliances against the Soviets more
than negotiating differences with them. In his memoirs, Kennan
recalled, "So far as I could see, we were expecting to be able to gain
our objectives ... without making any concessions though, only
'if we were really all-powerful, and could hope to get away with it.'
I very much doubted that this was the case."
At Moscow, Kennan found the atmosphere even more regimented than on
his previous trips, with police guards following him everywhere,
discouraging contact with Soviet citizens. At the time, Soviet
propaganda charged the U.S. with preparing for war, which Kennan did
not wholly dismiss. "I began to ask myself whether ... we had not
contributed ... by the overmilitarization of our policies and
statements ... to a belief in
Moscow that it was war we were
after, that we had settled for its inevitability, that it was only a
matter of time before we would unleash it."
In September 1952, Kennan made a statement that cost him his
ambassadorship. In an answer to a question at a press conference,
Kennan compared his conditions at the ambassador's residence in Moscow
to those he had encountered while interned in Berlin during the first
few months of the Second World War. While his statement was not
unfounded, the Soviets interpreted it as an implied analogy with Nazi
Germany. The Soviets then declared Kennan persona non grata and
refused to allow him to re-enter the USSR. Kennan acknowledged
retrospectively that it was a "foolish thing for me to have said".
Kennan and the Eisenhower administration
Kennan returned to Washington, where he became embroiled in
disagreements with Dwight D. Eisenhower's hawkish Secretary of State,
John Foster Dulles. Even so, he was able to work constructively
with the new administration. During the summer of 1953 President
Eisenhower asked Kennan to manage the first of a series of top-secret
teams, dubbed Operation Solarium, examining the advantages and
disadvantages of continuing the Truman administration's policy of
containment and of seeking to "roll back" existing areas of Soviet
influence. Upon completion of the project, the president seemed to
endorse the group's recommendations.
By lending his prestige to Kennan's position, the president tacitly
signaled his intention to formulate the strategy of his administration
within the framework of its predecessor's, despite the misgivings of
some within the Republican Party. The critical difference between
the Truman and Eisenhower policies of containment had to do with
Eisenhower's concerns that the United States could not indefinitely
afford great military spending. The new president thus sought to
minimize costs not by acting whenever and wherever the Soviets acted
(a strategy designed to avoid risk) but rather whenever and wherever
the United States could afford to act.
Ambassador to Yugoslavia
During John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential election campaign Kennan
wrote to the future president to offer some suggestions on how his
administration should improve the country's foreign affairs. Kennan
wrote, "What is needed is a succession of ... calculated steps,
timed in such a way as not only to throw the adversary off balance but
to keep him off it, and prepared with sufficient privacy so that the
advantage of surprise can be retained." He also urged the
administration to "assure a divergence of outlook and policy between
the Russians and Chinese," which could be accomplished by improving
relations with Soviet Premier
Nikita Khrushchev who had wanted to
distance himself from the Communist Chinese. He wrote, "We
should ... without deceiving ourselves about Khrushchev's
political personality and without nurturing any unreal hopes, be
concerned to keep him politically in the running and to encourage the
Moscow of the tendencies he personifies". Additionally, he
recommended that the United States work toward creating divisions
within the Soviet bloc by undermining its power in
Eastern Europe and
encouraging the independent propensities of satellite governments.
Although Kennan had not been considered for a job by Kennedy's
advisers, the president himself offered Kennan the choice of
ambassadorship in either Poland or Yugoslavia. Kennan was more
interested in Yugoslavia, so he accepted Kennedy's offer and began his
Yugoslavia during May 1961.
Kennan was tasked with trying to strengthen Yugoslavia's policy
against the Soviets and to encourage other states in the Eastern bloc
to pursue autonomy from the Soviets. Kennan found his ambassadorship
in Belgrade to be much improved from his experiences in
decade earlier. He commented, "I was favored in being surrounded with
a group of exceptionally able and loyal assistants, whose abilities I
myself admired, whose judgment I valued, and whose attitude toward
myself was at all times ... enthusiastically cooperative ...
Who was I to complain?" Kennan found the Yugoslav government
treated the American diplomats politely, in contrast from the way in
which the Russians treated him in Moscow. He wrote that the Yugoslavs
"considered me, rightly or wrongly, a distinguished person in the
U.S., and they were pleased that someone whose name they had heard
before was being sent to Belgrade".
Kennan found it difficult to perform his job in Belgrade. President
Josip Broz Tito
Josip Broz Tito and his foreign minister, Koča Popović, began to
suspect that Kennedy would adopt an anti-Yugoslav policy during his
term. Tito and Popović considered Kennedy's decision to observe
Captive Nations Week
Captive Nations Week as an indication that the United States would
assist anticommunist liberation efforts in Yugoslavia. Tito also
believed that the
CIA and the Pentagon were the true directors of
American foreign policy. Kennan attempted to restore Tito's confidence
American foreign policy
American foreign policy establishment but his efforts were
compromised by a pair of diplomatic blunders, the Bay of Pigs
Invasion, and the U-2 spy incident.
Yugoslavia and the United States quickly began to
worsen. In September 1961, Tito held a conference of nonaligned
nations, where he delivered speeches that the U.S. government
interpreted as being pro-Soviet. According to historian David Mayers,
Kennan argued that Tito's perceived pro-Soviet policy was in fact a
ploy to "buttress Khrushchev's position within the Politburo against
hardliners opposed to improving relations with the West and against
China, which was pushing for a major Soviet–U.S. showdown". This
policy also earned Tito "credit in the Kremlin to be drawn upon
against future Chinese attacks on his communist credentials".
While politicians and government officials expressed growing concern
about Yugoslavia's relationship with the Soviets, Kennan believed that
the country had an "anomalous position in the
Cold War that
objectively suited U.S. purposes". Kennan also believed that
within a few years, Yugoslavia's example would cause states in the
Eastern bloc to demand more social and economic autonomy from the
By 1962, Congress had passed legislation to deny financial aid grants
to Yugoslavia, to withdraw the sale of spare parts for Yugoslav
warplanes, and to revoke the country's most favored nation status.
Kennan strongly protested the legislation, arguing that it would only
result in a straining of relations between
Yugoslavia and the U.S.
Kennan came to Washington during the summer of 1962 to lobby against
the legislation but was unable to elicit a change from Congress.
President Kennedy endorsed Kennan privately but remained noncommittal
publicly, as he did not want to jeopardize his slim majority support
in Congress on a potentially contentious issue. With
U.S.–Yugoslav relations getting progressively worse, Kennan tendered
his resignation as ambassador during late July 1963.
Academic career and later life
In 1957 Kennan was invited by the BBC to give the annual Reith
Lectures—a series of six radio lectures, which were titled Russia,
the Atom and the West. For these, Kennan explored the history, effect,
and possible consequences of relations between
Russia and the West.
After the end of his brief ambassadorial post in
1963, Kennan spent the rest of his life in academe, becoming a major
realist critic of U.S. foreign policy. Having spent 18 months as a
scholar at the
Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Advanced Study between 1950 and 1952,
Kennan permanently joined the faculty of the Institute's School of
Historical Studies in 1956. During his career there, Kennan wrote
seventeen books and scores of articles on international relations. He
Pulitzer Prize for History, the
National Book Award for
Nonfiction, the Bancroft Prize, and the
Francis Parkman Prize for
Russia Leaves the War, published in 1956. He again won a Pulitzer
and a National Book Award in 1968 for Memoirs, 1925–1950. A
second volume, taking his reminiscences up to 1963 was published in
1972. Among his other works were American Diplomacy 1900–1950,
Sketches from a Life, published in 1989, and Around the Cragged Hill
His properly historical works amount to a six-volume account of the
Russia and the West from 1875 to his own time; the
period from 1894 to 1914 was planned but not completed. He was chiefly
The folly of the
First World War
First World War as a choice of policy; he argues that
the costs of modern war, direct and indirect, predictably exceeded the
benefits of eliminating the Hohenzollerns.
The ineffectiveness of summit diplomacy, with the Conference of
Versailles as a type-case. National leaders have too much to do to
give any single matter the constant and flexible attention which
diplomatic problems require.
Allied intervention in Russia
Allied intervention in Russia in 1918–19. He was indignant with
Soviet accounts of a vast capitalist conspiracy against the world's
first worker's state, some of which do not even mention the First
World War; he was equally indignant with the decision to intervene as
costly and harmful. He argues that the interventions, by arousing
Russian nationalism, may have ensured the survival of the Bolshevik
Political realism formed the basis of Kennan's work as a diplomat and
historian and remains relevant to the debate over American foreign
policy, which since the 19th century has been characterized by a shift
from the Founding Fathers' realist school to the idealistic or
Wilsonian school of international relations. According to the realist
tradition, security is based on the principle of a balance of power,
whereas Wilsonianism (considered impractical by realists) relies on
morality as the sole determining factor in statecraft. According to
the Wilsonians the spread of democracy abroad as a foreign policy is
important and morals are valid universally. During the Presidency of
Bill Clinton, American diplomacy represented the
Wilsonian school to
such a degree that those in favor of the realism likened President
Clinton's policies to social work. According to Kennan, whose concept
of American diplomacy was based on the realist approach, such moralism
without regard to the realities of power and the national interest is
self-defeating and will result in the decrease of American power.
In his historical writings and memoirs, Kennan laments in great detail
the failings of democratic foreign policy makers and those of the
United States in particular. According to Kennan, when American
policymakers suddenly confronted the Cold War, they had inherited
little more than rationale and rhetoric "utopian in expectations,
legalistic in concept, moralistic in [the] demand it seemed to place
on others, and self-righteous in the degree of high-mindedness and
rectitude ... to ourselves". The source of the problem is the
force of public opinion, a force that is inevitably unstable,
unserious, subjective, emotional, and simplistic. Kennan has insisted
that the U.S. public can only be united behind a foreign policy goal
on the "primitive level of slogans and jingoistic ideological
Containment during 1967, when he published the first volume of his
memoirs, involved something other than the use of military
"counterforce". He was never pleased that the policy he influenced was
associated with the arms build-up of the Cold War. In his memoirs,
Kennan argued that containment did not demand a militarized U.S.
foreign policy. "Counterforce" implied the political and economic
Western Europe against the disruptive effect of the war on
European society. Exhausted by war, the
Soviet Union posed no
serious military threat to the United States or its allies at the
beginning of the
Cold War but rather an ideological and political
During the 1960s, Kennan criticized U.S. involvement in Vietnam,
arguing that the United States had little vital interest in the
region. Kennan believed that the USSR, Britain, Germany, Japan,
and North America remained the areas of vital U.S. interests. During
the 1970s and 1980s, he was a major critic of the renewed arms race as
détente was ended.
In 1989 President George H. W. Bush awarded Kennan the Medal of
Freedom, the nation's greatest civilian honor. Yet he remained a
realist critic of recent U.S. presidents, urging the U.S. government
to "withdraw from its public advocacy of democracy and human rights",
saying that the "tendency to see ourselves as the center of political
enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world
strikes me as unthought-through, vainglorious and
undesirable". These ideas were particularly applicable to U.S.
relations with China and Russia. Kennan opposed the Clinton
administration's war in
Kosovo and its expansion of
establishment of which he had also opposed half a century earlier),
expressing fears that both policies would worsen relations with
Russia. He described
NATO enlargement as a "strategic blunder of
potentially epic proportions".
Kennan remained vigorous and alert during the last years of his life,
although arthritis had him using a wheelchair. During his later years,
Kennan concluded that "the general effect of
Cold War extremism was to
delay rather than hasten the great change that overtook the Soviet
Union". At age 98 he warned of the unforeseen consequences of
waging war against Iraq. He warned that attacking Iraq would amount to
waging a second war that "bears no relation to the first war against
terrorism" and declared efforts by the Bush administration to
associate al Qaeda with
Saddam Hussein "pathetically unsupportive and
unreliable". Kennan went on to warn:
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.
In February 2004 scholars, diplomats, and Princeton alumni gathered at
the university's campus to celebrate Kennan's 100th birthday. Among
those in attendance were Secretary of State Colin Powell,
international relations theorist John Mearsheimer, journalist Chris
Hedges, former ambassador and career
Foreign Service officer Jack F.
Matlock, Jr., and Kennan's biographer, John Lewis Gaddis.
Death and legacy
Kennan died on March 17, 2005, at his home in Princeton, New Jersey,
aged 101. He was survived by his wife Annelise, whom he married in
1931, and his four children, eight grandchildren, and six
great-grandchildren. Annelise died in 2008 at the age of
In an obituary in the New York Times, Kennan was described as "the
American diplomat who did more than any other envoy of his generation
to shape United States policy during the cold war" to whom "the White
House and the Pentagon turned when they sought to understand the
Soviet Union after World War II". Of Kennan, historian Wilson
D. Miscamble remarked that "[o]ne can only hope that present and
future makers of foreign policy might share something of his integrity
Foreign Policy described Kennan as "the most
influential diplomat of the 20th century".
Henry Kissinger said that
Kennan "came as close to authoring the diplomatic doctrine of his era
as any diplomat in our history", while
Colin Powell called Kennan "our
best tutor" in dealing with the foreign policy issues of the 21st
During his career, Kennan received a number of awards and honors. As a
scholar and writer, Kennan was a two-time recipient of both the
Pulitzer Prizes and the National Book Award, and had also received the
Francis Parkman Prize, the
Ambassador Book Award and the Bancroft
Prize. Among Kennan's numerous other awards and distinctions were the
Testimonial of Loyal and Meritorious Service from the Department of
State (1953), Princeton's Woodrow Wilson Award for Distinguished
Achievement in the Nation's Service (1976), the Order of the Pour le
Mérite (1976), the
Albert Einstein Peace Prize (1981), the Peace
Prize of the German Book Trade (1982), the American Academy of Arts
and Letters Gold Medal (1984), the American Whig-Cliosophic Society's
James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service
James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service (1985), the
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt Foundation Freedom from Fear Medal (1987), the
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Presidential Medal of Freedom (1989), the Distinguished Service Award
from the Department of State (1994), and the Library of Congress
Living Legend (2000). Kennan had also received 29 honorary degrees and
was honored in his name with the
George F. Kennan
George F. Kennan Chair in National
Security Strategy at the
National War College
National War College and the George F. Kennan
Professorship at the Institute for Advanced Study.
Historian Wilson D. Miscamble argues that Kennan played a critical
role in developing the foreign policies of the Truman administration.
He also states that Kennan did not believe in either global or
strongpoint containment; he simply wanted to restore the balance of
power between the United States and the Soviets. Like historian
John Lewis Gaddis, Miscamble concedes that although Kennan personally
preferred political containment, his recommendations ultimately
resulted in a policy directed more toward strongpoint than to global
Noting the large-scale Mexican immigration to the Southwestern United
States, Kennan said in 2002 there were "unmistakable evidences of a
growing differentiation between the cultures, respectively, of large
southern and southwestern regions of this country, on the one hand",
and those of "some northern regions". In the former, "the very culture
of the bulk of the population of these regions will tend to be
Latin-American in nature rather than what is inherited from
earlier American traditions ... Could it really be that there was
so little of merit [in America] that it deserves to be recklessly
trashed in favor of a polyglot mix-mash?" Mayers argues that
Kennan throughout his career represented the "tradition of militant
nativism" that resembled or even exceeded the
Know Nothings of the
1850s. Mayers adds that Kennan also believed American women had too
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Russia Leaves the War, Princeton: Princeton
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Kennan, George F. (1958), The Decision to Intervene, Princeton:
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Harper, OCLC 394718
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Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin,
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Marquis de Custine and His "
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Franco-Russian Relations, 1875–1890, Princeton: Princeton University
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Relations in the Atomic Age, New York: Pantheon Books,
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the Coming of the First World War, New York: Pantheon Books,
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^ Hixson 1989, p. 117.
^ a b c Smith 2005.
^ a b Gaddis 1990, p. 211.
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