Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …

Posted on August 25th, by A. Robert Johnson in Foreign Policy. Comments Off on Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …

Let’s continue to examine the consequence of our failures with another quote from the experience of Primo Levi and a riposte by a man cited in Levi’s account.

Paul Steinberg Speak You Also, A Survivor’s Reckoning (1996), is a response to being cited by Primo Levi in Survival in Auschwitz thus:

“One seems to glimpse a human soul, but then Henri’s sad smile freezes in a cold grimace, and there he is again, intent on his hunt and his struggle; hard and distant, enclosed in armor, the enemy of all, inhumanly cunning and incomprehensible like the serpent in Genesis.”

The riposte:

“No doubt Levi saw straight…I probably was that creature, prepared to use whatever means I had available…I will never know whether I am entitled to ask for clemency from the jury…[but] is it so wrong to survive?”

Paul Steinberg (aka “Henri” in Levi’s account).

George F. Kennan (1904 – 2005)

This man’s service to diplomacy in the 20th Century is well documented and highly regarded, even by the innumerable critics who disagreed with his positions, among them a number who accused him of sympathy for the Soviets, thereby attempting to disallow his logic and experience. He earned his striped trousers in the pre-WWII Department of State by his ability to think through problems in strategic terms. His job at the U.S. Department of State was policy planner – a position that carried no authority. His work became known however, and respected to such a degree that he became a respected advisor to presidents and to the U.S. Congress.

He was famously quoted from an article intended to be anonymous that appeared in the June 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, which proffered a policy by the democratic nations in response to the Soviet’s hegemony over the middle European nations post WWII that became known as “containment.” He lived to be 101 years of age, but in that long life had given up trying to explain how distorted the interpretation of his use of the term “containment” was. His attempts, even from such a place of high esteem, fell on deaf ears. His reference to “containment” was simply one of maintaining a watchful presence against any further Soviet usurpation of Middle European territory and/or moves to do the same in Asia or elsewhere, elaborated at length in Anthologies’ excerpts from and about Kennan. Russia had been decimated by Germany in WWII. Stalin was acutely aware of how much rebuilding was needed. Protecting against further encroachment of the broader sphere of influence gained by that mortal, colossal struggle would take every ounce of resourcefulness the Soviet Union possessed. It is fair to note that Kennan too, had moments of doubt about his own theory, but returned to it emphatically over the course of time, especially in light of the misunderstandings it generated.

Kennan believed the Soviets were fatally weak at the outset of their massive social experiment. They would not be able to expand, were not thinking of doing so, and indeed, in his view, could not, by virtue of inherent failings in their system and the people who assumed power in it. Moreover, WWII left them broken and destitute, incapable of expansion. It took until 1991, but events have proved him right.

Here is a man paid to think on behalf of us all and who did – brilliantly – but was routinely ignored by those who paid him, the U.S. taxpayer through representative government. The people, the final arbiters – you again – can be seen to “fail routinely in their modest role as citizens by virtue of their capacity to listen to and believe the nonsense of ideologues and pretenders of every stripe, nearly all of whom are revealed to have a profit motive or personal aggrandizement driving their agenda,” (to use Henry Adams’s phrase). Our elected officials gain office with money from the Military-Industrial complex or become prisoners of it upon election, a transparent phenomenon very much alive and well today, with the citizens’ blessings (you again) and in total denial of its lethal effect on the rest of the world. Let Mr. Kennan’s words address his concerns.

[from the 1957 BBC Reith Lectures, for which Dean Acheson publicly denounced him.]

“Are we to flee like haunted creatures from one defensive device to another, each more costly and humiliating than the one before, cowering underground one day, breaking up our cities the next, attempting to surround ourselves with elaborate electronic shields on the third, concerned only to prolong the length of our lives while sacrificing all the values for which it might be worthwhile to live at all? If I thought this was the best the future held for us, I should be tempted to join those who say, “Let us divest ourselves of this weapon altogether; let us stake our safety on God’s grace and our own good consciences and on that measure of common sense and humanity which even our adversaries possess; but then let us at least walk like men, with our heads up, so long as we are permitted to walk at all.”

Two works of Mr. Kennan’s, primary sources, are of utmost importance to this anthology, both of his Autobiographies: Memoirs 1925-1950 (© 1967, George F. Kennan, Little, Brown & Co., Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 67-23834) and Memoirs 1950-1963, (© 1972 George F. Kennan, Pantheon Books, ISBN 0-394-71624-8) this last with a postscript upon its republication in 1983 from which the following is extracted.

“Whether or not some of the insights brought forward in these volumes were prophetic – whether or not some of the views were vindicated by subsequent events – all this seen through the growing darkness of the nuclear shadow now lengthening upon us, is of supreme unimportance.

“The author has tried, in more recent writings (particularly The Nuclear Delusion, Pantheon Books, 1982), to bring out something of the true significance of this shadow; and, because the shadow is so largely self-engendered, he has tried to suggest ways in which we ourselves might move to dispel it. But it is a shadow that has been forty years in the gathering; and hence no single view of its gravity or of the possibilities for its removal can be fully explained without reference to the lifetime experience out of which that view was formed.

“The reappearance of these memoirs comes at a time when this entire subject, and sometimes even the author’s own small contribution to the discussion of it, are increasingly preoccupying public attention. This is the author’s justification for hoping that their appearance will serve to give greater depth to what he himself has written; will bring out more clearly the origins of what is unquestionably the greatest problem of our time, if not for any time; and will finally, by revealing some of the places where we may have gone off the track, suggest some of the places where, with greater courage and with sober reflection, we might get back onto it again.”

The scrutiny and controversies over Mr. Kennan’s role in relations with the Soviet Union, the Cold War and the unending reference to it by historians appropriating that part of his written contribution to that relationship that most fits their own agendas is unceasing. [The same can be said of me!] Along with that, he has been often slandered as a whiner, an unhappy bureaucrat whose superiors’ ideological bents resulted in leaving him out of the loop, unable to influence events. Nonetheless, his contributions to the ongoing push and pull of policy by the U.S. towards the rest of the world seems destined to matter long into the future. This is as good a time as any to take a closer look at what he had to say in his own words.

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