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 …

A fair introduction to the quality of his writing may be found in “A Report” sent to subscribers of the Book of the Month Club in 1967, authored by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. In it, Mr. Schlesinger, writing about the publication of Mr. Kennan’s Memoirs 1925-1950, published in 1967, characterizes his views succinctly. A few quotes make his points: “He helped open the American embassy in Moscow in 1933 and learned in the next five years to love the Russian people and detest their Government.” After being recalled to Washington in 1947 to run the State Department’s new Policy Planning Staff he found himself “again out of sympathy with American foreign policy — this time because it was, as he saw it, increasingly ‘committed to a militarized view of the cold war’ and increasingly ‘dominated by the conviction that the overriding consideration was to set up the military strength necessary to ‘deter’ the Russians from attacking Western Europe.’ Schlesinger continues: “There may seem superficial contradictions between Mr. Kennan’s original conviction that the cold war was inevitable and his later dissent from the way the U.S. chose to wage the cold war. Yet the record makes it clear that Mr. Kennan’s fundamental views have been consistent. If he has had no illusion about the nature of Soviet purposes, he also has never supposed that the Marxist ideology endowed the Russians with some supernatural capacity to achieve these purposes…His Memoirs will be read for many years and for many things. Historians will turn to it as an indispensable commentary on critical times in American foreign policy. Political Scientists will ponder its subtle analysis of the arts of diplomacy and the frustrations of government. Kremlinologists will value its penetrating running account of the evolution of Soviet society. Most of all, thoughtful readers will find here a distinguished American autobiography — one which, when completed, will surely belong on the shelf with another book by a man who felt himself living outside his time, The Education of Henry Adams.”

From George Kennan’s Memoirs 1925-1950, (Pub. 1967) beginning page 356 in the Chapter entitled “The X-Article” :

“It was not long after the appearance of Mr. Krock’s piece, [the conservative columnist who revealed the actual name of ‘Mr. X’] before the authorship of the article became common knowledge. Others began to write about it, to connect it with the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, to speculate on its significance. It soon became the center of a veritable whirlpool or publicity Life and Reader’s Digest reprinted long excerpts from it. The term ‘containment’ was picked up and elevated, by the common agreement of the press, to the status of a ‘doctrine,’ which was then identified with the foreign policy of the administration. In this way there was established – before our eyes, so to speak – one of those indestructible myths that are the bane of the historian.

“Feeling like one who has inadvertently loosened a large boulder from the top of a cliff and now helplessly witnesses its path of destruction in the valley below, shuddering and wincing at each successive glimpse of disaster, I absorbed the bombardment of press comment that now set in. I had not meant to do anything of this sort.

“…the article that appeared in Foreign Affairs in June 1947, suffered, unquestionably, from serious deficiencies. Some of these I might have corrected at the time by more careful editing and greater forethought, had I had any idea of the way it was to be received. But I cannot lay these failures exclusively to the innocent and unsuspecting manner in which the article was written. Certain of the public reactions were ones I would not, in any event, have foreseen.

“A serious deficiency of the article was the failure to mention the satellite area of Eastern Europe – the failure to discuss Soviet power, that is, in terms of its involvement in this area. Anyone reading the article would have thought – and would have had every reason to think – that I was talking only about Russia proper; that the weaknesses of the Soviet system to which I was drawing attention were ones that had their existence only within the national boundaries of the Soviet state; that the geographic extension that had been given to the power of the Soviet leaders, by virtue of the recent advances of soviet armies  into Eastern Europe and the political exploitation of those advances for Communist purposes, were irrelevant to the weaknesses of which I was speaking. Obviously, in mentioning the uncertainties of the Soviet situation – such things as the weariness and poor morale among the population, the fragility of the constitutional arrangements within the party, etc. – I would have had a far stronger case had I added the characteristic embarrassments of imperialism which the Soviet leaders had now taken upon themselves with their conquest of Eastern Europe, and the unlikelihood that Moscow would be permanently successful in holding this great area in subjection…

“Had I included these appreciations in the X-Article, and added to the description of the internal weaknesses of Soviet power a mention of the strains of Moscow’s new external involvement in Eastern Europe, I would have had a far stronger case for challenging the permanency of the imposing and forbidding façade which Stalin’s Russia presented to the outside world in those immediate postwar years.

“A second serious deficiency of the X-Article – perhaps the most serious of all – was the failure to make clear that what I was talking about when I mentioned the containment of Soviet power was not the containment by military means of a military threat, but the political containment of a political threat. Certain of the language used – such as ‘a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies’ or ‘the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points’ – was at best ambiguous, and lent itself to misinterpretation in this respect.

“A third great deficiency, intimately connected with the one just mentioned, was the failure to distinguish between various geographic areas, and to make clear that the ‘containment’ of which I was speaking was not something that I thought we could, necessarily, do everywhere successfully, or even needed to do everywhere successfully, in order to serve the purpose I had in mind. Actually, as noted in connection with the Truman Doctrine above, I distinguished clearly in my own mind between areas that I thought vital to our security and ones that did not seem to me to fall into this category. My objection to the Truman Doctrine message revolved largely around its failure to draw this distinction. Repeatedly, at that time and in ensuing years, I expressed in talks and lectures the view that there were only five regions of the world – the United States, the United Kingdom, the Rhine valley with adjacent industrial areas, the Soviet Union, and Japan – where the sinews of modern military strength could be produced in quantity; I pointed out that only one of these was under Communist control; and I defined the main task of containment, accordingly, as one of seeing to it that none of the remaining ones fell under such control. Why this was not made clear in the X-Article is, again, a mystery. I suppose I thought that such considerations were subsumed under the reference to the need for confronting the Russians with unalterable counterforce ‘at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful world.’

“So egregious were these errors that I must confess to responsibility for the greatest and most unfortunate of the misunderstandings to which they led. This was the one created in the mind of Mr. Walter Lippmann. It found its expression in the series of twelve pieces attacking the X-Article which he published in his newspaper column in the late summer and autumn of 1947. As I read these articles over today (and they are well worth the effort), I find the misunderstanding almost tragic in its dimensions. Mr. Lippmann, in the first place, mistook me for the author of precisely those features of the Truman Doctrine which I had most vigorously opposed – an assumption to which, I must say, I had led squarely with my chin in the careless and indiscriminate language of the X-Article. He held up, as a deserved correction to these presumed aberrations on my part, precisely those features of General Marshall’s approach, and those passages of the Harvard speech, for which I had a primary responsibility. He interpreted the concept of containment in just the military sense I had not meant to give it. And on the basis of these misimpressions he proceeded to set forth, as an alternative to what I had led him to think my views were, a concept of American policy similar to that which I was to hold and to advance in coming years that one could only assume I was subconsciously inspired by the statement of it – as perhaps, in part, I was. He urged a concentration on the vital countries of Europe; he urged a policy directed toward a mutual withdrawal of Soviet and American (also British) forces from Europe; he pointed with farsighted penetration to the dangers involved in any attempt to make of a truncated Western Germany an ally in an anti-Soviet coalition. All these points would figure prominently in my own later writings. He saw them, for the most part, long before I did. I accept the blame for misleading him. My only consolation is that I succeeded in provoking from him so excellent and penetrating a treatise.

“Nevertheless, the experience was a painful one. It was doubly painful by reason of the great respect I bore him. I can still recall the feeling of bewilderment and frustration with which – helpless now to reply publicly because of my official position – I read these columns as they appeared and found held against me so many views with which I profoundly agreed.”

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