Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …
I have given much space in Anthology to Mr. Kennan for a reason. He engendered a discussion of American foreign policy over many decades of the last century that could have been much better understood and appreciated, as he has himself averred in detail in his Memoirs, had his own shortcomings been avoided. But they weren’t. Yet he was right on many salient points of policy, as has been proved by history. The bigger problem, it seems, is the failure of historians to grapple successfully with this record carefully enough at the primary source – Mr. Kennan – even while referring to him and his work as if they’d understood and applied the lessons offered therein. If they had, you would not see a full-blown, just published biography of him, written by one of today’s eminences in the field, John Lewis Gaddis of Yale, accepted as definitive, since Kennan, at age 82 in 1986, authorized him to write it. He confessed to his diary that he regretted that decision because he later realized that Gaddis “didn’t get it.” What Gaddis has done is emphasize a common view held of Kennan that leads his book to being dismissively reviewed in The Nation (November 14, 2011 ) by a professor of history from Boston University, Andrew J. Bacevick, or Neal Sheehan, whose 2009 publication, A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, about the development and deployment of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles by the U.S. and Soviets, that outright misrepresent Kennan or overlook the salient points he was trying to make. I will bring this to bear in the excerpts of Mr. Sheehan’s work (below).
Topping off the list of queer coincidences is the lead review in today’s Book Review in The New York Times (November 13, 2011) written of Gaddis’ book by Henry Kissinger, one of America’s most prominent former diplomats, who to his credit, acknowledges in the review that “Kennan (applied consistent themes)…of balance and restraint (in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against the Vietnam War)…on the limited ground that there was no strategic need for it. He emphasized that the threat posed by Hanoi was exaggerated and that the alleged unity of the Communist world was a myth.” Let me make no further reference to H.K. here, given that he was the architect of so many actions by the U.S. during his years as National Security Advisor and, later, Secretary of State, that his presence as a “person of interest” is being sought in several nations interested in getting to the bottom of actions that may qualify as war crimes affecting their citizens during those years. I vividly recall the morning newscast announcing the U.S.’s incursion into Cambodia. I was well enough informed to know with certainty that that country would cease to exist as an independent entity. I could not have foreseen that it was poised to lose upwards of three million of its citizens’ lives to a genocide carried out by its new leaders, enabled to power by Kissinger’s policy.
And incredibly, still more reviews arrived as I was writing the above paragraph. Frank Costigliola, editor of the George F. Kennan diaries and professor of history at the University of Connecticut, corrects the record as it exists in Kennan’s hand, the only reviewer to do so to now, and my source for Kennan’s “Gaddis didn’t get it” quote [NY Review of Books, December 8, 2011] while Fred Kaplan, national security columnist for Slate and a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation generalizes in The NY Times [November 23, 2011], quoting the dour Kennan grousing to his diary (“an outsider in his own time”) and being dismissive about his salient policy insights.
And I’m hoping to get the material of Anthology into the précises of the world’s schools to be learned by every citizen by age 16? With history professors at the college level missing the mark by a country mile, that looks like a long road ahead. [Still more aberrance: Gaddis’ book has just won a Pulitzer Prize for biography! April 17, 2012 news item.] [Still more before I go to press, this time from the London Review of Book, Vol. 34, No. 10, 24 May 3012, Jackson Lears reviews both Gaddis’ biography of Kennan and Frank Costigliola’s Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War with a review entitled “Beware Biographers.” He is more polite than I but he is spot on in his assessment of both biographers. To Gaddis he attributes a total departure in his Kennan assessment, buying into the arguments he prefers over those Kennan makes, although, as Lears summarizes, there is sufficient information for the reader to grasp “Through the fog of interpretation, Kennan the man shines through: his persistent contradictions, his unending self-doubt, his indispensable courage.”