Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …
Here, reader of Anthology, you are introduced to a controversy centered on George Kennan’s U.S./Soviet policy insights that continues unabated to this day. It leaves one to wonder how we can achieve a higher level of education in our youths given that their elders manage to muddle history and scholarship to such a degree. Still, this book by Mr. Sheehan is essential reading.
“…Kennan was asked by Washington to provide an ‘interpretive analysis’ of the speech and what it portended. His response, as Daniel Yergin, the American historian, noted in his study of the Cold War, Shattered Peace: the Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State, was aptly named the Long Telegram because it was, at 5,500 words, up to that point probably the longest telegram ever sent in the U.S. diplomatic service. It laid down the doctrinal basis for the hemming in of Soviet power that was to become U.S. policy of containment.
“Kennan’s analysis did not reflect the reality of the Soviet Union or of Stalin. Rather, it reflected Kennan’s ideological antipathy to both and confused the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric trotted out for ritual occasions with the actual reasoning that lay behind Soviet moves. The Long Telegram was, in a way, evidence of how difficult it was for a foreigner, even one who spoke the language and was as familiar with the Soviet Union as Kennan was, to penetrate beyond the façade of Stalin’s closed society. In Kennan’s view, Stalin was a fanatical revolutionary, not the complex mixture of genuine Marxist faith, cynicism, Realpolitik calculation, and suspicion and cruelty that history has shown him to be.
To this assertion, written by Mr. Sheehan in 2009, the reader is referred to the primary source, available to us all, of Mr. Kennan’s Memoirs (1967), quoted in Anthology on page 24. What can be written by anyone that refutes Kennan’s declared position, stated unequivocally there? Nothing. Yet Mr. Sheehan perpetuates the confusion Mr. Kennan tried so ardently to end with the publication of his Memoirs. We know from the Soviet’s collapse how onerous their effort to secure their governance was to become. It may be fair to attribute that collapse to U.S. “defense” policies. However, we know that it was driven by fear – MAD – (Mutually Assured Destruction). Both the Soviet Union and the U.S. had to divert national resources from domestic needs both then and now while huddling under a shield that, if used to retaliate in the event of attack by either, would kill them and every living thing on the planet, beginning with casualties of 200,000,000 in a first strike, according to a member of the U.S Atomic Energy Commission (the author’s father) in the early 1970’s in private conversation. Today, in the year 2012, this “shield” is at the ready. Against whom? Against what?
“The Soviet attitude toward the outside world was not shaped by an ‘objective analysis of situation beyond Russia’s borders,’ Kennan telegraphed. ‘At bottom of Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity.’ As a result, Stalin and his associates in the leadership were permanently engaged ‘in patient but deadly struggle for the total destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.’ Marxist dogma reinforced this behavior. The ‘basic Soviet instinct’ was’ that there can be no compromise with rival power and the constructive work can start only when Communist power is dominant.’ In short, coexistence between the United States and the Soviet Union was impossible. ‘We have here a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with US [sic] there can be no permanent modus Vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken if Soviet power is to be secure.’ The way to counteract this force, Kennan suggested, was for the United States to draw the Western nations together and systematically block all attempts at Soviet expansion. ‘Impervious to logic or reason, [the Soviet Union] is highly sensitive to logic of force. For this reason it can easily withdraw – and usually does – when strong resistance is encountered at any point.’ This last observation was well taken, but it resulted from the caution Stalin frequently exercised in the conduct of foreign policy, from conscious reasoning, not from some auto-neurotic instinct of an ideologically driven power elite.”
Mr. Sheehan then relates how imbedded the policy of containment became in the formulation of U.S. policy towards the Soviets, asserting that it was to become a cornerstone of the determined effort by each to gain strategic supremacy over the other, and the bases of numerous misinterpretations by the leaders of each over the intentions of the other. His diligence in tracing that effort is extraordinary in every respect. But his assessment of Kennan’s contribution to the policy is off the mark. The never-ending convolutions in international relations, not to mention local confusions, leaves the entire population of the earth vulnerable to self-proclaimed and executed versions of what’s best for the rest. His Kennan assessment is a very good example of the thicket we find ourselves in if we fail to examine problems of the past with insufficient probity as to their cause. Every party to any dispute carries the same burden. Every one needs to remember that there will always be suspicion and doubt about the intentions of those with whom negotiations are being deployed in pursuit of policy results favorable to their own side. The last, and now unthinkable option, is the use of force between peoples. On that point, it is entirely appropriate for me to keep my promise to you of introducing