George F. Kennan: An American Life
John Lewis Gaddis's biography is an important examination of a man who shaped the current American way of life.
(Page 4 of 7)
In the process of developing this strategy, Kennan composed two seminal documents that have achieved nothing less than mythical status in the annals of diplomacy. The “Long Telegram” of 1946 was critical because it outlined concisely the expansionist intent of Soviet leader Josef Stalin and that the influence of the Soviet Union needed to be “contained”. Secondly, in July of 1947, an article entitled “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” appeared in Foreign Affairs magazine under the pseudonym “X.” That article expanded upon the central points of the “Long Telegram” and postulated that Stalin was determined to use Marxist-Leninist ideology to basically “encircle” capitalism on a global scale. Eventually, Kennan was identified as the author of the article, and though Kennan would always insist that it was not to be considered boilerplate administration policy, the immediate and passionate reactions it elicited gave it that aura.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In 1948, Kennan asserted that Japan was the “anchor” of the East Asian component of his containment strategy. But one of the main impediments to activating it would lie with the Allied Supreme Commander in Japan, Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Gaddis writes amusingly of MacArthur’s “shogun-like remoteness” that compounded his alternate lack of interest in and ignorance of Europe, the Soviet Union, or for deferring to Washington generally. Kennan viewed him as “a major impediment to success” by establishing policies “designed for the purpose of rendering Japanese society vulnerable to … a communist takeover.” The secretiveness of MacArthur’s regime made it seem like Kennan was negotiating with “a suspicious foreign government” and added to Kennan’s view that “the general was a universalist in need of tethering.”
Kennan successfully managed to diffuse MacArthur by suggesting that the Far Eastern Commission, the international body that oversaw the occupation (and which inconveniently included the Soviet Union), would have to have its responsibilities curtailed, if not eventually eliminated – and that MacArthur would “remain in charge.” Eventually, the Marshall Plan-like package of reforms recommended by Kennan (and approved by Truman) became known as “Reverse Course” (with MacArthur’s authority sustaining much of the reversal).
During the last years of the Truman administration, Kennan, who had since relinquished his position as Policy Planning Staff Director to Paul Nitze, was asked, along with Nitze, to prepare a report on Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s proposal of a “super” moratorium on atomic weapons. A special NSC committee had been formed, including Acheson, David Lilienthal, and Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, to advise President Truman on the matter. Kennan’s paper, entitled “The International Control of Atomic Energy” was, in Kennan’s view, “one of the most important, if not the most important of all the documents I ever wrote in government.” But Kennan’s “prophetic” paper – 30 times the length of Nitze’s “crisp,” two-minute read – wasn’t considered relevant, though it would inform strategic debates on nuclear weapons for much of the 1970s and 80s.
In 1950, at the behest of physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who had been recently appointed head of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, Kennan was asked to join the Institute. Kennan spent several happy and productive decades there, but joining it was, if nothing else, fortuitous. On January 16, 1953, as President Eisenhower’s ambassador for Moscow, Kennan had angered secretary of state John Foster Dulles while speaking before the Pennsylvania State Bar Association, in which he openly criticized Dulles’ foreign policy positions as “dangerous.” Kennan later received word that Charles E. Bohlen was replacing him in Moscow and that no future appointment was coming. It was one of many instances where Kennan’s bombastic rhetoric would get him into trouble. Afterward, Kennan, still smarting from that episode, was living with Annalise in Adams County, Pennsylvania (near Gettysburg, where President Eisenhower had his own home), and briefly but seriously considered running for congress.