[Paleopsych] NYT: George F. Kennan Dies at 101; Leading Strategist of Cold War

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George F. Kennan Dies at 101; Leading Strategist of Cold War 
March 18, 2005

[He died while on my annual Lenten break. Perhaps he has been wholly 
forgotten already.]


    George F. Kennan, the American diplomat who did more than any other
    envoy of his generation to shape United States policy during the cold
    war, died on Thursday night in Princeton, N.J. He was 101.

    Mr. Kennan was the man to whom the White House and the Pentagon turned
    when they sought to understand the Soviet Union after World War II. He
    conceived the cold-war policy of containment, the idea that the United
    States should stop the global spread of Communism by diplomacy,
    politics, and covert action - by any means short of war.

    As the State Department's first policy planning chief in the late
    1940's, serving Secretary of State George C. Marshall, Mr. Kennan was
    an intellectual architect of the Marshall Plan, which sent billions of
    dollars of American aid to nations devastated by World War II. At the
    same time, he conceived a secret "political warfare" unit that aimed
    to roll back Communism, not merely contain it. His brainchild became
    the covert-operations directorate of the Central Intelligence Agency.

    Though Mr. Kennan left the foreign service more than half a century
    ago, he continued to be a leading thinker in international affairs
    until his death. Since the 1950's he had been associated with the
    Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he was most recently
    a professor emeritus.

    By the end of his long, productive life, Mr. Kennan had become a
    phenomenon in international affairs, with seminars held and books
    written to debate and analyze his extraordinary influence on American
    policy during the cold war. He was the author of 17 books, two of them
    Pulitzer Prize-winners, and countless articles in leading journals.

    His writing, from classified cables to memoirs, was the force that
    made him "the nearest thing to a legend that this country's diplomatic
    service has ever produced," in the words of the historian Ronald

    "He'll be remembered as a diplomatist and a grand strategist," said
    John Lewis Gaddis, a leading historian of the cold war, who is
    preparing a biography of Mr. Kennan. "But he saw himself as a literary
    figure. He would have loved to have been a poet, a novelist."

    Morton H. Halperin, who was chief of policy planning during the
    Clinton administration, said Mr. Kennan "set a standard that all his
    successors have sought to follow."

    Mr. Halperin said Mr. Kennan understood the need to talk truth to
    power no matter how unpopular, and made clear his belief that
    containment was primarily a political and diplomatic policy rather
    than a military one. "His career since is clear proof that no matter
    how important the role of the policy planning director, a private
    citizen can have an even greater impact with the strength of his

    The force of Mr. Kennan's ideas brought him to power in Washington in
    the brief months after World War II ended and before the cold war
    began. In February 1946, as the second-ranking diplomat in the
    American Embassy in Moscow, he dispatched his famous "Long Telegram"
    to Washington, perhaps the best-known cable in American diplomatic
    history. It explained to policy makers baffled by Stalin that while
    Soviet power was "impervious to the logic of reason," it was "highly
    sensitive to the logic of force."

    Widely circulated in Washington, the Long Telegram made Mr. Kennan
    famous. It evolved into an even better-known work, "The Sources of
    Soviet Conduct," which Mr. Kennan published under the anonymous byline
    "X" in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, the journal of the
    Council on Foreign Relations. "Soviet pressure against the free
    institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained
    by the adroit and vigorous application of counterforce," he wrote.
    That force, Kennan believed, should take the form of diplomacy and
    covert action, not war.

    Mr. Kennan's best-known legacy was this postwar policy of containment,
    "a strategy that held up awfully well," said Mr. Gaddis.

    But Mr. Kennan was deeply dismayed when the policy was associated with
    the immense build-up in conventional arms and nuclear weapons that
    characterized the cold war from the 1950's onward. His views were
    always more complex than the interpretation others gave them, as he
    argued repeatedly in his writings. He came to deplore the growing
    belligerence toward Moscow that gripped Washington by the early
    1950's, setting the stage for anti-Communist witch hunts that severely
    dented the American foreign service.

    At the height of the Korean War, he temporarily left the State
    Department for the Institute for Advanced Study. He returned to serve
    as ambassador to Moscow, arriving there in March 1952.

    But it was "a disastrous assignment," Mr. Gaddis said. Mr. Kennan was
    placed under heavy surveillance by Soviet intelligence, which cut him
    off from contact with Soviet citizens. Frustrated, Mr. Kennan publicly
    compared living in Stalin's Moscow to his experience as an internee in
    Nazi Germany. The Soviets declared him persona non grata.

    From One Dulles to the Other

    Mr. Kennan was then pushed out of the Foreign Service in 1953 by the
    new Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, who took office under the
    newly elected President Eisenhower. Allen Dulles, the new director of
    central intelligence, then offered a post to the man his brother had
    rejected - knowing, as few others did, of Mr. Kennan's crucial role in
    the formation of the C.I.A. clandestine service.

    Mr. Kennan had argued for "the inauguration of political warfare"
    against the Soviet Union in a May 1948 memorandum that was classified
    top secret for almost 50 years. "The time is now fully ripe for the
    creation of a covert political warfare operations directorate within
    the government," he wrote. This seed quickly grew into the covert arm
    of the Central Intelligence Agency. It began as the Office of Policy
    Coordination, planning and conducting the agency's biggest and most
    ambitious schemes, and within four years grew into the agency's
    operations directorate, with thousands of clandestine officers

    A generation later, testifying before a 1975 Senate select committee,
    he called the political-warfare initiative "the greatest mistake I
    ever made."

    Mr. Kennan also played a formative role in the foundation of Radio
    Free Europe. Seeking ways to use the skills of émigrés from the Soviet
    Union's cold-war satellites, he asked a retired ambassador, Joseph C.
    Grew, to form an anticommunist group called the National Committee for
    a Free Europe. Backed by the C.I.A., the committee set up Radio Free
    Europe, which broadcast news and propaganda throughout Eastern Europe.
    Two prominent dissidents of their times, Lech Walesa in Poland and
    Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, praised R.F.E. as highly influential.

    Mr. Kennan supported the war in Korea, albeit with some uncertainty,
    but opposed United States involvement anywhere in Indochina long
    before American troops were sent to Vietnam. He did not include the
    region in his mental list of areas crucial to American security.

    In February 1997, Mr. Kennan wrote on The New York Times's Op-Ed page
    that the Clinton administration's decision to back an enlargement of
    NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to bring it to the
    borders of Russia was a terrible mistake. He wrote that "expanding
    NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire
    post-cold war era."

    "Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic,
    anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have
    an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore
    the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel
    Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking," he
    wrote. His views, shared by a broad range of policy experts, did not

    Mr. Kennan was the last of a generation of diplomatic aristocrats in
    an old world model - products of the "right" schools, universities and
    clubs, who took on the enormous challenges of building a new world
    order and trying to define America's place within it after the defeat
    of the Nazis and a militaristic Japanese empire.

    With history as a guide, these worldly-wise policy makers ultimately
    decided against punitive policies toward the losers, instead helping
    the defeated countries rebuild as democracies. But the diplomatic
    establishment had no precedent to fall back on as they wrestled with
    Soviet Communism and a Maoist revolution in China.

    Though Mr. Kennan is often grouped among the "Wise Men" who shaped
    Washington after World War II, he did not share their heritage. "He
    was not part of the elite East Coast establishment," Mr. Gaddis said.
    "He was never wealthy. He worked his way through college, and he lost
    all his money in the Depression. He always felt he was an outsider,
    never an insider."

    Mr. Kennan was often a gloomy, sensitive and intensely serious man.
    Perennially unable to tailor his crisp intellectual views to political
    necessity in Washington, and lacking the political and bureaucratic
    skills needed to survive there, Mr. Kennan appeared to those who knew
    him to be happy to find a long-term home in Princeton, where Albert
    Einstein and other leading thinkers also honed their ideas.

    Ever the Policy Maker

    From that perch in 1993, Mr. Kennan recommended, characteristically,
    that the United States needed an unelected, apolitical "council of
    state" drawn from the country's best brains to advise all branches of
    government in long-term policies. He proposed the council in a very
    personal book, "Around the Cragged Hill" (Norton 1993), which revealed
    his core social conservatism as he reviewed the evolution of America.

    He fretted that the population of the United States was growing too
    fast and that, environmentally, the country was "exhausting and
    depleting the very sources of its own abundance." He blamed cars and
    the suburban sprawl they created for the death of not only a
    magnificent railway network but also the "great urban centers of the
    19th century, with all the glories of economic and cultural life that
    flowed from their very unity and compactness."

    But Mr. Kennan was most preoccupied with society's effects on making
    foreign policy, an increasingly shrunken intellectual field in an age
    when American diplomacy itself has been driven to penury by a dominant
    new breed of post-cold-war America-Firsters. He saw American policy by
    the end of the 20th century as unfocused, adrift and subject to too
    many (sometimes conflicting) domestic political pressures, with a host
    of players who have diminished the role of the secretary of state at a
    moment in history when the United States stood alone in its world

    "It is not too much to say that the American people have it in their
    power, given the requisite will and imagination, to set for the rest
    of the world a unique example of the way a modern, advanced society
    could be shaped in order to meet successfully the emerging tests of
    the modern and future age," he wrote in "Around the Cragged Hill."

    Among his other well-known works were "American Diplomacy 1900-1950";
    "Russia Leaves the War," winner of the Pulitzer prize for history in
    1957 and the Bancroft and Francis Parkman prizes and a National Book
    Award; and two volumes of memoirs, in 1967 and 1972, the first of
    which won another National Book Award and another Pulitzer. Mr. Kennan
    was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, by
    President George H.W. Bush in 1989.

    The Modest Beginnings

    George Frost Kennan was born in Milwaukee on Feb. 16, 1904, the son of
    Kossuth Kent Kennan, a lawyer who was a descendant of Scotch-Irish
    settlers of 18th-century America and who was named for the Hungarian
    patriot. His mother, the former Florence James, died two months after
    his birth.

    When he was 8, he was sent to Germany in the care of his stepmother -
    his father had remarried - to learn German in Kassel, because of the
    purity of the language there. It was the first of numerous languages
    he would eventually master: Russian, French, Polish, Czech, Portuguese
    and Norwegian.

    Educated at St. John's Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield,
    Wis., and at Princeton University, where he received his bachelor's
    degree in 1925, he decided to try for the Foreign Service rather than
    return to Milwaukee. "It was the first and last sensible decision I
    was ever deliberately to make about my occupation," he said.

    Mr. Kennan served as a vice consul in Geneva and Hamburg in 1927 and
    was on the verge of resigning to go back to school when he learned
    that he could be trained as a linguist and get three years of graduate
    study without leaving the service. He went to Berlin University and
    chose to study Russian, partly in preparation for the opening of
    United States-Soviet relations, which occurred in 1933, and partly
    because another George Kennan, his grandfather's cousin, had devoted
    himself to studying Russia.

    While in Berlin, Mr. Kennan met Annelise Sorensen, a Norwegian, and
    they were married in 1931. They had four children. He is survived by
    his wife and their children - Grace Kennan Warnecke of New York, Joan
    Kennan of Washington, D.C., Wendy Kennan of Cornwall, England, and
    Christopher J. Kennan of Pine Plains, N.Y. - and by eight
    grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

    In the five and a half years between Mr. Kennan's decision to become a
    specialist on Soviet affairs and his first assignment to Moscow in
    1933, he served in a number of posts on the periphery of the Soviet
    Union. He was third secretary in the embassy in Riga, Latvia, when he
    was assigned to accompany William C. Bullitt, the first United States
    ambassador to the Soviet Union.

    During his career, he was assigned to Moscow three more times - as
    second secretary in 1935 and 1936, as minister-counselor from 1944 to
    1946, first under W. Averell Harriman, then under Gen. Walter Bedell
    Smith, and finally for a brief term as ambassador in 1952.

    When he was appointed to the embassy in Moscow in 1944 as
    minister-counselor, he described his return after a six-year absence
    as an unsettling experience because of the hostility and suspicion he
    found in the official circles of a wartime ally.

    "Never," he wrote, "except possibly during my later experience as
    ambassador to Moscow, did the insistence of the Soviet authorities on
    the isolation of the diplomatic corps weigh more heavily on me. We
    were sincerely moved by the sufferings of the Russian people as well
    as by the heroism and patience they were showing. We wished them
    nothing but well. It was doubly hard in these circumstances to find
    ourselves treated as though we were the bearers of some species of the

    Mr. Kennan, convinced that it would be folly to hope for extensive
    Soviet cooperation in the postwar world, was frustrated by the
    development in Washington of what he saw as an increasingly naïve
    policy based on notions of Soviet friendship. He wrote analytical
    essays, but these won little or no attention in the State Department.

    It was not until the United States Treasury, stung by Moscow's
    unwillingness to support the World Bank and International Monetary
    Fund, asked the State Department for an explanation of its behavior
    that Mr. Kennan was able to make his points in the "Long Telegram,"
    which arrived in Washington on Feb. 22, 1946. It was so well-received
    that "my official loneliness came to an end," he wrote later. "My
    reputation was made. My voice now carried."

    Regrettably, in Mr. Kennan's view, the warnings that had fallen on
    deaf ears for so long found receptive ones partly for the wrong
    reasons, and he felt that the idea of a Soviet danger became as
    exaggerated as the belief in Soviet friendship had been.

    He held that the Soviet Union should be challenged only when it
    encroached on certain areas of specific American interest, but he did
    not accept the view that this could be accomplished only by military
    alliances or by turning Europe into an armed camp. He felt that
    Communism needed to be confronted politically when it appeared outside
    the Soviet sphere.

    Publicly, he was sharply critical of émigré propaganda calling for the
    overthrow of the Soviet system, believing that there was no guarantee
    that anything more democratic would replace it. In the 1960's and
    70's, he concluded that the growing diversity in the Communist world
    was one of the most significant political developments of the century.
    But "he missed the ideological appeal of democratic culture in the
    rest of the world," Mr. Gaddis said, as the slow rot of Soviet
    Communism undermined the cold war's architectures.

    The 'X' Article on Containment

    Mr. Kennan had returned to Washington in 1946 as the first deputy for
    foreign affairs at the new National War College, where he prepared a
    paper on the nature of Soviet power for James V. Forrestal, then
    secretary of the Navy. In July 1947, that paper, drawn largely from
    his Moscow essays, became the "X" article. The article, advocating the
    containment of Soviet power, was not signed because Mr. Kennan had
    accepted a new State Department assignment. But the author's identity
    soon became known.

    Mr. Kennan was attacked by the influential columnist Walter Lippmann,
    who interpreted containment - as did many others - in a military

    In his memoirs, Mr. Kennan said that some of the language he had used
    in advocating a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment
    of Russian expansive tendencies "was at best ambiguous and lent itself
    to misinterpretation." He had failed to make it clear, he said, that
    what he was talking about was not the containment by military means or
    military threat, but the political containment of a political threat.

    As chairman of the planning staff at a time when planning still played
    a large role in policy-making, Mr. Kennan helped shift the United
    States to political and diplomatic containment.

    He contributed an overall rationale to a series of actions like
    Greek-Turkish aid, under what became known as the Truman Doctrine, the
    Marshall Plan and the creation of the Western military alliance.

    Taking an active interest in the occupation of Japan and Germany, he
    incurred considerable criticism by opposing the Nuremberg war-crimes
    trials, arguing that the United States should not sit in judgment with
    the Soviet Union, where millions had been killed by their own

    He also argued against basing American troops in Japan under
    long-range agreements, feeling this would antagonize the Soviet Union,
    which might feel its eastern flank threatened.

    In 1950, having left the planning staff to become a counselor to
    Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Mr. Kennan was at odds with the State
    Department over the American military role in Korea and other issues.
    He asked for a leave of absence and moved to Princeton at the
    invitation of his friend J. Robert Oppenheimer, who headed the
    American development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, to join the
    Institute for Advanced Studies. He and his family divided their time
    between a home in Princeton and a farm in New Berlin, Pa. Later they
    added a family home in Norway.

    After General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was dismissed by President
    Truman in 1951, Mr. Kennan was asked by the State Department to sound
    out Yakov A. Malik, the Soviet delegate to the United Nations, about a
    possible settlement of the Korean War. Secret meetings took place
    between the two men in June 1951- Russian was spoken - and formal
    talks leading to a cease-fire followed, a sequence that, in Mr.
    Kennan's view, underlined the value of secret diplomacy conducted by

    Mr. Kennan's entire career had seemed to be preparation for his 1952
    appointment as ambassador to Moscow, but his tour ended after five
    months when he was declared persona non grata - on Stalin's whim, he
    thought - for a chance remark to a reporter in West Berlin who had
    asked him what life was like in the Soviet Union. He drew a comparison
    to his imprisonment earlier by the Nazis, adding, "Except that in
    Moscow we are at liberty to go out and walk the streets under guard."
    Left in limbo by the State Department on his return to Washington, and
    with policy disagreements growing between him and Secretary of State
    Dulles, who viewed containment as too passive, Mr. Kennan retired from
    the Foreign Service in 1953. This difficult period was made even more
    painful by McCarthyism. Many of Mr. Kennan's old colleagues and
    friends - among them Professor Oppenheimer, John Paton Davies, John
    Stewart Service and Charles W. Thayer - came under attack. He
    testified repeatedly in their defense and wrote and spoke against what
    he termed the malodorous tide of the times. During a pleasant academic
    year in 1957-58 as Eastman professor at Oxford, he was invited to
    deliver the BBC's annual Reith Lectures, radio talks to which all
    intellectual Britain is attuned.

    A Surprising Offer to the Soviets

    He attracted great attention by proposing that the time was right to
    begin negotiating with the Soviet Union for mutual troop withdrawals
    from Germany. It was an idea acceptable to only a small body of
    left-wing opinion, as was his further suggestion that the
    demilitarization be achieved through the guarantee of a neutral,
    unified Germany. His views came under immediate fire all over Western
    Europe and in North America.

    Called back into government service in 1961 by President John F.
    Kennedy, Mr. Kennan was named ambassador to Yugoslavia and became
    embroiled in arguments over the proper role of Congress in foreign
    affairs. He sought unsuccessfully to dissuade Mr. Kennedy from
    proclaiming Captive Nations Week in 1961 - as required by a
    Congressional resolution of 1959 - on the ground that the United
    States had no reason to make the resolution, which in effect called
    for the overthrow of all the governments of Eastern Europe, a part of
    public policy. The next year Congress voted to bar aid and trade
    concessions to the Yugoslavs, so Mr. Kennan felt he could no longer
    serve usefully in Belgrade.

    In 1966 Mr. Kennan, who had returned to Princeton in 1963, was called
    to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the
    Vietnam War, an American involvement he felt should not have been
    begun and should not be prolonged. In 1967 he took part in a Senate
    review of American foreign policy.

    For Mr. Kennan the Vietnam years were what he later characterized as
    instructive. His views on what he saw as almost entirely negative
    Congressional interference in foreign affairs altered as Congress
    moved to curtail the American role in Southeast Asia, an area where he
    believed the American interest was not at stake. In an interview at
    the time of his 72nd birthday, he said that he had been "instructed"
    by Vietnam, and that he now agreed that Congress should help in
    determining foreign policy. He added that given that reality, the
    United States would have to reduce its scope and limit its methods
    because Congressional control of foreign affairs deprives the
    Government of day-to-day direction of events "and means that as a
    nation we will have to pull back a bit - not become isolationist, but
    just rule out fancy diplomacy."

    Opposed though he was to United States involvement in Southeast Asia,
    he was critical of the student left in the 60's. In a speech at
    Swarthmore College in December 1967, he assailed the students' methods
    of protest and their failure to present a coherent program of reform.

    Later in life, Mr. Kennan turned his attention to support of Russian
    and Soviet studies in the United States, feeling that scholarship was
    one of America's most productive links with Moscow. "They are
    impressed by our work," he remarked in an interview. "It keeps Russian
    intellectuals from thinking we are all a nation of flagpole-sitters."

    In 1974 and 1975, while in Washington as a Woodrow Wilson scholar, he
    helped to establish the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies
    in the Smithsonian complex. Recalling the ancestor who led him to
    study Russian, he said, "When my colleagues gave it a name, they had
    in mind both George Kennans."


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