[Paleopsych] NYT: George F. Kennan Dies at 101; Leading Strategist of Cold War
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Thu Apr 14 19:06:50 UTC 2005
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
By TIM WEINER and BARBARA CROSSETTE
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
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
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
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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