George Kennan

As a diplomat and historian, George Kennan was a master of languages and an expert on European countries. He was a prolific writer, an emissary of the United States to many nations, and one of the primary architects of U.S. strategy during the Harry S. Truman administration.

The early years

Kennan began his education at Saint John`s Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, and graduated in 1921. He then went on to Princeton University, and after graduation in 1925, he joined the Foreign Service.

He was the vice counsel in Geneva in 1925 and later transferred to Germany.

The role that Kennan played in shaping U.S. post-World War II strategy — along with Dean Acheson, Charles Bohlen, John Paton Davies Jr., Loy Henderson, and George C. Marshall — was significant.

The Postwar challenge

The arrival of the atomic age had ended World War II, but it introduced never-before-known challenges to policymakers struggling with the manifold complications of postwar planning and peace.

Depressed economic conditions in post-World War II Europe and Asia presented a nearly overwhelming challenge. Populations were decimated and displaced, industries lay in dire straits, and the recently formulated International Monetary Fund and World Bank were just starting to function.

In Europe, armies had been mostly demobilized, with the exception of the Soviet armed forces. Communist party membership in western Europe was gaining significant numbers, and they were closing in on political control of France and Italy.

A policy emerges

Before World War II, the U.S. maintained a foreign policy of neutrality. Following the war and in dealing with the collapse of much of Europe, the U.S. found itself facing the Soviet Union, which had installed satellite governments in occupied eastern Europe and seemed to be threatening western Europe, as well. Kennan espoused a strategy of long-term "containment" of the Soviet Union, and the re-establishment of a steadfast balance of power by the reconstruction of Japan and western Europe.

As the leader of the State Department`s Policy Planning Staff from 1947 to 1950 under Marshall and Acheson, Kennan was charged with the responsibility for long-term planning. He played a key role in both the Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of Japan, as well as U.S. strategy in its approach to dealing with the Soviet Union.

Kennan also played a major role in setting in motion the CIA`s covert operations, which he later regarded as "the greatest mistake I ever made." He didn`t have an opinion about policy toward the Third World, except to say that he thought that the U.S. could not do much to help. As for China, he advanced a strategy of restraint.

Kennan’s writings

Kennan wrote an important essay in the journal Foreign Affairs (July 1947), spelling out his belief in the necessity of "containing" Communist expansion, which became the hallmark of the Cold War.

American Diplomacy, 1900-1950, discusses, among other things, the weaknesses of U.S. policy and how it relates to current diplomatic problems.

Other consequential writings include Soviet-American Relations, 1917-1920, Volumes I and II, Realities of American Foreign Policy, and Russia, the Atom, and the West.

---- Selected Quotes ----

Quotes by George Kennan.

Regarding House Un-American Activities Committee
If humiliation and rejection are to be the rewards of faithful and effective service in this field, what are those of us to conclude who have also served prominently in this line of work but upon whom this badge has not yet been conferred?
Commenting on the investigation of a colleague by HUAC
Regarding Other Cultures
There will be no room, here, for the smug myopia which views American civilization as the final solution to all world problems; which recommends our institutions for universal adoption and turns away with contempt from the serious study of the institutions of peoples whose civilizations may seem to us to be materially less advanced.
Quoted in "Kennan and the Art of Foreign Policy", 1989
Regarding Cold War
Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.
Forward to "The Pathology of Power" by Norman Cousins, 1987
Regarding Public Opinion
I also suspect that what purports to be public opinion in most countries that consider themselves to have popular government is often not really the consensus of the feelings of the mass of the people at all, but rather the expression of the interests of special highly vocal minorities — politicians, commentators, and publicity-seekers of all sorts: people who live by their ability to draw attention to themselves and die, like fish out of water, if they are compelled to remain silent.
"American Diplomacy", 1951

Quotes regarding George Kennan.

By Grace Kennan
It was his enormous curiosity that kept him alive so long. He had an enormous interest in the world, and I remember, even toward the end, he would get so angry at the paper, angry at the TV.
His oldest daughter, after his death at the age of 101

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American Diplomacy by George F. Kennan.
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George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis.
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