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Indeed, both correspondents suggest that these decisions should have been made earlier.

George F. Kennan: An American Life | Reviews in History

This series of letters will add greatly to our understanding of what preceded containment and the Cold War in George F. Kennan is one of the greatest diplomats in the history of the United States.


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A historian and author of many works, he is much admired for the exceptionally high standards his scholarship pursues. John Lukacs is a historian of international reputation and the author of many books, including his most recent, Destinations Past: Traveling through History.

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The second mystery consists of the amount of scholarly attention devoted to this at times brilliant but highly irascible and indeed almost eccentric man. To give a pertinent example: more scholarly monographs and studies have been devoted to the life and career of Kennan then to any American Secretary of State in the 20th century, with the possible exception of Henry Kissinger.

Evening Lecture - John Lewis Gaddis: George Kennan and American Grand Strategy during the Cold War

At the time that Bundy made his exclamation to us in the fall of , the first of the two mysteries relating to Kennan was well on its way to being answered, and the man who has provided most of it is none other than the author of this official biography, John Lewis Gaddis. A celebrated diplomatic historian himself in later years, it is not surprising that Kennan would choose almost more than 30 years ago as his official biographer the man whom I and perhaps many others regard as the dean of 20th—century American diplomatic history.

For the generation of historians of American diplomacy who were in graduate school in the s and the s, Gaddis was the most influential scholar in our historiographical patch. Until Kennan once again, due to a combination of personal pique, diplomatic instincts and a different set of perspectives held by his superiors, reverted once more to the position of the alienated outsider, and eventually became a near heretic in relation to the Cold War verities of official Washington. Far from being eased, much less pushed, out of the Policy Planning Staff by Secretary of State Dean Acheson in late , it was Kennan who in essence engineered his own gradual removal from the seat of power, since according to Gaddis Kennan believed to be right was more important than to come out on top in some bureaucratic power struggle.

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Whereas Nitze arguing in favor submitted a two-and-a-half-page document which was a model of brevity and concision, Kennan arguing against produced a nearly page document of verbose and moralistic, yet at times highly insightful, prose concerning the dangers of undue reliance on nuclear weapons. There was of course no contest between the two proposals. Within three years, Kennan was to leave government service, never to return except for a short stint as John F. Another minor caveat with this first-rate study concerns the realm of ideas. Did Kennan obtain them via exposure to Bismarckian concepts during his two years as a student-diplomat in Berlin, Kennan being the only foreign service officer in the Russian section of the State Department to be sent to Berlin as opposed to London or Paris?

George F. Kennan

Certainly this is an area for further research by any future biographer of Kennan. Kennan had strong opinions about America's appropriate role during and after World War II and is perhaps best known as the architect of America's containment policy. Much has been written about Kennan and containment, but relatively little is known about the events that made him compose and send the Long Telegram in that ultimately became the draft for foreign policy dealing with the Soviets in the following forty years.

These letters show Kennan's fear of the extent to which the United States misunderstood the Soviet regime.

Especially in , at the time of the Russians' betrayal of the Warsaw Uprising, it became evident that the Soviets were interested in establishing their rigid domination of Eastern and Central Europe and dividing the continent. Kennan's letters to Lukacs are thorough and detailed, suggesting that the Truman administration was not in the least premature in opposing the Soviet Union. Indeed, both correspondents suggest that these decisions should have been made earlier.