Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

The Golden Age

George Kennan ( 1904-) was born in Wisconsin. After high school at St. John's Military Academy, he studied at Princeton. In 1926, Kennan entered the U.S. Foreign Service, where he received the training that made him an expert on Soviet affairs. After several tours of duty in the USSR, he was named ambassador in 1952. From 1953 until retirement in 1974, Kennan was permanent professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. He has written numerous books and articles on Russia and the Soviet Union and other subjects. "On the United States and Containment of the Soviets" is a selection from Kennan long telegram of February 22, 1946, written while he was minister-counselor in the U.S. Embassy, Moscow. The telegram was followed (in 1947) by the equally famous article he wrote anonymously as "X" for Foreign Affairs, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct". These two documents were instrumental in shaping American foreign policy in the early cold war era. The telegram, in spite of its restrained good sense, reflects many of the American biases of the time. Please keep in mind that the selection is written in the sparse language of telegrams, often without the usual connectors and modifiers.


On the United States and Containment of the Soviets

George Kennan ( 1946)

At the bottom of the Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area. But this latter type of insecurity was one which afflicted rather Russian rulers than Russian people; for Russian rulers have invariably sensed that their rule was relatively archaic in form, fragile and artificial in its psychological foundation, unable to stand comparison for contact with political systems of Western countries. For this reason they have always feared foreign penetration, feared direct contact between Western world and their own, feared what would happen if Russians learned truth about world without or if foreigners learned truth about world within. And they have learned to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.

____________________
Excerpt from "The Long Telegram, 1946", George F. Kennan, Memoirs 1925-1950, pp. 549-551, 557-559. Copyright 1967 by George E. Kennan. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Co.

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