Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy

By John Lewis Gaddis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
FOUR
NSC-68 and the Korean War

It seems odd, at first glance, that George Kennan, the most graceful prose stylist to serve in Washington in modern times, never took the trouble while in an official capacity to put his complete concept of containment in writing. Much of his thinking found its way into policy papers, to be sure, and the Truman administration did implement many of Kennan's recommendations between 1947 and 1949. But one had to glean the elements of his strategy from pronouncements delivered in a variety of forms before a variety of audiences. Kennan undertook no systematic exposition of his program.

This aversion to written policy guidelines was no accident: "I had no confidence," Kennan later recalled, "in the ability of men to define hypothetically in any useful way, by means of general and legal phraseology, future situations which no one could really imagine or envisage." 1 Issues of international relations were too subtle and evanescent to be reduced to paper without oversimplification; once papers had been agreed upon it was too difficult to get bureaucracies to reconsider them in the light of changing circumstances. But because Kennan found it either impossible or unnecessary to convey to the bureaucracies charged with implementing his strategy the way in which its parts related to the whole, there never developed that sense of direction at all levels of government that alone ensures perpetuation. As a result, Kennan found the administration committing itself to moves that seemed reasonable enough in themselves— NATO, the creation of a West German state, the decision to retain military bases in postoccupation Japan, the development of a hydro

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