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

By John Lewis Gaddis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
THREE
Implementing Containment

Attempts to establish relationships between men, ideas, and events are hazardous in the best of circumstances—all the more so when the individual involved expresses himself eloquently but elliptically, when he resists any systematic exposition of his ideas, and when there is a vigorous debate over how those ideas affected the events associated with them. These problems all exist in attempting to evaluate Kennan's influence on the foreign and military policies of the Truman administration. Kennan himself has probably underestimated his role: with a degree of modesty unusual in writers of memoirs, he has insisted that the views he put forward during the late 1940's "made only a faint and wholly inadequate impression on official Washington." 1* Others have overestimated his influence but have misunderstood his views, relying too heavily on the conspicuous but misleading "X" article. 2 Still others have pointed out that Kennan was only one of several key advisers on international affairs during the Truman administration, and that it is easy to be beguiled by the gracefulness of his prose into an exaggerated impression of its actual influence. 3

To insist that Kennan's thinking either shaped or reflected that of the administration would be to oversimplify, for in fact it did both. Kennan himself acknowledges having played a decisive role in certain areas: the

____________________
*
"I met with [ Truman] once or twice during this period.... I suspect he was vaguely aware that there was a young fellow over in the State Department who had written a good piece on the Russians—I doubt whether Truman ever really read anything I wrote, though. Certainly I don't think he grasped my position." (Interview with George F. Kennan, Washington, D.C., October 31, 1974.)

-54-

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