Portrait of Kennan by Ned Seidler
Portrait of Kennan by Ned Seidler
Russil Wvong / History, politics, and the future / George F. Kennan

George F. Kennan on the Web

George F. Kennan (1904-2005), a distinguished US diplomat, policymaker, and historian, was one of the primary architects of US strategy during the early Cold War.

Kennan is one of the most thoughtful and eloquent writers I've ever come across, not just on history, international politics, and US-Russian relations, but on American society, questions of personal and political philosophy, and contemporary problems such as nuclear weapons, the environment, population growth, and urbanization. For such a distinguished man, he's also remarkably humble.

The role that Kennan played in shaping US postwar strategy—along with his colleagues, including George Marshall, Dean Acheson, Charles Bohlen, Loy Henderson, and John Paton Davies Jr.—makes his writings particularly fascinating. Before World War II, the US had the foreign policy of a "small, neutral nation." After World War II, with the collapse of the European powers, the US found itself confronting the Soviet Union, which set up puppet governments in occupied Eastern Europe and appeared to be threatening a shattered Western Europe as well. Kennan articulated the strategy of patient, long-term "containment" of the Soviet Union, and in particular, the re-establishing of a stable balance of power by rebuilding Western Europe and Japan. As first director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff from 1947 to 1950, under Marshall and Acheson, Kennan was responsible for long-term planning. He played a major role in policymaking, particularly in the Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of Japan, as well as overall US strategy towards the Soviet Union.

Over time, Kennan became increasingly pessimistic about the ability of the US to follow a realistic, sensitive, and discriminating foreign policy, and to maintain the basic health of US society. In Kennan's view, US foreign policy suffers to a deplorable degree from confusion, ignorance, narcissism, escapism, and irresponsibility. He left the State Department in the early 1950s and joined the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, hoping to educate the US public and US policymakers by illuminating the history of US-Soviet relations. He also spoke frequently on contemporary problems, particularly the nuclear arms race. With the end of the Cold War, Kennan argued (e.g. in Around the Cragged Hill) that the US ought to limit its foreign policy to maintaining its alliances with Western Europe and Japan, and ought to focus on addressing its pressing domestic problems.

This page provides links to writings by and about George Kennan that are available on the Internet. Some articles may require subscription.


1. The Long Telegram and the X Article

Many of Kennan's reports have been published in Foreign Relations of the United States, which is available online thanks to the University of Wisconsin.

George F. Kennan. “Memorandum for the Minister.” August 19, 1932. An early analysis of the Soviet Union from Riga, printed in The New York Review of Books, April 26, 2001. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. From Prague after Munich: Diplomatic Papers, 1938-1940. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.

Reviewed by A.J.P. Taylor. “Watching the World Go By.” The New York Review of Books, October 10, 1968. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. Wartime memorandum for Myron C. Taylor on religion in Russia. October 2, 1942.

George F. Kennan. Telegram regarding nomination of candidates to the Supreme Soviet. January 3, 1946. From Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946, vol. VI.

George F. Kennan. Telegram regarding the Kuril Islands. January 27, 1946. Transcribed by Craig Haggit from Foreign Relations of the United States.

George F. Kennan. Telegram regarding Soviet view of international political situation. January 29, 1946. Transcribed by Craig Haggit.

George F. Kennan. Telegram regarding America magazine. January 30, 1946. Transcribed by Craig Haggit.

George F. Kennan. Telegram regarding Soviet election campaign. February 2, 1946. Transcribed by Craig Haggit.

George F. Kennan. Telegram regarding speech by Molotov. February 7, 1946. Transcribed by Craig Haggit.

George F. Kennan. Telegram regarding purpose of Soviet elections. February 8, 1946. Transcribed by Craig Haggit.

George F. Kennan. Telegram regarding speech by Stalin. February 12, 1946. Transcribed by Craig Haggit.

George F. Kennan. The Long Telegram. February 22, 1946. Published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946, vol. VI. US policymakers had been hoping to continue their partnership with the Soviet Union after World War II, and were puzzled as to why the Soviet Union was being so uncooperative, even hostile. Kennan's Long Telegram from the Moscow Embassy explained the Soviet view of the world. It struck a chord and was widely distributed within the Truman Administration.

511. Answer to Dept's 284, Feb 3 [13] involves questions so intricate, so delicate, so strange to our form of thought, and so important to analysis of our international environment that I cannot compress answers into single brief message without yielding to what I feel would be dangerous degree of over-simplification. I hope, therefore, Dept will bear with me if I submit in answer to this question five parts, subjects of which will be roughly as follows:

(1) Basic features of post-war Soviet outlook.
(2) Background of this outlook
(3) Its projection in practical policy on official level.
(4) Its projection on unofficial level.
(5) Practical deductions from standpoint of US policy.

X. “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” Foreign Affairs, July 1947. Known as the "X" Article.

The political personality of Soviet power as we know it today is the product of ideology and circumstances: ideology inherited by the present Soviet leaders from the movement in which they had their political origin, and circumstances of the power which they now have exercised for nearly three decades in Russia. There can be few tasks of psychological analysis more difficult than to try to trace the interaction of these two forces and the relative role of each in the determination of official Soviet conduct, yet the attempt must be made if that conduct is to be understood and effectively countered.

Walter Lippmann. “The Cold War.” Criticism of the strategy of containment as described in the "X" Article.


2. Policymaking documents

Wilson D. Miscamble provides an excellent discussion of Kennan's role in policymaking in George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947-1950.

2.1. Policy Planning Staff papers

Anna Kasten Nelson, ed. The State Department Policy Planning Staff Papers: 1947-1949. Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3. Garland, 1983. Papers written by the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, under the direction of George F. Kennan.

In the foreword, Kennan writes:

It occurred to me many times, in the days when they were being produced, that these papers were unique among the outpouring of internal State Department correspondence in that there was no other place in the department where papers on such a wide variety of questions were produced, over an extensive span of time, from a single point of view....

The papers published here reflect [my colleagues'] input as well as my own. A few were even written by one or another of them in entirety or nearly so. I bear responsibility, of course, for all of them. How many times did I not say to those colleagues, "Look here, fellows, the opinion of this staff is what you fellows can make me understand and believe." But it should not be thought that all of what is written here came only out of my own mind. The interchange with friends and with colleagues within the Department of State was constant and intense. These papers should be seen, for the most part, as the products of that interchange.

Kennan describes the initial members of the Policy Planning Staff in his memoirs:

My associates, so hastily gathered together, fortunately turned out to be, without exception, able, honorable, and intellectually hard-headed people, sufficiently familiar with the department to draw at many points on the wisdom and expertise which the lower echelons of that institution always harbor (however little or poorly they are used), and sufficiently stout in argument to put me personally over the bumps, to drive whole series of cliches and oversimplifications out of my head, to spare me no complications, and to force me into an intellectual agony more intensive than anything I had ever previously experienced. They included Joseph E. Johnson, who had previously taught at Williams College and would later become president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Colonel Charles Hatwell (Tick) Bonesteel III, a talented officer of the regular army (at present our commander in South Korea) who had been seconded to the Department of State as special assistant to the Under Secretary and who was to play a prominent part in later phases of development of the European recovery program; Jacques Reinstein, able and imaginative economist, who had only recently occupied himself extensively with the problems of the economy of occupied Germany; Ware Adams, a Foreign Service officer of experience and good sense, then on duty in Washington; and Carlton Savage, erstwhile personal assistant to Cordell Hull, whose long experience with Washington outside the department as well as within it, and whose fine instinctive feeling in particular for the reactions of American public opinion generally and of people in Congress in particular, were of great value to us.

PPS/1: Policy with Respect to American Aid to Western Europe. May 23, 1947. Also published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1947, Volume III, pp. 223-230. Recommendations of the newly formed Policy Planning Staff--produced in less than two weeks!--on aid to Western Europe, “where economic recovery had failed to proceed as expected and where something approaching total economic disintegration seemed now to be imminent.” The European Recovery Plan, later known as the Marshall Plan, was outlined by Marshall in his Harvard speech on June 5, 1947.

It is necessary to distinguish clearly between a program for the economic revitalization of Europe on the one hand, and a program of American support of such revitalization on the other. It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this Government to undertake to draw up unilaterally and to promulgate formally on its own initiative a program designed to place western Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of the Europeans. The formal initiative must come from Europe; the program must be evolved in Europe; and the Europeans must bear the basic responsibility for it. The role of this country should consist of friendly aid in the drafting of a European program and of the later support of such a program, by financial and other means, at European request.

PPS/2: Increase of European Coal Production. June 2, 1947.

PPS/3: Studies Relating to the Impact of Aid to Foreign Countries on U.S. Domestic Economy and Natural Resources. June 19, 1947.

PPS/4: Certain Aspects of the European Recovery Program from the U.S. Standpoint. July 23, 1947. A more detailed paper providing guidance for implementation of the Marshall Plan.

PPS/5: Planning With Relation to a United States Program at the Forthcoming General Assembly. August 7, 1947.

PPS/6: The Time Factor in a European Recovery Program. August 14, 1947.

PPS/7: General United States Policy with Respect to International Control of Atomic Energy. August 21, 1947.

PPS/8: United States Policy in the Event of the Establishment of Communist Power in Greece. September 18, 1947.

PPS/9: Possible Action by the U.S. to Assist the Italian Government in the Event of Communist Seizure of North Italy and the Establishment of an Italian Communist "Government" in that Area. September 24, 1947.

PPS/10: Results of Planning Staff Study of Questions Involved in the Japanese Peace Settlement. October 14, 1947.

PPS/10/1: Special Recommendation on Ultimate Disposition of the Ryukyus. October 15, 1947.

PPS/11: A Program of Negotiations with the British and Canadian Governments Design to Overcome Present Misunderstandings and to Increase the Amount of Uranium Ore Available to the United States. October 24, 1947.

PPS/12: U.S. Policy toward Spain. October 24, 1947.

PPS/13: Résumé of World Situation. November 6, 1947. Published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1947, Volume I, pp. 770-777. One of “two papers of a general interpretive nature relating to the world situation and the problems it presented for American policy” written for Secretary of State Marshall, the other being PPS/23.

All in all, our policy must be directed toward restoring a balance of power in Europe and Asia. This means that in the C.F.M. meeting we must insist on keeping Western Germany free of communistic control. We must then see that it is better integrated into western Europe and that a part of our responsibility for conditions there is shifted to the western European allies and the German people themselves.

PPS/14: Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. November 11, 1947.

PPS/15: Report on Activities of Policy Planning Staff (May to November 1947). November 13, 1947.

PPS/16: Unblocking of Yugoslav Gold. November 17, 1947.

PPS/17: U.S. Exports to the U.S.S.R and the Satellite States. November 26, 1947.

PPS/18: United States Policy with Respect to Greece. January 10, 1948.

PPS/19: Position of the United States with Respect to Palestine. January 20, 1948.

PPS/19/1: Mr. Rusk's Memorandum of January 26, 1948 concerning PPS/19. January 29, 1948.

PPS/20: Effect upon the United States if the European Recovery Plan is Not Adopted. January 22, 1948.

PPS/21: The Problem of Palestine. February 11, 1948.

PPS/22: Utilization of Refugees from the Soviet Union in U.S. National Interest. February 19, 1948.

PPS/22/1: Utilization of Refugees from the Soviet Union in U.S. National Interest. March 11, 1948.

PPS/23: Review of Current Trends in U.S. Foreign Policy. February 24, 1948. Published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948, Volume I, pp. 509-529.

When Mr. Acheson first spoke to me about the Planning Staff, he said that he thought its most important function would be to try to trace the lines of development of our foreign policy as they emerged from our actions in the past, and to project them into the future, so that we could see where we were going.

During the first months of the operation of the Staff, I hesitated to undertake any such effort, because I did not feel that any of us had a broad enough view of the problems involved to lend real value to our estimate.

I have now made an effort toward a general view of the main problems of our foreign policy, and I enclose it as a Staff paper. It is far from comprehensive and doubtless contains many defects; but it is a first step toward the unified concept of foreign policy which I hope this Staff can some day help to evolve.

The paper is submitted merely for information, and does not call for approval. I made no effort to clear it around the Department, since this would have changed its whole character. For this reason, I feel that if any of the views expressed should be made the basis for action in the Department, the views of the offices concerned should first be consulted.

PPS/24: Recognition of New Governments. March 15, 1948.

PPS/25: French North Africa. March 22, 1948.

PPS/26: Anti-Communist Measures which Could be Planned and Carried Out Within the Inter-American System. March 22, 1948.

PPS/27: Western Union and Related Problems. March 23, 1948.

PPS/27/1: Western Union and Related Problems. April 6, 1948.

PPS/27/2: The Position of the United States with Respect to Support for Western Union and other Related Free Countries. June 24, 1948.

PPS/28: Recommendations With Respect to U.S. Policy Toward Japan. March 25, 1948. Published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948, Volume VI, pp. 691-719. Recommendations of the Policy Planning Staff on policy toward Japan, which had been shattered by the war. The policies in effect at the time were primarily aimed at punishment and disarmament, neglecting the problem of rebuilding Japan and making sure that it could “stand on its own feet” once the US occupation ended. The recommendations were eventually accepted, resulting in a major change to occupation policy in late 1948 and 1949.

Economic recovery should be made the prime objective of United States policy in Japan for the coming period. It should be sought through a combination of a long-term U.S. aid program envisaging shipments and/or credits on a declining scale over a number of years, and by a vigorous and concerted effort by all interested agencies and departments of the United States Government to cut away existing obstacles to the revival of Japanese foreign trade and to facilitate the restoration and development of Japan's exports.

PPS/29: Recommendations on Offer of U.S. Forces to U.N. and on Disarmament. May 7, 1948.

PPS/30: Disposition of Former Italian Colonies in Africa. June 4, 1948.

PPS/31: Antarctica. June 9, 1948.

PPS/32: U.S. Civil Aviation Policy toward U.S.S.R. and Its Satellites. June 11, 1948.

PPS/33: Factors Affecting the Nature of the U.S. Defense Arrangements in the Light of Soviet Policies. June 23, 1948.

PPS/34: Armed Forces to be Furnished under Article 43 of the United Nations Charter. June 29, 1948.

PPS/35: The Attitude of this Government Toward Events in Yugoslavia. June 30, 1948.

PPS/37: Policy Questions Concerning a Possible German Settlement. August 12, 1948.

PPS/37/1: Position to be Taken by the United States at a CFM Meeting. November 15, 1948.

PPS/38: United States Objectives with Respect to Russia. August 18, 1948.

PPS/39: To Review and Define United States Policy Toward China. September 7, 1948. Published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948, Volume VIII, pp. 146-155. Principally authored by John Paton Davies, Jr.

PPS/39/1: United States Policy toward China. November 24, 1948.

PPS/39/2: United States Policy toward China. February 25, 1949.

PPS/40: Berlin Airlift. October 1, 1948.

PPS/41: The Austrian Treaty in the CFM. November 24, 1948.

PPS/42: Position of the United States with Respect to Germany following Breakdown of Moscow Discussions. November 2, 1948.

PPS/43: Considerations Affecting the Conclusion of a North Atlantic Security Pact. November 24, 1948.

PPS/44: Report on United States Aid to Greece. November 24, 1948.

PPS/45: United States Policy toward China in the Light of the Current Situation. November 26, 1948.

PPS/46: The Position of the United States with Respect to the Use of United States Military Power in Greece. November 30, 1948.

PPS/47: Recognition of New Venezuelan Government. December 10, 1948.

PPS/48: Atomic Energy Policy Vis-a-Vis U.K. and Canada. February 7, 1949.

PPS/49: Economic Relations between the United States and Yugoslavia. February 10, 1949.

PPS/50: Premises and Conclusions Relating to Peace and U.S. Security. March 22, 1949.

PPS/51: United States Policy toward Southeast Asia. May 19, 1949.

PPS/52: The Position of the United States with Respect to Iceland in the Event of an Internal Communist Coup D'Etat or Threat Thereof. June 23, 1949.

PPS/53: United States Policy toward Formosa and the Pescadores. July 6, 1949.

PPS/54: Policy Relating to Defection and Defectors from Soviet Power. June 29, 1949.

PPS/55: Outline: Study of U.S. Stance toward Question of European Union. July 7, 1949.

PPS/56: Progress Report on the Department's Study of "Views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Military Rights in Foreign Territories." August 4, 1949.

PPS/57: Administration and Policy Respecting United States Overseas Possessions, Trusteed and Other Areas. August 4, 1949.

PPS/58: Political Implications of Detonation of an Atomic Bomb by the U.S.S.R. August 16, 1949.

PPS/59: United States Policy toward the Soviet Satellite States in Eastern Europe. August 25, 1949.

PPS/60: Yugoslav-Moscow Controversy as Related to U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives. September 10, 1949.

PPS/61: Policy Relating to the Financial Crisis of the United Kingdom and the Sterling Area. August 31, 1949.

PPS/62: Position Paper for the Discussions with British and Canadians on Pound-Dollar Problems. September 3, 1949.

PPS/63: Comment on NSC/56, August 31, 1949, "U.S. Policy Concerning Military Collaboration Under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance." September 20, 1949.

NSC 49/1: Department of State Comments on Current Strategic Evaluation of U.S. Security Needs in Japan (NSC 49). September 30, 1949.

United Nations. November 14, 1949.

Atlantic Union. December 27, 1949.


2.2. Other documents

Giles D. Harlow and George C. Maerz, eds. Measures Short of War: The George F. Kennan Lectures at the National War College 1946-47. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1991. Lectures given by Kennan at the National War College, where he was the first deputy for political affairs. Complete text.

From the editors' introduction:

The reader should bear in mind the world situation when Kennan began lecturing in the fall of 1946. His first National War College presentation was made barely a year after the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. The advent of the atomic age had ended World War II, but it presented unprecedented challenges to policymakers grappling with the complexities of postwar planning and peace.

Depressed post-World War II economic conditions in Europe and Asia presented staggering problems. Populations were decimated and uprooted, industries were in shambles, and newly created international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, were just beginning their work. In Europe, the armies of the vanquished and all the victors, except the Soviet military forces, had been largely demobilized. Communist party membership in Western Europe approached all-time highs, with Communists threatening to assume political control in some countries, notably France and Italy. ...

Although the Allies had prevailed in the war, a major new international problem had emerged: the perception of Soviet Communism as a major threat. With the benefit of historical hindsight, we take many of the American responses to the postwar political and economic problems for granted. However, in 1946-47, the direction of the programs and policies that today we accept as all but inevitable was not at all clear or predictable.

George F. Kennan. Policy Planning Staff memorandum on the inauguration of organized political warfare. May 4, 1948. Published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945-1950: Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment. Discusses the need for political warfare: that is, measures short of war, such as propaganda and covert operations.

George F. Kennan. Paper on International Control of Atomic Energy. January 20, 1950. Published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Volume I, pp. 22-44.

The real problem at issue, in determining what we should do at this juncture with respect to international control, is the problem of our attitude toward weapons of mass destruction in general, and the role which we allot to these weapons in our own military planning. Here, the crucial question is: Are we to rely upon weapons of mass destruction as an integral and vitally important component of our military strength, which we would expect to employ deliberately, immediately, and unhesitatingly in the event that we become involved in a military conflict with the Soviet Union? Or are we to retain such weapons in our national arsenal only as a deterrent to the use of similar weapons against ourselves or our allies, and as a possible means of retaliation in case they are used? According to the way this question is answered, a whole series of decisions are influenced, of which the decision as to what to do about the international control of atomic energy and the prohibition of the weapon is only one. ...

Assuming ... that our new position with relation to the use of mass destruction weapons was finally to commend itself to the other members of the Atlantic Pact group, we would then be able to take a public position with regard to mass destruction weapons similar to that taken by the Soviet Government: namely that we deplore the existence and abhor the use of these weapons; that we have no intention of initiating their use against anyone; that we would use them only with the greatest of reluctance and only if this were forced upon us by methods of warfare used against us or our allies; and that in the absence of international agreement on the abolition of such weapons under suitable safeguards we would hold only enough to assure that it would be suicidal folly for anyone else to use them against ourselves or our allies.

... By and large, the conventional weapons of warfare have admitted and recognized the possibility of surrender and submission. For that reason, they have traditionally been designed to spare the unarmed and helpless non-combatant, who was assumed already to be in a state of submission when confronted with military force, as well as the combatant prepared to lay down his arms. This general quality of the conventional weapons of warfare implied a still more profound and vital recognition: namely that warfare should be a means to an end other than warfare, an end connected with the beliefs and the feelings and the attitudes of people, an end marked by submission to a new political will and perhaps to a new regime of life, but an end which at least did not negate the principle of life itself.

The weapons of mass destruction do not have this quality. ...

George F. Kennan. Report on Latin America. March 29, 1950. Published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Volume II, pp. 598-624.

I question whether we should hold our own institutions up as remedies for the governmental problems of other peoples. A faith in the ultimate efficacy of our institutions for ourselves does not logically or necessarily involve a similar faith in their universal applicability. Our national experience is in most respects a unique one; and it is not only possible but something logically to be expected that the institutions flowing from that experience, and organically intertwined with it, should be largely irrelevant to the requirements of peoples whose national experience has been different.

It is important here to recognize that our belief in our own institutions is still something in the nature of a faith, a habit and a predilection. It is not a belief which can be justified to others on incontestable empirical grounds. The significant test of our public institutions, now among the oldest in the world, is not their adequacy to the requirements of the agrarian frontier republic which they were originally designed to serve, but rather their ability to bear society through the vicissitudes of social and economic change and to continue to provide a successful framework for progress in a society where the development of technology is placing ever greater strains on the structure of public authority.

This is the issue of the present, still undecided. Until it is largely decided (it will never be entirely so, in a changing and imperfect world), our adherence to our own institutions must remain, legitimately and understandably, an act of faith, not a pragmatic experience. And as long as this is so, any attempt on our part to recommend our institutions to others must come perilously close to the messianic tendencies of those militant political ideologies which say, in effect, "You should believe because we believe."

George F. Kennan. Memorandum to Dean Acheson on Far Eastern policy. August 21, 1950.

George F. Kennan. “The Soviet Union and the Atlantic Pact.” Foreign Service Dispatch 116 of September 8, 1952. Discusses the early development of the Cold War and Soviet reaction to NATO.


3. Public writing

3.1. Foreign policy (1951 to 1962)

George F. Kennan. American Diplomacy, 1900-1950. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951. Walgreen Foundation Lectures at the University of Chicago, 1951. Kennan discussed US foreign policy from 1900 to 1950—particularly its weaknesses—and the implications for current problems.

Today, standing at the end rather than the beginning of this half-century, some of us see certain fundamental elements on which we suspect that American security has rested. We can see that our security has been dependent throughout much of our history on the position of Britain; that Canada, in particular, has been a useful and indispensable hostage to good relations between our country and British Empire; and that Britain's position, in turn, has depended on the maintenance of a balance of power on the European Continent. Thus it was essential to us, as it was to Britain, that no single Continental land power should come to dominate the entire Eurasian land mass. Our interest has lain rather in the maintenance of some sort of stable balance among the powers of the interior, in order that none of them should effect the subjugation of the others, conquer the seafaring fringes of the land mass, become a great sea power as well as land power, shatter the position of England, and enter—as in these circumstances it certainly would—on an overseas expansion hostile to ourselves and supported by the immense resources of the interior of Europe and Asia. Seeing these things, we can understand that we have had a stake in the prosperity and independence of the peripheral powers of Europe and Asia: those countries whose gazes were oriented outward, across the seas, rather than inward to the conquest of power on land.

George F. Kennan. “America and the Russian Future.” Foreign Affairs, April 1951. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. Realities of American Foreign Policy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954. Stafford Little Lectures at Princeton University, March 1954.

George F. Kennan. Russia, the Atom, and the West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958. Reith Lectures broadcast by the BBC, 1957. Transcripts and recordings (recordings for two of the six lectures are available).

Walter Lippmann. “Mr. Kennan and the Reappraisal of Europe.” The Atlantic Monthly, April 1958. Comments on the Reith Lectures, in which Kennan suggested that Germany could be reunified as a disarmed, neutral country.

George F. Kennan. “Foreign Policy and Christian Conscience.” The Atlantic Monthly, May 1959.

I should like to say at the outset that questions of method in foreign policy seem to me to be generally a much more fitting subject for Christian concern than questions of purpose....

The English historian Herbert Butterfield has shown us with great brilliance, and so has our own Reinhold Niebuhr, the irony that seems to rest on the relationship between the intentions of statesmen and the results they achieve. I can testify from personal experience that not only can one never know, when one takes a far-reaching decision in foreign policy, precisely what the consequences are going to be, but almost never do these consequences fully coincide with what one intended or expected. This does not absolve the statesman of his responsibility for trying to find the measures most suitable to his purpose, but it does mean that he is best off when he is guided by firm and sound principle instead of depending exclusively on his own farsightedness and powers of calculation. And if he himself finds it hard to judge the consequences of his acts, how can the individual Christian onlooker judge them?

All this is quite different when we come to method. Here, in a sense, one can hardly go wrong. The government cannot fully know what it is doing, but it can always know how it is doing it; and it can be as sure that good methods will be in some way useful as that bad ones will be in some way pernicious. A government can pursue its purpose in a patient and conciliatory and understanding way, respecting the interests of others and infusing its behavior with a high standard of decency and honesty and humanity, or it can show itself petty, exacting, devious, and self-righteous. If it behaves badly, even the most worthy of purposes will be apt to be polluted; whereas sheer good manners will bring some measure of redemption to even the most disastrous undertaking. The Christian citizen will be on sound ground, therefore, in looking sharply to the methods of his government's diplomacy, even when he is uncertain about its purposes.

George F. Kennan. “World Problems in Christian Perspective.” Theology Today, July 1959.


3.2. Foreign policy (1962 to 1989)

George F. Kennan. “Polycentrism and Western Policy.” Foreign Affairs, January 1964. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. On Dealing with the Communist World. Harper & Row, 1964.

Reviewed by George Lichtheim. “Kennan's Realism.” The New York Review of Books, May 14, 1964. Requires subscription.

An acerbic response from Hans J. Morgenthau.

George F. Kennan. “Japanese Security and American Policy.” Foreign Affairs, October 1964. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “The Russian Revolution — Fifty Years After: Its Nature and Consequences.” Foreign Affairs, October 1967. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Introducing Eugene McCarthy.” The New York Review of Books, April 11, 1968. Requires subscription.

It is now several years that our country has been heavily involved in the war in Vietnam. During most of this time, it has been inescapably evident that the entire venture was in several ways grievously unsound. It was unsound in the first place because it was devoid of a plausible, coherent, and realistic object. The regime in South Vietnam has been throughout too weak, too timid, too selfish, too uninspiring, to form a suitable or promising object of our support. And even if this regime had been a most vigorous and effective one, we would still be faced with the fact that the methods to which we have found ourselves driven, in the effort to crush by purely military means an elusive and disguised adversary, have been so destructive of civilian life, even in South Vietnam itself, that no conceivable political outcome could justify the attendant suffering and destruction.

George F. Kennan. Democracy and the Student Left. Little, Brown, 1968.

Reviewed by Stephen Spender. “Man of Distinction.” The New York Review of Books, April 24, 1969. Requires subscription.

At the end of his answers to the students, he suggests (very reasonably, I think) that the destruction of the physical geography of America is something with which they might be concerned. He asks, rather magnificently (and I wish that the students would hear him):

How long can man go on overpopulating this planet, destroying its topsoils, slashing off its forests, exhausting its supplies of fresh water, tearing away at its mineral resources, consuming its oxygen with a wild proliferation of machines, making sewers of its rivers and sea, producing industrial poisons of the most dreadful sort and distributing them liberally into its atmosphere, its streams and its ocean beds, disregarding and destroying the ecology of its plant and insect life? Not much longer I suspect. I may not witness the beginning of the disaster on a serious scale. But many of the students who have written me will. And let us not forget that much of the damage that has already been done is irreparable in terms of the insight and effort of any single generation. It takes eight hundred years to produce a climax forest. It will take more than that, presumably, to return the poisoned, deadened waters of Lake Michigan, on the shores of which I was born, to the level of plant and fish life and natural healthfulness that they had at the time of my birth.

George F. Kennan. “To Prevent a World Wasteland: A Proposal.” Foreign Affairs, April 1970. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Hazardous Courses in Southern Africa.” Foreign Affairs, October 1970. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Dead Souls.” Review of Khrushchev Remembers translated and edited by Strobe Talbott. The New York Review of Books, February 25, 1971. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “After the Cold War: American Foreign Policy in the 1970s.” Foreign Affairs, October 1972. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Noble Man.” Review of Helmuth von Moltke: A Leader Against Hitler by Michael Balfour and by Julian Frisby. The New York Review of Books, March 22, 1973. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Between Earth and Hell.” Review of The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The New York Review of Books, March 21, 1974. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Two Hundred Years of American Policy: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1917-1976.” Foreign Affairs, July 1976. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. The Cloud of Danger: Current Realities of American Foreign Policy. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.

Reviewed by Ronald Steel. “Russia, the West, and the Rest.” The New York Review of Books, July 14, 1977. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “A Different Approach to the World: An Interview.” The New York Review of Books, January 20, 1977. Requires subscription.

[Regarding nuclear weapons:] But for goodness' sake, we have to act in a big way, we have to dismantle this. Martin, no one in the world, including our finest statesmen, including myself or anybody you want to name, or yourself, no one is good enough, wise enough, steady enough, to have control over the volume of explosives that now rest in the hands of this country. We're all little people; we have our good days, our bad days; we make mistakes. These things shouldn't exist at all.

George F. Kennan. “A Modest Proposal.” The New York Review of Books, July 16, 1981. Requires subscription.

Let us not confuse the question by blaming it all on our Soviet adversaries. They have, of course, their share of the blame, and not least in their cavalier dismissal of the Baruch Plan so many years ago. They too have made their mistakes; and I should be the last to deny it. But we must remember that it has been we Americans who, at almost every step of the road, have taken the lead in the development of this sort of weaponry. It was we who first produced and tested such a device; we who were the first to raise its destructiveness to a new level with the hydrogen bomb; we who introduced the multiple warhead; we who have declined every proposal for the renunciation of the principle of "first use"; and we alone, so help us God, who have used the weapon in anger against others, and against tens of thousands of helpless noncombatants at that.

I know that reasons were offered for some of these things. I know that others might have taken this sort of lead had we not done so. But let us not, in the face of this record, so lose ourselves in self-righteousness and hypocrisy as to forget the measure of our own complicity in creating the situation we face today.

George F. Kennan. The Nuclear Delusion: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982.

Reviewed by Lord Zuckerman. “Nuclear Sense and Nonsense.” The New York Review of Books, December 16, 1982. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “On Nuclear War.” The New York Review of Books, January 21, 1982. Requires subscription.

McGeorge Bundy, George F. Kennan, Robert S. McNamara and Gerard C. Smith. “Nuclear Weapons and the Atlantic Alliance.” Foreign Affairs, Spring 1982. Requires subscription.

Reviewed by Theodore H. Draper. “How Not to Think About Nuclear War.” The New York Review of Books, July 15, 1982. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Zero Options.” The New York Review of Books, May 12, 1983. Requires subscription.

McGeorge Bundy, George F. Kennan, Robert S. McNamara and Gerard C. Smith. “Arms Control: The President's Choice: Star Wars or Arms Control.” Foreign Affairs, Winter 1984/85. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Morality and Foreign Policy.” Foreign Affairs, Winter 1985/86. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “A New Philosophy of Defense.” Review of Making Europe Unconquerable: The Potential of Civilian-based Deterrence and Defence by Gene Sharp. The New York Review of Books, February 13, 1986. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Containment 40 Years Later: Containment Then and Now.” Foreign Affairs, Spring 1987. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “The Gorbachev Prospect.” Review of Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World by Mikhail Gorbachev. The New York Review of Books, January 21, 1988. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “The Buried Past.” Review of Memoirs by Andrei Gromyko. The New York Review of Books, October 27, 1988. Requires subscription.


3.3. Foreign policy (after 1989)

George F. Kennan. “After the Cold War.The New York Times Magazine, February 5, 1989.

George F. Kennan. “Just Another Great Power.” Statement on the future of Soviet-American relations presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The New York Times, April 9, 1989.

George F. Kennan. “On the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” The New York Review of Books, March 1, 1990. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Witness.” Review of The Uses of Adversity: Essays on the Fate of Central Europe by Timothy Garton Ash. The New York Review of Books, March 1, 1990. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Communism in Russian History.” Foreign Affairs, Winter 1990/91. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Keeping the Faith.” Review of Summer Meditations by Vaclav Havel, translated by Paul Wilson. The New York Review of Books, September 24, 1992. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “The G.O.P. Won the Cold War? Ridiculous.” The New York Times, October 28, 1992.

George F. Kennan. Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Reviewed by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. “The Radical.” The New York Review of Books, February 11, 1993. Requires subscription.

In the second part of the book Mr. Kennan turns his attention to the condition of American society. Here too he takes up themes he has expressed before. He finds a nation grievously wounded by modern tendencies -- by unbridled technology, by unbridled free enterprise, by the cults of consumerism and growth, by the proliferation of cities, by the spread of bureaucracy, by the overfondness of bigness, by the overdoing of egalitarianism. He looks about and sees

environmental deterioration; the decline of educational standards; crime; drug abuse; in general, the dreadful conditions in the urban ghettos; the national budget deficit; attitudes of hopelessness, skepticism, cynicism, and bewilderment, particularly among the youth -- that have led many observers to characterize this society (and, I think, not unjustly) as a "sick" one.

He devotes a chapter to "The Addictions," by which he means the national infatuations with the automobile, with television, with advertising, all of which he has denounced before but which move him now to new heights of biting eloquence. The automobile is marked by its extreme unsociability and its extreme wastefulness; it deprives people of healthy exercise and pollutes the environment; it is a boon to crime and an invitation to juvenile delinquency; it has disintegrated the city and is "the enemy of community." No doubt the automobile has a certain place in modern life, but "there is no reason why that vehicle should be allowed to retain the virtually total monopoly of transportation that it has now generally achieved." Like the automobile, television "disguises its domination under a promise of liberation." In fact, it involves and enforces passivity, exerts a "peculiarly druglike, almost narcotic, soporific power" over the old and corrupts the young.

George F. Kennan. “The Balkan Crisis: 1913 and 1993.” The New York Review of Books, July 15, 1993. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Somalia, Through a Glass Darkly.” The New York Times, September 30, 1993.

George F. Kennan. “The Failure in Our Success.” The New York Times, March 14, 1994.

George F. Kennan. “In Defense of Oppenheimer.” The New York Review of Books, June 23, 1994. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “On American Principles.” Foreign Affairs, March/April 1995. Requires JSTOR access.

George F. Kennan. “Witness to the Fall.” Review of Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador's Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union by Jack F. Matlock Jr. The New York Review of Books, November 16, 1995. Requires subscription.

David Gergen interview on PBS NewsHour, April 18, 1996.

George F. Kennan. At a Century's Ending: Reflections 1982-1995. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.

Reviewed by Warren Zimmermann. “Prophet With Honor.” The New York Review of Books, August 8, 1996. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “A Fateful Error.” The New York Times, February 5, 1997. Argues against NATO expansion.

[Expanding NATO] may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking. And, last but not least, it might make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to secure the Russian Duma's ratification of the Start II agreement and to achieve further reductions of nuclear weaponry.

George F. Kennan. “Spy and Counterspy.” The New York Times, May 18, 1997. Argues against the need for the CIA.

In Russia, in Stalin's time and partly thereafter, the almost psychotic preoccupation of the Communist regime with secrecy appeared to many, not unnaturally, to place a special premium on efforts to penetrate that curtain by secretive methods of our own. This led, of course, to the creation here of a vast bureaucracy dedicated to this particular purpose; and this latter, after the fashion of all great bureaucratic structures, has endured to this day long after most of the reasons for it have disappeared.

George F. Kennan. “Diplomacy Without Diplomats?.” Foreign Affairs, September/October 1997. Requires JSTOR access.

George F. Kennan. Response to Mark Danner's “Marooned in the Cold War.” World Policy Journal, Spring 1998.

I have read the article twice, once upon receiving it and again just a short time ago, before writing this letter. It is hard for me to express, without pressing the border of the fulsome, my reactions to it. Let me just say that I have seen no finer treatment than this one, both as a summary of the salient features of the conduct of American policy in earlier decades of this century, and as a treatment of the bewilderments into which we are now heading. What a pity, I find myself thinking, that this article could not be given the wide exposure it deserves and allowed to serve as corner-stone for a national debate on the problems and directions of American policy at this crucial post-Cold War moment. To put it briefly, the article is, to my way of thinking, in all respects excellent.

George F. Kennan. Response to Owen Harries' “The Dangers of Expansive Realism.” The National Interest, Spring 1998. Printed in the Congressional Record, Senate Section, March 3, 1998, pp. S1283-S1286.

Thomas L. Friedman. “Now a Word From X.” The New York Times, May 2, 1998.

Interview for CNN Cold War series. Broadcast September 27, 1998.

George F. Kennan. “A Letter on Germany.” The New York Review of Books, December 3, 1998.

Bob Guldin. “Mr. X Goes to Washington: An Interview with George Kennan.” Foreign Service Journal, May 1999.

FSJ: You are identified as a scholar and a writer with the realist, as opposed to the idealist, school of foreign affairs. We seem to be moving further away from that in the current period—getting more idealistic, perhaps more altruistic. From the realist perspective, which emphasizes the pursuit of specific American interests in the conduct of foreign policy, it's difficult to understand what the American interest in Somalia or Bosnia might be.

Kennan: This is difficult to say in a few words. I feel that we are greatly overextended. We claim to be able to do more than we really can do for other people. We should limit our contributions, and let others take the initiative.

I'm close to the isolationists, but not entirely, because I've always recognized that those alliances to which we belong and which the Senate has approved as provided for by the Constitution, we must remain faithful to those. That includes the original NATO alliance, our alliance with Japan. Our complicated relations with Latin America contain elements of long-term assurances, in the Monroe Doctrine sense.

Beyond that, when other countries come to us asking for help, we should ask, "Why do you need it?" and "Why should we provide it?"

Within our time, I don't think that democracy is going to be the universal form of government. I'm very hesitant about our pushing democracy and human rights on other countries, whose democracy in any case would be rather different from our own. We can't ask other countries to be clones of America.

Richard Ullman. “The US and the World: An Interview with George Kennan.” The New York Review of Books, August 12, 1999.

R.U.: How would you conduct these relationships?

G.K.: I would urge a far greater detachment, on our government's part, from their domestic affairs. I would like to see our government gradually withdraw from its public advocacy of democracy and human rights. Let me stress: I am speaking of governments, not private parties. If others in our country want to advocate democracy or human rights (whatever those terms mean), that's perfectly all right. But I don't think any such questions should enter into our diplomatic relations with other countries. If others want to advocate changes in their conditions, fine--no objection. But not the State Department or the White House. They have more important things to do.

Least of all should they allow such matters to affect our relations with China. The Chinese, to my opinion, are the French of Asia. The two peoples are similar in a number of respects. They are both proud people. Both are conscious of being the bearers of a great cultural tradition. They don't really, in either case, like foreigners; or at least they don't particularly appreciate the presence of foreigners in their midst. They like to be left alone. Our policy, in any case, should in my opinion be to treat them with the most exquisite courtesy and respect on the official level, but not expect too much of them. I see no reason, in particular, for all these ups and downs in our perceived relations with China. What do we expect of the Chinese? They are not going to love us, no matter what we do. They are not going to become like us. And it really is in ill grace for us to be talking down to them and saying, by implication, that "you ought to learn to govern yourselves as we do." For goodness' sake, can't we get away from that sort of nonsense? Let people be what they are, and treat them accordingly.

... this whole tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world strikes me as unthought-through, vainglorious, and undesirable. If you think that our life here at home has meritorious aspects worthy of emulation by peoples elsewhere, the best way to recommend them is, as John Quincy Adams maintained, not by preaching at others but by the force of example. I could not agree more.

Albert Eisele. “Hill Profile: George F. Kennan.” The Hill, September 25, 2002.

Jane Mayer. The Talk of the Town: “A Doctrine Passes.” New Yorker, October 14, 2002.

The apparently imminent use of American armed forces to drive Saddam Hussein from power, from what I know of our government's state of preparedness for such an involvement, seems to me well out of proportion to the dangers involved. I have seen no evidence that we have any realistic plans for dealing with the great state of confusion in Iraqian affairs which would presumably follow even after the successful elimination of the dictator.... I, of course, am not well informed. But I fear that any attempt on our part to confront that latent situation by military means alone could easily serve to aggravate it rather than alleviate it.


3.2. History

George F. Kennan. Soviet-American Relations 1917-1920, Vol. I: Russia Leaves the War. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956. Preview.

George F. Kennan. Soviet-American Relations, 1917-1920, Vol. II: The Decision to Intervene. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958. Preview.

George F. Kennan. Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-1941. Van Nostrand, 1960.

George F. Kennan. Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin. London: Hutchinson, 1961.

George F. Kennan. The Marquis de Custine & His "Russia in 1839". Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.

George F. Kennan. The Decline of Bismarck's European Order: Franco-Russian Relations, 1875-1890. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Reviewed by James Joll. “The Old Diplomacy.” The New York Review of Books, January 24, 1980. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

Reviewed by James Joll. “Turning Toward War.” The New York Review of Books, November 22, 1984. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “In the American Mirror.” Review of The Cycles of American History by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. The New York Review of Books, November 6, 1986. Requires subscription.

Schlesinger sees two profoundly rooted but conflicting strains in the way Americans view themselves—in the role, that is, in which they cast themselves—as a nation among other nations. Sometimes these two strains do battle with each other in the same American breast; more often large segments of opinion lean decisively one way or another, with the result that each of the strains has had its period, or periods, of ascendancy in American public life.

One of these views, strong initially among the Founding Fathers themselves, saw Americans as essentially no different from the general run of human beings: subject to the same limitations; affected by the same restrictions of vision; tainted by the same original sin or, in a more secular view, by the same inner conflicts between flesh and spirit, between self-love and charity. This view, in its original eighteenth-century form, was also informed by the recognition that history had had, to that time, few examples to show of a solid and enduring republic, whereas one could point to a number of examples of empires and monarchies that answered reasonably well to this description. Against this background of perception, the Founding Fathers tended, for the most part, to see the establishment of the national independence and unity of the United States as an experiment—not an easy one, not one whose success was automatically assured—rather, as Schlesinger describes it, one "undertaken in defiance of history, fraught with risk, problematic in outcome." With this question mark lying across its future, the fledgling republic could obviously not appear as a guide or teacher to the rest of humanity. Its first duty was to itself. The best it could ask of its international environment was to be left alone to develop its institutions in its own way and to prove, if it could, that a nation thus conceived and thus dedicated could, as Lincoln put it, "long endure."

In the opposite strain of perception Americans were seen not as conducting and enacting a great experiment but as fulfilling a predetermined destiny....

George F. Kennan. “The History of Arnold Toynbee.” The New York Review of Books, June 1, 1989. Requires subscription.


3.3. Memoirs

George F. Kennan. Memoirs: 1925-1950. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1967. Excerpts.

Reviewed by Ronald Steel. “Man Without a Country.” Review of Memoirs 1925-1950 by George F. Kennan. The New York Review of Books, January 4, 1968. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. Memoirs: 1950-1963. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1972.

Reviewed by Alfred Kazin. “Man of State.” Review of Memoirs 1950-1963 by George F. Kennan. The New York Review of Books, November 2, 1972. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. Sketches from a Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1989. Excerpts.

Reviewed by Ronald Steel. “Guest of the Age.” The New York Review of Books, August 17, 1989. Requires subscription.

George F. Kennan. “Vignettes from a Tragic Century.” Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities, Winter 1996/1997.

A man's life, I reflected, is too long a span today for the pace of change. If he lives more than a half century, his familiar world, the world of his youth, fails him like a horse dying under its rider, and he finds himself dealing with a new one which is not really his. A curious contradiction, this: that as medicine prolongs man's span of life, the headlong pace of technological change tends to deprive him, at an earlier age than was ever before the case, of the only world he understands and the only one to which he can be fully oriented. For it is only the world of one's youth, the nature of which is absorbed with that tremendous sensitivity and thirst for impression that only childhood and early youth provide—it is only this world that answers to the description.

George F. Kennan. An American Family: The Kennans--The First Three Generations. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.

Reviewed by Gordon S. Wood. “All in the Family.” The New York Review of Books, February 22, 2001. Requires subscription.


4. Books and articles about Kennan

John Lewis Gaddis. “Containment: A Reassessment.” Foreign Affairs, July 1977.

Martin Florian Herz, ed. Decline of the West?: George Kennan and His Critics. Washington: Ethics and Public Policy Center, Georgetown University, 1978.

George F. Kennan, et al. Encounters with Kennan: The Great Debate. London: Cass, 1979.

John Lewis Gaddis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Preview.

In what he acknowledged was an oversimplification—"what I am trying to get at is the heart of the problem here, and I will concede to you that you can argue about the details of it"—Kennan told students at the National War College [in September 1948] that there were "only five centers of industrial and military power in the world which are important to us from the standpoint of national security." These were the United States, Great Britain, Germany and central Europe, the Soviet Union, and Japan. Only in these locations "would [you] get the requisite conditions of climate, of industrial strength, of population and of tradition which would enable people there to develop and launch the type of amphibious power which would have to be launched if our national security were seriously affected." Only one of these power centers was, at that time, in hostile hands; the primary interest of the United States in world affairs, therefore, was to see to it that no others fell under such control.

Barton D. Gellman. Contending with Kennan: Towards a Philosophy of American Power. New York: Praeger, 1984.

Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas. The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. Simon and Schuster, 1986.

David Allan Mayers. George Kennan and the Dilemmas of US Foreign Policy. Oxford University Press, 1988. Preview.

Walter L. Hixson. George F. Kennan: Cold War Iconoclast. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

Anders Stephanson. Kennan and the Art of Foreign Policy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989. Preview.

Michael Polley. A Biography of George F. Kennan: The Education of a Realist. E. Mellen Press, 1990.

Wilson D. Miscamble. George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947-1950. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. Preview.

George F. Kennan and John Lukacs. George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment, 1944-1946: The Kennan-Lukacs Correspondence. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997. Preview.

Reviewed by William Pfaff. “Wise Men Against the Grain.” Review of George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment, 1944-1946: The Kennan-Lukacs Correspondence. The New York Review of Books, June 9, 2011.

John Lewis Gaddis. We Now Know: Rethinking the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Chapter 1.

Laurel F. Franklin. George F. Kennan: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997.

Richard L. Russell. George F. Kennan's Strategic Thought: The Making of an American Political Realist. Westport: Praeger, 1999.

Peter Grose. Operation Rollback: America's Secret War Behind the Iron Curtain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Excerpt.

Reviewed by James Chace. “Cold Warriors.” The New York Times, May 21, 2000.

T. Christopher Jespersen, ed. Interviews with George F. Kennan. Jackson, Mississippi: Mississippi University Press, 2002. Preview.

Douglas Brinkley. “Celebrating a Policy Seer and His Cold War Insight.” The New York Times, February 17, 2004.

Ronald Steel. “George Kennan at 100.” The New York Review of Books, April 29, 2004.

... by 1953 [Kennan] was pushed out of the government by Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. It was the end of his decades as an American diplomat.

But it was the beginning of a brilliant career as a historian, essayist, critic, and moralist. His years as a diplomat were only a prologue to the honored place he has carved for himself over the past half-century as our national interpreter, our conscience, and our censorious judge. In some ways he is our Gibbon--the historian he most admires--the chronicler of our imperial republic. Even more is he our Henry Adams, the despairing witness of our democratic self-gratification. Perhaps Kennan's greatest distinction, and his greatest contribution, is as a ruefully jaundiced interpreter of the meaning of the American experience, and our dramatic, sometimes tragic, confrontation with ourselves.

Wilson Miscamble. “George Kennan, a Life in the Foreign ServiceAmerican Diplomacy, May 2004.

Tim Weiner and Barbara Crossette. “George F. Kennan Dies at 101; Leading Strategist of Cold War.” The New York Times, March 18, 2005.

George F. Kennan, the American diplomat who did more than any other envoy of his generation to shape United States policy during the cold war, died on Thursday night in Princeton, N.J. He was 101.

J. Y. Smith. “Outsider Forged Cold War Strategy.” The Washington Post, March 18, 2005.

Jon Thurber. “Diplomat Was Architect of U.S. Cold War Policy.” Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2005.

Barton Gellman. “The Gift of the Wise Man: George F. Kennan's Clear-Eyed Worldview.” The Washington Post, March 19, 2005.

Richard Holbrooke. “The Paradox of George F. Kennan.” The Washington Post, March 21, 2005.

Jennifer Epstein and Jocelyn Hanamirian. “Known worldwide, at home in Princeton.” The Daily Princetonian, March 21, 2005.

Blair Butterworth. “Fond family memories of an extraordinary man.” The Seattle Times, March 22, 2005.

Todd S. Purdum. “Memorial for Kennan Recalls Drama of Cold War Tensions.The New York Times, April 7, 2005.

John Lukacs. George Kennan: A Study of Character. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. First chapter.

Reviewed by James Traub. “Who Put the 'Cold' In Cold War?The New York Times, April 29, 2007.

Lee Congdon. George Kennan: A Writing Life. ISI Books, 2008.

Nicholas Thompson. The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War.. Picador, 2010. Excerpt.

Reviewed by Mark Atwood Lawrence. “Friends, Not Allies.The New York Times, September 8, 2009.

John Lewis Gaddis. George F. Kennan: An American Life. Penguin, 2011. Kennan's official biography. Excerpt.

Reviewed by Henry A. Kissinger. “The Age of Kennan.The New York Times, November 10, 2011.

Ronald Steel. “Cold Warrior.The American Prospect, November 11, 2011.

Louis Menand. “Getting Real.The New Yorker, November 14, 2011.

Frank Costigliola. “Is This George Kennan?The New York Review of Books, December 8, 2011.

John Gray. “Out of the Cold.New Statesman, January 23, 2012.


5. Attacks on Kennan

Noam Chomsky. Deterring Democracy. New York: Hill & Wang, 1992.

Noam Chomsky. What Uncle Sam Really Wants. Tucson, Arizona: Odonian Press, 1993.

During and after the Vietnam War, the radical left launched strident attacks on US foreign policy toward the Third World during the Cold War. In particular, the well-known radical critic of US foreign policy, Noam Chomsky, has picked through Kennan's writings looking for discreditable ideas and quotations, in an effort to portray Kennan as "an incredible villain"; in particular, see Chomsky's quotation from PPS/23. Chomsky's efforts remind me of Kennan's description of how Soviet historians portrayed the West:

The lack of a strong and firm Western historiography in this subject [of relations between the Soviet Union and the West] is particularly unfortunate for the reason that Soviet historians have recently been giving elaborate attention to certain of its phases. The tendency of their labors has been to establish an image of this historical process which they conceive to be useful to the present purposes of the Soviet Communist Party but which is deeply discreditable to Western statesmanship and to the spirit and ideals of the Western peoples generally—so discreditable, in fact, that if the Western peoples could be brought to believe it, they would have no choice but to abandon their faith in themselves and the traditions of their national life.
[Russia and the West, 1961, p. v]

In Kennan's defense, let me quote Kennan himself. He wrote the following in 1951, in defense of a colleague attacked during the McCarthy era, noting that so far he had been spared such attacks.

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?

We cannot deceive ourselves into believing that it was merit, rather than chance, that spared some of us the necessity of working in areas of activity that have now become controversial, of recording opinions people now find disagreeable, of aiding in the implementation of policies now under question.... In no field of endeavor is it easier than in the field of foreign affairs to be honestly wrong; in no field is it harder for contemporaries to be certain they can distinguish between wisdom and folly; in no field would it be less practicable to try to insist on infallibility as a mark of fitness for office.
[Memoirs: 1950-1963, pp. 218-219]


6. Links

Wikipedia article on George F. Kennan.

George F. Kennan Papers Finding Aid. From the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University, where the George F. Kennan Papers—published and unpublished articles, speeches, lectures, notes, memos, reports, letters—are kept. It's a truly huge archive.

The Kennan Papers were processed in 2008 to integrate a small section of papers (approximately 16 linear feet) that had been open since the 1970s with over 100 linear feet of previously-restricted materials. Wherever possible, Kennan's original organization of both groups of papers was maintained.

Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, part of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The Kennan Institute was founded in December 1974 through the joint initiative of Ambassador George F. Kennan, then Wilson Center director James Billington, and historian S. Frederick Starr. It was named in honor of Ambassador Kennan's relative, George Kennan "the Elder," a nineteenth-century explorer of Russia and Siberia.


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