The Life and Influence of George F. Kennan

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis talks about George Kennan, troubled Cold War mastermind. In the late 1940s, George Kennan wrote two documents that set the strategy of containment that defined U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union for the next four decades. He was also an architect of the Marshall Plan and would become an outspoken critic of American diplomacy, politics, and culture. George F. Kennan: An American Life took almost 30 years to write, is based on interviews with Kennan and his voluminous diaries and other personal papers.


John Lewis Gaddis

Comments [4]

RLS from AK

A virtue in this interview is made of Kennen's Chekhovian insight that beyond appeasement and going to war "patience" was the third way to deal with the Soviet Union. The obligatory scoff is then made of Reagan's naming the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire".

History my have shown that patience may have been pretty much the only way, but it's wrong to think it had no costs. The only teensy-weensy itty-bitty tiny-winy problem with "patience" - sorry to have to bring this up - is that while the West, specifically the American left west, sat around congratulating itself on its patience and scoffing at the likes of Reagan, millions and millions and millions of people, year after year, were getting chewed up in Siberian gulags and executed in the basements of Lubyanka. Sigh. If only those poor human beings understood how proud we were of our "patience" perhaps they would have felt better about their extermination!

No, Reagan was right. It was an "evil empire". A most evil empire. He was right to devise something proactive, anything, on humanitarian grounds at the very least, to march the catastrophe of the Soviet experiment double-time into the the ash bin of history.

Every hour less it ceased to exist meant a thousand more people would live.

Dec. 01 2011 04:07 PM
Stephanie from Chapel Hill

Dear Professor Gaddis,

Did you look at the personal papers housed at Princeton and if so, did you find anything to suggest from where his love of Russia arose? He seemed to have a general respect for the country, that is not suggested from his background - aside from the possible influence of his distance cousin of the same name.

Did you find evidence that the elder George Kennan had any influence on George F. Kennan?

Thank you.

Dec. 01 2011 12:19 PM
Restore Sanity from Westchester

Leonard: Please apologize for just falsely accusing the U.S. of using germ warfare in Korea. Did you not notice that your guest said it was a completely debunked accusation? Where do you come up with this stuff?

Dec. 01 2011 12:16 PM

Russian language skills....Russian, its culture and language meant so much to Kennan, as a biographer and a leading historian of the cold war how does Gaddis think his lack of Russian language skills hampered his understanding?

why did someone who devoted himself to the cold war not learn Russian?

Dec. 01 2011 12:12 PM

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