Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Memoirs 1925-1950 Paperback – August 12, 1983
Find Rare and Collectible Books
Discover rare, signed and first edition books on AbeBooks, an Amazon Company. Learn More on AbeBooks.com.
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
Kennan entered the Foreign Service in 1925 fresh out of Princeton and was posted to Berlin. Upon learning that the government paid a premium to officers with skills in exotic languages (pretty much any non-western European language), he enrolled in the Russian graduate program at the University of Berlin. After completing his Russian training, he was posted to Riga, Latvia, which served as the US listening post on Soviet affairs since we did not have diplomatic relations with Moscow until 1933. In 1933, Kennan was selected by the newly appointed ambassador to accompany him (as translator, aide, and country expert) on his first trip to Moscow, to open an embassy, find a suitable building, recruit local staff and so on. After a brief stay in Moscow, the ambassador returned to the US to recruit a diplomatic staff, leaving Kennan, about age 30, to fly solo as the only US diplomat in Russia.
Reassigned to Prague in 1938, Kennan arrived on the same day as the Munich conference that effectively ended Czechoslovakia's existence. He stayed in place as the lone American diplomat in Prague for a year after the fall of Czechoslovakia, reporting on the German occupation. After a year, the Germans insisted that he move to Berlin to maintain his diplomatic status. He remained assigned to the Berlin embassy until Germany declared war on the US in 1941 and was then interned along with the rest of the US diplomatic mission. Throughout the six months that it took the US and Germany to arrange an exchange of diplomatic internees, Kennan was the senior US internee, with responsibilities for the entire staff. Upon arriving in Portugal after the exchange of personnel, he was notified that he and the other internees would not be paid their salaries for the last six months since they had not been working! Not discouraged by this resounding "Welcome Home", Kennan proceeded to negotiate the use of the Portuguese Azores as a refueling stop for US aircraft enroute to Britain, not a small feat since Portugal was under direct pressure from Franco's Spain (at Hitler's direction) to consider the serious impact that providing military bases to the allies would have on Spanish (and German) perceptions of Portugal's neutrality. Somehow, Portugal managed to provide the bases without being dragged into the war.
Late in the war, Kennan returned to Moscow where as early as 1944 he observed that US and Soviet post-war goals were becoming increasingly incompatible. After Stalin's refusal to either assist the Polish uprising against their German occupiers in 1944 or to allow the US to provide assistance from bases in Soviet held territories had resulted in the slaughter of the Poles, Kennan increasingly advocated a distancing of US policy from support to the Soviet Union. In essence, his position was that we should recognize that we could do little of a practical nature to prevent the Red Army from occupying eastern and central Europe; on the other hand, we needed to make clear to the world that we neither supported nor condoned the occupation. Throughout this period, US policy seemed inflexibly wedded to the idea that the Soviet Union was one of our closest allies, despite the fact that Stalin had chosen to ally himself with Hitler rather than Britain and France when he concluded the 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact which enabled Hitler to invade Poland without fear of fighting a two front war.
Kennan's trepidation about US-Soviet relations culminated in his "long telegram" from Moscow to the State Department which laid the foundations for the policy of containment. In Kennan's mind, containment was primarily a political and economic, rather than military, policy. His views led to the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe, thereby reducing the appeal communism to Europeans. As Secretary of State, General Marshall invited Kennan to form and lead a Policy Planning Staff with a charter to provide analytic papers and policy proposals directly to the Secretary. When Dean Acheson replaced Marshall as Secretary, he revised Kennan's charter to one of coordinating policy papers among the multitude of Assistant Secretaries (who could seldom agree on where to have lunch). Realizing that his job would become that of a bureaucratic coordinator rather than an independent advisor to the Secretary, Kennan retired from government service to pursue an academic career where he believed he might have more influence on US foreign policy.
There is much in Kennan's Memoirs: 1925-1950 of continuing significance for American foreign policy. Some of his key observations include:
* Regrettably, both the American people and their governments tend to seek universals in foreign policy, trying to apply the same policies to all countries despite their differences. We seem to have a similar naiveté in viewing all nations as either close friends of implacable foes, with no middle ground.
* US foreign policy is too often based on domestic political concerns, particularly in thee next election. Our national leaders seem to have had a universal urge to claim that their diplomatic policies have been great successes. In reality, diplomacy is a two party relationship where success depends on both parties actions and on the existence of common goals. Pretending otherwise results in short sighted and inconsistent policies. Throughout WWII and the early post war years, our national leaders sought to collect domestic political capital by emphasizing how well they were getting along with Stalin.
* The Anglo-American alliance won WWII but was not strong enough to win it without allying with one of our enemies (the USSR) and in the process we failed to make clear to ourselves and our people that this alliance was one of convenience and not one of shared values, principles, or goals. In reality, the only goal we shared was the defeat of Hitler.
* Following the end of WWII, Soviet aggressive action against European countries not already overrun by the advance of the Red Army proceeded largely by means of Soviet recruitment, supply and encouragement of indigenous communist stooges, rather than by direct Soviet military action. The antidote for this threat, in Kennan's mind, was the economic redevelopment of Europe via the Marshall Plan, of which Kennan was a major conceptual contributor, not by direct US military involvement. Since the communist threat came from indigenous elements, rather that Soviet forces, direct US military involvement would have placed us in the position of the outside force opposing local political and military forces. Direct military involvement would have acted to our detriment and to the benefit of the local and Russian communists.
* Kennan harkens back to George Washington's caution against entangling alliances. In his view, forming alliances is fraught with difficulties of inclusion and exclusion. There is a natural tendency toward inclusive alliances, which stems from the desire to make the alliance appear both broadly supported and formidable. However, not every country that might seek to join an alliance is a desirable candidate. Some may be geographically remote from the core of he alliance and, therefore, hard to protect. Some may not share the alliance's core values. Alliances are almost always directed against some actual, potential, or perceived threat, such as the many US led alliances against the Soviet Union. Expanding an alliance in a manner that encircles the adversary may provoke a more aggressive response than would have been forthcoming had the alliance been less encircling. On the other hand, one would not want to create the impression that a country was outside the alliance's area of interest by excluding it from alliance membership, unless, of course, it really was and we were prepared to see it overrun or its government overthrown.
Sadly, Kennan's Memoirs: 1925-1950 are out of print. They deserve wider attention in both academia and government.
Mr. Kennan spoke fluent Russian and German. Unlike many diplomats George Kennan was not afraid to voice his opinion. This often put him at odds with Washington. He understood very clearly the nature of Stalin and the Soviet dictatorship in the 1930’s – when there were others who idealized Marxist-Soviet communism. Later, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, he correctly stated the true nature of the new found Soviet allies who wanted as much aid as possible to combat the German invasion. He saw clearly that Stalin would want to occupy permanently any territories acquired during the war. In fact this had already happened with the occupation of the Baltic States and Eastern Poland and the attack on Finland after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939.
But also Kennan did not want a war with the Soviets – he saw that Soviet intentions were not oriented in that direction. They understood the language of power – and George Kennan was a most pragmatic person.
He also ignores Churchill who also, after the Warsaw uprising in 1944 came to have a different view of the Soviet Union and the nature of Stalin’s acquisitions in Eastern Europe.
This book is chiefly about the methodology of diplomacy and the history of it during Kennan’s tenure. Kennan was a passionate person and would not withhold his judgements. He was very unique in this way. Perhaps the tone is rather detailed at times – and the reading varies from page-turning to somewhat arduous (in my opinion) – maybe too much on the nuances of diplomacy. Don’t look for anything personal about George Kennan’s life in this book. In passing, he mentions that after spending so much time in the Soviet Union and Germany that upon his return to his native state of Wisconsin he felt alienated and unable to fit in. Too much had happened to both him and his native state in the interim. This distancing of himself from his homeland allowed him to view the United States as merely one of the countries on the world stage, albeit a significant one.
A favourite quote respecting the U.S. (from page 496 of my edition):
“... we Americans may be profoundly convinced that we are “right”. In our participation on the international scene we are only one of a number of contenders for the privilege of leading a national existence on a portion of the territory of the world ...let us recognize the legitimacy of differences of interest and philosophy between groups of men and not pretend that they can be made to disappear behind some common philosophical concept.”