Friday, November 9, 2012

CliffsNotes on Kennan

It's not easy to remember the details of an audio-book:  you listen intently to every twist and turn of a good novel but soon you're distracted by memories from a day of unparalleled cynicism and next you're thinking about what ingredients you'll need to make truly exceptional fajitas when you finally arrive home.  This is what happened to be me while reading John Lewis Gaddis' epic biography of the foreign service bureaucrat, historian, and diplomatic theorist, George Kennan.  Be that as it may, I'll recount what I do remember in case you, dear reader, are setting out with a stack of Kennan CDs.

Let these bullet points be the CliffsNotes you need to retain something meaningful from your experience.  Here are the salient points to remember:   1)  Kennan was born in Milwaukee, grew up without his mother, spent some family vacations in Germany where he learned the language, never got to know his famous namesake, retained traces of antisemitism, and went to Princeton, before entering the Foreign Service (which helped him to weather the Great Depression originally);  2)  Kennan spent some time in Germany and was interned there briefly when Germany declared war on America;  3) Kennan learned the Russian language well, mastered Russian history and culture, and used this knowledge to make himself invaluable to the State Department;  4)  Kennan criticized amateur diplomats such as Davies and often took risks by sometimes overriding instructions from Washington;  5)  Kennan was a truculent opponent of Bolshevism; 6)  Kennan conducted speaking tours and tried to override America's World War II-bred sympathy for Communist Russia;  7)  Kennan's analyses helped to shape some of the key American policies of the Cold War, including Containment,  the Truman Doctrine, and the Marshall Plan; 8) Kennan criticized some of the very policies with which he became associated, advocating for a nuanced, flexible response to Soviet power; 9)  Kennan was a prolific writer and one of the best academic lecturers of his age;  10) Kennan lived to be 101 and died in 2005.  There it all is, all that I can remember after listening to about twenty CDs.  Sad, really.

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