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George Kennan Faces the Music

One of the most insightful books I read as a student is George Kennan's Memoirs. Now we have quite possibly the definitive biography.  Jim Piereson reviews John Lewis Gaddis. His thoughtful conclusion: Kennan was "an independent thinker of the first order who, at a critical moment in history, saw something clearly that others saw but through a haze, and by an act of singular intellectual courage earned absolution for any misjudgments he may have subsequently committed."

I prefer the late Bill Rood's harsher formulation, in "The Naivete of George Kennan".  His last two paragraphs:

George Kennan's apparent intention in writing his book, The Fateful Alliance, is to demonstrate through historical reference the necessity to avoid conflict. One's judgment of the book should turn less, then, on its value as history, than upon George Kennan's value as a guide through the intricacies of international politics.

If you read The Fateful Alliance, think of the Czech Jew going out "to face the music," of Comrade Litvinov forced by the circumstances of his birth to be foreign minister of the Soviet Union instead of a librarian, and judge whether Professor Kennan is a suitable guide to the cataclysmic struggle that is in progress around the world, the "struggle between two world systems." It seems George Kennan would urge us to be tolerant of those who lead the Soviet Union while they make the best of the circumstances into which they were born; and we in our turn may have the opportunity to go out and face the music.

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