The Prescience of George Kennan

The Prescience of George Kennan

George F. Kennan (1904-2005), a distinguished US diplomat and historian, was one of the primary architects of US strategy during the Truman Administration. Kennan was one of the most thoughtful and eloquent writers 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

The following quote from PPS/23, written in February 1948 when he was head of the US State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, is often given as evidence of the iniquity of US foreign policy.

“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives…. We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

Fifty seven years later that sensible advice is still valid and ignored.



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