kissinger on kennan


While writing this essay, I asked several young men and women what George F. Kennan meant to them. As it turned out, nearly all were essentially oblivious of the man or his role in shaping American foreign policy. Yet Kennan had fashioned the concept of containment in the name of which the cold war was conducted and won and almost concurrently had also expressed some of the most trenchant criticism of the way his own theory was being implemented. To the present generation, Kennan has receded into a vague past as has their parents’ struggle to bring forth a new international order amid the awesome, unprecedented power of nuclear weapons. For the surviving participants in the emotions of that period, this state of affairs inspires melancholy reflections about the relevance of history in the age of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle. Fortunately, John Lewis Gaddis, a distinguished professor of history and strategy at Yale, has brought again to life the dilemmas and aspirations of those pivotal decades of the mid-20th century. His magisterial work, “George F. Kennan: An American Life,” bids fair to be as close to the final word as possible on one of the most important, complex, moving, challenging and exasperating American public servants. The reader should know that for the past decade, I have occasionally met with the students of the Grand Strategy seminar John Gaddis conducts at Yale and that we encounter each other on social occasions from time to time. But Gaddis’s work is seminal and beyond personal relationships.

more from Henry Kissinger at the NY Times here.