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January 2012

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George Kennan and American Grand Strategy During the Cold War
by John Lewis Gaddis, Professor, Yale University
Video: http://www.usnwc.edu/Gaddis
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor

John Lewis Gaddis is perhaps the greatest historian of the Cold War. His new biography of the American diplomat and historian George F. Kennan has just been released. In a recent lecture at the Naval War College, Gaddis discussed the influence of classic historical and literary works on George F. Kennan's approach to the grand strategy of the Cold War.

Kennan's influence on U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union was profound during the early years of the Cold War. His "Long Telegram" from Moscow and his "X" article in Foreign Affairs helped develop and explain the policy of containment that guided almost every U.S. administration during the Cold War. Gaddis credits Kennan with accurately predicting that the Soviet Empire would collapse from within; that it carried within it the seeds of its own destruction. Kennan gained this insight, Gaddis believes, from his reading of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Kennan's approach to grand strategy was also shaped by the great theorist of war, Carl von Clausewitz. Although Gaddis notes that Kennan did not read Clausewitz's classic On War, he did profit greatly from reading one of the best essays on Clausewitz which appeared in Edward Mead Earle's Makers of Modern Strategy. For Kennan, war was a continuation of policy; the purpose of military operations is to make a psychological impact on your adversary; and a patient defensive strategy would wear out an over-extended enemy.

Most interestingly, Gaddis noted the influence of pre-revolutionary Russian writers, such as Tolstoy and Chekhov, on Kennan's grand strategic approach to the Soviet Union. These writers, Gaddis said, offered Kennan a window into the Russian soul. Organic forces within Russia, Kennan believed, would doom communism.bluestar

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