The Legacy of George F. Kennan, 1904-2005  

Posted by Big Gav

I referred recently to Richard Manning's "The Oil We Eat", which contained a reference to a memo written by George Kennan, sometimes known as "the architect of the cold war". Manning wrote:

Energy cannot be created or canceled, but it can be concentrated. This is the larger and profoundly explanatory context of a national-security memo George Kennan wrote in 1948 as the head of a State Department planning committee, ostensibly about Asian policy but really about how the United States was to deal with its newfound role as the dominant force on Earth. “We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population,” Kennan wrote. “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 without positive detriment to our national security. 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 need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”“The day is not far off,” Kennan concluded, “when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.”

Kennan recently passed away, having come to regret the strategies he put in place - Counterpunch has an obituary for an old school conservative.
Was Kennan's dyspeptic Weltanschauung appropriate? He made his mark in public life when America's position in the world was so far above that of other nations as to be unchallengeable. The rest of the world had nothing remotely like the Willow Run plant or Henry Kaiser's shipyards. America's moral prestige, from 1945 through the joyous mob scene of President Kennedy's Berlin speech, was like the Second Coming.

But he saw, as the censorious guardian of an older tradition, that the nascent empire was antithetical to the old republic. A conservative of a type rarely seen these days, he believed in stewardship of the earth, and believed the country was "exhausting and depleting the very sources of its own abundance."

As the United States stands at the brink of the Peak Oil phenomenon, that observation begins to sound like wisdom. The country is now Number One only in military spending, debt, and cultural frivolity. China and India each graduate three times the number of engineers Americans do. The United States now ranks 28 out of 40 countries in mathematical literacy. China sits atop $610 billion dollars of U.S. debt.

Most intellectuals are fated to molder away in cow state colleges, second hand book shops, and third rate think tanks. Like Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and a handful of other bona fide thinkers, George Kennan made an outsized imprint on the world. His tragedy was that he came to regret his handiwork.

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