George F. Kennan Writes the Long Telegram

G. F. Kennan had been stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as minister-counselor since 1944.

Although highly critical of the Soviet system, the mood within the U.S. State Department was friendship towards the Soviets, since they were an important ally in the war against Nazi Germany.

In February 1946, the United States Treasury asked the U.S. Embassy in Moscow why the Soviets were not supporting the newly-created World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In reply, Kennan wrote the Long Telegram outlining his opinions and views of the Soviets; it arrived to Washington on February 22, 1946. Among its most-remembered parts was that while Soviet power was impervious to the logic of reason, it was highly sensitive to the logic of force.

In writing the Long Telegram, his reply to the U.S. Treasury Department, Kennan was profoundly aware of the matters at stake; its preface says:

Answer to Dept’s 284, Feb. 3,11 involves questions so intricate, so delicate, so strange to our form of thought, and so important to analysis of our international environment that I cannot compress answers into single brief message without yielding to what I feel would be a dangerous degree of oversimplification. I hope, therefore, Dept will bear with me if I submit in answer to this question five parts . . . I apologize in advance for this burdening of telegraphic channel; but questions involved are of such urgent importance, particularly in view of recent events, that our answers to them, if they deserve attention at all, seem to me to deserve it at once.

Kennan proceeded (in the first two sections) to posit concepts that became the foundation of American Cold War policy:

* The USSR perceived itself at perpetual war with capitalism;

* Socialism and social democracy are enemies, not allies;

* The USSR would use controllable Marxists in the capitalist world as allies;

* Soviet aggression was fundamentally not aligned with the views of the Russian people or with economic reality, but in historic Russian xenophobia and paranoia;

* The Soviet government's structure prohibited objective or accurate pictures of internal and external reality.

Section five exposited Soviet weaknesses and proposed U.S. strategy. Kennan argued that the Soviet Union would be sensitive to force, that the Soviets were weak, compared to the united Western world, that the Soviets were vulnerable to internal instability, and that Soviet propaganda was primarily negative and destructive. Kennan advocated sound appraisal, public education, solutions of the internal problems of U.S. society, proposing for other nations a positive picture of the world the U.S. would like to see, and faith in the superiority of the Western way of life over the collective ideals of Soviet Communists.

The Long Telegram gave the US government a clear understanding of how the Soviet government saw itself in the international community. According to Kennan, the Soviet Union did not see the possibility for long-term peaceful coexistence with the capitalist world. It was their ever-present aim to advance the socialist cause. Capitalism was a menace to the ideals of socialism, and capitalists could not be trusted or allowed to influence the Soviet people. Outright conflict was never considered a desirable avenue for the propagation of the Soviet cause, but their eyes and ears were always open for the opportunity to take advantage of “diseased tissue” anywhere in the world.

The sight of these ashen, doomed men, several of them only recently prominent figures of the regime and now only 24 hours away from their executions, standing there mumbling their preposterous confessions in the vain hope of saving themselves or perhaps members of their families - the sight is never to leave my memory.”

— George Kennan