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The 2012 Arthur Ross Book Award event honors gold medal recipient John Lewis Gaddis for his book George F. Kennan: An American Life, as well as silver medalist Jason Stearns for Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, and honorable mention Daniel Yergin for The Quest.
John Lewis Gaddis’ magisterial authorized biography of George Kennan tells the story of a brilliant diplomat who helped define postwar U.S. foreign policy -- especially America’s successful Cold War strategy. Yet the public triumph was matched with private frustration, and the prickly Kennan never won the influence he craved.
In his first four years, George W. Bush presided over the most sweeping redesign of U.S. strategy since the days of F.D.R. Over the next four, his basic direction should remain the same: restoring security in a more dangerous world. Some midcourse corrections, however, are overdue. Washington should remember the art of speaking softly and the need for international legitimacy.
Historians of the Cold War were powerfully influenced by fears that America was betraying its ideals in the course of that long struggle. The real tragedy of the Cold War, however, was that faced by Stalin's victims. The newly available archives from the East seem to bear out Western hard-liners.
The aftermath of the events of 1989 may have invalidated the simple division of the world, into democratic and totalitarian camps, which formed the basis of the Truman doctrine, "but another form of competition has been emerging that could be just as stark and just as pervasive... it is the contest between forces of integration and fragmentation". Forces for integration, or the breaking-down of barriers between nations which conduces to peace, include the communications revolution, growing economic inter-dependence and collective security. Forces of fragmentation, which conduce to war, include nationalism, certain types of religion, and socio-economic inequalities. Yet it is not clear that integrationist forces are generally benign, or fragmentationist forces generally malign, to US national interests, which has historically rested on the balancing of fragmented power. This should indeed remain the key principle of US and allied foreign policy, but henceforward the balance to be kept is not between entities, but between competing processes.
One of the occupational hazards of being a historian is that one tends to take on, with age, a certain air of resigned pessimism. This comes, I think, from our professional posture of constantly facing backwards: it is not cheering to have to focus one's attention on the disasters, defalcations, and miscalculations that make up human history. We are given, as a result, to such plaintive statements as: "Ah, yes, I knew it wouldn't work out," or "I saw it coming all along," or, most often, "Too bad they didn't listen to me."
In the July 1977 issue of Foreign Affairs, which marked the thirtieth anniversary of the appearance in its pages of George F. Kennan's famous "X" article, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," John Lewis Gaddis ambitiously attempted to resolve once and for all the seemingly interminable controversy that has surrounded Kennan's call for containment ever since that first public enunciation. Diplomatic historians doubtless noted with interest that Professor Gaddis contends, quite categorically, that the retrospective elucidation of containment found in the first volume of Kennan's Memoirs is wholly satisfactory with respect to what have been far and away its most controversial features: to wit, the assertions that the policy was "political" rather than "military," and that it was to be cautiously implemented within strictly defined geographical limits rather narrower than had commonly been supposed.
"I felt like one who has inadvertently loosened a large boulder from the top of a cliff and now helplessly witnesses its path of destruction in the valley below, shuddering and wincing at each successive glimpse of disaster." So George F. Kennan described the consequences of having published in this journal, 30 years ago this month, the article which introduced the term "containment" to the world. Attributed only to a "Mr. X" in order to protect the author's position as Director of the State Department's new Policy Planning Staff, the article, entitled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," was nonetheless quickly revealed by Arthur Krock as having come from Kennan's pen. Ironically, its very anonymity assured it a conspicuousness Kennan's subsequent efforts to clarify his views never attained.
More than a quarter of a century has now passed since Harry S. Truman proclaimed on March 12, 1947 that "it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures." At the time, government officials, Congressmen, journalists and other elements of the articulate public vigorously debated the merits of the Truman Doctrine, and in the intervening years historians have kept the argument going. Defenders have seen the statement as the moment when Americans abandoned isolationism once and for all, finally accepting, however reluctantly, their full responsibilities as a world power. Critics, conversely, have seen it as the beginning of the long process by which the United States became a world policeman, committing resources and manpower all over the world in a futile attempt to contain a mythical monolith, the international Communist conspiracy. But despite their differences, critics and defenders of the Truman Doctrine tend to agree on two points: that the President's statement marked a turning point of fundamental importance in the history of American foreign policy; and that U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War grew logically, even inevitably, out of a policy Truman thus initiated.