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.

The burden of this essay is that Kennan's belated apologia was misleading, and that Gaddis errs in his reconstruction of containment as regards the crucial questions of its means and scope. For neither in life itself nor in Kennan's postwar writings can "political" and "military" measures be so sharply distinguished as the onetime policymaker's reminiscences suggest. And, while containment was certainly no rationale for uninhibited global intervention, fundamental objectives and concerns of the policy tended to promote a broader interventionism than Kennan admits or Gaddis realizes.1

Professor Gaddis bases his reconstruction of containment in some measure on Kennan's denial that communist ideology was a "determinant of Soviet policy." While probably not without some effect on the Soviet leadership's perceptions of political realities, communism was essentially a façade: domestically it provided a legitimizing myth for a usurping regime; in the realm of foreign affairs it cloaked Russian "national interests" with the appearance of beneficent purpose and made willing stooges of gullible foreign revolutionaries. Disposing of ideology as a "determinant," however, raises an obvious question that Gaddis does not really answer: How then did Kennan account for Soviet expansionism? He states only that the diplomat believed that the Soviet leaders felt toward the West a deep hostility that sprang from a sense of "insecurity," itself the product of Russia's unhappy past and their own conspiratorial backgrounds. Presumably, therefore, the object of Soviet expansionism was security.

This rendering of Kennan's portrayal of Soviet motives is not so much incorrect as it is incomplete - so incomplete that the flavor of Kennan's warnings about Soviet expansionism is lost along with some of the dimensions of containment. If, for example, a desire for national security explained Russian actions, one might reasonably conclude that a tier of buffer states constituted the limit of the U.S.S.R.'s hegemonic aspirations. But the apostle of containment was most explicit that the Soviet objective was "world revolution," "the destruction of capitalism everywhere," and that the United States itself was menaced by "a great political force" intent upon its "destruction."2

Had he taken his own advice and delved deeper into the documents he produces as a deus ex machina to redeem Kennan's Memoirs and to prove that the "X" article was not a "definitive statement of containment" (as though any historian of the last 20 years or so had attempted to analyze that policy without recourse to other documents), Gaddis would have seen that, in Kennan's estimation, the "insecurity" that afflicted Stalin and his henchmen was of a very special type. It was the product not only - indeed not so much - of Russian history and the personal backgrounds of its leaders as of the dictatorial form of government they had imposed on a long-suffering people. This latter anxiety had a very dire consequence for other nations: because of it Soviet totalitarianism was the functional equivalent, the analogue, of classical world revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, quite without regard to whether Stalin took that doctrine seriously or not.

Until early 1946, Kennan explained Soviet expansionism much as Gaddis states that he did: he traced it to Russia's traditional sense of vulnerability, exacerbated by Marxist suspicions, although thinking it "questionable" that ideology animated "to any appreciable degree the power of the Kremlin."3 Insofar as domestic imperatives bore upon Soviet aggressiveness, it was probably in that Stalin's heavy reliance on the specter of "capitalist encirclement" to justify his dictatorship precluded any reliance upon collective security arrangements such as the United Nations, lest there be created the appearance of a community of interest between the Soviet Union and the bourgeois states.4

But with his famous "Long Telegram" of February 22, 1946, Kennan began to argue that Soviet totalitarianism imbued Soviet expansionism with potentially unlimited ambitions. He wrote that the Soviet hierarchy sensed that its rule was "relatively fragile in its psychological foundations, unable to withstand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries." The Soviet Union, therefore, sought "security only in patient but deadly struggle for the total destruction of rival power, never in compacts or compromises with it."5 In the unsent letter to Walter Lippmann cited by Gaddis, Kennan stated explicitly that Soviet tyranny was threatened by the existence of freedom anywhere:

It is the Russians, not we, who cannot afford a world half slave and half free. The contrasts implicit in such a world are intolerable to the fictions on which their power rests. The final establishment of communist principles can only be universal. It assumes a Stygian darkness. If one ray of light of individual dignity or inquiry is permitted, the effort must ultimately fail.6

In short, while the security of Russia as a state could be assured by a limited sphere of influence, the security of the Soviet totalitarian system required the subjugation of as much of the world as possible to dictatorial controls approximating those in the Soviet Union.

On March 15, 1948, Kennan warned Secretary of State George C. Marshall that a Russian invasion of Western Europe might be imminent. While he had previously supposed that the Soviets would avoid a "military contest" with the United States, the recent coup in Czechoslovakia had led him to revise that estimate. It now appeared that they might resort to outright conquest, at once lured by the prospect of an easy victory and driven by the fear that there could be no final consolidation of their position in Eastern Europe as long as there remained an independent "Western civilization" to act as an economic and political lodestone for the peoples of that region - a clear application of his thesis that ultimately the maintenance of totalitarian control required the elimination of all that furnished a basis for invidious comparison.7

Ordinarily, Kennan bade his countrymen "distinguish what is indeed progressive social doctrine from the rivalry of a foreign political machine which has appropriated and abused the slogans of socialism."8 Occasionally, however, he spoke of Soviet expansionism as though it were ideologically motivated because it was rhetorically effective to do so and because his analysis amounted to the same thing in a practical sense. Thus he warned one audience that the Soviet objective was "world revolution," but added that this early Bolshevik objective had been retained because "for reasons too intricate to go into here, it has become closely associated with internal political conditions in the Soviet Union; and the men in the Kremlin could not depart from it, even if they wished to."9 (The "X" article is to a degree an example of Kennan's resorting to ideological rhetoric.10) Gaddis has, in short, small warrant for distinguishing Kennan from those who used communist ideology as a "predictive instrument" and thus presented the "Soviet threat in global terms."


It is safe to say that nothing in Kennan's Memoirs has inspired more skepticism than the disclaimer that he had envisioned "not the containment by military means of a military threat, but the political containment of a political threat."11 "Political" and "military" are not often - pace Clausewitz - opposed in such fashion with respect to international relations, and one must suppose that Kennan thought that the Soviet threat was of an unusually pacific nature for this blunt juxtaposition to be warranted. Professor Gaddis certainly does. He writes that Kennan believed fears of a Soviet attack "groundless," and then blithely quotes a highly equivocal statement the diplomat made in October 1947 to the effect that ". . . as things stand today, it is not Russian military power which is threatening us, it is Russian political power. . . . If it is not entirely a military threat, I doubt it can be effectively met entirely by military means. . . ."

In point of fact, the assertion that Kennan believed that the Soviet threat was solely "political" in a sense opposed to "military" flies in the face of much documentary evidence. And the statement that containment was "political" in a similar sense presupposes, as we shall see, a very special definition of that word. Kennan was a consistent advocate of "a powerful and impressive military establishment, commensurate with the responsibilities we are forced to bear in the life of the world community."12 Statesmen, to be sure, value military strength as a matter of course. But Kennan's advocacy also proceeded from a very specific postulate: that overt aggression by the armed forces of the Soviet Union was possible in certain circumstances. (In the October 1947 statement quoted by Gaddis the emphasis should be placed on "today.")

In the late summer of 1946, President Truman's Special Counsel, Clark M. Clifford, and his assistant, George M. Elsey, prepared at the Chief Executive's request an evaluation of the cold war entitled "American Relations with the Soviet Union." Since its publication in the memoirs of the late Arthur Krock, this document has been contrasted by Gaddis and others with Kennan's "political" containment because of its conclusion that "the main deterrent to Soviet attack on our territory, or on areas vital to our security, will be the military power of this country."13

When the first draft of "American Relations with the Soviet Union" was completed in September 1946, a copy was sent to Kennan for his comments. "I think the tone is excellent," he replied, "and I have no fault to find with it." He endorsed with particular emphasis the report's call for the development of nuclear and biological weapons, adding that it was "important this country be prepared to use them if need be, for the mere fact of such preparedness may prove to be the only deterrent to Russian aggressive actions and in this sense the only sure guarantee of peace." (At his suggestions these words were included in the final draft.14) Kennan also warned that when the Soviets developed atomic weapons they "would not hesitate for a moment to apply this power against us if by so doing they thought they might materially improve their own power position in the world."15

Kennan thought war unlikely not because of the intrinsically "political" character of Soviet expansionism, but because the Soviets were "still weaker by far than the capitalist world" and understood that "if they were to become involved with a superior force, it might lead to catastrophe for them."16 His assurance on this score was far from complete, however, as the March 1948 warning to Secretary of State Marshall unmistakably shows. Moreover, while American military strength might deter overt Soviet aggression, it also redirected Soviet expansionism into other channels. Kennan warned that insofar as the U.S.S.R. was deterred from open aggression, it would seek to realize its hegemonic designs covertly through the subversive manipulation of foreign communist parties and allied and duped groups of every description. He often epitomized Soviet policy by stating that it sought "a maximum of power with a minimum of responsibility," and from this expectation derived the second, active use he foresaw for military power: its role in containing indirect Soviet aggression.17

In his Memoirs Kennan provides a definition of the "political" threat he perceived. First in his columns and then in his book The Cold War, Walter Lippmann assumed that the newly famous Mr. "X" was predicting a series of invasions by the Red Army. To explain his actual fears Kennan refers to a letter he wrote (but did not actually send) to the journalist in April 1948:

The Russians don't want to invade anyone. It is not in their tradition. They tried it once in Finland and got their fingers burned. Above all, they don't want the open responsibility that official invasion brings with it. They far prefer to do the job politically with stooge forces. Note well: when I say politically that does not mean without violence. But it means that the violence is nominally domestic, not international violence.18

The difficulty with this passage (apart from reconciling it with the solemn warning to Marshall of not two months before) lies in the arbitrary use of "political" to describe Soviet-inspired civil or guerrilla wars. Even if this be allowed on the questionable grounds that the violence in question was "nominally domestic," it by no means follows that containment was to be exclusively "political" in any sense consonant with ordinary usage. While Kennan was of the opinion that "the use of U.S. regular forces to oppose the efforts of indigenous communist elements must generally be considered as a risky and profitless undertaking," he did not categorically rule out such intervention.19

In 1946, aware of the "imperative need for acceptance of limited warfare," Kennan began to urge the creation of "small, compact, alert forces, capable of delivering at short notice effective blows in limited theaters of operation far from our own shores."20 Succeeding years showed the uses he envisioned for the "alert forces." In December 1947 (if we may trust a rapporteur's notes) he contemplated the use of American forces in Greece.21 Four months later, in any event, he unequivocally advocated military intervention in Italy. Greatly worried by the prospect of a communist victory in the forthcoming elections, Kennan proposed that the ostensibly independent Italian government "outlaw" the Communist Party. The civil war sure to result would give the United States

grounds for the reoccupation of the Foggia fields or any other facilities we might wish. This would admittedly result in much violence and probably a military division of Italy; but we are getting close to the deadline and I think it might well be preferable to a bloodless election victory, unopposed by ourselves, which would give the Communists the entire peninsula at one coup and send waves of panic to all surrounding areas.22

Kennan also urged intervention in Korea, and regarded American unpreparedness for that conflict as proof of the need for "alert forces."23 In a magazine article of 1951, moreover, he directly linked Korea with containment, writing that the "X" article of four years before had foreseen just such attacks as that on South Korea. This is a claim that may well be believed, for as Kennan had warned in the 1940s that the Soviets would seek "maximum power" with "minimum responsibility" through the use of "stooge forces," so his contemporary judgment on the Korean War was that, seeing an opportunity for expansion "at relatively little risk to themselves," they had unleashed their "Korean puppets."24

There was undeniably a "political" aspect to containment. Kennan was an author of the Marshall Plan and incontestably believed that improved socioeconomic conditions were of the greatest importance in fostering resistance to Soviet expansionism.25 But as he himself wrote, "The fiber of political resistance among our allies to Moscow Communist pressure will be deeply affected by the extent to which they continue to feel themselves secure in the military sense."26 "Political" measures alone, however, would neither deter Soviet invasion nor quell armed subversion. Indeed, given the peculiar susceptibilities of Soviet totalitarianism, successful "political" containment might, insofar as it created viable democracies, even prompt Soviet aggression in one form or another. (Kennan's March 1948 warning to Marshall should be recalled in this regard.) It was necessary, therefore, to contain the Soviets "both militarily and politically."27


Arguments about the scope of containment admit of less precision than those about the means since they concern questions of degree rather than of kind. It may be said, however, that Gaddis takes in a rather literal way the impression Kennan seeks to give in his Memoirs that containment, as originally conceived, was precisely circumscribed in a geographical sense. Gaddis adduces several arguments in favor of a "narrow" containment, none of which is compelling. Correctly observing that Kennan distinguished between communism and Soviet expansionism, Gaddis assumes that containment had a limited purview because it was directed at the latter and not necessarily at radical movements drawing their inspiration from the former. This conclusion, however, does not follow because, as we have seen, Kennan deemed the ambitions of Soviet expansionism essentially unlimited and argued that they would work through the many radical movements around the world whose allegiance the Soviet Union commanded. In opposing that expansionism, therefore, American policy would at times inevitably have to oppose radical movements, however tolerant of left-wing ideology it might be in principle.

Professor Gaddis also notes that Kennan appreciated that American resources were finite and that he doubted the need for containment "beyond the reach of Soviet military or police power" because he thought it unlikely that a communist regime could long survive without direct Russian support or that if one did it would willingly remain a tool of Soviet imperialism.

The first of these arguments really tells us little since any policy must be limited necessarily by the means available to implement it, and it is not shown that Kennan believed American resources to be more limited than did other policymakers.28 The second argument overlooks the simple facts that the Soviet Union is by far the largest nation in the world, sprawling as it does over Europe and Asia, and that clearly a great deal of territory falls within its "reach" - even when one exempts East and Southeast Asia (including China) from the purview of containment, as Kennan did in 1948.29 His alarmed reaction to the prospect of an electoral victory by the Italian Communists, even then the most independent in Western Europe (thanks to the intellectual legacy of Antonio Gramsci and the leadership of Palmiro Togliatti), suggests that in practice Kennan was not prepared to gamble on either the viability or the autonomy of communist governments. It is arguable that before Tito's final June 1948 break with Moscow, Italy could be regarded as within "the reach of Soviet military or police power." But in that case the Italian episode must be regarded as an example of how much territory that reach encompassed.

At first reading the most convincing of Gaddis' arguments for a "limited" containment is the undeniable fact that in 1948 Kennan argued that the principal task before American foreign policy was to preserve from Soviet control the as yet non-communist major industrial regions: Great Britain, the Rhine Valley, and Japan. A moment's reflection, however, will suggest that it by no means follows that a policy designed to protect those regions was necessarily to be implemented in or even near them. (Gaddis assumes that it does, and describes containment as "a limited application of effort in a few key locations.") The most obvious objection to such an inference is that modern industrial societies (particularly those of the three regions mentioned) are highly dependent upon the natural resources of the underdeveloped world. We have, of course, had this fact rudely called to our attention in recent years, but it was no less appreciated during and after the Second World War, as evidenced by Allied relations in Iran, the Anglo-American rivalry in Saudi Arabia or State Department opposition to the recognition of Israel. (Kennan himself referred to the dependence of Western Europe on Middle Eastern oil in the document Gaddis cites to support his point about Kennan's emphasis on the industrial areas.30)

Even disregarding the obvious facts of economic dependence, containment could be restricted to the major industrial regions only if at least one of two propositions were true: that Kennan believed Soviet expansionism would be directed only against those areas and/or that he thought the United States might with impunity ignore Soviet thrusts elsewhere. But both are demonstrably false. In 1946 he warned that the Soviets would seek to weaken Western influence in colonial and backward areas in the belief that "insofar as the policy is successful there will be created a vacuum which will favor communist-Soviet penetration." Later the same year he wrote that the Russians planned to make Turkey "a puppet state, which will serve as a springboard for the domination of the eastern Mediterranean."31 Kennan plainly thought these challenges could not be ignored. In 1947, for example, he limited containment to "highly strategic areas" where the victory of communism would have serious consequences for the United States, but spoke of backward Greece in the same breath as Germany.32

There were several reasons why Kennan's concept of strategic importance embraced underdeveloped countries. He greatly feared, first of all, the moral consequences of communist victories. He supported the Truman Doctrine on the grounds that the fall of Greece and Turkey would facilitate Soviet penetration of the Middle East. Soviet gains there, he argued, might propel the communist parties of Western Europe into power and drive England into neutrality.33 As we have seen, in 1948 he advocated intervention in Italy with the argument that a communist electoral victory would produce panic in the surrounding areas. His reasons for supporting the intervention in Korea were similar.34 Gaddis is not unaware of this psychological "domino theory" but describes it as an "unanticipated difficulty" that arose from the need to calm the fears of those peoples in whom containment sought to instill a sense of self-confidence. His failure to understand that it was an intrinsic part of Kennan's conception of strategic importance (which was never narrowly geographical), coeval with containment itself, is surprising because he correctly stresses "the extent to which Kennan's strategy relied upon psychology."

It is also interesting to note that there are indications that during 1949 and 1950 Kennan moved away from his emphasis of 1948 on the importance of the major industrialized regions toward a less discriminating conception of geographical importance. In 1948 he viewed the prospect of a communist victory in China with relative equanimity, but in August 1949 he described the impending triumph of Mao Tse-tung as "a catastrophe not only for the people of China but for the prospects for stability and peace throughout the Far East."35 The following November he described at some length the conditions under which the United States should extend aid to nations imperiled by Soviet expansionism without mentioning any test of strategic importance.36 And in February 1950 he warned that if the Soviets succeeded

by means short of war, in bringing under their influence the remaining non-Communist countries of Europe and Asia, our security would be more subtly (but perhaps as dangerously) undermined than by an atomic attack on our territory. For the world balance of power would then be turned, at least temporarily, against us.

Therefore, Kennan concluded, the United States "must continue the policy of throwing its weight into the balance wherever there are relatively good chances that it will be effective in preventing the further spread of the power of international communism."37

Furthermore, one of the fundamental purposes of containment militated against basing the policy upon a purely geopolitical foundation. Kennan maintained that the "possibilities for American policy are by no means limited to holding the line and hoping for the best. It is entirely possible for the United States to influence by its actions the internal developments, both within Russia and throughout the international Communist movement, by which Russian policy is largely determined." Indeed, the United States had it

in its power to increase enormously the strains under which Soviet policy must operate . . . and in this way to promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the breakup or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power. For no mystical, Messianic movement - and particularly not that of the Kremlin - can face frustration indefinitely without eventually adjusting itself in one way or another to the logic of that state of affairs.38

In part, the mellowing or destruction of Soviet power was to be encompassed by demonstrating the viability of the American way of life, by giving the lie to the "keystone of Communist philosophy," the belief in the "palsied decrepitude of the capitalist world."39 But it was also to be accomplished by frustrating Soviet expansionism - which Kennan likened to a "fluid stream which moves wherever it is permitted to move" - "indefinitely."40 He argued in 1947 that

if you could start rolling back the international Communist movement today, if you could bring about a set of circumstances where they are not making the first downs but where somebody else was making the first downs time after time against them, I think you might see a general crumbling of Russian influence and prestige which would carry beyond . . . the satellite countries, and into the heart of the Soviet Union itself. Now, that is why I feel what we are trying to do in the case of Greece and Turkey is of such vital importance, because if it is successful, it is going to have that type of effect.41

This aspect of containment, it will be observed, is mentioned neither in Kennan's Memoirs nor in Gaddis' article. The reasons for the omission in the one and the oversight in the other are, it may be presumed, one and the same: insofar as containment was intended as an indirect assault on the Soviet system through the constant frustration of the Soviet drive for universal dominion it had a purpose that transcended the importance of specific areas. It could not consequently be limited to those areas.

It is in fact highly probable that Kennan's indignant insistence that containment was not open-ended stems not so much from limits inherent in the policy itself as from the faith he once had in the capacity of containment to exacerbate certain fundamental weaknesses in the Soviet system. These were, as Gaddis notes, serious. They included the problem of succession after Stalin's death, a demoralized population, pervasive economic incompetence, and the problems of holding in submission the more civilized peoples of Eastern Europe. At one point in 1945 Kennan permitted himself to believe that "another five or ten years should find Russia overshadowed by those clouds of civil disintegration that darkened the Russian sky at the outset of the century."42 In his unsent letter of 1948 to Lippmann he was at pains to refute the argument that "containment was a passive, negative policy which, even if successful, would solve nothing and would oblige us to remain indefinitely, armed to the teeth, trying to defend a long series of over-extended positions. . . ." He mentioned, however, not one of the limitations he had previously discussed in connection with the policy, rather writing that he was tried by the assertion that containment meant indefinite and indeterminate confrontation,

because I thought I had pointed out, in the X article, that the Russians, too, are made of flesh and blood; that time has a habit of running out on them, just as it does on other people; and that we had good reason to hope that some of the internal contradictions of their own system would eventually catch up with them. . . .

It was not necessary, Kennan continued, "to draw up any program for the defeat of Soviet power, if we can only be successful in the policies we are now pursuing. The Russians will defeat themselves."43


Containment, in summary, was partially "political" in that Kennan understood that pervasive socioeconomic discontent was fertile soil for communist subversion. But it was also military in that he believed that the polymorphous impulses of Soviet expansionism could, as it were, be channeled into "containable" subversion only as long as the superior power of the United States assured the failure of overt aggression. It was equally so because Kennan expected the local minions of Soviet expansionism to resort, as in Greece and Korea, to the "nominally domestic" violence of insurrection and civil war and thus advocated armed intervention where indigenous resistance was unequal to the task.

Kennan was also of the opinion that the boundless ambitions of Soviet totalitarianism would be responsible for, or at least seek to take advantage of, a goodly portion of the world's revolutionary ferment. This expectation, together with his concern for the world balance of power, his fear of the psychological consequences of Soviet successes, and his belief that the constant frustration of Soviet expansionism would promote desirable changes in the U.S.S.R., tended in practice to erode his reservations about a policy of broad purview.

John Lewis Gaddis Responds

Eduard Mark's rejoinder to my article calls to mind a "perhaps apocryphal" story, told by David Hackett Fischer in his book, Historians' Fallacies, about a scientist "who published an astonishing and improbable generalization about the behavior of rats. An incredulous colleague came to his laboratory and politely asked to see the records of the experiments on which the generalization was based. 'Here they are,' said the scientist, dragging a notebook from a pile of papers on his desk. And pointing to a cage in the corner, he added, 'there's the rat.'"

It is easy to demonstrate that Kennan regarded the Soviet threat as in part a military problem. One can even find isolated instances in which he seemed to see such a threat as imminent, as Mark points out. Certainly, as I noted in my piece, Kennan believed military strength to be a prerequisite for negotiations with the Russians.1 And Mark is quite correct in observing that he favored the development of small, compact forces, ready to conduct limited operations on short notice. Kennan was then and still is no pacifist: his model of an efficient military organization has long been the U.S. Marine Corps.

But to conclude from this that Kennan saw either containment or the problems that gave rise to it as primarily military, or even equally political and military, is to generalize from a set of what Fischer calls "lonely facts." For every instance in which Kennan called for a military response to a military problem, one can find numerous instances in which he warned against precisely this kind of thinking. He repeatedly pictured the problem as a crisis of confidence brought on by a complex of political, economic, military and psychological difficulties, and called for an equally multifaceted response. The historian, it would appear, has a responsibility to generalize on the basis of representative and not atypical evidence. I am not sure what justifies Mark's selective emphasis on the military aspect of Kennan's thinking, at the expense of its other components.

This raises a second problem. Mark at several points credits me with having said things I did not say. For example, he writes that "the assertion that Kennan believed that the Soviet threat was solely 'political' in a sense opposed to 'military' flies in the face of much documentary evidence." But at no point in the article did I make that assertion. And the very quote Mark uses from Kennan to support his point in fact refutes it: "If it is not entirely a military threat, I doubt it can be effectively met entirely by military means." (Emphases added.)

There is another more serious example of selective quotation. Mark has me describing containment as "a limited application of effort in a few key locations" and assuming, on that basis, that it was to be implemented only in or near the regions containment was supposed to protect. But a glance at the complete sentence from which this passage was lifted conveys precisely the opposite impression: "It was not all that difficult, then, to slide from a belief that the balance of power required nothing more than a limited application of effort and a few key locations to a conviction that the balance could be maintained only by massive expenditures of energy in peripheral areas."2 I find it difficult to be comfortable with a method of quotation that produces so substantial a distortion of the original context.

My point was that while Kennan in theory intended to apply containment on a selective basis, in practice he found this difficult to do. Mark argues that Kennan never intended to apply containment selectively. This is, I think, an argument from effect to intent. It derives the theory of containment from its admittedly imperfect implementation, not its original formulation. Why, one wonders, does Mark think Kennan talked at the time of the need for selective containment if he did not in fact believe in it? To deceive his colleagues within the government? To mislead future historians? In the absence of evidence to the contrary it would appear reasonable to accept the simplest explanation: that Kennan meant what he said.

Finally, I am at a loss to explain Mark's charge that I fail to mention as one aspect of containment the idea of rolling back the international communist movement. My article devoted several pages to that subject, concluding with the observation that "there was no contradiction between the concepts of 'containment' and 'liberation,' if by that latter term is meant the cautious encouragement of centrifugal tendencies within the international communist movement."3 Containment was of course intended, as Mark says, "as an indirect assault on the Soviet system through the constant frustration of the Soviet drive for world dominion." But it does not follow from this that distinctions between vital and peripheral interests faded into insignificance; or that the United States was obliged to act wherever Soviet aggressiveness manifested itself; or that Kennan regarded action by the United States and its allies as the only means of frustrating Soviet ambitions. Mark himself quotes Kennan as proclaiming that it was not necessary "to draw up any program for the defeat of Soviet power, if we can only be successful in the policies we are now pursuing. The Russians will defeat themselves."

There is probably a certain amount of poetic justice involved in having an essay on misunderstandings of the "X" article misunderstood. I cannot help but feel, though, that a more careful reading of my piece would have eliminated much of the confusion. At the same time, I am indebted to Mark for including in his essay so many points that contribute to its own refutation.


2 George F. Kennan, "Current Problems of Soviet-American Relations," May 9, 1947, George F. Kennan Papers (hereinafter cited Kennan Papers) at the Princeton University Library, Princeton, New Jersey. See also Kennan, op. cit., p. 351.

5 Kennan, op. cit., "Telegraphic Message of February 22, 1946," p. 550. Kennan stated that Czarist absolutism had been subject to the same compulsion - a token of his essentially unideological analysis.

6 Unsent letter to Walter Lippmann (emphasis added), April 6, 1948, Kennan Papers. This argument is strongly stated in another document found in Kennan's Papers, "Foreign Aid in the Framework of National Policy," November 10, 1949. See also George F. Kennan, "America and the Russian Future," Foreign Affairs, April 1951, p. 114. One observer noted that in conversation Kennan "talks sparingly of democracy and communism. . . . He bases his thinking on the 'profound differences between the liberal and the totalitarian concepts of human society'. . . ." Brooks Atkinson, "America's Global Planner," New York Times Magazine, July 13, 1947, p. 9.

8 Ibid., p. 301.

9 "Current Problems," supra, footnote 2.

11 Kennan, Memoirs: 1925-1950, p. 358.

12 George F. Kennan, "The International Situation," The Department of State Bulletin, XXI, September 5, 1949, p. 324. Kennan said on one occasion, ". . .I think we should follow the classic advice of Theodore Roosevelt: to speak softly and carry a big stick," "Current Problems," supra, footnote 2.

14 Kennan to Clark M. Clifford (Kennan's emphasis), September 16, 1946, George M. Elsey Papers at the Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri, Box 63. This memorandum is not signed by Kennan but is identified as his by a marginal notation in Elsey's handwriting. Mr. Clifford and Mr. Elsey have kindly confirmed Kennan's authorship; Clifford to the author, June 10, 1975, enclosing Elsey to Clark M. Clifford, June 3, 1975. Compare this sentence with Krock, op. cit., p. 478.

16 Kennan to Clark M. Clifford, op. cit. See also "Telegraphic Message of February 22, 1946," supra, footnote 3, p. 558; Kennan, supra, footnote 10, p. 281.

19 Ibid., p. 380.

20 Ibid. See also Kennan's address to the National Defense Committee of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, January 23, 1947, Kennan Papers.

23 Kennan, Memoirs: 1925-1950, p. 312.

24 George F. Kennan, "Let Peace Not Die of Neglect," The New York Times Magazine, February 25, 1951, p. 41.

26 George F. Kennan, "Is War with Russia Inevitable?," The Department of State Bulletin, XXII, February 20, 1950, p. 271.

27 George F. Kennan transcript of lecture to State Department personnel, September 17, 1946, Kennan Papers (emphasis added).

29 George F. Kennan, "Contemporary Problems of Foreign Policy," September 17, 1948, Kennan Papers.

30 Ibid.

31 "Telegraphic Message of February 22, 1946," supra, footnote 3, p. 553 and p. 555; Kennan to Clark M. Clifford, September 6, 1946, Elsey Papers.

32 George F. Kennan, "Problems of U.S. Foreign Policy after Moscow," May 6, 1947, Kennan Papers.

33 George F. Kennan, "Comments on the National Security Problem," March 28, 1947, Kennan Papers.

35 "The International Situation," supra, footnote 12.

36 "Foreign Aid in the Framework of National Policy," supra, footnote 6.

38 Kennan, supra, footnote 10, p. 582.

39 Ibid., p. 581.

41 "Russia's National Objectives," supra, footnote 17. See also the transcript of the discussion following this lecture.

42 "Russia's International Position at the Close of the War with Germany," in Kennan, Memoirs: 1925-1950, p. 535.

43 Unsent letter to Walter Lippmann, April 6, 1948, Kennan Papers.

Gaddis Footnotes:

1 John Lewis Gaddis, "Containment: A Reassessment," Foreign Affairs, July 1977, p. 880.

2 Ibid., p. 882.

3 Loc. cit.

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