At 9:22 PM (Moscow Time), February 22, 1946 George Kennan transmitted his “Long Telegram” to the State Department. It was received at 3:52 Eastern Time.
Sixty-eight years ago this afternoon.
It was an acute analysis of the Soviet angle on reality, how this squared with other takes on reality, and how the United States could (should) play the gaps.
Kennan counseled what came later to be known as containment. He did not like the word. Given the realities of Soviet power and Russian nationalism, Kennan perceived the issue was less a matter of containing our adversary and more a matter of maintaining credible, coherent, and effective geo-political advantage.
For Kennan the ultimate source of this advantage was a culture of self-criticism and self-correction. Reality is a solid bet. Soviet self-delusions would result in eventual collapse. We should be strong, watchful, engaged, realistic… and patient.
While foreign policy was the clear priority, the “Long Telegram” includes an important element of what some might now call a “homeland security” component.
Here are the closing three paragraphs of Kennan’s note:
Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue. This is point at which domestic and foreign policies meets Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués. If we cannot abandon fatalism and indifference in face of deficiencies of our own society, Moscow will profit–Moscow cannot help profiting by them in its foreign policies.
We must formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of sort of world we would like to see than we have put forward in past. It is not enough to urge people to develop political processes similar to our own. Many foreign peoples, in Europe at least, are tired and frightened by experiences of past, and are less interested in abstract freedom than in security. They are seeking guidance rather than responsibilities. We should be better able than Russians to give them this. And unless we do, Russians certainly will.
Finally we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After all, the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.
Cut “Russians”, “Soviet”, “communism” and replace with your preferred adversary. Does it remain wise counsel? Especially as I read today’s headlines from Kiev, Caracas, Quetta and elsewhere, seems so to me.