This essay is about George Kennan's "Long Telegram" and its effect on Cold War strategy.
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The “Long Telegram” and Its Long Affect
Within months of World War II ending, it became apparent to the United States that the Soviet Union, a strong war-time ally, was now a peacetime enemy. This rivalry would almost cause a nuclear apocalypse, but it took the United States time to arrive at the conclusion their strong ally was now an equally strong enemy. Key to the discovery of this fact was George Kennan, an aid to the American Ambassador in Moscow. In February of 1946, Kennan sent a telegram to the Pentagon as an answer to several State Department inquiries on the Soviet Union. This telegram, now commonly referred to as the “Long Telegram,” was a turning point in American post-World War II foreign affairs for decades after it was sent.
By the final moments of World War II, the United States started to prepare for a battle against the Soviet Union, and subsequently, the ideology of the communist world based on the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. In the mind of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, post-World War II Europe would have the ability to choose its own governments with guidance from the United States and Great Britain, but in the mind of Soviet Prime Minister and dictator Josef Stalin, post-World War II Europe was an open frontier on which, he could expand his country (Gaddis 12).
“Stalin’s postwar goals were security for himself, his regime, his country, and his ideology, in precisely that order. He sought to make sure no internal challenges could ever again endanger his personal rule, and that no external challenges could ever again place his country at risk” (11).
Roosevelt, however, died on April 12, 1945 before the end of the war, and in the British general election, England surprisingly elected Clement Attlee. This left United States’ Vice President Harry S. Truman in command of his country and inexperienced British Prime Minister Clement Attlee in command of Great Britain (10).
During World War II, the United States, Great Britain, and Soviet Union fought together on the European front to defeat Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. After successfully defeating their common enemy, the United States and Great Britain anticipated continuing their positive relations with the Soviet Union, but Soviet Prime Minister and authoritarian dictator Josef Stalin had another vision. His main goal was to influence Europe and Asia with Marxist-Leninist communist beliefs, and in his mind, in order to achieve his ultimate goal, eliminating capitalism and causing a proletarian revolution; he formed an alliance with the capitalist world (10). The basic logic of Marxism was capitalist countries would fight amongst themselves due to the greed of capitalism, and the working class would rise against the greedy aristocrats. Then, Stalin believed, he could take control of Europe and institute communist governments throughout the continent. Stalin’s strategy resembled that of Hitler and Nazi Germany but Stalin, unlike Hitler, set no timetables for goals to be done (105).
In February 1945, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and Prime Minister Stalin met in the Russian town of Yalta. At the “Yalta Conference,” multiple deals regarding post war Europe generated. The most scrutinized is Roosevelt’s agreement with Stalin stating if the Soviet Union provided support in the Pacific, they would have a major role in the governing of all countries liberated of Nazi Germany, and they would gain control in the Japanese owned regions of Manchuria and the Kurile Islands (24). The Soviets never received the areas in Asia because the support was not needed due to the American’s usage of atomic weapons on Japan. However, the Soviet Union still gained power in the freed Nazi countries, an area that has become known as the Eastern Bloc. Another important outcome of the Yalta Conference is Soviet inclusion in the United Nations with the five permanent members of the Security Council; the United States, Great Britain, France, Soviet Union, and China having veto power on United Nations Security Council Resolutions (Office of Historian).
As agreed upon at the Yalta Conference, the capitalists and communists split Germany into two parts, west and east. The three capitalist powers, the United States, Great Britain, and France divided West Germany into thirds. The goal was to eventually unite West Germany into a republic. Then, capitalism would infiltrate Stalin’s sphere of influence, and start to diminish the presence of communism in Europe. The Soviet Union gained possession of East Germany (Howell). Unlike the capitalists in the west, the communists in the east were unable to affectively execute their plan. Berlin was also divided because capitalists wanted to have an influence on the largest concentration population in Germany and have an immediate presence in the Soviet sphere of influence (Gaddis 24 and 71).
One of the earliest attempts by Stalin to expand the Soviet sphere of influence in Europe was a land blockade of Berlin in late fall and winter of 1947. The goal of his blockade was to limit the power of a fully unified and democratized West Germany by minimizing the resources available to the West Berlin especially going into the winter. The Americans, British, and French were occupying West Germany, and to solve the problem, they simply flew supplies into West Berlin above the land blockade, effectively defeating Stalin’s strategy (Parent). This early event in the forty-four year conflict between capitalism and communism is known as the “Berlin Air Lift” (Gaddis 36).
At the time he sent the “Long Telegram” in 1946, Princeton educated Kennan was a permanent assistant to the United States Ambassador in Moscow (Parent). As a result, he understood Russian society, and based on his experiences and conclusions on Russian society and government, he was able to formulate his theory of containment (Lavelle). His theory of containment is the basis of the “Long Telegram” and is also articulated in “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” an article he wrote under the pen name Mr. X. Because of his position in the his position in the State Department and the content of his article, it caused controversy in
Washington, something Kennan would become famous for doing. His ideas, however, were well thought out, and in 1956 and again in 1967, Kennan won the Pulitzer Prize (George F. Kennan).
Before winning the Pulitzer Prize and becoming a well renowned diplomat, Kennan wrote the most critical document of his career, the “Long Telegram.” Because of its exceeding length, Kennan broke the telegram into five consecutive transmissions. These separate documents are the five major parts the document is traditionally broken into.
In the first part of the “Long Telegram,” Kennan provides the outlook of the Soviet Union in foreign affairs, and how the Soviet Union would react to threats by capitalism.
“[The Soviet Union believes] [i]nternal conflicts of capitalism inevitably generate wars. Wars thus generated may be of two kinds: intra-capitalist wars between two capitalist states, and wars of intervention against socialist world. Smart capitalists, vainly seeking escape from inner conflicts of capitalism, incline toward latter” (Kennan).
By saying this, Kennan is pointing out the basis of the communist belief: capitalism breeds greed, and the selfishness of capitalist leaders will drive capitalists to fight amongst themselves. Then, the working class will rise and overcome their leaders. At that moment, the Soviet Union would institute a “flawless,” communist government. The other major point of the first part of the “Long Telegram” is the Soviet Union will not engage in a conflict they cannot gain anything from. Kennan says if the end result of a conflict does not have a high percentage of advancing the global communist movement; the Soviet Union will not enter the conflict (Kennan). This statement by Kennan, predicts why the Soviet Union never directly entered the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam (Gaddis 42).
The second section of the “Long Telegram” starts off by stating the views of the diplomats in Moscow are not indicative of those of the Russian people. Kennan recognizes the majority of the population desires to receive equal payment for their work and to own their possessions, but the United States does not deal with the people. American diplomats deal with the Bolshevik Party and their unreasonable beliefs based in communism. The next topic Kennan discusses is a historical sense of insecurity in Russia, especially for the leaders. At first, the Russian people were a group of farmers defending their land. Then, they were a small, unadvanced group attempting to protect themselves from advanced cultures, but next, the royalty claimed to have divine right to rule over Russia. These rulers all sensed their rule was contrived, and the people could overthrow them
at any time. The Bolshevik Party’s decisions to suppress the people come from that belief. Another product of the Russian sense of insecurity is the distorted facts of the outside world. Because Russians were afraid to be conquered, they contorted the facts of the outside world to balance the fear of being conquered. Stalin then proceeded to judge the state of the Soviet Union based on these distorted facts.
The third part of the “Long Telegram” predicts the actions and motives of the Soviet Union based on their main goal of eliminating capitalism and converting the countries to communism. Kennan says the government will act through in distinct planes, the official plane and the unofficial plane, which the Soviet government claims no relation to. He then goes into detail on the actions of the Soviets on the official plane; the government will seek to expand its prestige and power in the world. One main way they will do this, Kennan states, is by manipulating the United Nations. Once the Soviet Union deems the United Nations weaker than the Soviet Union, it will either abandon the United Nations or use as a mean to expand their power. The main goal of the Soviet Union in all of its actions will be to legitimately expand the beliefs on communism through whatever means are available (Kennan).
The fourth portion of the “Long Telegram” describes the actions of the Soviet Union on an unofficial plane. Kennan describes the actions taken by the Soviet government as, “In general, all Soviet efforts on unofficial international plane will be negative and destructive in character, designed to tear down sources of strength beyond reach of Soviet control” (Kennan). In order to achieve this goal, the Soviet Union will use people, whom seemingly have no affiliation with communism, but are secretly in correspondence with the global communist movement. The other way the Soviet Union will infiltrate western nation is through special interest groups. By inserting people into women’s rights, civil rights, and using the Russian Orthodox Church, the communist movement is able to promote the Soviet agenda through the pretext of equality (Kennan).
The conclusion of the “Long Telegram” is a call to action by the United States. Kennan says that by gaining information on Russian society and government and providing it to the people, the United States will be able to combat the Soviet Union. Kennan says the United States must have the courage to combat communism, and if it has the courage, it will at the worst, have to cope with communism.
The most famous section of the “Long Telegram” is the paragraph in the conclusion which outlines Kennan’s belief in containment, the idea that due to the structure of communism, the transfer of power is difficult. Within the Soviet Union, certain resources are scarce such as fertile farmland and infrastructural materials, and if the United States keeps the Soviet Union to its current area and power, Kennan believed, it would destroy itself.
Kennan’s instructions were followed by every president from Truman, who granted aid to Turkey and Greece to prevent Soviet expansion into Turkey, to Reagan, who oversaw the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the most evident implementation of Kennan’s advice is continuation of the basis of the Truman Doctrine by President Nixon (Hastedt 14).
In March 1947, President Harry S. Truman gave a speech to Congress which outlined Kennan’s message in the “Long Telegram;” Truman said the United States would, “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures” (15). What Truman was effectively saying was the United States would not allow communism to bully its
neighbors into practicing communism. This, Truman said, based on Kennan’s assessment, would cause the internal collapse of the Soviet Union due to civil unrest and lack of resources (14).
The Nixon Doctrine, created twenty-three years after the “Long Telegram,” states the United States will provide military and economic assistance to all allies which fall under duress from communism. This contains the expansion of the Soviet Union, and ultimately was a large part of the collapse of the Soviet Union (17).
In sum, after World War II, American-Soviet relations were in jumbles, and key to the creation of a lasting American strategy was George Kennan’s “Long Telegram.” His theory of containment was practiced by numerous presidents, and appears most eminently in President Harry Truman and Richard Nixon’s foreign policy. In the end, Kennan’s critical assessment of the Soviet Union and its most obvious faults altered the course of history by creating the reasons for the constraint Soviet expansion.
Kennan, George F. “Interview with George F. Kennan.” Interview by Charles Gati and Richard H. Ullman H. Ullman. Foreign Policy 7 Nov. 1972: 5-21. JSTOR. Web. 13 Sept. 2012. This source is a professional interview with George Kennan done by Charles Gati and Richard Ullman. I gained insight about Kennan’s theory of containment from himself, but it contains some of his fears about it fifteen years after he published the theory.
Lavelle, Katherine. Personal interview. 4 Oct. 2012. Dr. Lavelle is a professor of politic science at Case Western Reserve University. She is knowledgeable of political theories and the history of the Soviet Union. Dr. Lavelle helped me learn about the state of the Soviet Union after World War II and into the start of the Cold War.
Parent, Joseph. E-mail interview. 8 Sept. 2012. Dr. Parent is a professor of Political Science at the University of Miami, with an interest in International Policy. From this interview, I gained information about containment and the state of United States-Soviet relations at the end of World War II. He is extremely knowledgeable about the theory of containment and the Cold War.
Kennan, George, and Steven Kreis. “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” Foreign Affairs: n. pag. Web. 30 Aug. 2012. This source is a transcription of the famous article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” with a brief introduction to the historical context of the article by George Kreis. From this source, I learned the foundation of American Foriegn Policy during the Cold War as established by Geroge Keen.
Kissinger, Henry. “Reflections on Containment.” Foreign Affairs 73.3 (1994): 113-30. JSTOR. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. This is an article written by foreign policy expert Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to look back on the policy of containment. Kissinger offers much analysis in his writing and helps the reader understand containment and why it was opposed. He also says George Kennan was the earliest man to document the reasons of the fall of the Soviet Union, as well as outline the policy that would become known as containment. Kissinger ends his article explaining why containment worked but still pointing out its flaws.
Kospoth, B.F. “World Upset is Aim of Red Labor Groups; Strikes The Weapons.” Evening Public Ledger [Philadelphia] 27 Sept. 1919, Night Extra ed.: 1-4. Library of Congress. Web. 3 Oct. 2012. This source provides background about the Russian Revolution. It also provides insight about the American feelings towards the Bolshevik after World War II.
Government Documents and Memos
Kennan, George. “The Charge in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Secretary of State.” Telegram. 22 Feb. 1946. George Washington University, Washington. [Web Site Title]. Web. 6 Sept. 2012. This source is a direct copy of the Long Telegram. This source is the basis for the project. It is the telegram that eventually laid out American Policies towards the Soviet Union.
Stalin, Joseph. Telegram to Harry S. Truman. 16 June 1945. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Library of Congress, Washington. Leaf B-12-17-b. [Web Site Title]. Web. 6 Sept. 2012. This telegram is a correspondence from Comrade Stalin to President Truman that states Stalin has received Truman’s message about preparation for an international meeting from Ambassador Hurly. From this telegram, I have a primary example of American- Soviet relations.
United States Office of the Historian. "The Yalta Conf., 1945." United States Office of the Historian. Office of the Historian. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. The source published by the United States Department of State documents American milestones from 1937-1945. The article used from the reference material is written to highlight the Yalta Conference in 1945 and the governing of post World War II Europe.
“United Press.” Telegram to Joseph Stalin. N.d. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Library of Congress, Washington. Revelations from the Russian Archives. Web. 6 Sept. 2012. This telegram was sent to Comrade Stalin to inform him of an American citizen sending “false” telegrams back to the United States about the Genoa Conference and about the Soviet Union. This source provides a first hand account of the Bolshevik limiting people’s rights, in this case, free speech.
Allhails. "East Berlin c. 31 July 1960." Flickriver. N.p., 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. This photo shows an abandoned building in East Berlin. It shows the lack of infrastructure and money in East Berlin.
Frost, George. George F. Kennan, Half-Length Portrait, Seated at Desk, Facing Left, in the Office of the East European Fund in New York. 19 Nov. 1951. Miscellaneous Items in High Demand. Lib. of Congress, Washington D.C. B4421. Library of Congress. Web. 3 Oct. 2012. This is a portrait of George F. Kennan in his office. I used it as a visual to help me and the reader relate to the person that is referenced to throughout the paper.
Crimean Conf.--Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Marshal Joseph Stalin at the Palace in Yalta, Where the Big Three Met. Feb. 1945. LC, Washington. Cph 3a10098 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a10098. Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. This photograph provides a visual of the Yalta Conference. Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin are each seated next to one another.
Long Telegram. 22 Feb. 1946. Elsey Papers. Harry S. Truman Lib., Independence. Harry S. Truman Library. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. This is a photograph of Kennan's telegram to Washington. From it, I am able to relate to this very important historical document.
President Truman in Front of Congress. Mitchell Lewis. World, 12 Mar. 2010. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. This photo provides a visual of President Truman delivering his marque speech, outlining his foreign policy to Congress. From this photo, I am able to relate to the events that occurred on Capitol Hill in March 1946.
Hastedt, Glenn P. American Foreign Policy. 8th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2011. Print. This is a college level textbook that gives an overview of American foreign policy during the Cold War. In it, Hastedt offers commentary on the facts and events of containment and the Truman Doctrine. It also addresses communism and the continued implementation of the strategy of containment.
Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. London: Penguin, 2005. Print. This book by Dr. Gaddis, a professor at Yale University, is written to be a short, accessible, and knowledgeable account of the Cold War. From it, I learned about the state of post- World War II Europe, each country’s vision of the world, and the actions they take to get there. He puts emphasis on George Kennan’s “Long Telegram,” and its role in the creating the Truman Doctrine.
Merrill, Dennis. “The Truman Doctrine: Containing Communism and Modernity.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 36.1 (2006): 27+. JSTOR. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. This article provides insight and analysis about the formation and lamination of the Truman Doctrine. Merrill addresses containment as a strategy combined with the international aid, showing how containment was actually practiced, no presenting a theoretical argument about containment. This makes the article easier to comprehend and apply as an example to Cold War.
Kuhner, Jeffrey T. “Bury Lenin - without honors.” Washington Times 13 July 2012: 4. Student Resource Center - Gold. Web. 4 Oct. 2012. This source talks about the history of Vladamir Lenin in the Soviet Union. It is an American view of him over eighty years after he died. This article also talks about the enshrinement of his body in a mausoleum, and the possibility it could be buried.
“Cold War: Postwar Estrangement.” Revelations from the Russian Archives. N.p., 22 July 2010. Web. 6 Sept. 2012. This source from the Library of Congress provides an overview of what Soviet Russia was like during the months following the end of World War II. From this source, I received background information about the state of Soviet Russia following Victory in Europe Day.
“Repression and Terror: Stalin in Control.” Revelations from the Russian Archives. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Sept. 2012. This source provides a basic overview of how Stalin gained and retained power in the Soviet Union. From this source, I gained background information on Joseph Stalin, and his brutal treatment of his opponents and people.
Howell, Patrick, and Alison. “America and the World: Challenges and Opportunities.” Duke Talent Identification Program. Austin College, Sherman. July 2012. Lecture. This was a course at Austin College that was focused on American Foreign Policy during the twentieth century. During this course, I was taught about American History and Foreign Policy during the Cold War. This class provided a basis for my knowledge of American Foreign Policy during the Cold War.
“George F. Kennan." 2012. Biography.com 14 Nov 2012, 09:14 <http://www.biography.com/people/george-f-kennan-9362803> This source written by the Biography Channel is centered on George F. Kennan, the founder of containment. It details his life, his education, and his thoughts. By reading this, I am able to better understand Kennan and his political positions.