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Parallel Lives

Author: Paul Lettow
October 19, 2009
National Review

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In February 1946, George Kennan despaired that the U.S. government, mystified by Soviet unwillingness to cooperate in its plans for shaping the post-war world, understood neither the nature of Stalin's Soviet Union nor its implications for the United States. Irritated that his State Department superiors had ignored the analysis he had been providing as chargé d'affaires at the embassy in Moscow, he made the most of the opportunity when Washington queried the embassy about Stalin's truculence in recent speeches and the USSR's rejection of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. As Kennan later wrote of his response, "Nothing but the whole truth would do."

Kennan poured forth the "Long Telegram." It was analytical, informed, and stark in its portrayal of the Soviet leadership and its motives and modus operandi. Kennan wrote that Soviet perceptions of and behavior toward the outside world had less to do with conditions beyond the USSR's borders than with a traditional desire by Russian rulers to consolidate unchallengeable authority; joining that traditional insecurity with Marxist dogma, Stalin and his cohort "found justification for their instinctive fear of [the] outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifices they felt bound to demand." The Soviet regime sought ever and only to increase its strength and prestige internally and externally. It intended to destabilize Western powers and split them from one another, and to expand its influence into colonial or once-colonial lands.

 

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