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Vanity Fair: One Nation, Under Arms

Author: Todd Purdum
January 2012


Todd Purdum shows how national security concerns are deflecting attention from urgent problems, and splitting the country into two classes.

They rest in 330 acid-free archival boxes in climate-controlled storage at Princeton University. To pore over the collected papers of George F. Kennan in the cool fluorescent light is to witness the transformation of the United States from the comparatively simple sleeping giant it was before World War II into the complex national-security state it has become. Kennan, who died in 2005 at the age of 101, devoted the first part of his career to diplomacy at the highest levels, in Moscow and Washington, and then spent the remaining half-century as a scholar, historian, and unsparing critic of the American imperium he had helped to create.

If the Cold War has a set of founding documents akin to the Federalist Papers, these tattered notebooks and yellowing bits of onionskin are among them, including the urtext—in Box 251, Folder 7. It is an aging reprint of an article from the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, the staid journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, tersely titled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," by an author identified only as "X." As the world soon learned, X was actually Kennan, who had just become the first policy-planning director of the State Department, and his article caused a sensation. Colleges and universities asked for copies to use in their courses; newspapers around the world sought permission to publish excerpts, as did The Reader's Digest, with its mass popular circulation.

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