George Kennan, 101

In February 1946, George Kennan, a young American diplomat in Moscow, was feeling sickly and slightly sorry for himself. Stalin's Russia seemed ever more threatening and paranoid, so Kennan wrote a fevered cable to the State Department, arguing that while Soviet power was "impervious to the logic of reason," it was "highly sensitive to the logic of force." The Long Telegram, as it became known, electrified Washington. "My official loneliness came to an end," Kennan later wrote. "My reputation was made. My voice now carried."

Kennan's strategy for dealing with the Soviets--patient, vigilant containment--became American foreign policy until the Soviet Union collapsed four decades later. Kennan was the last of the Wise Men, the Ivy League-educated Wall Streeters and diplomats who created the Western Alliance and rebuilt Europe after World War II. Those men were known for their social confidence; among them, Kennan, a shy Midwesterner, always felt like an outsider. But his sensitivity seemed to give him a kind of uncanny clairvoyance, and he was a mesmerizing writer. His boss, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, would order a dull bureaucrat to rewrite Kennan's memos, lest he be seduced by the beauty of the prose.

Join the Discussion