123 Kennan, George F.: Telegram

No. 515
The Ambassador to the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Department of State1


3587. From Kennan. Dept please bring to immediate attention Bohlen. Upon arriving West Eur I was bedeviled for some days by various Time-Life correspondents in Bonn and London for data to build cover story on myself, slated to appear some time in July, and avoided them or put them off as best I cld. I did not realize what was really up until late last night, when head of local Time-Life bureau, White, appeared at my hotel with 50 page telegram from NY editors, told me he had been on telephone off and on all afternoon with Luce,2 that never in his experience had he known editors to attach such importance to any single story, that Gibbs, their top Eur man, was on his way from Paris to collaborate in its preparation, etc. Intended story, as reflected by mass of questions wired from NY, which he showed me, wld be discussion of Sov-American relations built around my person, my past experience with Russ matters, my known views, and my present reactions to Moscow scene. It seems to have been provoked by recent Alsop piece3 and particularly by suggestion contained therein that I had [Page 1018] been caused by initial impressions in Moscow to change my views on Sov psychology and intentions and now thought Moscow might be preparing to launch World War III at early date. Questions call for my views on every possible angle Sov-American relations, including comment on Dulles recent suggestions, and many other controversial issues.

I am seeing White again this afternoon and propose to tell him that I cannot make any comments independently on an inquiry of this nature, but am reporting it promptly to Dept, in view of its far-reaching character. However, I do not think matter shld be simply left at this. Time-Life is almost surely going to write some story, whatever I say or refuse to say. I think it dangerous that they be left with impression, as conveyed in Alsop piece, that I have had to revise my basic interpretation of Sov policy and think Kremlin is about to jump us. This is problem for Dept, but seems to me something must be done to correct this misapprehension. Off-hand, I would think best plan wld be for someone in senior position to see not just Luce alone but limited circle of senior editors of important major mass media (including Time-Life) and main Washington columnists, show them for background purposes my recent ltr to Matthews,4 which puts Alsop story in proper perspective, and appeal to their sense of public responsibility in asking them to see further publicity handled in such a way as not to blow my usefulness in Moscow or give public false impression as to tenor of my reports. Realize this has strong disadvantages but think they may be lesser of evils. As basis for such background fill-in, I wld suggest something along lines of statement I am appending at end of this msg. (refs to fon affs articles are included because I know Time-Life will refer to them whatever I say and I think it time to dispel certain stubborn misapprehensions, particularly about the first one, which have dogged its path ever since it first appeared). I cld give this statement to Time-Life bureau here (or arrange to have this done after my departure early tomorrow morning) but since it wld be story of some news value in itself believe it shld not go to Time-Life alone, and that it wld more properly come from Dept to wider circle of interested press media. Text of proposed statement fols:

[Page 1019]


“X” Article5 was written end of 1945 not as expression of official policy but as personal contribution to public discussion of Sov-American relations then in progress. Kennan was at time of writing not assigned to Dept of State, and had no idea that by time article appeared he wld be occupying an important policy post in Dept.
Concept of “containment” was mentioned in article only as alternative to ideas of (1) appeasement or (2) despairing acceptance of inevitability of war—both of which ideas Kennan had encountered among American public upon his return from Russia in 1946, and both of which appeared to him as childish extremes.
In using the term “containment,” Kennan had in mind resistance, to extent permitted by US capabilities, to the peculiar brand of political attack which had been conducted against the free world by the Bolshevik-Communist movement ever since the revolution, under Moscow’s leadership and direction; he did not have in mind the possibility of outright military aggression by Sov forces against other countries, since he did not regard this as the main problem for the coming period. This was the source of a certain amount of misinterpretation of the article, which Kennan has always regretted.
Kennan’s personal views were given a new expression in the winter of 1951 in a further article on foreign affairs, written at a time when the Korean war was already in progress and when the sitn was substantially the same as today. At the time that article was written Kennan was again not working in govt, was engaged in private activity at Princeton, and had no idea he wld soon be returning to an official position connected with Sov-American relations. It represented solely his own views, and not govt policy.
Kennan is by training and instinct a professional public servant and a strong believer in the necessity of firm discipline and clear separation of responsibility in the governmental service he regards himself, in his present position, as a technical expert, available to give factual info and comment to the Secy of State and the President when they require it, and considers it unfair to them and detrimental to the public interest that he shld speak publicly about such comment or info as he may have occasion to give them. He draws a sharp distinction between his feelings as an individual and his role as a government official. In his capacity as Amb, he considers that his views on US policy and even on interpretation of Sov policy are precisely those stated by the President and other responsible policy-making officials of the govt. He does not find his personal outlook to be of primary relevance to the performance of his duties in Moscow, and he cannot understand that it shld be important or enlightening to anyone else. He feels it wld be actually confusing to the US public to have his personal feelings or background highlighted or discussed in the press at this time as anything with an important bearing on the determination of US policy with respect [Page 1020] to USSR, since he is working entirely within framework of established US Govt policy.
Beyond this, he considers it obvious that his position in Moscow precludes him from entering as an individual at this time into public discussion of Sov-American relations. If he were to attempt to do so, he feels it cld not possibly fail to affect his usefulness in his Moscow post. He considers that he has no right to do anything that wld have this effect. His acceptance of the Moscow position meant, as he saw it, that he was inevitably and automatically excluding himself from any possibility of participating further in public discussion of matters affecting US policy toward Russia. He went to Moscow with this understanding and has faithfully adhered to it to date, despite heavy pressure from many other publishers and correspondents. He sees this responsibility as direct to the President, and not to the public; and feels it particularly important that this distinction be borne in mind in the case of anyone representing our govt in Moscow. He feels that any prominent press stories that attempt to bring his views into connection with the discussion of these matters, even though based entirely on statements of persons other than himself, will not be helpful to his chances for usefulness in Moscow. He earnestly hopes this may be avoided, and that people at home will do him and the govt the favor of regarding him simply as an honest expert and observer, trying to do a quiet and effective job in an extremely difficult and delicate context. Feels Moscow Emb is already suffering from surfeit of publicity and begs it be spared at this time, in public interest, the spotlight of further press curiosity, which cannot really make comprehensible to wider public the nature of its unique problems and difficulties but can easily contribute to a further deterioration of its conditions of work and its usefulness to the country. What Emb desperately needs in coming period, in his opinion, is to be benevolently taken for granted by press and public and permitted to get ahead with its work.
  1. Repeated to Berlin as telegram 369 for Secretary Acheson and to Moscow as telegram 156. A copy of this message on the stationery of the Office of the U.S. High Commissioner for Austria indicates that it was also repeated to Vienna for Secretary Acheson as telegram 104. (CFM files, lot M 88, “Ministerial Talks in London”) Acheson traveled from Berlin to Vienna on June 29 as part of his European visit.
  2. Henry R. Luce, publisher and editor, editor-in-chief of Time, Life, Fortune, and other national periodicals controlled by Time, Inc., of which he was Director.
  3. In telegram 2053, June 20, Kennan reported that he had just seen an Alsop article entitled “Contrails in Our Sky” which appeared in the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune on June 16. Kennan commented upon the article in part as follows:

    “Cannot conceive any Sov intelligence agent cld ever have packed into art of this size more information of milit interest to Sov Govt. I assume this comes from circles within our own government and is being released on theory that Sov Govt ought to know it anyway, but I wld like to warn against release milit intelligence on our side on theory that Sov intelligence system is perfect and never misses.” (Moscow microfilm telegrams, FY 53)

    Joseph W. Alsop, Jr., and Stewart J.O. Alsop were journalists who co-authored the newspaper column “Matter of Fact” which was syndicated through the New York Herald Tribune.

  4. Reference is to Document 507.
  5. Reference is to Kennan’s article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” published in Foreign Affairs, July 1947, under the sobriquet “X”. Soon after the publication of the article, Kennan was identified as “X”.