The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2014 - page 7

he Foreign Service and AFSA
have grown to record numbers
to support the complex organi-
zational needs of our country’s
foreign policy. I will highlight our new
challenges and changing culture in coming
issues.This month, however, as we begin
celebrating the 90th anniversary of both
institutions, I would like to celebrate a past
Foreign Service great, George Kennan,
whose career still holds relevance for all of
Please add to your New Year’s resolu-
tions: “Read John Gaddis’
George F. Ken-
nan: An American Life.
” Kennan came up
in a very different Foreign Service (popu-
larized by the book
A Pretty Good Club
than today’s, and he seems to have shared
many of the prejudices of his day. But the
Kennan of Gaddis’ book transcends his
times, beginning with the beauty and sanity
of his writing.
Gaddis preserves several of Kennan’s
poems; here is the 22-year-old describing
his A-100 class in 1926:
The steady flow of words
Rises and falls with dull vacuity…
We sprawl in stolid patience on our chairs…
Read papers, surreptitiously…
We are a joint, slumbering animal,
And if you prod one part,
With a question,
It twitches, verbally,
Then it falls asleep again.
Sound like he was sitting in
the back of your class?
Themost interesting part
of the biography for me was
the 20 years of Foreign Service
that preceded Kennan’s 1946
Long Telegramon “The Sources of Soviet
Conduct.” Early on, he chose to study Rus-
sian and serve in our Soviet listening posts
in the Baltics, then got himself on the team
sent to open EmbassyMoscow in 1933.The
adventure of youngmarried life in a Soviet
hotel, setting up a chancery andmaking
initial contacts with Soviet officialdomwill
be instantly familiar tomany of us who
opened embassies in the former Soviet
Union in 1992.
During Kennan’s second tour inMos-
cow duringWorldWar II, Ambassador
Averell Harriman edited out his anti-Soviet
warnings. Once Harriman departed post
in 1946, Kennan was free to pen the Long
Telegram, which serendipitously hit Wash-
ington just as postwar concerns with Soviet
behavior were surfacing.That cable and
his later memos as policy planning chief
defined U.S. strategy in the early ColdWar.
Yet Foreign Service fame was transitory.
As ambassador toMoscow in 1952, he was
declared persona non grata for publicly
comparing the Stalin regime unfavorably
with the Nazis. He returned to State to
await reassignment (colloquially known as
walking the halls), then was asked to resign
by incoming Secretary John Foster Dulles.
As Kennan wrote his wife, Annalise: “There
has been a decision that I amnot
to be consulted or used in any
way in this country, but am to be
‘sent away’ as a sort of punish-
ment for my association with the
Truman administration.”
Kennan, of course, did not
fade away in retirement. Rely-
ing as always on the bedrock of a lifelong
partnership with Annalise, he remained
influential over the next 50 years as a histo-
rian and public intellectual.
Here is my takeaway fromGaddis’ book:
The architect of our winning strategy in the
ColdWar developed that strategy after 20
years of language study and Foreign Service
tours focused on understanding the other
side. Our country will continue to need that
type of expertise tomeet current and future
Let me close with another example of
Kennan’s fine pen, the first stanza of his last
memo to the Policy Planning staff.
Friends, teachers, pupils; toilers
at the wheels;
Undaunted drones of the official hive,
In deep frustration doomed to strive,
To power and to action uncommitted,
Condemned (disconsolate, in world of
steel and glass confined)
To course the foggy bottom of the mind,
Unaided, unencouraged, to pursue,
The rarer bloom, the deeper hue,
The choicer fragrance—these to glean
And, having gleaned, to synthesize
And long in deepest reticence to hide…
Until some distant day—perhaps—
Anonymous and unidentified
The Great White Queen
at last
to fertilize.
Read Gaddis. And throughout 2014,
be well, stay safe and keep in touch,
The Foreign Service at 90: Future-Oriented,
with Traditional Strengths
Robert J. Silverman is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.
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