Designing Cold War Policy

April 15, 2009

Designing Cold War Policy

To assist teachers preparing for the last portion of American history courses, this month we feature resources on the second half of the twentieth century, specifically those relating to the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement.

George Kennan’s “Long Telegram”

George Kennan, America’s most astute observer of Soviet foreign policy during the Cold War, is best known as the author of “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” published in Foreign Affairs in 1947. This article, which prescribed methods to contain Soviet expansion, drew upon Kennan’s so-called Long Telegram, which the diplomat sent from Moscow to Secretary of State George C. Marshall in February 1946. The Long Telegram is notable not just for first articulating the principle of containment, but also for its penetrating, erudite analysis of the methods and motives of Soviet communism. Kennan, a devoted student of Russian history, government, and language, here memorably describes Soviet communism as but a “fig leaf” masking the tyranny of a “long succession of cruel and wasteful Russian rulers who have relentlessly forced their country on to ever new heights of military power in order to guarantee external security for their internally weak regimes.” Like the tsars, Soviet communists are fearful of foreign penetration, Kennan explains, and they seek security both by constructing a police state and by trying to destroy rival outside powers–compromise or rapprochement, in their mind, is never an option.

What should the United States do? Here Kennan presages the more famous policy recommendations of his 1947 article. Although the Soviets, wedded to the particular logic of Marxism, are inured to the “logic of reason,” they are “highly sensitive to logic of force.” Kennan thus advises that the United States, a greater power, stand ready to resist both overt Soviet expansion and covert undermining of Western institutions, economies, and governments. Compare to a key sentence in his 1947 article: “the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansionist tendencies.”

Although Kennan’s notion of containment became the keystone of America’s Cold War policies, the diplomat’s finer points were soon ground up and discarded. The Truman Doctrine, for example, all but promised that the United States would resist each and every instance of Soviet expansion–Kennan had advised that the United States must carefully choose its points of resistance, based upon a dispassionate measure of the nation’s long-term global aims. While Kennan had explained that containment can take many forms, by 1950 containment had been rigidly militarized by NSC-68. Indeed, comparison of excerpts of these three documents–the Long Telegram, the Truman Doctrine, and NSC-68–is an excellent way to introduce students to the creation and rapid evolution of containment.

David Krugler, Associate Professor of History, University of Wisconsin, Platteville

Read the Documents:

Excerpts from Telegraphic Message from Moscow by George Kennan (February 22, 1946)

The Truman Doctrine by Harry S. Truman (March 12, 1947)

National Security Council Report on United States Objectives and Programs for National Security (NSC-68: April 14, 1950; A Report to the President Pursuant to the President’s Directive of January 31, 1950)

Lesson Plan: The Origins of the Cold War, 1945-1949

Professor John Moser of Ashland University and Master teacher Lori Hahn of West Branch High School in Morrisdale, Pennsylvania have authored a three-part curriculum unit on the early Cold War. Designed to be used in whole or in part, it covers “Sources of Discord, 1945-1946;” “The Strategy of Containment, 1947 -1948;” and “The Formation of the Western Alliance, 1948-1949.” It includes exercises for analyzing Kennan’s “Long Telegram” as well as other primary sources, and offers such helpful resources as an interactive map showing the most important events in Europe from 1945 through 1949. Access these plans at:

Master of American History and Government at Ashland University

Ashland University’s master’s program in American History and Government is designed with high school teachers in mind. Courses are offered only during the summers, and you may earn the degree in as little as three summers of intensive coursework. If you already have a Masters degree or would simply like to obtain additional CEU’s, you may also attend specific courses for continuing education graduate credit. Uniquely, the program engages in the substantive study of history and government. All courses emphasize the use of primary historical documents. Learn more about the program.

A Sample Elective in the MAHG program: Race and Equality in America

This course explores the history of black Americans as they strove to secure their dignity as human beings, and rights as American citizens, in the face of racial prejudice. It examines the diverse viewpoints of leading black intellectuals and activists on human equality, slavery, self-government, the rule of law, emancipation, colonization, and citizenship, as well as on the post Civil War struggle to realize the constitutional guarantee of civil rights. Like the majority of MAHG courses, it is team taught by professors from different universities who bring to it complementary areas of expertise.

Lucas MorelProfessor Lucas Morel of Washington and Lee University is editor of Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope: A Political Companion to Invisible Man and has written extensively on Lincoln’s statesmanship during the civil strife over slavery. Morel’s book Lincoln’s Sacred Effort shows how Lincoln called on religious sentiment and Biblical wisdom to guide Americans toward an understanding of their shared responsibility for the past wrong of slavery and the fulfillment of their commitment to human equality. The title, in fact, quotes Frederick Douglass’ response when asked personally by Lincoln, at the White House reception following the Second Inaugural Address, how well his speech had succeeded.

Peter Myers of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is author of Frederick Douglass: Race and the Rebirth of American Liberalism. At Eau Claire, Myers teaches a range of courses in political thought and political history. Having earlier written a book on the natural rights theory of John Locke, Myers wanted to study natural rights theory “as it played out in America.” He soon settled on a study of Douglass, whom he considers, along with Lincoln, “the most gifted and interesting exponent of natural rights theory” in the nation’s history. “He saw and faced the worst of America. Yet he really loved the country for what it stood for. There is something powerfully inspiring about that.”

Concluding the course “Race and Equality in America,” Morel and Myers will examine attitudes toward the disparities in social conditions of racial groups in the country. They are interested in the “achievement gap” in education, as well as exploring the effect on national consciousness of Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American President. “In past years,” Professor Morel said, “the course concluded with a consideration of affirmative action. This year we may conclude with the question, ‘Have we entered a post-racial, post-Civil Rights era in our history?'”

Listen to Danielle Allen’s 2005 lecture on her book, Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship Since Brown v. Board of Education

Beginning in an insightful account of the sacrifices borne by students who led in the integration of American schools following the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, Danielle Allen discusses the responsibilities of citizenship in multi-ethnic democratic societies. She argues for cultivating a habit of “potitical friendship” with those who appear different from ourselves.

Interactive Websites on the Drafting and Ratification of the Constitution

Our websites on the Constitutional Convention and the Ratification of the Constitution detail the process by which the U.S. Constitution was drafted, debated, and made the foundation of American law. They allow you to research this history from a range of angles–the themes of the debate over the Constitution, the drama that unfolded at the Convention as its terms were discussed and negotiated, as well as the dramatic debate that occurred as ratification by the states was awaited, the notes, essays, and letters written by participants, the biographies of key figures, even the specific sites where aspects of the document were hammered out.

Visit the Convention site.

Visit the Ratification site.

As background to the history of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, students may research the Constitution’s unfinished approach to the questions of slavery and race that confronted the nation at its founding.

Right: Junius Brutus Stearns, “Farmer at Mount Vernon” from his five-part “Washington Series,” 1847-1856

Visit Major Themes at the Constitutional Convention for a discussion of “The Slave Trade”:

Visit The Constitutional Convention as a Four Act Drama, Act III: The Committee of Detail Report, Scene 2: “The Slavery Question and Creation of the Judiciary”:

Constitution Booklets Available

A pocket-sized booklet that holds key texts of the American founding, including the Declaration of Independence and the entire text of the US Constitution and its amendments, as well as key primary texts interpreting these. Copies of the booklet are available for $1.00 each. A 10% discount is available for purchases of 25 or more.

To order, call (877) 289-5411 or visit our website.

From our Friends at the Bill of Rights Institute:

Constitutional Academy for High School Students

The Bill of Rights Institute sponsors a summer Constitutional Academy for high school students. This is a six-week distance learning program that culminates in a week-long residential program in Washington, D.C. Participating students read primary documents from the Founding era as well as short histories, reinforcing their learning through on-line conversations in the weeks leading up to the active week in Washington. During this final week, students hear presentations on the American constitutional system, participate in discussions of current questions involving civil liberties and the rule of law, and visit historic sites in the capital. Students who complete additional requirements, including a term paper and final exam, will receive three college credits through Ashland University. Rising juniors and seniors are invited to apply; the application deadline is April 17. For more information, visit the Constitutional Academy website.

This is separate from our Congressional Academy for American History and Civics, whose deadline has already passed.

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