The Long Telegram

A. What were the arguments for and against containment and the Truman Doctrine? Why did Kennan think that a political regime that thought it had to destroy the United States in order to survive could be contained? If the Soviet Union could be contained, did that mean it did not have the character that Kennan ascribed to it?
B. Compare the documents below with those used to justify American involvement in the Philippines. Do the documents show the same understanding of America’s place in the world and how it should deal with other countries and foreign populations?
C. Do the arguments for and against containment of the Soviet Union recall earlier arguments for and against the containment of slavery? How do the arguments for and against containment and the Truman Doctrine differ from the arguments made about the war with Mexico?

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Allies during the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union fell out quickly once it ended. By late 1945 and early 1946, concern had already arisen about Soviet attitudes and actions in Europe. In response to a request from the State Department, in February 1946, George Kennan (1904–2005), the Chargé at the American Embassy in Moscow, sent a telegram that offered an explanation for Soviet actions. Quickly dubbed the “Long Telegram,” its analysis and recommendations, along with a version that Kennan published in the journal Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym Mr. X, became the basis for the policy of containment that in one way or another guided America’s actions toward the Soviet Union until the end of the Cold War. A manifestation of containment was the so-called Truman Doctrine announced by President Truman about a year after Kennan sent his response to Washington. Like containment, the Truman Doctrine became a fundamental part of America’s response to the confrontation with the Soviet Union. From the beginning, both containment and the Truman Doctrine had critics (see Walter Lippman’s The Cold War and Henry Wallace’s speech). As the Cold War continued, it became a struggle not just between two political and military powers but between two ways of life or which of the two could better meet human needs. Even the quality of American and Soviet kitchens and what that represented could be part of the debate.

“The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Secretary of State, February 22, 1946,” Document 475, The Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946, Vol. VI, Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, 1969).

I. Basic features of postwar Soviet outlook, as put forward by official propaganda machine.

The USSR still lives in antagonistic “capitalist encirclement” with which in the long run there can be no permanent peaceful coexistence. As stated by Stalin in 1927 to a delegation of American workers:

A. In course of further development of international revolution, there will emerge two centers of world significance: a socialist center, drawing to itself the countries which tend toward socialism, and a capitalist center, drawing to itself the countries that incline toward capitalism. Battle between these two centers for command of world economy will decide fate of capitalism and of communism in entire world.

B. Capitalist world is beset with internal conflicts inherent in nature of capitalist society. These conflicts are insoluble by means of peaceful compromise. Greatest of them is that between England and US.

C. Internal conflicts of capitalism inevitably generate wars. Wars thus generated may be of two kinds: intracapitalist wars between two capitalist states, and wars of intervention against socialist world. Smart capitalists, vainly seeking escape from inner conflicts of capitalism, incline toward latter.

D. Intervention against USSR, while it would be disastrous to those who undertook it, would cause renewed delay in progress of Soviet socialism and must therefore be forestalled at all costs.

E. Conflicts between capitalist states, though likewise fraught with danger for USSR, nevertheless hold out great possibilities for advancement of socialist cause, particularly if USSR remains militarily powerful, ideologically monolithic, and faithful to its present brilliant leadership.

F. It must be borne in mind that capitalist world is not all bad. In addition to hopelessly reactionary and bourgeois elements, it includes (1) certain wholly enlightened and positive elements united in acceptable communistic parties, and (2) certain other elements (now described for tactical reasons as progressive or democratic) whose reactions, aspirations and activities happen to be “objectively” favorable to interests of the USSR. These last must be encouraged and utilized for Soviet purposes.

G. Among negative elements of bourgeois-capitalist society, most dangerous of all are those whom Lenin called false friends of the people, namely moderate Socialist or Social Democratic leaders (in other words, non-Communist left-wing). These are more dangerous than out-and-out reactionaries, for latter at least march under their true colors, whereas moderate left-wing leaders confuse people by employing devices of socialism to serve interests of reactionary capital.

So much for premises. To what deductions do they lead from standpoint of Soviet policy? To the following:

A. Everything must be done to advance relative strength of USSR as factor in international society. Conversely, no opportunity must be missed to reduce strength and influence, collectively as well as individually, of capitalist powers.

B. Soviet efforts, and those of Russia’s friends abroad, must be directed toward deepening and exploiting of differences and conflicts between capitalist powers. If these eventually deepen into an “imperialist” war, this war must be turned into revolutionary upheavals within the various capitalist countries.

C. “Democratic-progressive” elements abroad are to be utilized to bring pressure to bear on capitalist governments along lines agreeable to Soviet interests.

D. Relentless battle must be waged against Socialist and Social Democratic leaders abroad.

II. Background of outlook.

Before examining ramifications of this party line in practice, there are certain aspects of it to which your attention should be drawn.

First, it does not represent natural outlook of Russian people. Latter are, by and large, friendly to outside world, eager for experience of it, eager to measure against it talents they are conscious of possessing, eager above all to live peace and enjoy fruits of their own labor. . . .

Second, please note that premises on which this party line is based are for most part simply not true. Experience has shown that peaceful and mutually profitable coexistence of capitalist and socialist states is entirely possible. . . .

Falseness of these premises, every one of which predates recent war, was amply demonstrated by that conflict itself. Anglo-American differences did not turn out to be major differences of Western world. Capitalist countries, other than those of Axis, showed no disposition to solve their differences by joining in crusade against USSR. Instead of imperialist war turning into civil wars and revolutions, USSR found itself obliged to fight side by side with capitalist powers for an avowed community of aims.

Nevertheless, all these theses, however baseless and disproven, are being boldly put forward again today. What does this indicate? It indicates that the Soviet party line is not based on any objective analysis of the situation beyond Russia’s borders; that it has, indeed, little to do with conditions outside of Russia; that it arises mainly from basic inner-Russian necessities which existed before recent war and exist today.

At the bottom of the Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinct