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A U.S. Diplomat Writes a "Long Telegram"

The famous "Long Telegram" was a message sent by George F. Kennan, a high-ranking diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, that provided an assessment of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the Cold War. In February 1946, the United States Treasury asked the U.S. Embassy why the Soviet Union was not supporting the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Kennan's lengthy reply contained concepts that soon became central tenets of American policy towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War, among them that the USSR perceived itself as being at perpetual war with capitalism and that the Soviet Union's leaders were "impervious to the logic of reason." The excerpts from the "Long Telegram" that follow detail more of Kennan's ideas about the ramifications of Soviet power in the post-war period and the proper American response to it.

861.00/2 - 2246: Telegram*

…I apologize in advance for this burdening of telegraphic channel; but questions involved are of such urgent importance, particularly in view of recent events, that our answers to them, if they deserve attention at all, seem to me to deserve it at once. There follows

(1) Basic Features of Post War Soviet Outlook, as Put Forward by Official Propaganda Machine
….USSR still lives in antagonistic "capitalist encirclement" with which in the long run there can be no permanent peaceful coexistence. As stated by Stalin...“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."

(2) Background of this outlook
….At bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area…[Russian rulers] have always feared foreign penetration, feared direct contact between Western world and their own, feared what would happen if Russians learned truth about world without or if foreigners learned truth about world within. And they have learned to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.

(3) Its projection in practical policy on official level.
….We have now seen nature and background of Soviet program. What may we expect by way of its practical implementation?...Internal policy devoted to increasing in every way strength and prestige of Soviet state: intensive military-industrialization; maximum development of armed forces; great displays to impress outsiders.
(4) Its projection on unofficial level.

…In general, all Soviet efforts on unofficial international plane will be negative and destructive in character, designed to tear down sources of strength beyond reach of Soviet control.

(5) Practical deductions from standpoint of US policy.
….We must see that our public is educated to realities of Russian situation. I cannot over-emphasize importance of this. Press cannot do this alone. It must be done mainly by Government, which is necessarily more experienced and better informed on practical problems involved….Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue….Finally we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society…the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.

Source | George F. Kennan, "George F. Kennan to the United States Treasury," 26 February 1946, telegram; from George Washington University, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/documents/episode-1/kennan.htm
Creator | George F. Kennan
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | George F. Kennan, “A U.S. Diplomat Writes a "Long Telegram",” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed May 20, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/785.

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