Have you ever been in such a foul mood, you just wanted to seize that unassuming stranger, sit them down, and explain to them, arms waving, sweat dripping, spittle flying, JUST THE WAY THINGS REALLY ARE?
The time: February 22, 1946.
The place: Russia
The man: George Kennan
You could say that George Kennan was having a bad day. He was stuck in the American Embassy in Russia, in the middle of a brutal Soviet winter. World War II had left the country in tatters, both economically and in morale. To top off the bitter cold, the war-torn landscape, and the isolation, George Kennan had one hell of a cold. Imagine, if you will, George Kennan sitting quietly at the American Embassy, surrounded by an environment of demoralized Soviets, while far above his head, Stalin and Truman bickered amongst themselves on the nuclear level. Imagine him suddenly being disturbed by the clickity-clack of an incoming telegram from America, asking some mundane question about foreign economics, which to George Kennan, in the middle of Russia, in sub-zero weather, at the end of World War II, at the dawn of the Cold War, in a world which now possessed the knowledge to bomb itself into oblivion, probably looked like the most irrelevant, ignorant, asinine question ever asked.
George Kennan then decided that he was going to tell the world how things really were. Thus ensued "The Long Telegram." And boy was it a doozy.
He began by stating that a capitalist system and a socialist system could not, under any circumstances, play nicely. He then aptly pointed out that hell, capitalist systems can't even get along because they foster class conflict and internal division. So, you have a bunch of capitalist countries with class conflict within them. Furthermore, these countries with internal class conflict fight with each other. To make things worse, all these capitalist countries are on the same capitalist team, and they really think those socialist countries are a bunch of boorish slobs, so they're going to loosely ally against them.. This inevitable leads to a big world full of shit. I mean, you can't lead a war against a socialist country when your own country's system is jammed. Meanwhile, the socialist country takes advantage of the double-tiered infighting in the capitalist countries and takes over the whole goddamn world. This was not acceptable to the United States in 1946. So what the hell was the U.S. Supposed to do?
Well, first of all, Kennan suggested that democratic philosophies in weakly capitalist countries (i.e. Eastern European Countries ravaged by WWII) should be "utilized to maximum to bring pressure to bear on capitalist governments along lines agreeable to Soviet interests." In theory, this means an increase in capitalist influence. In reality, it means strategically placing U.S. supported leaders into power in these countries to steer their population towards capitalism and away from socialism. Kennan goes on to say that "relentless battle" must be waged against socialist and socialist-leaning countries.
Next, Kennan points out that peaceful coexistence between capitalist and socialist countries is possible. The U.S. and Russia had got along in the past, something that can be attributed to the fact that Russia was not yet as industrialized as the U.S. and was still working out things within itself. He pointed out that intervention against Russia at that time would be "sheer nonsense" and that "no sane person has reason to doubt sincerity of moderate socialist leaders in Western countries. Nor is it fair to deny success of their efforts to improve conditions for working population whenever, as in Scandinavia, they have been given chance to show what they could do."
So let's review. Capitalist countries and socialist countries are always doomed to fight, (but only sometimes), and socialism isn’t always bad, (but we need to do something about it anyway.) Is that what you're saying, George? Do you have a point?
Well, the U.S. and Russia did fight on the same side in WWII against the Axis powers. Why’d they do that? Kennan thought it was because at that time, Russia was still developing and it didn't have interests outside itself yet. So basically, the Russians decided that since the Axis powers were trying to take over Russia and the Allied powers were fighting against the Axis powers, it would probably be in their best interests to cut a deal with the Allies, as the enemy of your enemy is your friend.
Kennan pointed out that the Russian people were really pretty nice folk. Mostly farmers, they kind of farmed their crops and did their own thing, until Russia came in contact with the rest of the world. At this point, the government was like "Whoa. These guys are BIG," and Kennan suggested that this fostered a national sense of Russian insecurity concerning outside powers, and that invaders must be squashed, as they were in WWII. He then suggested that this ideology was a breeding ground for Marxism, (power to the workers) in which they found justification for fear of this more economically powerful outside world. "Basically," he said, "this is only the steady advance of uneasy Russian nationalism, a centuries old movement in which conceptions of offense and defense are inextricably confused. But in new guise of international Marxism, with its honeyed promises to a desperate and war-torn outside world, it is more dangerous and insidious than ever before."
He went on to further explain Russian isolation, saying that the country was riddled with misinformation and the government was a "conspiracy within a conspiracy," and that it's impossible to find an objective source anywhere within the country and that even Stalin doesn't know what the hell he's talking about because of the lack of unbiased information given to him.
And this is somehow specific to Russia?
Anyway, this further proved the case of why Russia was dangerous and needed to be redirected in a more U.S.-friendly direction. So again, what the hell was the U.S. supposed to do about it?
Moving along into the third section of "The Long Telegram," (there’s five-- this was one LONG TELEGRAM,) Kennan divided the Russian government into two sections: things the government does and takes responsibility for, and things the government does and twiddles their thumbs and gives blank looks when questioned about. On the first, public section, Kennan pointed out that the U.S. must be on the lookout for signs of Soviet expansion, which was now inevitable. Such signs included:
1. massive expansion of the military
2. unification of the population (lessening cultural gaps—Russia is a big place.)
3. increasing foreign influence in neighboring countries.
Finally, he predicted that Russia would join international organizations, and then in time, try to split them by abruptly withdrawing.
As for the secret part of the government, Kennan suggested to be on the lookout for underground, Russian-sponsored Communist groups in other countries and their developing organization, and other social groups like labor unions, religious groups- specifically the Eastern-Orthodox Church, cultural groups, and liberal magazines that were actually a front for a Communist organization with the intent to grow and spread.
He predicted that these groups would not only expand Communism to other countries, but become hostile to capitalist countries, as tends to happen when one really big culture tries to expand into another totally different, really big culture. By "hostile," he meant both violent means, and pitting capitalist countries against one another more than they already were. The result would be that the England would hate the U.S. and the U.S. would hate England, and then perhaps Russia would become an appealing ally. If not, Russia would bitch-slap them into submission.
Ok, George. So, like, what are we supposed to do about it?
Kennan explained that the most important point was to educate the American public about what was going on in Russia, not only through the press but by the government. Through such means, the U.S. population wouldn't be so paranoid and freaked out about what was really going on. I mean, it was 1946. The media didn’t have nearly as much spread or influence as they do now, and most of the country wasn’t really informed about what was going on in the world outside of being relieved that the war was over. 1946 was the beginning of an American economic boom, when people were starting to buy houses and televisions and cars, rock n' roll music was about to hit the scene, and the biggest problem plaguing the news was juvenile delinquency. Your average housewife in 1946 probably didn't know what Communism really was, except that the U.S. was fighting it and it was bad, and look at what happened the last time the U.S. fought something that was bad—- their husbands and sons came home in boxes. In later years, idiots like McCarthy certainly didn't help the situation. Kennan thought that by educating the population, the fear of the unknown would turn into something constructive, as the U.S. would actually know what the hell they were fighting instead of fearing some intangible Soviet boogeyman.
Once this was accomplished, Kennan stated it was necessary to fight Communist influence with Capitalist influence, and to increase American awareness, unity, and patriotism. He pointed out that most of Europe was pretty fucked at this point, and they were looking for guidance and leadership, and that the democratic process must be introduced and fostered there before the Soviets could push Communism. "Many foreign peoples, in Europe at least, are tired and frightened by experiences of past," said Kennan, "and are less interested in abstract freedom than in security. They are seeking guidance rather than responsibilities. We should be better able than Russians to give them this. And, unless we do, Russians certainly will."
* * *
So there you have it, and as the name would imply, that is one long-ass telegram, and it fairly accurately summarized and predicted what the U.S. was up against. "The Long Telegram" was published in various journals under the pseudonym, "Mr. X" until word got out that it was Kennan who wrote it and he eventually became a bit of a celebrity.
One thing I noticed about it is that Kennan goes into great length about how the Soviets were going to do things, and he described them as being devious and clandestine. However, if you look at what he suggests the U.S. do, the methods are fairly similar with the notable exception of informing the public of what was going on, to some degree.
And in conclusion, that is how Columbus discovered America.
…made you look.
*A full transcript of "The Long Telegram" can be found here.