The countless international responsibilities America has assumed in the past thirty years have serenely taxed the country's diplomatic resources. The fact that a number of able diplomats have arisen during this period. Therefore, is a one. Kennan and Acheson are two of the most outstanding products of the period, and their recent publications attest to the thoughtfulness and sensitivity they were able to bring to their work.
Kennan's latest volume, Russia and the West, is really two books, thinly disguised as one. The first deals in great detail with the period of the allied intervention, 1917-81. Based on a lecture series given at Oxford, it is a convenient summary of his two-volume published work on Soviet-American relations during the period.
The second book is already familiar to Cambridge, for it is nearly a verbatim record of lectures gives here last spring on "Soviet foreign policy in the Stalin Era." These lectures covered the broad range of Soviet policy between 1920 and 1945.
In both sections, Kennan pursues one of his favorite themes--that "the standard component for a rousing Soviet diplomatic success" is "one part Soviet resourcefulness and two parts amateurism, complacency and disunity on the part of the West."
Western failures are not due, however, to treason or "give-a ways," but rather to sincere but fuzzy thinking. Punitive war, unconditional surrender, and refusal to negotiate with the Soviets represent one type of business; coalition sentimentality another.
Kennan remains from using the phrase, but there is little doubt that he belongs to the "Realistic School." Foreign policy should not strive to recorder the world, but only to protect a nation's interests and preserve peace. "There is nothing absolute in itself, no friendship without some element of antagonism, no enmity without some rudimentary community of interest."
The West's first great blunder, according to Kennan, was World War I. Following the military deadlock of the fall of 1914, he says, there should have been a compromise peace. For total victory was impossible, due to the fact that modern warfare is too blunt and undiscriminating an instrument for the accomplishment of any aim other than mass destruction.
One of the many prices the West paid for keeping the war going, according to Kennan, was the Bolshevik Revolution. Had the war ended as late as 1917, he suggests, the Kerensky government might have been able to ride out the revolution and maintain itself in power.
The Allied intervention was also a mistake, the result of great confusion in the minds of Western statesmen as to the situation in Russia and as to their own aims. It could never have accomplished its purpose--the overthrow of the Bolsheviks--and it served only to help the Soviet Government rally the forces of nationalism. The Allies also passed up a number of opportunities to retire gracefully from the intervention, thus compounding the blunder.
Postwar treatment of Germany by the Allies not only crippled the Weimar Republic and laid the basis for Hitler's rise, but also prepared the way for the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The West could not afford to treat two Great Powers as outcasts, Kennan says.
World War II was "unwinnable." The Western democracies had allowed themselves to become so weak that they could only defeat Germany with Russian aid. The inevitable price they had to pay was the extension of Soviet powers into Eastern Europe. Kennan thinks, nevertheless, that this extension could have been contained more effectively had the West kept this danger in mind through out the war.
It is difficult to quarrel with Kennan's hindsight. One can however, criticize Kennan for falling to treat in sufficient detail the role of foreign policy in a democracy. Like Lippmann in The Public Philosophy, Kennan moans about democracies liability to pursue an effective foreign policy, but he gives no realistic suggestion as to how this can be corrected.
A subsidiary theme is Kennan's running critique of Russian historiography. In his preface, the author expresses concern over "the image of Soviet Western relations how being cultivated by Soviet historians," which he says, "in an important part of Moscow's contemporary political appeal."
With respect to the intervention, for instance. Kennan points out that the Allies main motive was to before the Eastern Front, even if this necessitated everthrowing the Bolshevik government. But Kennan is somewhat obscure in ex planing why the intervention continued a year and a half after the end of the war. Similarly, Kennan tries to debunk the Soviet contention that the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 was entirely due to the West's failure to stand up to Hitler at Munich. But one is left wondering whether there would have been such a Pact had the West done just that.
Kennan is highly critical of Stalin's foreign policy, and insists that many Soviet moves were due to the director's fears for his personal power. He cites the Communists' failure in China in 1927 and the withdrawal of aid from the Spanish Republican forces in 1936 as examples. At times, however, he may be exaggerrating the significance of the peculiarities of Stalin's personality.
Acheson's book is a completely different genre. If the merit of Kennan's book lies in its profundity and its classic prose; that of Acheson's lies in its sensitivity. Sketches from Life is a series of delicate personality sketches of Bevin, Schuman, Churchill, Molotov, Vyshinsky, Salazar, Vanderberg, Marshall and Adenauer.
The book is of interest on three levels. Considered simply as a series of anecdotes and epigrams, it is highly amusing, though a bit slow in places. Its character sketches help the reader to understand many important figures of the postwar world. But perhaps its greatest value lies in what it reveals about Acheson himself.
Acheson is obviously at his best in the company of follow diplomats. He is a sensitive man himself, and is quickly moved to boredom or anger when surrounded by lesser breeds.
The humorless Senator Taft, for instance, does not come in for very sympathetic treatment. At a Yale Corporation meeting with "Mr. Republican," Acheson recounts, the group was discussing Yale a science program. Taft interrupted a speaker to announce "Mr. President, I went through Yale without taking a single course in science."
While the Corporation was recovering in complete silence from this remarkable revolution," says Acheson. "I was tempted and fell into sin Addressing the President of the University, I said, 'Your Honor, the prosecution reals.' The silence was broken, but the Schator was not amused."
One sympathizes with Acheson's scorn, but one understands why it was that this "striped-pants diplomat" did not get along very well with Congress