Elsey, George

Kane, Jim


Lunghi, Hugh

Roberts, Frank



Interview with Professor George F. Kennan


INT: I'd like to take you now to the circumstances of the drafting of the long telegram and particularly what were the events that caused you to unload on Washington this telegram of unprecedented length in February of 1946, which really in many ways is repeating the substance of what you had said in dispatches that had gone by pouch of course earlier. But of course this is the one that had the great impact, so if you could tell us about the circumstances that led up to that outburst, if I can call it that, on your part.

GK: You know the time when the War came to an end, particularly the beginning of the year 1946, I had been there now another two years and these years had been a strain for me nearly all the way through, because I watched our government making concession after concession to the Soviet government, for wartime reasons, largely because the military said, 'Well we don't care, promise them anything, do anything you can to please them so that they don't...' but they were... the military were fearful that Stalin would make a separate agreement with Hitler. I don't think that was a very realistic fear and I didn't have this at all. But in any case, in obedience to that injunction, we did behave in what I thought was an undignified ingratiating way toward Stalin and toward the whole Soviet bureaucracy. I saw instance after instance where we should have called them on something - it would have been even an act of friendship in wartime to say, look, this was something we can't agree to. But we were never permitted to do that. My goodness, we sent lend lease to them in great quantities, they were the only people who were not asked to justify any of their requests. And as the war approached its end, I once tried to question the general who was handling the lend lease things and said: 'Look, here is this really necessary for their wartime needs?' He was furious about it, said, you had no right to question this: 'That's a matter for the... for us, for the War Department, not for you in the State Department.' Well, actually this was something that they were not going to use during the War at all, but we saw endless examples of this. We saw magnificently expensive American machinery sent over there and laughingly wrecked by the Soviet engineers. They said if you... they were criticised, they would say, oh, you know, let's get another of these, all we have to do is ask the Americans for it. I had witnessed all of this. I'd seen so many humiliations of our own government during the War, but I had tried the best I could, I could only act through my boss, who was Averell Harriman and I think I did influence Averell. And Averell, by this time, was coming to understand this, but in the Treasury Department at home, they didn't understand this and when they finally sent me a telegram expressing their astonishment and concern, because the Russians were dragging their feet about joining the International Bank. I thought, well, for goodness sake, I can't answer that in one question. They're going to have to give me space and I sat down and tried to give a picture of this government as it emerged from the War. I'm sorry it went to such length, perhaps I could have done it more briefly, but I can't complain, the document as you know, made the rounds in Washington, was very widely read and did influence American policy quite materially.

INT: Your secretary, Dorothy Hessman, told me that you actually dictated this document in bed with the flu, in a really foul mood.

GK: Yes.

INT: And that perhaps the temperament of the document (unclear)...

GK: (Interrupts) I think that's true! I had a very painful attack also of sinus, which you get after a bad cold and was laid up with that too. Well, there we were. I thought this is not only my chance, but this is the provocation that has been asked... Washington asked, how do you explain the motivation of the Soviet government here. Well, then I had to go right back to page one and to try to tell them things that I felt they'd forgotten during the War. This all hangs together with this whole question that this was the same group of people who had dealt with Hitler, had tried to deal with Hitler at our expense and never had changed their views about us.

INT: Can I ask one question about the reception of the long telegram in Washington. It's well-known that the reception was extraordinarily favourable, it was circulated very widely, but I wonder about your own reactions to suddenly having your voice carry in Washington after all of these years of not letting it do so.

GK: Yes, I was sometimes surprised and shocked at the enthusiasm with which this telegram was received and the things that I had to say generally, not just in the telegram were received in Washington and .... I realise there was a real danger there. I'm sorry that in the telegram I did not more emphasize that this did not mean that we would have to have a war with Russia, but we would have to find a way of dealing with them which was quite different from that which had been going on. I realised this first when I came home and was asked to give a speaking tour round the country and where this all surprised me was when I got out to Los Angeles and a group... I spoke there to a very large but largely business group and I got such rousing cheers out of anything I said critical of the Soviet government that I should have realised that, watch out my boy, this will be distorted, as indeed it was.

INT: Good. I think we can stop...

(END OF ROLL #10236)