Commentary Magazine


Foreign Affairs

To the Editor:

I thought George Kateb’s article on George Kennan’s Memoirs the fairest and most discriminating of any of the reviews thus far, and this is to thank you for us and for him [“George F. Kennan: the Heart of a Diplomat,” January]. We think it one of the most searching and sensitive books ever to appear under our imprint.

Edward Weeks
The Atlantic Monthly Press
Boston, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

George Kateb’s essay on George Kennan is . . . perceptive and probably accurate in portraying Mr. Kennan as more emotional, perhaps, and in his anti-Communism more “evangelical,” than his self-professed realism should properly allow. But contrary to the author’s conclusions, Mr. Kennan’s personal limitations do not necessarily invalidate realism as a policy.

Professor Kateb distorts the differences between realists and moralists by asking “What would this country become if its leaders and led were exclusively ‘realists’?” Ignoring the likelihood of such a radical departure from our moralistic tradition, Professor Kateb then proceeds to disparage realism by equating it with Mr. Kennan’s particular shortcomings: “It is sickening to think that all our power and energy would be spent without an accompaniment of generosity, sympathy, remorse, some measure of trust, some degree of optimism regarding the human nature of our adversaries as well as our allies.” We are apparently being asked to believe that realists lack compassion for their fellow man. I believe this to be a dangerously misleading line of reasoning and a most ungenerous one.

The realists are in disagreement with the moralists over such fundamental issues as peace, democracy, or the hope for human betterment and understanding. What they find particularly futile is the pursuit of these ultimate goals to the detriment of realistic considerations of the national interest. It has been the almost persistent pursuit of such millenarian goals that has bedeviled United States foreign policy in the past and that plagues it today. It was not realism that prompted us to make World War I a “war to make the world safe for democracy,” or that induced a quiescent American public to believe that we would “liberate” Eastern Europe from the Red yoke; nor was it a realistic consideration of events in Southeast Asia that caused successive administrations since 1950 to support first the French colonialists, then Diem, and thereafter a succession of military oligarchs. And while Professor Kateb may well be correct in asserting that only “moral outrage” will get us out of Vietnam, it is probably equally true that it was this very sentiment that got us in in the first place.

C. T. McGuire
Department of History
San Jose City College
San Jose, California

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To the Editor:

Mr. Kateb’s exegesis of George Kennan’s work was not only illuminating but also served to shed light on the motive forces behind America’s foreign policy. The flavor of Kennan’s subtle and supple mind was very skillfully evoked. . . . The essay was trenchant and useful and might be examined with profit by anyone who claims a serious interest in America’s relations with the rest of the world and the factors operating to shape these relations. . . .

You are to be congratulated for the continued excellence of your magazine. . . .

Victor Charles
Brooklyn, New York

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