A conversation with Kennan's biographer John Lewis Gaddis

Historians in the News

JOHN LEWIS GADDIS, a cold-war historian, is the author of “George F. Kennan: An American Life” (2011; reviewed by The Economist here). He is Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University and a Distinguished Fellow and Director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy. He serves on the advisory board of the Cold War International History Project and is the author of “The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past” (2002); “Surprise, Security and the American Experience, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War” (2004; reviewed by The Economist here); and “The Cold War: A New History” (2005; reviewed by The Economist here).
How would you define containment?
Containment, associated with the American diplomat George F. Kennan, was the central post-war concept of the US and its allies in dealing with the Soviet Union. Containment kept the cold war from being a hot war. At the end of the second world war, when it became clear that the Soviet Union was not going to continue to be a reliable ally, many people in the West fell into despair. They saw two choices lying ahead—getting into a third world war with a massive country that already dominated Europe, or appeasement. That vision of George Orwell’s “1984”, of democracy being stamped out altogether, came close to capturing the mood of many people after WWII. It was George Kennan who showed a way out of Orwell’s grim vision....

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