Center for Strategic Communication

George Kennan:

“It is a pity that our press plays up our diplomatic relations like a ball game, stressing victories and defeats. Good diplomacy results in satisfaction for both sides as far as possible; if one side really feels defeated, they try to make up for it later, and thus relations deteriorate. In general the daily press and commentators dramatize short-term conflicts at the expense of long-term prospects for achieving a stable balance.”

From ‘Draft on Information Policy on Relations with Russia’ by George Kennan, July 22, 1946.

On ‘Soviet Rulers, Government’:

The government has a distinct personality all its own, very different from that of the people. The rulers are fanatics in the sense that you can talk to but not with them. … They will take advantage of every weakness; this is considered merely good sport, no particular offense. So they are quite apt to poke up one or another of their puppet states in order to feel out our weaknesses indirectly. …

Russian treatment of brief visitors is responsible for considerable misunderstanding of the problem of dealing with the Russian Government. When a distinguished American turns up for a week or so, the Russians are ingratiating, respond to every request and accompany it with sales talk about how we have so much in common, ought to get along easily, etc. He goes away intoxicated with this revelation of good fellowship, but without any specific commitments from the Russians. If later he should reproach them for not following through along cooperative lines, they insinuate that it’s all the fault of the career diplomats: if only he were ambassador, all would be well. Probably nobody goes to Russia without feeling that his particular personality holds the secret of winning Russian friendship, but only those who stay for a good while and have to do business son a day-today basic learn how tough the problem is.

On the ‘Soviet People’:

They are strong, self-reliant, hard-working, artistic (when they get a chance), kindly, interested in other countries, eager for more international cultural contacts, fundamentally peace-loving. But they are like a beautiful lady guarded by a jealous lover: their government prevents our getting in touch with them and vice versa. It is with the government, not the people, that we have to deal for an indefinite time to come. The people don’t like Party tyranny and the discipline of a police state, but the accept it fatalistically. They have known no other way of life.

The cliche about Americans and Russian being fundamentally alike should be corrected. There are important differences which impose limits on possible ways of dealing with them. As a people they have been mostly isolated from the West for centuries. Few of the present generation have ever been abroad — this applies also to the inner circle of leaders. The Russians’ mental isolation is greatly increased by rigid censorship of press and radio. Moreover they never had a Magna Charta [sic], a French Revolution or similar source of a tradition of civil liberties: when we insist on such things the Russians can’t understand what we are making such a fuss about.

On ‘Cur [sic] Best Course’:

Motto from Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard: Love thy neighbor but keep thy fences mended. … We should keep the door open to all forms of cultural and economic collaboration, but not irritate the Russians by pressing for these against their will. Some of our efforts toward mutual understanding they undoubtedly feel to be tactless prying. They can hardly accept American students in their institutions because of the embarrassing contrast in standards of living. Similarly, if Russian students come to America, they would return dissatisfied with Russian life. There is little chance of the ‘iron curtain’ being lifted in the near future. The Soviets run an internal propaganda machine which can work only in a vacuum. …

On communist infiltration: best avoid making martyrs; use the spotlight of publicity to expose them and their motives; let them discredit themselves if possible. But if they should become a serious threat in Latin America, for example, it would constitute just as much a violation of the Monroe Doctrine as any other, and should be treated accordingly. In general, since our policy looks toward a peaceful and prosperous world, we are in a favorable position to counter their subversive tactics with constructive measures. Our best counter to the psychological war against ‘capitalism’ is the unvarnished truth about the standards of living and conditions of liberty in Russia, including their labor ‘unions’. News correspondents only tell the full picture off the record, even when they return to the U.S., for fear of losing their Russian visas.