Fall 2015 -- History 224 -- Professor Patch

Home Up Syllabus Slideshows


  1. Spheres of Influence?  Churchill describes his visit to Moscow in October 1944 and the Yalta Conference of February 1945
  2. FDR's Plan for the United Nations
  3. Stalin and the Poles: From the Memoirs of Averell Harriman
  4. The Truman Doctrine (1947)
  5. The Marshall Plan
  6. The Strategy of Containment (George Kennan's "The Sources of Soviet Conduct")

SOURCE: Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War. Vol. 5: Triumph and Tragedy (Boston, 1953, pp. 227-29, 377-87.


“The moment was apt for business, so I said [to Stalin], ‘Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Rumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions, and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety per cent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety per cent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?’ While this was being translated I wrote out on a half-sheet of paper:

Russia 90%
The others 10%
Great Britain (in accord
with USA) 90%
Russia 10%

Yugoslavia 50-50%

Hungary 50-50%

Russia 75%
The others 25%

“I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down....
“After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length I said, ‘Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper.’ ‘No, you keep it,’ said Stalin.”
“I now reported privately to the President [but Roosevelt did not respond in any way].”


[Session of February 8:] There remained the question of forming a Polish Government which we could all recognise and which the Polish nation would accept. Mr. Roosevelt suggested a Presidential Committee of three Polish leaders who would go to Moscow, form a Provisional Government from representatives in Warsaw, London, and inside Poland itself, and hold free elections as soon as possible.

After a short adjournment [Soviet foreign minister] Molotov voiced his disagreement. The Lublin Government, he said, was now at the head of the Polish people. It had been enthusiastically acclaimed by most of them and enjoyed great authority and prestige. The same could not be said of the men from London. If we tried to create a new Government the Poles themselves might never agree so it was better to try to enlarge the existing one....

“What about the Presidential Committee?” asked Mr. Roosevelt.

“Better avoid it,” he answered. “It will mean having two bodies to deal with instead of one.”

“This,” I said, “is the crucial point of the Conference. The whole world is waiting for a settlement, and if we separate still recognising different Polish Governments the whole world will see that fundamental differences between us still exist. The consequences will be most lamentable, and will stamp our meeting with the seal of failure.... According to British information, the Lublin Government does not commend itself to the great majority of the Polish people, and we cannot feel that it would be accepted abroad as representing them. If the Conference is to brush aside the existing London Government and lend all its weight to the Lublin Government there will be a world outcry. As far as can be foreseen, the Poles outside of Poland will make a virtually united protest. There is under our command a Polish army of 150,000 men, who have been gathered from all who have been able to come together from outside Poland. This army has fought, and is still fighting, very bravely. I do not believe it will be at all reconciled to the Lublin Government, and if Great Britain transfers recognition from the Government which it has recognised since the beginning of the war they will look on it as a betrayal.

“As Marshal Stalin and M. Molotov well know,” I proceeded, “I myself do not agree with the London Government’s action, which has been foolish at every stage. But the formal act of transferring recognition from those whom we have hitherto recognised to this new Government would cause the gravest criticism. It would be said that His Majesty’s Government have given way completely on the eastern frontier (as in fact we have) and have accepted and championed the Soviet view. It would also be said that we have broken altogether with the lawful Government of Poland, which we have recognised for these five years of war, and that we have no knowledge of what is actually going on in Poland. We cannot enter the country. We cannot see and hear what opinion is. It would be said we can only accept what the Lublin Government proclaims about the opinion of the Polish people, and His Majesty’s Government would be charged in Parliament with having altogether forsaken the cause of Poland. The debates which would follow would be most painful and embarrassing to the unity of the Allies, even supposing that we were able to agree to the proposals of my friend M. Molotov.

“I do not think,” I continued, “that these proposals go nearly far enough.... Before His Majesty’s Government ceased to recognise the London Government and transferred their recognition to another Government they would have to be satisfied that the new Government was truly representative of the Polish nation.... All our differences will of course be removed if a free and unfettered General Election is held in Poland by ballot and with universal suffrage and free candidatures. Once this is done His Majesty’s Government will salute the Government that emerges without regard to the Polish Government in London....”

Stalin now took up my complaint that I had no information and no way of getting it.

“I have a certain amount,” I replied.

“It doesn’t agree with mine,” he answered, and proceeded to make a speech, in which he assured us that the Lublin Government was really very popular.... They had not left the country during the German occupation, but had lived all the time in Warsaw and came from the underground movement. That made a deep impression on the Poles, and the peculiar mentality of people who had lived under the German occupation should be borne in mind. They sympathised with all those who had not left the country in difficult times.... The London Government might well contain cleverer people, but they were not liked in Poland because they had not been seen there when the population was suffering under the Hitlerite occupation. It was perhaps a primitive feeling, but it certainly existed.

It was, he said, a great event in Poland that the country had been liberated by Soviet troops, and this had changed everything. It was well known that the Poles had not liked the Russians, because they had three times helped to partition Poland. But the advance of the Soviet troops and the liberation of Poland had completely changed their mood. The old resentment had disappeared, and had given way to goodwill and even enthusiasm for the Russians. That was perfectly natural. The population had been delighted to see the Germans flee and to feel that they were liberated. Stalin said it was his impression that the Polish population considered the driving out of the Germans a great patriotic holiday in Polish life, and they were astonished that the London Government did not take any part in this festival of the Polish nation. They saw on the streets the members of the Provisional Government, but asked where were the London Poles. This undermined the prestige of the London Government, and was the reason why the Provisional Government, though not great men, enjoyed great popularity.

There was dissatisfaction, he continued, because the Polish government was not elected. It would naturally be better to have a Government based on free elections, but the war had so far prevented that. But the day was near when elections could be held. Until then we must deal with the Provisional Government, as we had dealt, for instance, with General de Gaulle’s Government in France, which also was not elected....

“How soon,” asked the President [Roosevelt], “will it be possible to hold elections?”

“Within a month,” Stalin replied, “unless there is some catastrophe on the front, which is improbable.”
[On February 9 Molotov presented new suggestions:] The Lublin government was to be “reorganised on a wider democratic basis, with the inclusion of democratic leaders from Poland itself, and also from those living abroad.” He and the British and American Ambassadors should consult together in Moscow about how this would be done. Once reorganised the Lublin Government would be pledged to hold free elections as soon as possible, and we should then recognise whatever Government emerged. Mr. Stettinius had desired a written pledge that the three Ambassadors in Warsaw should observe and report that the elections were really free and unfettered, but Molotov opposed this, because, he alleged, it would offend the Poles....

[Churchill addresses Stalin directly:] Tito had said that when elections took place in Yugoslavia he would not object to Russian, British, and American observers being present to report impartially to the world that they had been carried out fairly. So far as Greece was concerned, His Majesty’s Government would greatly welcome American, Russian, and British observers to make sure the elections were conducted as the people wished. The same question would arise in Italy. When Northern Italy was delivered there would be a vast change in the Italian political situation, and there would have to be an election before it was possible to form a Constituent Assembly or Parliament. The British formula there was the same—Russian, American, and British observers should be present to assure the world that everything had been done in a fair way. It was impossible, I said, to exaggerate the importance of carrying out elections fairly.... I explained that I wanted to be able to carry the eastern frontier question through Parliament, and I thought this might be done if Parliament was satisfied that the Poles had been able to decide for themselves what they wanted.

“There are some very good people among them,” he [Stalin] replied. “They are good fighters, and they have had some good scientists and musicians, but they are very quarrelsome.”

“All I want,” I answered, “is for all sides to get a fair hearing.”

“The elections,” said the President [Roosevelt], “must be above criticism, like Caesar’s wife. I want some kind of assurance to give to the world, and I don’t want anybody to be able to question their purity. It is a matter of good politics rather than principle.”

“I am afraid,” said Molotov, “that if we insert the American draft the Poles will feel they are not trusted. We had better discuss it with them.”

.... Just before our last effective meeting, on February 10, Mr. Eden and I had a private conversation with Stalin and Molotov at the Yusupov Villa, at which I once more explained how difficult it was for us to have no representatives in Poland who could report on what was going on....

“After the new Polish Government is recognised it would be open to you to send an Ambassador to Warsaw,” Stalin answered....

This was the best I could get....


We came to the Crimea Conference resolved to settle our differences about Poland. We discussed fully all aspects of the question. We reaffirm our common desire to see established a strong, free, independent, and democratic Poland. As a result of our discussions we have agreed on the conditions in which a new Polish Provisional Government of National Unity may be formed in such a manner as to command recognition by the three major Powers.

The agreement reached is as follows:

A new situation has been created in Poland as a result of her complete liberation by the Red Army. This calls for the establishment of a Polish Provisional Government which can be more broadly based than was possible before the recent liberation of Western Poland. The Provisional Government which is now functioning in Poland should therefore be reorganised on a broader democratic basis, with the inclusion of democratic leaders from Poland itself and from Poles abroad. This new Government should then be called the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity.

M. Molotov, Mr. Harriman, and Sir A. Clark Kerr are authorised as a commission to consult in the first instance in Moscow with members of the present Provisional Government and with other Polish democratic leaders from within Poland and from abroad with a view to the reorganisation of the present Government along the above lines. This Polish Provisional Government of National Unity shall be pledged to the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot. In these elections all democratic and anti-Nazi parties shall have the right to take part and to put forward candidates.

When a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity has been properly formed in conformity with the above, the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which now maintains diplomatic relations with the present Provisional Government of Poland, and the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the United States will establish diplomatic relations with the new Polish Government of National Unity, and will exchange Ambassadors, by whose reports the respective Governments will be kept informed about the situation in Poland.

The three heads of Governments consider that the eastern frontier of Poland should follow the Curzon Line, with digressions from it in some regions of five to eight kilometers in favour of Poland. They recognise that Poland must receive substantial accessions of territory in the north and west. They feel that the opinion of the new Polish Provisional Government of National Unity should be sought in due course on the extent of these accessions, and that the final delimitation of the western frontier of Poland should thereafter await the Peace Conference.

Back to top


a) Speech to Congress by President Roosevelt upon his return from Yalta, 1 March 1945:

“The Crimea Conference ought to spell the end of the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balances of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries—and have always failed. We propose to substitute for all these, a universal organization in which all peace-loving Nations will finally have a chance to join. I am confident that the Congress and the American people will accept the results of this Conference as the beginnings of a permanent structure of peace.”


The Purposes of the United Nations are:
1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
3. To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
4. To be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.
1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.
2. All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.
3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
5. All Members shall give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.
7. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter....
There are established as the principal organs of the United Nations: a General Assembly [where every member has one vote, but whose resolutions are generally not binding], a Security Council, an Economic and Social Council, a Trusteeship Council, and International Court of Justice, and a Secretariat.
The Security Council shall consist of fifteen Members of the United Nations. The Republic of China, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America shall be permanent members of the Security Council. The General Assembly shall elect ten other Members of the United Nations to be non-permanent members of the Security Council [for two-year terms], due regard being specially paid, in the first instance to the contribution of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization, and also to equitable geographical distribution.

1. In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations, its Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf.
The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.

In order to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources, the Security Council shall be responsible for formulating...plans to be submitted to the Members of the United Nations for the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments.

1. Each member of the Security Council shall have one vote.
2. Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members.
3. Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of [all] the permanent members; provided that...a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.

Back to top


The son of the founder of the Union Pacific Railroad and a trusted ally of FDR in the Democratic Party, Harriman served as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union from October 1943 to January 1946. He had not made such a thorough study of Russian history as George Kennan, but he apparently gained the respect of the Soviets and achieved some success in his negotiations with them. When he wrote his memoirs in his late eighties with the help of Elie Abel, Harriman argued forcefully that his talented aide Kennan had given up too quickly on the idea of continuing the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union in some form of postwar cooperation.

SOURCE: W. Averell Harriman and Elie Abel, Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin, 1941-1946 (New York: Random House, 1975), pp. 315-34, excerpted.

“Again the Poles,” Stalin growled. “Is that the most important question?” Those troublesome Poles, he complained to Harriman, kept him so busy that he had no time for military matters.

The date was March 3, 1944. Harriman, who had requested the Kremlin meeting on instructions from Roosevelt, replied that he too would prefer to discuss military questions, but Poland had become a pressing problem. He promised to be brief. It was not a question of time, Stalin said. The Russians had takne their position and would not recede from it: “Isn’t it clear? We stand for the Curzon Line.” The trouble was that the Polish government in London (he called it “the émigré government”) took the Russians for fools. It was now demanding Wilno as well as Lwov. Happily, the people of Poland, who were not the same as the London émigrés, would take a different attitude. He was certain they would welcome the Red Army as liberators.

Harriman did not doubt that Stalin believed this would happen.... For the moment, Harriman’s task was to persuade Stalin and Molotov that they should resume discussions with the Poles in London and try to negotiate a settlement instead of imposing one by brute force. It was hard going.

Roosevelt feared, Harriman said, that if the problem was not soon resolved, there would be civil war in Poland. Stalin saw no such danger. “War with whom?” he asked. “Between whom? Where?” Mikolajczyk [head of the London Poles after General Sikorski was killed in a plane crash in July 1943] had no troops in Poland. What about the underground force known as the Home Army? Harriman inquired. Stalin grudgingly acknowledged that the London government might have “a few agents” in Poland, but the underground, he insisted, was not large.

Harriman asked what kind of solution Stalin could envisage. He replied, “While the Red Army is liberating Poland, Mikolajczyk will go on repeating his platitudes. By the time Poland is liberated, Mikolajczyk’s Government will have changed, or another government will have emerged in Poland.”

Roosevelt was concerned, Harriman said, lest a new regime, formed on the basis of the Soviet proposals, should turn out to be “a hand-picked government with no popular movement behind it.” Denying any such intention, Stalin nevertheless proceeded to rule out the return from exile of Polish landlords–“Polish Tories,” as he called them. “Poland,” he said, “needs democrats who will look after the interests of the people, not Tory landlords.” Stalin added that he did not believe Churchill (a British Tory, after all) could persuade the London Poles to reshape their government and modify its policies; he was sure that Roosevelt agreed with him on the need for a democratic government in Poland.

Stalin assured Harriman, however, that he would take no immediate action on the Polish matter. The time was not ripe, he said. When Harriman remarked that there were some good men in the London government, Stalin replied, “Good people can be found everywhere, even among the Bushmen.”

Not for the first time, Harriman mentioned the President’s worries over public opinion in the United States. Stalin responded that he had to be “concerned about public opinion in the Soviet Union.” Harriman remarked, “You know how to handle your public opinion,” to which Stalin replied, “There have been three revolutions in a generation.” Molotov, who had been silent through most of the interview, added without smiling, “In Russia there is an active public opinion which overthrows governments.” When they spoke of three revolutions, Stalin and Molotov meant the uprising of 1905, the Kerensky revolution of February 1917, and the Bolshevik Revolution the following autumn. Stalin, the revolutionist, was always alert to the possibility of a new revolution, which would have to be stamped out before it got started.

Harriman’s bleak interview with Stalin on March 3 was the second in a long series on the intractable Polish problem. He had gone to Moscow as ambassador in 1943 with another set of priorities in mind, military cooperation first among them. But in the months that followed Teheran, Poland was to use up much of his energy and patience. There was no end, he recalled, “of indignities and disagreeable incidents unrelated to political issues.” The Russians, for example, had two broadcasting stations in the vicinity of Moscow whose location was important to American pilots in order to triangulate their approach to the Soviet capital. In spite of repeated requests, the Russians refused to disclose to the embassy more than the one well-known location. The issue disappeared when an American pilot flew over the second transmitter accidentally and marked the location.

“‘We [American diplomats in wartime Moscow] were treated as potential enemies,’ Harriman recalled. ‘Our Russian staff—servants, office staff and chauffeurs—had their food-ration cards taken away because they worked for the American embassy. Kathleen had to feed them all after that, but our supplies ran short at times when a convoy was delayed or our shipments sunk. Then we would send someone out of Moscow to buy potatoes and cabbages from a collective farm.” ...Yet Harriman continued to believe, long after George Kennan had given way to these frustrations, that each small victory at the expense of the Soviet bureaucracy was worth the fight; limited agreements were better than none. He accepted even minor concessions in the belief that small steps forward could lead to longer strides toward cooperation once the enveloping suspicion, as much traditional Russian as Communist, had been pierced....

“I knew Sikorski intimately [Harriman wrote the State Department on 24 March 1944], had a number of long talks with him and have seen a number of the Poles, both important and lower rank, in London and elsewhere. The majority of them, with the exception of Sikorski, are mainly committed to a policy of fear of and antagonism to the Soviet Government. There is no doubt in my mind that the policies of the [Polish] Government are dominated by the officer group who are convinced that a war with Soviet Russia is inevitable.... Stalin is convinced that there is no hope for a friendly neighbor in Poland under the leadership of the controlling group in London, and he is unwilling to have the Red Army re-establish them in power. I believe he is basically right. In spite of the conjectures to the contrary, there is no evidence that he is unwilling to allow an independent Poland to emerge.”

Back to top


a) Speech to Congress by President Truman on the Greek Civil War, 12 March 1947 [from Edward Judge & John Langdon, eds, The Cold War: A History through Documents (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999), pp. 24-25]:

The very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists, who defy the Government’s authority at a number of points, particularly along the northern boundaries....

Turkey also deserves our attention.... Since the war Turkey has sought additional financial assistance from Great Britain and the United States for the purpose of effecting that modernization necessary for the maintenance of its national integrity. That integrity is essential to the preservation of order in the Middle East....

One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nationas will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion. This was a fundamental issue in the war with Germany and Japan. Our victory was won over countries which sought to impose their will, and their way of life, upon other nations....

At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.

One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is dinstinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.

The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work our their own destinies in their own way. I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.

The world is not static, and the status quo is not sacred. But we cannot allow changes in the status quo in violation of the Charter of the United Nations by such methods as coercion, or by such subterfuges as political infiltration. In helping free and independent nations to maintain their freedom, the United States will be giving effect to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

It is necessary only to glance at a map to realize that the survival and integrity of the Greek nation are of grave importance in a much wider situation. If Greece should fall under the control of an armed minority, the effect upon its neighbor, Turkey, would be immediate and serious. Confusion and disorder might well spread throughout the entire Middle East....

I therefore ask the Congress to provide authority for assistance to Greece and Turkey in the amount of $400,000,000 for the period ending Juine 30, 1948....

In addition to funds, I ask the Congress to authorize the detail of American civilian and military personnel to Greece and Turkey, at the request of those countries, to assist in the tasks of reconstruction, and for the purpose of supervising the use of such financial and material assistance as may be furnished. I recommend that authority also be provided for the instruction and training of selected Greek and Turkish personnel....

The United States contributed $341 billion toward winning World War II. This is an investment in world freedom and world peace. The assistance that I am recommending for Greece and Turkey amounts to little more than one-tenth of one percent of this investment. It is only common sense that we should safeguard this investment and make sure that it was not in vain.

The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. WE must keep that hope alive. The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world–and we shall surely endagner the welfare of this nation....

b) Critique of Truman’s speech in George Kennan, Memoirs 1925–1950 (Boston, 1967), pp. 320-21:

I listed, in my presentation to the War College [a secret lecture of April 1947], three specific considerations that had supported our decision to extend assistance to Greece:

A. The problem at hand is one within our economic, technical, and financial capabilities.

B. If we did not take such action, the resulting situation might redound very decidedly to the advantage of our political adversaries.

C. If, on the other hand, we do take the action in question, there is good reason to hope that the favorable consequences will carry far beyond the limits of Greece itself.

These considerations, I pointed out, did not necessarily apply to all other regions. I doubted, for example, that any of them would fully apply in the case of China: the first most definitely would not.... I would also take exception to the repeated suggestions, in the text of Truman’s message, that what we were concerned to defend in Greece was the democratic quality of the country’s institutions. We would find it necessary to give aid, over the ensuing years, to a number of regimes which could hardly qualify for it on the basis of their democratic character. It was unwise to suggest that this, too, was an essential criterion.

Back to top


Secretary of State Marshall had attended the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers in April 1947 and spoken at length with Stalin, who told him emphatically that capitalism was on the verge of collapse in Europe. As a result of the plan outlined below, the U.S. Government invested $11 billion over the next five years in a comprehensive European Recovery Program.

SOURCE: Edward Judge and John Langdon, eds., The Cold War: A History through Documents (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999), pp. 26-28).

I need not tell you gentlemen that the world situation is very serious. That must be apparent to all intelligent people. I think one difficulty is that the problem is one of such enormous complexity that the very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation. Furthermore, the people of this country are distant from the troubled areas of the earth and it is hard for them to comprehend the plight and consequent reactions of the long-suffering peoples, and the effect of those reactions on their governments in connection with our efforts to promote peace in the world.

In considering the requirements for the rheabilitation of Europe, the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines, and railroads was correctly estimated, but it has become obvious during recent months that this visible destruction was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy. For the past ten years conditions have been highly abnormal. The feverish preparation for war and the more feverish maintenance of the war effort engulfed all aspects of national economies. Machinery has fallen into disrepair or is entirely obsolete. Under the arbitrary and destructive Nazi rule, virtually every possible enterprise was geared into the German War machine. Long-standing commercial ties, private institutions, banks, insurance companies, and shipping companies disappeared, through loss of capital, absorption through nationalization, or by simple destruction.

In many countries, confidence in the local currency has been severely shaken. The breakdown of the business structure of Europe during the war was complete. Recovery has been seriousy retarded by the fact that two years after the close of hostilities a peace settlement with Germany and Austria has not been agreed upon. But even given a more prompt solution of these difficult problems, the rehabilitation of the economic structure of Europe quite evidently will require a much longer time and greater effort than had been foreseen....

Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all. It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability, and no assured peace.

Our policy is directed not against any country of doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist. Such assistance, I am convinced, must not be on a piecemeal basis as various crises develop. Any assistance that this Government may render in the future should provide a cure rather than a mere palliative. Any government that is willing to assist in the task of recovery will find full cooperation, I am sure, on the part of the United States Government. Anyt government which maneuvers to block the recovery of other countries cannot expect help from us. Furthermore, governments, political parties, or groups which seek to perpetuate human misery in order to profit therefrom politically or otherwise will encounter the opposition of the United States.

It is already evident that, before the United States Government can proceed much further in its efforts to alleviate the situation and help start the European world on its way to recovery, there must be some agreement among the countries of Europe as to the requirements of the situation and the part those countries themselves will take in order to give proper effect to whatever action might be undertaken by this Government. It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this Government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of the Europeans. The initiative, I think, must come from Europe. The role of this countruy should consist of friendly aid in the drafting of a European program and of later support of such a program so far as it may be practical for us to do so. The program should be a joint one, agreed to by a number, if not all, of European nations.

An essential part of any successful action on the part of the United States is an understanding on the part of the people of America of the character of the problem and the remedies to be applied. Political passion and prejudice should have no part. With foresight, and a willingnesss on the part of our people to face up to the vast responsibility which history has clearly placed upon our country, the difficulties I have outlined can and will be overcome.

Back to top

6. THE STRATEGY OF CONTAINMENT: “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” by X (JULY 1947):
[Published anonymously by George Kennan in Foreign Affairs, July 1947, and reprinted in Edward Judge & John Langdon, eds, The Cold War: A History through Documents (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999), pp. 28-37.]

...Marxian ideology, in its Russian-Communist projection, has always been in process of subtle evolution. The materials on which it bases itself are extensive and complex. But the outstanding features of Communist thought as it existed in 1916 may perhaps be summarized as follows: (a) that the central factor in the life of man, the fact which determines the character of public life, is the system by which material goods are produced and exchanged; (b) that the capitalist system of production is a nefarious one which inevitably leads to the exploitation of the working class by the capital-owning class and is incapable of developing adequately the economic resources of society or of distributing fairly the material goods produced by human labor; (c) that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction and must, in view of the inability of the capital-owning class to adjust itself to economic change, result eventually and inescapably in a revolutionary transfer of power to the working class; and (d) that imperialism, the final phase of capitalism, leads directly to war and revolution....

Of the original ideology, nothing has been officially junked [by Soviet leaders today].... But stress has come to be laid primarily on those concepts which relate most specifically to the Soviet regime itself: to its position as the sole truly Socialist regime in a dark and misguided world, and to the relationship of power within it.

The first of these concepts is that of the innate antagonism between capitalism and Socialism. We have seen how deeply that concept has become imbedded in foundations of Soviet power. It has profound implications for Russia’s conduct as a member of international society. It means that there can never be on Moscow’s side any sincere assumption of a community of aims between the Soviet Union and powers which are regarded as capitalist. It must invariably be assumed in Moscow that the aims of the capitalist world are antagonistic to the Soviet regime and, therefore, to the interests of the peoples it controls. If the Soviet government occasionally sets its signature to documents which would indicate the contrary, this is to be regarded as a tactical maneuver permissible in dealing with the enemy (who is without honor) and should be taken in the spirit of caveat emptor [buyer beware]. Basically, the antagonism remains. It is postulated. And from it flow many of the phenomena which we find disturbing in the Kremlin’s conduct of foreign policy: the secretiveness, the lack of frankness, the duplicity, the war suspiciousness, and the basic unfriendliness of purpose. These phenomena are there to stay, for the foreseeable future. There can be variations of degree and of emphasis. When there is something the Russians want from us, one or the other of these features of their policy may be thrust temporarily into the background; and when that happens there will always be Americans who will leap forward with gleeful announcementat that ‘the Russians have changed,’ and some will even try to take credit for having brought about those ‘changes.’ But we should not be misled by tactical maneuvers....

But we have seen that the Kremlin is under no ideological compulsion to accomplish its purposes in a hurry. Like the Church, it is dealing in ideological concepts which are of long-term validity, and it can afford to be patient. These precepts are fortified by the lessons of Russian history: of centuries of obscure battles between nomadic forces over the stretches of a vast unfortified plain. Here caution, circumspection, flexibility and deception are the valuable qualities; and their value finds natural appreciation in the Russian or the oriental mind. Thus the Kremlin has no compunction about retreating in the face of superior force....

These considerations make Soviet diplomacy at once easier and more difficult to deal with than the diplomacy of individual aggressive leaders like Napoleon and Hilter. On the one hand it is more sensitive to contrary force, more ready to yield on individual sectors of the diplomatic front when that force is felt to be too strong, and thus more rational in the logic and rhetoric of power. On the other hand it cannot be easily defeated or discouraged by a single victory on the part of its opponents. And the patient persistence by which it is animated means that it can be effectively countered not by sporadic acts which represent the momentary whims of democratic opinion but only by intelligent long-range policies on the part of Russia’s adversaries—policies no less steady in their purpose, and no less variegated and resourceful in their application, than those of the Soviet Union itself.

In these circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States’ policy toward the soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies....

[Kennan then suggests that if this policy of containment can be sustained for ten or fifteen years, the chances are good that the Soviet economy will begin to falter because of its highly uneven development, and the Soviet people near the end of their physical powers of endurance, or that, following the death of Stalin, the USSR might disintegrate during a bitter struggle over who would succeed him.]

It is entirely possible [moreover] for the United States to influence by its action the internal developments, both within Russia and throughout the international Communist movement, by which Russian policy is largely determined.... It is a question of the degree to which the United States can create among the peoples of the world generally the impression of a country which knows what it wants, which is coping successfully with the problems of its internal life and with the responsibilities of a world power, and which has a spiritual vitality capable of holding its own among the major ideological currents of the time. To the extent that such an impression can be created and maintained, the aims of Russian Communism must appear sterile and quixotic, the hopes and enthusiasm of Moscow’s supporters must wane, and added strain must be imposed on the Kremlin’s foreign policies....

Thus the decision will really fall in large measure in this country itself. The issue of Soviet-American relations is in essence a test of the over-all worth of the United States as a nation among nations. To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation.

Surely there was never a fairer test of national quality than this. In the light of these circumstances, the thoughtful observer of Russian-American relations will find no cause for complaint in the Kremlin’s challenge to American society. He will rather experience a certain gratitude to a Providence which, by providing the American people with this implacable challenge, has made their entire security as a nation dependent on their pulling themselves together and accepting the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history plainly intended them to bear.”

Back to top