“of a world which refuses to understand.”

In this journal entry from Sketches From A Life , written in June of 1945,  George F. Kennan discusses how best to deal with Stalinist Russia.

My first thought was to wonder if his framework could be used by America to deal with the current despotic rulers of the Middle East; my second, more disturbing thought, was to wonder if this could be a framework for other countries to deal with us:

But the fact is, there is no way of helping the Russian people. When a people finds itself in the hands of a ruthless authoritarian regime which will stop at nothing, it finds itself beyond the power of others to help. Gifts presented to it can be given only to the regime, which promptly uses them as weapons for the strengthening of its own power. If these gifts are passed on to the people at all, it is with the innuendo they were concessions the regime was clever enough to extract from a crafty outside world while foiling the evil designs which lay behind them, and that those who would share in the benefits of them had better keep on the good side of that omniscient power which was so ably defending their interests. On the other hand, blows aimed in exasperation at the regime itself are no help to the people it dominates. Such injuries are promptly ducked and passed on to the people, while the regime, breathing sympathetic indignation, strikes one fiery attitude after another as the protector of a noble nation from the vicious envy of a world which refuses to understand. And if then, in the train of policies of arrogance and provocation, real catastrophe finally overtakes the nation, the regime promptly identifies itself beyond all point of distinction with the sufferings of the people and takes refuge behind that astounding and seemingly inexhaustible fund of patriotic heroism and loyalty which human nature seems to reserve for all such occasions. The benevolent foreigner, in other words, cannot help the Russian people; he can only help the Kremlin. And conversely, he cannot harm the Kremlin, he can only harm the Russian people. That is the way system is geared.

This being the case, what does he do? The answer is anybody’s. But I, for my part, should have thought, with the sights and sounds of Siberia still vivid in my mind, that in these circumstances he would be wisest to try neither to help nor to harm– to make plain to Soviet policy-makers the character of his own aspirations, the limits of his patience, and the minimum conditions on which he can envisage polite neighborly relations with them– and then to leave the Russian people– encumbered neither by foreign sentimentality nor foreign antagonism– to work out their destiny in their own peculiar way.

Advertisements