The Peripatetic Reviewer
IN 1900 the State Department numbered 150, including the clerks and old Eddie, the guardian of the Secretary’s office, who shuffled through the corridors delivering the mail or sat drowsing by the door. Today the State Department and Foreign Service together number more than 19,000 — men and women whose training and qualifications are best exemplified in the career of a diplomat like George F. Kennan. Mr. Kennan entered the Consular Service following his graduation from Princeton in 1925. His early assignments took him to the capitals of Esthonia and Latvia, where he familiarized himself with the buffer territory between Germany and Russia, and became proficient in the German tongue. As he advanced in rank he served in the Consulate-General in Hamburg and in our Embassies in Berlin and Vienna. In anticipation of our recognition of the Soviet l nion, the State Department began to train a select group of Russian-language officers, and as one of the number Mr. Ivennan was sent to the 1 niversity of Berlin to familiarize himself with Russian history and literature.
In 1933 Mr. Kennan opened Spaso House, the American Embassy in Moscow, in anticipation of the arrival of Ambassador Bullitt, and there for the next four years he proved himself invaluable. His next big assignment was in Berlin, where he arrived at the outbreak of the war and where for two years he was to watch the Nazis’ early bid for victory. Here with the other members of the Legation he was interned for five months following our entry into the war, and it was characteristic that, to enliven the monotony, he lectured informally on Russia to his confreres. On his release he was transferred to Lisbon, the Listening Corridor of Europe, and in August of 1943 participated in the negotiations leading up to the Italian surrender. A year later he was advanced to the rank of MinisterCounselor and sent back to Russia, where he served first under Ambassador Averell Harriman and then under General Walter Bedell Smith. In the absence of his superiors he was chargé d’affaires, and his terse, farsighted dispatches of this period were the work of an expert. General Marshall, when he became Secretary of State in 1947, appointed Mr. Ivennan director of the new Policy Planning Staff — in effect his “diplomatic chief of staff’.” Thus in twenty-two years he had risen from the lowest rank to the point where he was charged with the responsibility of “looking at problems from the standpoint of the totality of American national interest.”That is a remarkable record.
In the summer of 1950 Mr. Kennan left the government service on a sabbatical leave, and at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton he began to inquire into those great decisions which have determined our foreign policy since the year 1900, when our power had become of world-wide significance. He recognized the inescapable fact that as our power had increased, our security had declined. “A country.”he writes, “which in 1900 had no thought that its prosperity and way of life could be in any way threatened by the outside world had arrived by 1950 at a point where it seemed to be able to think of little else but this danger. What was the explanation for this? To what extent was it the fault of American diplomacy?” His findings, so moderate, so penetrating in their analysis of the American character, so admirably lucid in summary, he presented in a series of lectures at the University of Chicago; now he has amplified them in his first book, American Diplomacy, 1900—1950 University of Chicago, $2.75).
He begins with an acute and observant chapter on “The War with Spain”; he shows how our sympathies for Cuba became so excitable after the sinking of the Maine that no peaceful solution was really given serious consideration in the American government. He shows how, despite our inherited disdain for empire, we ourselves went much further than merely securing the independence of Cuba: in our reach for Puerto Rico and the Philippines we were committing ourselves to responsibilities of which Teddy Roosevelt was soon to repent, burdens which we have on our conscience to the present day. The Spanish-American War Mr. Kennan calls a preface to the more critical decisions to come; and as he traces the quixotic and impulsive moves that drew us into it, he makes us realize that there has never been within or without our government a “widely accepted theoretical foundation to underpin the conduct of our external relations.”Lacking such a foundation, we have been vulnerable to the pressure of sentiment, as in our relations with China; of complacency, as in our desire to remain aloof from Europe; and more recently of fear.
In his two chapters on the United States and the Orient Mr. Kennan traces the personal influence which framed the “Open Door" policy. He makes it ironically clear that neither we nor the other powers in Asia had any very settled understanding of what we intended by that policy, It was a sentiment rather than a definition — a sentiment and a generosity which drew this reaction from the Japanese and the British: “that we were inclined to be spendthrift with their diplomatic assets in China for the very reason that our own stake in China meant so much less to us than theirs did to them.” Mr. Kennan shows that our action in the field of foreign policy is cumulative, and that us we constantly narrowed our course of action toward Japan until the only alternative left was war, we did so with little forethought of how the defeat of Japan and the vacuum caused by the elimination of her power would play in1o the hands of Russia. He quotes a wonderfully prophetic memorandum which one of the best of our career men, Mr. John V. A. MacMurray, wrote in 1935 — a memorandum which points directly to the dilemma we find ourselves in in Korea. Today the Western empires have lost their special positions; the Japanese have’ been expelled from China and Manchuria, and it is we who have fallen heir to theproblems and responsibilities which the Japanese had carried for half a century in the Korean Manchurian area. This of course we hadn’t anticipated.
In reviewing the inhibitions which kept us from pressing our influence in the formative stages of the two World Wars, Mr. Kennan points out that there is a “very significant gap between challenge and response in our conduct of foreign policy.”He reproaches us for not realizing in 1916 what would happen to our world position had England been eliminated as a strong force; he reproaches us for paying little heed to the rising strength of totalitarianism and the fatigue of democracy in the long armistice, and for not being alert to the seriousness of Hitler’s threat in 1939. lie points to our habit of waiting again and again until the choice has irretrievably narrowed. He says that ns born moralists we have put too much faith in pacts outlawing war, and too little of our native shrewdness into trying to make a careful appraisal of the power factors in the world. And then in these two fine sentences he calls upon us for vigilance in the future; “A nation which excuses its own failures by the sacred untouchableness of its own habits can excuse itself into complete disaster. . . . Whoever thinks the future is going to be easier than the past is certainly mad.”
This small book is reasonable rather than dogmatic; it suggests and stimulates rather than demands. We need just such edification as this, as we shall always need men of Mr. Kennan’s caliber in our Foreign Service.
English brides and French husbands
The Blessing by Nancy Milford (Random House, $3.00) is a comedy of manners which ought to be quite as entertaining a play as it is a novel. It begins with a character whose instant charm makes everything seem plausible. Charles-Edouard de Valhubert is all that a debonair French aristocrat should be, witty and full of relish, a connoisseur of art and a lover under whose attentions women glow. An officer of the French Air Force, he comes to London on a mission for de Gaulle. He also brings messages for Grace Allingham, whose fiance, Hughie, he has seen in Cairo. Grace proves to be a fair beauty whose innocent literal mind invites the Parisian, and after their first evening in London her perfunctory engagement to Hughie is forgotten for the most natural reasons. Grace and CharlesEdouard are married within the month, and after a honeymoon in the country he flies back to his esendrille.
Her French husband does not reappear again for seven years, an absence which seems to me unreasonably long for an airman but one which enables Grace and her Nanny to begin the indulgence of her dark-eyed baby boy, Sigismond. “Sigi"—“the little blessing" -is ripe for spoiling when at the war s end, with his mother and nurse, he is whisked off for the reunion and second honeymoon al Bellandargues, Charles-Edouards ancestral chateau in Provence. Here and in the days in Paris which follow, the story is at its best.
Grace’s beauty and good sense pass her through the vestibule of French suspicion, but she cannot lake seriously Madame Valhubert s warning about Charles-Edouard’s enjoyment of feminine society, nor his own words when he says: “I must explain lhat, whereas in England the country is for pleasure and the town for business, here it is the exact opposite. We French have all our pleasure in Paris, where we have nothing to do except amuse ourselves, but we work really hard in the country. I have a lot of work when I am here, local business, since I am the mayor, and much family business, looking after my property.” The serenity at Bellandargues, where Grace has no rivals, is exchanged for the critical, competitive peeking order of Paris. Despite her best intentions Grace is so provoked by jealousy that she flies the coop. In the separation which ensues, little Sigi is allowed to return to Paris to visit his father; there he is deliciously spoiled by his father’s mistresses as he learns the secret of keeping his parents in hostile camps.
Miss Mitford is an amusing satirist. We have no doubt of Nanny’s tyranny, of Hughie’s stupidity, or of Grace’s honest dismay. Her best shafts are reserved for the Paris circle, whose manners, entertainments, and liaisons she depicts with succulent irony. Where she misses is in her exaggeration of Sigi’s deviltry and in her caricature of the American E.C.A. administrator. But then every English novelist, Evelyn Waugh and Huxley included, gets down to caricature when he writes about us.
Why Vikings leave home
The voyage of Leif Ericsson and his Norsemen to America a thousand years ago, like the legend of Atlantis, still challenges the imagination. The sagas say he came, and that is enough for Henry Myers, who in his novel The Utmost Island Crown, $3.00) tells in simple bardic details why Leif, the Sea-King, was driven from home. Leif according to Mr. Myers was a born leader, but the leadership he might have enjoyed at home was disrupted by the arrival of Theobrand, the militant priest, who had been sent by the King of Norway to convert the Icelanders. Theobrand (the strongest character in the story) has his way with the slaves and freedmen; he makes a convert of Helga, Leif’s wife, and of the other leaders, until in desperation Leif, who is loyal to the old gods, plans his secret voyage to escape the doom.
The story compresses a great deal of narrative in short compass, and it does so in a style that is likepatting you on the head and say ing lie back while mother reads aloud. Mr. Myers wants to be sure you understand the derivations of the Old Words like Berserk, Thrall, and Thing; he wants to give you the flavor of the runes and incantations which he transposes into jaunty English rhyme; he wants you to believe in the gods and men who ruled Iceland at the end of the Stone Age. Perhaps.
The man who founded the Times
When Henry Jarvis Raymond founded the New York Times in 13.51 at the age of thirty-one, he had already had a term in the New York legislature and a ten-year apprenticeship under Greeley. He told his reporters: “Get all the news; never indulge in personalities; treat all men civilly; put all your strength into your work, and remember that a daily newspaper should be an accurate reflection of the world as it is.”A great credo for a great paper.
As politician, his passionate devotion to the cause of the Union made him put country above party; he managed Lincoln’s second campaign; he burned himself out in his double career and ruined his political chances through his support of the moderate policies of President Johnson.
In Raymond of the Times (Norton, $.5.00), Francis Brown has done a superlative job in converting the letters, documents, speeches, news reports, and events of the period into a lively, informative book, and the result is more than a biography of Raymond: it is a portrait of an era.