THE HAWK AND THE DOVE: PAUL NITZE, GEORGE KENNAN, AND THE HISTORY OF THE COLD WAR
By Nicholas Thompson
Henry Holt, $27.50,416 pages
REVIEWED BY JAMES SRODES
An earlier review of this book that appeared elsewhere was inappropriately headlined with a question the reviewer never intended to answer: “Which of These Men Won the Cold War?” Flanking the article were large photos, one of a benign, formally attired George F. Kennan, the other of Paul Nitze kitted out in military gear and looking very much like Hunter S. Thompson off on a coke jag.
Of all the tiresome cliches of American politics, none is more irritating than the myth of the Cold War and that these two men wrestled for the nation’s strategic soul; the one — Kennan — more intellectually sound, urging a firm yet peace-oriented counter to Soviet bellicosity; the other — Nitze — more reactionary, ruthlessly tilting us toward global military aggression that was too costly in human lives and treasure and netted us nothing that would not have happened anyway.
This extremely well-researched and accessible book may be the most important political biography of recent memory, and if it does not win at least one of the major awards, that will be because of its unfashionable conclusions. This is a multifaceted story that Nicholas Thompson, an editor at Wired magazine, has produced, a double biography of two of our most important, intellectually creative foreign-policy architects of the past 60 years. It also is a story of why we have behaved the way we have since the end of World War II.
But more than a history, it is an invaluable primer for those of us who look ahead to seemingly insoluble dilemmas in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran because it reminds us of the home truth that a nation can be neither safe nor a force for good in the world without at least judiciously preparing to exert force.
Mr. Thompson is a grandson of Nitze’s, but instead of that being a handicap, it enabled him to gain access to both Nitze’s archives and Kennan’s vastly revealing diaries. The result is a scrupulously balanced and nuanced portrait of two men who maintained a lasting friendship despite a 50-year disagreement over how America should conduct the leadership role it was thrust into at the end of World War II.
There is an answer to the question of whether Nitze or Kennan won the Cold War, if that is what we still must call it. Nitze did, hands down. And we are lucky he did.
The inescapable conclusion from Mr. Thompsons portraits is that the difference in outcomes may have been owed to the fact that Paul Nitze genuinely cared about America; he saw it as a good nation that could handle greatness while avoiding the corruption that extreme power so often brings to nations.
Kennan, on the other hand, was not so sure he approved of the unruly and often bumptious American democracy he witnessed as an onlooker during decades spent abroad in diplomatic posts throughout Europe and Russia. While no one could ever say Kennan was soft on communism — especially the Stalinist kind — he deeply loved Russia and its people with what might be called 18th-century affection for the nobility of lesser people.
Kennan, it seems, was something of a prig, an overintellectualized snob who had little sympathy for the victims of the very oppressions he watched from embassy sanctuaries in Berlin, Prague and Moscow. Mr. Thompson convincingly refutes contemporary charges that Kennan was an anti-Semite as being off the point.
In Tim Tzouliadis’ splendid 2008 book, “The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia,” the thousands of credulous Americans who flocked to the promises of jobs in the Soviet Union’s workers’ paradise of the early 1930s soon repented and, at tremendous risk, ran a gantlet of Russian police to plead with U.S. Embassy officials for repatriation.
Kennan is portrayed as coldly turning the petitioners away while acknowledging that nearly all were thus condemned to the gulag or immediate summary execution by Stalins thugs. He just had no sympathy for countrymen who were not of his own kind.
If Kennan was a more ethereal thinker, Nitze was both more humane, more politically liberal, less inclined to abstract intellectualizing, more focused and far more willing to scrap with adversaries to make his views prevail.
Where Kennan ultimately went off to Princeton to sulk and hector from the sidelines, Nitze endured the internal struggles involved in advising 10 presidents, many of whom rejected his advice and not a few who found ways to punish him for his temerity.
Contrary to the myth that portrays Nitze as “an inveterate hawk who attached great importance to the balance of nuclear firepower between the Russians and the Americans,” (as one critical version asserts), his lifelong cynicism over the ultimate deterrence of atomic weapons dated from the strategic bombing survey he directed in Japan in 1945 to assess the real impact of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki destruction. Nor, to be fair, was Kennan fairly charged with being insensitive to Soviet aggressive ambitions and the threat to American security.View Entire Story
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