The Long Telegram and the Modern Governments
It’s time for us to realize that the deep motivation behind America’s policies is fear. And rebel against it.
Book of the Week:
– The Dictators by Richard Overy
Subscribe to the PodcastiTunes Google Spotify RSS Feed
Welcome to Episode 18 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes we will be talking about the Long Telegram, one of the most interesting and unique documents in America’s history, or at least in America’s history of foreign policy and relations. If you are the average American, educated in public school – and even if you were educated at home – odds are, you have never heard of the Long Telegram before, and therefore, you are unaware of its vital significance for the development of America’s foreign policy between the end of WWII and the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a separate area of policy-making, American foreign policy has been generally ignored in our modern textbooks, except when related to some military cataclysm, and even then, most of the important details of the foreign policy decisions are usually omitted from the textbooks. How many people, for example, know from their textbooks that the attack on Pearl Harbor was known ahead of time and could have been averted by simple diplomatic negotiations? Even in our day, few people really know anything about the principles and practices of our foreign service. Only in the last couple of years this has become sorta popular, because of Hillary Clinton’s epic failures. Outside that, US foreign policy – as principles and practices – remains pretty much a terra incognita for the vast majority of US voters. When it comes to WWII and the Cold War, I have found that most young people in America (under 35) are almost completely ignorant about this specific period of history. And yet, that period is so important to anything that happens today, given that the roots of many of the modern government policies and practices, and the roots of our loss of liberty in the last 20 years can be clearly seen in these years, between 1941 and 1991. This ignorance of our recent history is, of course, dangerous, and God willing, here at Axe to the Root I will try to contribute to solving this problem.
The Long Telegram – and you can find a facsimile of its original text online – was really a telegram, and was really long: 19 typewriter pages by the standards of the 1940s, or 5,500 words. It was sent to the US State Department on February 22, 1946, less than a year after the end of the war, by George F. Kennan, an American diplomat and political scientist who at the time was part of the US foreign service and was minister-counselor with the US embassy in Moscow. An enormously intelligent man, Kennan spoke several languages, including Russian. He had the amazing skill – which later proved invaluable, when he was US Ambassador to Yugoslavia – to grasp the deep motives behind the policies and actions of foreign leaders, and thus predict their future actions and responses to the US foreign policy. Kennan viewed the arena of diplomacy and foreign policy in terms of deep commitments and psychological perceptions and responses; this gave him the opportunity to understand his opponents better, and to act accordingly. His problem, though, was, that he worked in the context of several Presidential administrations that were rather simplistic and one-dimensional, and followed the legacy of FDR of power play and confrontation at a base level, which rendered American foreign policy helpless to contain Communism for 30+ years. Kennan was frustrated, and eventually he resigned and left Foreign Service while at the zenith of his diplomatic career. His elaborate and profound views on foreign policy were not adopted until the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan used them to reverse the victorious march of Communism around the world.
The Long Telegram itself was perhaps one of the best expression of his views. In 1945, the Treasury Department asked the State Department to explain certain actions of the Soviet authorities towards the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The question was forwarded to the US Embassy in Moscow. In his response, George Kennan – as a Deputy Chief of Mission – presented a comprehensive analysis of the deep commitments, motivations, hopes, and fears of the Soviet leaderships in the 1940s, right after the war, and he explained why the Soviets are doing what they are doing. But this was not the most interesting part of his analysis: after all, anyone can imagine anything they want about the inner motives of another person. It’s only when he predicts future behavior that we know that his assessment of another person’s motives are correct. The second part of Kennan’s Long Telegram was exactly that: another comprehensive analysis, this time of the future policies and the practices of the Soviet government, both on official level, and on the level of subsurface activities.
For those of us who know the history of the Soviet Union in the second half of the 20th century, reading Kennan’s predictions is an uncanny experience: He knew every single trick and tactic that the Soviets would use, for the next 45 years. He knew that the Soviet Union would have two different levels of policy: one official, one unofficial, which he called “subterranean.” He predicted in 9 points, in great detail, what the Soviets would officially do in respect to internal policies, international organizations, colonial nations, economic relations and global trade, cultural exchange and collaboration. Then, in the last part of his telegram, which took almost half of the whole text, he predicted in an even greater detail all the “subterranean” activities of the Soviet government for the next 45 years. For us today, it almost sounds like a prophecy. Everything is in there: the use of foreign Communist parties (and even the different approaches to their leadership and to their rank-and-file membership, which many years later was well explained by Frank Meyer in his book, The Moulding of Communists), the use of national and international organizations, of organizations based on racial characteristics (pan-Slav, Turkic, Black, etc.), of internal political and judicial pressure on Western countries to weaken individual liberty and increase statism (think of the US Federal government and the Supreme Court), etc. He also saw the difference between the Nazi regime and the Communist regime in that the Nazis were adventuristic, while the Soviets understood power, and understood they were weaker than the West. So he predicted there would be no attempts at a major conflict and the Soviets will always be cautious, always working through underground means, not through a direct conflict. Thus, his policy recommendations were for containment based on economic and social pressure based on the true original character of the American Republic rather than on military confrontation or on creating a similar police and militaristic state to that of the Soviets.
And he ended it with his dire warning – and perhaps also a sad prediction, although he never meant it so – against foolish reactions by the US government against the Soviet threat. Listen to this, and see what wisdom this man had, which the US government ignored:
Finally, we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After all, the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem with Soviet Communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.
Bingo! At the height of the triumph of the Soviets, having just defeated Nazi Germany, he saw through all the propaganda and better than anyone else in the world at the time figured out that the Soviet Empire was a colossus with legs of clay, and that eventually it would collapse of its own weight. He didn’t see any necessity for the US or the Western world to abandon their ideals of liberty and free trade, and strongly recommended against a knee-jerk response to the Soviet threat which would turn the US and the West into the same police and militarized state as the Soviet Union itself was. He rightly saw that while the Soviets respected power, the power of the West lied not in horses and chariots but in its concept of society. Had his recommendations been accepted, and had the US recommitted its foreign policy to containment based on social and economic principles instead of predominantly military principles, Communism could have collapsed much earlier. But his recommendations were ignored; and consequent administrations continued ignoring his continuous recommendations. Even as a US Ambassador to Yugoslavia in the 1960s, he saw the opportunity to unhook this pivotal country from the Soviet train; and advised the US government accordingly. Ignored. We can say that the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s could have been averted as early as the 1960s, if the US acted on his recommendations – Yugoslavia could have become a Western ally as early as the 1960s. I can understand the man’s frustration with his bosses, and I can understand his decision to resign when he was at the height of his career. He was old-school. He worked and thought in terms of ethical/judicial motives and commitment. But he worked in the context of administrations that were increasingly pagan, and therefore worshiped power and domination.
Anyway, our point here is not his predictions. They are important to us only insofar as, 70 years later, they are the best proof that the man knew his field, knew exactly what he was talking about, and, most important, that his assessment of the internal psychology and motives of the Soviet government was incredibly on point. In fact, we can say, inadvertently, in those 19 pages of official, classified information, George Kennan gave the best professional analysis of the psychology of all pagan governments in history ever written. He was only speaking of the Soviets. But the principles he laid out were, and still are, applicable to every government which is at war against Gos and His Anointed. And what I want to do here is to give a short overview of his analysis, which, I believe, will help us understand the psychology not only of the Soviet government of the second half of the 20th century, but also of the Russian government today, and of all governments in general today, and – listen to this carefully – of the US government today, and even of all state and local governments in the US today, including government organizations like police, the IRS, Homeland Security, and even of the majority of individual Americans today, be they liberals and union members or supposedly “conservative” pro-police and anti-immigration types.
Kennan started his analysis with the official ideological outlook of the Soviet government concerning the international situation at the time:
USSR still lives in antagonistic “capitalistic encirclement” with which in the long run there can be no permanent peaceful co-existence. As stated by Stalin in 1927 to a delegation of American workers: “In course of further development of international revolution there will emerge two centers of world significance: a socialist center, drawing to itself the countries which tend toward socialism, and a capitalist center, drawing to itself countries that incline toward capitalism. Battle between these two centers for command of world economy will decide the fate of capitalism and of communism in entire world.”
This was a new and surprising element in the ideology of foreign relations, one which had not existed in the world since the times of Rome. Such black-and-white, polarized thinking had long been forgotten in the West, and since the West was dominant around the world, it was forgotten in the whole world. Foreign relations were either based on “natural law,” after the doctrine of the Dutch Arminian lawyer Hugo Grotius, or on pragmatism – like the British doctrine of the balance of interests or the German Realpolitik. All these saw war as only a more brutal extension of state politics and diplomacy but neither believed in war as permanent state, and therefore neither believed in a conflict to death between civilizations or cultures. Cultures or systems were expected to die of natural death or through one or another form of evangelism: when a critical mass of members of an inferior culture accept a superior culture and refuse to live according to their old ways. They had good reason to believe in such gradual, peaceful change: it was happening around them. Turkey and Iran which just a generation earlier were the proverbial stagnant backward oriental monarchies, were in the 1940s as Western as any Central European country. The local elite of India was adopting the ways of the British, Latin America was striving for its place in the civilized world, and Africa was nothing like what it was 100 years earlier when David Livingstone was lost somewhere in its interior. Not that all these changes were all peaceful, but they were accomplished with very little of actual fighting, compared to the European wars of the 20th century.
The Soviet’s position looked like a relic from Barbaric times, even if dressed in modern ideological language: Destroy or be destroyed. Of course, the Soviets’ idea was not to wage a constant military conflict – they were aware of their own inferiority in terms of technology, resources, and industrial power. But they were not seeking peace; in fact, they believed peace in any form was impossible. Their ideology was such as to see an unrepairable gap between socialism and capitalism, and therefore between socialist and capitalist countries. If the gap was unrepairable, then it meant that even in a formal state of peace there would be no peace, there would be only war to the bitter end, and one of the systems had to die.
In practical terms, Kennan rightly perceived, it would mean that the Soviets would never come to the bargaining table the way managers or businessmen do: to seek agreement in mutual benefits. From a Soviet perspective, international politics – and this is another one of those primitive, savage attitudes – was a zero-sum game. There was no chance for two players to gain at the same time. When one player gains something, the other loses something. This is how Marxism viewed economics: profit in one place, in Marx’s view, could be generated only by loss in another place. If the capitalists made profit, it was because the workers lost. If the workers as a class are to gain something, the capitalists must lose something. Thus, the ultimate gain for the workers was expressed by the term, “Expropriation of the expropriators,” or, as it was expressed in Russian by Lenin, “Loot the looters.” The capitalists were viewed as looters: there could be no other reason why they would be able to make profit, for all profit is loot. Thus, for decades, the Soviet diplomats were instructed very specifically to avoid making any concessions, even when the trade off left the Soviet Union in a better position; for them, anything benefiting the other side was net loss on the Soviet side, just because it benefited the other side, for no other reason. For decades, American diplomats couldn’t grasp this simple rule. It was Reagan who figured it out and he made it his habit to leave summits and talks when the Soviet diplomats just refused to give in on minor point simply because they were trained to not concede anything. It was a Barbaric attitude, but it came straight from and was consistent with the ideology of Marxism and its view of the world and of international relations. Mutual benefits were non-existent in such a view. If one side gained, then the other side lost. A zero-sum game. The western worldview at the time, in the shadow of 1,000 years of Christendom, couldn’t comprehend such an outlook.
More than that, it couldn’t comprehend the motives behind such an outlook. Why would anyone want to live in a mindset of a constant war and destruction, rather than mutual profit? Christendom was an exclusive civilization and it expected the surrender of all other civilizations; but meanwhile, it saw co-existence and mutually beneficial economic co-operation with them possible and even mandatory, given that it opened the door for the Gospel. Christian and Muslim merchants had traded together in the centuries past, not awfully honestly all the time, but both groups saw the necessity and the benefits of such trade. Why wouldn’t the Soviets see those benefits and just take advantage of such trade – all the more that they were technologically and economically inferior, and therefore could only profit from such a trade? For the Western mind, conditioned by the Christian worldview of the past, such rejection of what is obviously good and profitable was unexplainable. For most of the history of the relations between the USA and the Soviet Union, American diplomats and foreign policy experts were puzzled over such refusal. It led many of them to the erroneous conjectures that the Soviet Union was perhaps economically much better off that what the data showed. Some leftist economists in the West – like John Kenneth Galbraith – even fell victims to the fantasy that the Soviet economy was two-thirds of the American economy. (After the fall of Communism, when the real figures were finally available, it turned out that it was two-thirds alright, but of the economy of Belgium.)
And here Kennan’s genius of being able to judge the motives and the inner hearts of his opponents – almost supernatural – was revealed in the Long Telegram. He gave the real motive behind the ideology and the actions of the Soviet government. This paragraph deserves to be quoted at length:
At bottom of Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area. But this latter type of insecurity was one which afflicted rather Russian rulers than Russian people; for Russian rulers have invariably sensed that their rule was relatively archaic in form fragile and artificial in its psychological foundation, unable to stand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries. For this reason they have always feared foreign penetration, feared direct contact between Western world and their own, feared what would happen if Russians learned truth about world without or if foreigners learned truth about world within. And they have learned to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.
It was no coincidence that Marxism, which had smoldered ineffectively for half a century in Western Europe, caught hold and blazed for first time in Russia. Only in this land which had never known a friendly neighbor or indeed any tolerant equilibrium of separate powers, either internal or international, could a doctrine thrive which viewed economic conflicts of society as insoluble by peaceful means. After establishment of Bolshevist regime, Marxist dogma, rendered even more truculent and intolerant by Lenin’s interpretation, became a perfect vehicle for sense of insecurity with which Bolsheviks, even more than previous Russian rulers, were afflicted. In this dogma, with its basic altruism of purpose, they found justification for their instinctive fear of outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifice they felt bound to demand. In the name of Marxism they sacrificed every single ethical value in their methods and tactics. Today they cannot dispense with it. It is fig leaf of their moral and intellectual respectability. Without it they would stand before history, at best, as only the last of that long succession of cruel and wasteful Russian rulers who have relentlessly forced country on to ever new heights of military power in order to guarantee external security of their internally weak regimes. This is why Soviet purposes most always be solemnly clothed in trappings of Marxism, and why no one should underrate importance of dogma in Soviet affairs. Thus Soviet leaders are driven [by?] necessities of their own past and present position to put forward which [apparent omission] outside world as evil, hostile and menacing, but as bearing within itself germs of creeping disease and destined to be wracked with growing internal convulsions until it is given final Coup de grace by rising power of socialism and yields to new and better world. This thesis provides justification for that increase of military and police power of Russian state, for that isolation of Russian population from outside world, and for that fluid and constant pressure to extend limits of Russian police power which are together the natural and instinctive urges of Russian rulers. Basically this is only the steady advance of uneasy Russian nationalism, a centuries old movement in which conceptions of offense and defense are inextricably confused. But in new guise of international Marxism, with its honeyed promises to a desperate and war torn outside world, it is more dangerous and insidious than ever before.
[End of quote]
Insecurity and fear, mainly of their own people. Fear of their precarious position as rulers who can be deposed at any time because they have no legitimate basis for their rule. That fear was not shared by the majority of Russians, Kennan said, it was imposed on them by the party propaganda. In an earlier paragraph, he said:
First, it does not represent natural outlook of Russian people. Latter are, by and large, friendly to outside world, eager for experience of it, eager to measure against it talents they are conscious of possessing, eager above all to live in peace and enjoy fruits of their own labor. Party line only represents thesis which official propaganda machine puts forward with great skill and persistence to a public often remarkably resistant in the stronghold of its innermost thoughts. But party line is binding for outlook and conduct of people who make up apparatus of power – party, secret police and Government – and it is exclusively with these that we have to deal.
It is here, in these paragraphs, that George Kennan put his finger on the most painful spot of all rule that is in rebellion against God and His Messiah. I don’t know how he did it, whether he was a very wise reader of the Bible or he just had a unique gift of reading the minds of powerful rulers. At the time, it was not known that both Stalin and Lenin were suffering of paranoia; their statements to their closest associates show that they believed that conspirators are always around the corner for them. Stalin reportedly often spoke of “them,” and no one knew who “they” were, most probably a fantasy of his sick mind. Kennan couldn’t know this – most facts about Stalin’s personal life were confidential. But he saw through the smoke and mirrors, and he saw that the Soviet Union was a political representation of the Wizard of Oz: a small, crippled, trembling fellow who has created a magnificent display of himself as a way to deal with his fears. And, in the process, has forced or manipulated everyone under his authority to be driven by the same fears and accept the greatness of the small, crippled, trembling fellow.
The Bible speaks of this paranoia of earthly rulers in Psalm 2:3: “Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!”, say the rulers of the earth. Those who started building the tower of Babel did because of fear, “lest we be scattered.” Saul had no reason to persecute David; he was entirely motivated by fear of David. The expansion of the Roman Republic was motivated by fear, that any neighbor who is not conquered will eventually grow strong enough to push the Romans back into the sea; Hannibal’s 15 years war on Roman soil left such a deep impression on the Roman mind that 2 centuries later mothers still scared their children with the phrase “Hannibal at the gates!” We see even Pilate, wielding as he was absolute power over Judea, still acting based on fear of a Jewish insurrection. Etc., etc., etc.
Fear is at the foundation of every pagan government; it is the ruling motive, and sometimes the overt ideology of pagan governments. In fact, as I argue in my article, “Terrorism: Biblical Analysis and Solutions,” fear itself is religious worship, at the foundation of all idolatry. And therefore every pagan government must by necessity be driven by fear.
Unknown probably to himself, Kennan simply gave the Biblical description of all pagan governments. And he also gave the practical conclusion of it: Contain them, not through direct confrontation but through economic and social competition. They will collapse eventually, because their own people will see beyond the insecurity and the fear of their governments.
The question now is, this is all old stuff. Archaic. My generation in Europe grew up in the shadow of WWII; everyone had a close relative who had fought in it and probably died in it. We also lived our formative years in the last decades of Communism. We lived through that propaganda, we tasted that paranoia ourselves. It was instilled in us from our early years; and there are still people there who live in the same paranoia of anything that is outside the small box of their local culture. There were others in Europe who lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain, but they also lived under the constant fear of another global conflagration. But most of us were freed from it. And besides, of what I perceive, most of my listeners are much younger, of the millennial generation. They have never tasted that paranoia, never had to live under it, or under a regime that is controlled by the same fears as the Soviets in the 1940s. So why do I find George Kennan’s insights relevant to my listeners?
And here, hold fast to the arms of your chairs, I have to drop the following bomb: George Kennan’s warning at the end of his analysis, has come true in respect to our own Federal and local governments. Let me read it again:
Finally, we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After all, the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem with Soviet Communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.
This is not usually a sentiment included in official reports; it is not dry information from a bureaucratic mind. This was an emotional statement by a man above his capacity of a government bureaucrat. Kennan saw the danger of fear, and how fear could distort man’s actions, and the policies of any government. He could see it in the actions of the Soviet government; and he was afraid that the same can happen to the American government. His plea was a sincere plea, “Do not become like them!”
His problem was, at the time he was writing this, the American government had already started the transition towards a pagan government ruled by fear, insecurity, and distrust of its own people. Kennan was a little too idealistic: FDR’s politics was a politics of fear, and he had used every single propaganda tool he had at his disposal to change the motives of most Americans from courage and optimism to fear and pessimism. The churches and their pessimistic eschatologies were helping him – he wouldn’t be as successful in the 19th century, when the majority of the church was officially postmillennial and therefore optimistic. The process of changing America from a nation of courage to a nation of fear had already started. The insecurity Kennan saw in the Soviet leaders was gradually becoming the outlook of the American government itself, and consequently, of the American people as well. From there, it went downhill for the next several decades, with the only exception in the 80s, when the visible collapse of Communism restored the optimism in the West – for a short time. Eventually, that optimism retreated again, and was finally given a death blow on September 11, 2001.
You want to see clearly the transition of America from a Christian nation to a pagan nation? Study the transition from courage and optimism to fear and pessimism. There is no better indicator. For example, read two inaugural addresses separated by exactly 100 years: That of Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 and that of George W. Bush in 2005. Roosevelt was a fascist, as Joel McDurmon’s book on him reveals, but his address in 1905 matched the motives and the worldview of the American people: a nation of courageous, self-relying individuals who looked forward to a bright future. Bush’s address is clearly to a bunch of helpless, fearful sheep who are looking for a protector. We are today afraid of everything – of the rich, of the poor, of the blacks in the inner cities, of immigrants, of a small group of Muslims somewhere in a desert we can’t even find on the map, of free trade, of competition, of everything. We think judgment will come on this nation in the form of economic disaster. It may. But it has already come in that our hearts are taken by fear of everything: “So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see” (Deut. 28:66-67).
And because of that fear, we are now submitting to unjust rulers, expecting them – who are driven by fear themselves, and who have manipulated us into fear – to take care of us.
Unless we understand fear, unless we understand that it is the foundation of all pagan rule and policies, unless we understand that the motivation of all government agents – from the President to the lowest clerks and local cops – we won’t be able to understand pagan governments. And unless we understand how fear affects those ruled, and how it makes them willing to abandon their liberties, we won’t be able to understand modern America. Kennan rightly saw that the deep motivation behind the Soviet Union was fear.
It’s time for us to realize that the deep motivation behind America’s policies is fear.
And rebel against it.
We like to see modern governments as a self-confident conspiratorial group who has a clear, optimistic agenda about the future, who know what they are doing and there is no way to stop them from doing it. The truth is, behind the facade, there is a bunch of faceless, mediocre bureaucrats who love power but who paralyzed by insecurity because – just like the Soviet government in 1946 – they know that their rule is supported by no principle of legitimacy, that they have usurped the power they have, and the only reason that power hasn’t collapsed yet is because the people under their rule have not figured it out yet. This applies to the President, to the Supreme Court, to state governments, and all the way down to the last cop in your police department. They all know they are frauds; they all know they have no legitimate claim to power. They all are scared of the possibility that God eventually will bind them in fetters and cords, and the people under their power will look beyond the screen to see a small, crippled, fearful fellow. Just like the Soviets, of course, they all know that there is an alternative to their rule, much better than anything they can offer: a society of free, self-governing individuals who owe no allegiance nor taxes nor obedience to any earthly power but to God. They all try to use fear to manipulate people to not look at this Biblical solution of all society.
And, following Kennan’s advice, it is time for us to start building the social and economic alternatives to their rule, and prepare for their downfall. The Soviet Union collapsed within a generation. It’s modern ideological heirs won’t survive longer than that.
The book I will assign this week is The Dictators, by Richard Overy. It’s a tough book to read, but I believe many of my listeners – especially those of the millennial generation – must become familiar and understand the facts of our recent history. Some of those facts are ugly, but don’t complain. Rejoice I didn’t assign Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. We are not supposed to long for the past and try to restore it – but we are obligated to know it well, and teach it to our children so that they don’t make the mistakes of our fathers.
And do not forget my mission field where my heart is. As I am preparing this podcast, I will be flying in a few hours to Bulgaria, for a worldview conference and work with the homeschoolers there. I need your prayers, and I need your help. The books published so far have greatly helped our mission. We need to publish more. Even if you commit just $10 a month, this is three copies of an average book in the hands of the Bulgarian Christians. BulgarianReformation.com, Donate.