Friday, October 1, 2010

Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan & John Lukacs

Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan & John Lukacs (2010, 276p.) proved a delight to read. The relationship began when Lukacs, then a nobody, wrote to Kennan, then ambassador to the Soviet Union and author of the "X" article, was a definite somebody (but soon to fall from favor). Their relationship grew over the years from a mutual interest in 19th and 20th century diplomatic history to a genuine affection for one another. In addition, we begin to get comments on some current events, different peoples, and insights into their writing projects (after leaving the Foreign Service, Kennan established a second career as a historian of diplomacy). Kennan, for instance, shares my concern that sometimes Lukacs allows his prose to become too dense, while at the same time, each sees in the other examples of fine writing and highly developed descriptive powers that enhances the work of both men. In sum, reading their letters to one another is like listening in to a very urbane and frank discussion between two highly literate and articulate men, who, because of their knowledge of history, have acute sensibilities of times and places that most of us don't perceive. From the quotidian to the grand, we get glimpses over a course of many years. As this is raw history, some of their judgments may seem harsh or ill-considered, but part of the charm of letters like this comes from their frankness and intimacy.

Of course, I think that the best testament that I can provide comes from quoting here and there, as I have in a couple of posts already, from their own words. Quite a joy, I must say. So I offer two quote for today, one on the more profound side, one on the lighter side:


We know that we cannot look at the sun with direct and naked eyes. It blinds us if we try it. Just so, there are things about the nature of God which we should not, and cannot, attempt to envisage and understand. To suppose that we would be capable of such a thing would resemble in itself a form of blasphemy. (253 11 February 2002)


This president's (George W. Bush's) mind (and character) is that of a 15 year old American teenager who wants to remain the class president, a position the had got through mere luck. Commentators are wrong when they speculate that he wants to revenge what Saddam H. had planned for his father. No: George W. never liked is father; he wants to show that he can do even better then his father. We know the immortal warning of John Quincy Adams: "we do not go abroad in search for monsters to destroy." This puerile president is worse than that: he proclaims and pinpoints one monster for the sake of consolidating his and his party's popularity . . . ." (260, 5 March 2003).