John Lewis Gaddis, “Kennan: An American Life”

On February 23, 2012 Roosevelt House hosted a discussion between Professor Jonathan Rosenberg and John Lewis Gaddis about Gaddis’ new book entitled Kennan: An American Life, a comprehensive biography of the famous creator of the Cold War “containment” theory. Jonathan Fanton introduced both speakers below.

John Lewis Gaddis Kennan: An American Life Introduction
February 23, 2012

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to our discussion tonight on John Lewis Gaddis’ George Kennan: An American Life. Mr. Gaddis is a distinguished scholar who has written extensively on the Cold War and post-war American national security.  Our moderator will make a full introduction in a moment but I want to extend a special welcome to Professor Gaddis whom I have known through our common commitment to Yale where he is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of History. As it happens, I wrote my dissertation at Yale on Robert Lovett who was Assistant Secretary of War for Air in the Roosevelt Administration and Under-Secretary of State and later Secretary of Defense for Harry Truman. Professor Gaddis and I share admiration for Robert Lovett, an underappreciated but important figure in American National Security Policy.

So it is a special pleasure to welcome the Robert Lovett Professor of History to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s home.

I am also pleased that George Kennan’s daughter, Grace Kennan Warnecke, is with us tonight.

Thanks to the vision and determination of Hunter President Jennifer Raab, the Roosevelt Houses were renovated two years ago and now host Hunter’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. The Institute offers undergraduate programs in domestic policy and international human rights and fosters collaboration among faculties and departments from across Hunter for interdisciplinary research. It also offers a series of lectures and conferences designed to bring policymakers, experts, and scholars together to talk about critical historical and contemporary issues. On March 14, Roosevelt House will sponsor a conference on the domestic side of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. Robert Caro will give the keynote address.

It is fitting to discuss the life and work of Mr. Kennan in this space. At a time of unprecedented international conflict, he spent the formative years of his career in the Roosevelt Administration. After Franklin established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1934, Kennan served as Third Secretary the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, as head of the Russian desk at the State Department, and as deputy chief to the U.S. mission in Moscow in 1944. During this time, Kennan met several times with the President to discuss how best to recreate an ordered and sustainable peace after World War II. Though the two sometimes differed, the diplomat could not help but admire how Roosevelt conducted foreign policy: Every great statesmen, Kennan acknowledged, “has to be the judge of compromises he must make in the form of a certain amount of showmanship and prestidigitation in order to retain the privilege of conducting foreign policy at all. No one understood this better than FDR.”

It is also my pleasure to introduce tonight’s panelist, Dr. Jonathan Rosenberg. Professor Rosenberg received his PhD from Harvard and teaches both graduate and undergraduate classes in twentieth century United State history at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His research focuses on both the domestic and international ramifications of America’s engagement with the world. Dr. Rosenberg has edited and published several important books on the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War, including Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes, which was based on secret Oval Office recordings made my JFK and LBJ and, more recently, How Far the Promised Land: World Affairs and the Civil Rights Movement from the First World War to Vietnam.    Currently, he is writing a book that examines how classical musicians, composers, and performing organizations in the United States understood and responded to international developments from the First World War to the Cold War — a fitting subject for a graduate of Juilliard and a professional trumpetist prior to his arrival at Harvard.


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