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George Kennan prefaces his remarkable memoirs  with an exemplary self-critical account of his background and early environment, with its attendant psychological effects. Historically and socially, George Kennan was an ‘outsider’, ill at ease in the 20th century, and ill at ease with its ideas, particularly marxism (‘something to which I could not relate myself personally either by my own experience or by that of the family’). One of the two influences behind his decision to go to Princeton (which he lived through in a state of almost permanent psychological depression) was Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. From Princeton he moved into the newly established Foreign Service. After an abortive attempt at leaving it, he embarked on a career as a Russian expert, first from outside the Soviet Union, and subsequently in Moscow, whither he travelled with Bullitt, the first American ambassador, immediately on the reopening of relations between the USA and the USSR. Bullitt seems to have been one of the few American officials for whom Kennan had genuine respect; even Radek and Bukharin used to drop by the embassy to talk to him in the early days. Later Kennan had to serve under less estimable figures, such as Mr Bert Fish, a political appointee from Florida, who was head of the Lisbon mission in 1942. Fish lived in his bedroom, and had not had one single meeting with the Portuguese leaders since his arrival. Kennan pressured him hard to meet Salazar, particularly because of the American need for bases in the Azores, but Fish could not be moved. ‘Ah ain’t goin’ down there and get mah backsides kicked around . . . He’s too smaht for me.’ Caught between an ignorant and unpredictable State Department on the one side and equal hazards such as the oss scheme to organize a revolt against Salazar in the Azores, Kennan makes planned diplomacy sound like a non-stop nightmare. Weeks after the Tehran Conference the American delegation to the European Advisory Comsion in London had not been told what had transpired at Tehran.
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