Friday, May 19, 2023

#139 / Kudos For Kennan


I think of Evan Osnos, who writes for The New Yorker, as the magazine's "China Expert." Click the link to his name for a Wikipedia write up. Osnos has a pretty impressive resume. 

In a "Talk Of The Town" comment in the March 6, 2023, edition of The New Yorker, Osnos talks about "Cold War 2.0." Online, which is where you will see the comment if you click on the link I'll provide, Osnos' headline reads: "Sliding Toward A New Cold War." 
While Osnos' comment focuses on the tensions building between the United States and China, he harks back to the diplomacy of George F. Kennan, in framing the discussion:

George F. Kennan, the architect of America’s “containment” policy toward the Soviets, often lamented that his theory was used to justify a military buildup rather than a sustained commitment to political and economic diplomacy. In a new biography, the historian Frank Costigliola writes that, after Kennan “spent the four years from 1944 to 1948 promoting the Cold War, he devoted the subsequent forty to undoing what he and others had wrought.” The Soviet example holds only limited lessons for today, though, because of China’s economic scale. Toward the end of the Cold War, U.S. trade with the Soviet Union was about two billion dollars a year; U.S. trade with China is now nearly two billion dollars a day.
Here is Osnos' final observation in his New Yorker comment: 

Kennan, to his final days, warned about the seductive logic of wars, both cold and hot. In 2002, at the age of ninety-eight, he campaigned against the march to war in Iraq, arguing that history suggests “you might start a war with certain things on your mind” but often end up “fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before.”
There is, I definitely believe, a "seductive logic" of wars. Kudos to Kennan for pointing that out, and for pointing it out, repeatedly, for something like forty years, if you credit what Osnos and Costigliola say.
As I consider where we are today, vis-à-vis the possibility that we might escalate our current conflict with China, I think I have only one thing to add. We don't have forty years to figure out that we need to stop planning for wars, and to start investing our time, talents, and money in efforts to preserve the habitability of Planet Earth, and thus the ability to maintain the human civilization we have created. 
Planning for wars - and spending our resources doing so - is just a way to fall prey to war's seduction to destruction. 
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