George F. Kennan Biography

Academic, Historian, Diplomat (1904–2005)
George F. Kennan served as a U.S. diplomat from 1926 to 1953. He wrote a famous Foreign Affairs article, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," under the pen name Mr. X.


George F. Kennan was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He studied at Princeton University and the Berlin Seminary for Oriental Languages. He served as a U.S. diplomat in numerous counties from 1926 to 1953. He wrote a famous article in 1947 called "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" using the pen name Mr. X. He wrote several books about U.S. policy, often controversial, and won two Pulitzer Prizes.


Diplomat and historian, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. Educated at Princeton (1925 BA) and at the Berlin Seminary for Oriental Languages (1930), he served as US foreign service officer (1926–53) in Geneva, Hamburg, Berlin, Estonia, Latvia, Moscow, Vienna, Prague, Lisbon, and London. He also served as US ambassador to the USSR (1952) and Yugoslavia (1961–3), and in 1956 became a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In 1947, using the pen name Mr X (because he was then with the State Department), he wrote a famous article in Foreign Policy, ‘The Sources of Soviet Conduct’, that effectively spelled out what would be the West's policy of ‘containment’ toward Soviet Communism for the next 40 years. His first book, American Diplomacy, 1900–1950 (1951), was praised on both literary and historiographical grounds and he won Pulitzer Prizes for two later works, Russia Leaves the War (1956) and Memoirs: 1925–1950 (1967). His subsequent publications continued to stir interest because his views, if sometimes out of step with official US policy - including his prediction of the demise of the USSR - were often vindicated by history. Even when events contradicted his views, he was recognized for having raised the level of public debate. He opposed the division of Germany after World War 2, the development of the H-bomb, American participation in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and reliance on nuclear weapons for national defence. His campaign against instruments of mass destruction made him a hero of the anti-nuclear movement, and his 1980 plea to the great powers to abolish such weapons articulated the fears and frustrations of an era. In his later book, Around the Cragged Hill (1993), he argued that the US had become too centralized and proposed that it should be divided into a number of constituent republics. In 1975 he founded the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies as part of the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!