[Marxism] From Andrew Bacevichs review of George Kennan's Memoirs in the April Harper's

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon May 12 20:00:03 MDT 2014


More often than not, the marvels of Western civilization impressed 
Kennan less than did its deficiencies. Writing in 1937, he described man 
as “a skin-disease of the earth.” The passage of time reinforced this 
view. Technology, principally represented by automobiles, which he 
loathed, and by nuclear weapons, which he came to fear, served only to 
make matters worse. “Modern urban-industrial man,” he reflected some 
forty years later,

     is given to the raping of anything and everything natural on which 
he can fasten his talons. He rapes the sea; he rapes the soil. . . . He 
rapes the atmosphere. He rapes the future of his own civilization . . . 
[H]e goes on destroying his own environment like a vast horde of locusts.

When Kennan turned his gaze to his country, his views were equally bleak 
and unsparing. As a young man fresh out of Princeton he characterized 
Americanism as a “disease” and likened it explicitly to Bolshevism. 
American society as a whole was cheap, vulgar, and materialistic. Middle 
age found him railing against “the chrome, the asphalt, the advertising, 
the television sets, the filling stations, [and] the hot dog stands” 
that embodied the “trancelike, unreal” American way of life. As an old 
man, he denounced “the shameless pornography, the pathological 
preoccupation with sex and violence, [and] the weird efforts to claim 
for homosexuality the status of a proud, noble, and promising way of 
life” that “in significant degree” had made America a “sick society.” 
But when it came to eliciting paroxysms of indignation, nothing topped 
California. “I find myself really wishing,” he wrote en route from San 
Francisco to Monterey in 1966, “that some catastrophe might occur that 
would depopulate this region & permit it to heal its scars & return to 
its natural state.” In his dotage, he wrote of America, “I am in utter 
despair about this country.” He “long[ed] for the day of the 
catastrophe” that would allow the “atrocities of man’s handiwork to 
decay into the ruins they deserve to become.”

In the 1950s, Kennan contemplated the possibility of simply fleeing, 
“even to the Soviet Union” — any alternative seemed preferable to 
allowing his children to “grow up in this cradle of luxury that 
corrupted and demoralized them before they even reached maturity.” Cold 
War expectations that the United States could deflect the forces of 
darkness while leading the free world toward some promised land were, to 
Kennan, the height of absurdity.



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