I have long been an admirer of the cold war’s great strategist, George Frost Kennan (See blog 1/4/2012). He was the mastermind behind the policy of Russian containment after World War II and among the first to see that the atomic bomb had irrevocably changed the politics of war. Unfortunately, what I failed to know, until a recent article by David Greenberg, is that Kennan felt “the conduct of the foreign relations of a great country is a practical, not a moral exercise.” (“Strategy and Bigotry,” by David Greenberg, The New Republic, April, 2014 pg. pg 55.)
That Kennan could leave morality out of his equation is one of the many disturbing revelations Greenberg makes in his review of Kennan’s diaries. (The Kennan Diaries by George F. Kennan, Edited by Frank Costigliola, W. W. Norton & Co. 2/2014). Apparently, Kennan was a misogynist who also held Jews in contempt, along with members of the non-white races and homosexuals.
He didn’t much care for democracy either and proposed an oligarchy instead — a position which raises the question of why he would defend a system in which he had no faith. Being practical, I suppose, he did it because democracy was “there.” He’s not the first intellectual whose ethical life has become unmoored by politics. Sadly others like him, with the same values or, no values at all, are drawn to power. We used to call these amoralists, psychopaths, but the behavior is so common, the term has fallen out of fashion. (See blog 1/8/13)
Michael Haydon, former head of NSA who lied to Congress about the agency’s spying activities, is one of them, I suspect. Called to account for his conduct, he responded to reporters with a pragmatic question. “Would you prefer to see another 9/11?”
His query seeks no earnest reply. Rather, he uses it to bludgeon his opposition into an abashed silence and he often succeeds. But his challenge ought to be countered with another. Should we allow freedom to slip away and prefer to live as automatons in a brutal, totalitarian state rather than risk another act of terrorism?
Freedom has its price and many men and women have paid it. Dare we call ourselves patriots if we betray their sacrifice and out of fear submit to the moral blackmail implicit Hayden’s question.
(Picture of Michael Hayden courtesy of Wikipedia.com)