George Kennan and the American-Russian Relationship, 1865-1924by Frederick F. Travis
George Kennan’s career as a specialist on Russian affairs began in 1865, with his first journey to the Russian empire. A twenty-year-old telegraphic engineer at the time, he was a member of the Russian-American Telegraph Expedition, a now virtually unknown but nevertheless remarkable nineteenth-century adventure story. That bold undertaking would have
George Kennan’s career as a specialist on Russian affairs began in 1865, with his first journey to the Russian empire. A twenty-year-old telegraphic engineer at the time, he was a member of the Russian-American Telegraph Expedition, a now virtually unknown but nevertheless remarkable nineteenth-century adventure story. That bold undertaking would have established telegraph service between the United States and Russia by submarine cable across the Bering Strait, an event unfortunately upstaged by the successful laying of the Atlantic Cable. Its directors subsequently abandoned the project.
But for Kennan the impact of the endeavor proved both formative and lasting; his work in northeastern Siberia as a member of the expedition had so piqued his interest in Russia that over half a century later it still was not slaked. By the time of his death in 1924, his various investigations of Russian subjects had resulted in numerous publications and lectures that had established his reputation as the leading American expert on Russia of his era.
The major concern of Frederick F. Travis’s book is the role of George Kennan in shaping American-Russian relations in the important half century before the Russian Revolution and its immediate aftermath. This study first establishes that Kennan began his career as an ardent Russophile, then carefully traces his shift to hostility following his investigation of the Siberian exile system in 1885-86, and explains in some detail his subsequent influence on public opinion. Kennan’s later work revealed a Russia of almost unrelieved political and economic distress in the tsarist empire, and of a noble, almost hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned opposition, contributing significantly to the unpreparedness with which America faced the Revolution of 1917. Kennan’s analysis of the October Revolution and its immediate aftermath served only to harden American attitudes toward the presumed evils of Bolshevism.
The picture of George Kennan that emerges from this study is the fullest to appear in any language, according him a standing in the history of American-Russian relations unequaled by any official participant.
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