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The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War

The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War

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by Nicholas Thompson

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A brilliant and revealing biography of the two most important Americans during the Cold War era—written by the grandson of one of them

Only two Americans held positions of great influence throughout the Cold War; ironically, they were the chief advocates for the opposing strategies for winning—and surviving—that harrowing conflict.


A brilliant and revealing biography of the two most important Americans during the Cold War era—written by the grandson of one of them

Only two Americans held positions of great influence throughout the Cold War; ironically, they were the chief advocates for the opposing strategies for winning—and surviving—that harrowing conflict. Both men came to power during World War II, reached their professional peaks during the Cold War's most frightening moments, and fought epic political battles that spanned decades. Yet despite their very different views, Paul Nitze and George Kennan dined together, attended the weddings of each other's children, and remained good friends all their lives.

In this masterly double biography, Nicholas Thompson brings Nitze and Kennan to vivid life. Nitze—the hawk—was a consummate insider who believed that the best way to avoid a nuclear clash was to prepare to win one. More than any other American, he was responsible for the arms race. Kennan—the dove—was a diplomat turned academic whose famous "X article" persuasively argued that we should contain the Soviet Union while waiting for it to collapse from within. For forty years, he exercised more influence on foreign affairs than any other private citizen.

As he weaves a fascinating narrative that follows these two rivals and friends from the beginning of the Cold War to its end, Thompson accomplishes something remarkable: he tells the story of our nation during the most dangerous half century in history.

Editorial Reviews

Mark Atwood Lawrence
Thompson treats both his subjects critically, at times harshly, and recounts their lives with the broader purpose of illuminating the core debates that drove American policy making. Thompson succeeds admirably in blending biography and intellectual history, painting colorful portraits of complicated men who embodied conflicting strains of American thinking about foreign policy.
—The New York Times
Jacob Heilbrunn
In The Hawk and the Dove, Nicholas Thompson…skillfully contrasts Nitze and Kennan. Thompson, who is Nitze's grandson, brings a judicial impartiality to the fierce disputes that raged between the two men. Thompson has enjoyed full access to his grandfather's archival documents, but perhaps his most impressive accomplishment is to have mined Kennan's extensive diaries for new insights. In this important and astute new study, Nitze emerges as a driven patriot and Kennan as a darkly conflicted and prophetic one.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The cold war was a matter of personalities as well as policies. From the 1940s through the 1980s, Paul Nitze and George Kennan were central actors at opposite poles. Nitze was the hawk. In the darkest days of the nuclear arms race, he argued that the way to avoid an atomic war was to prepare to win it. Few policymakers matched either his knowledge of weaponry or his persuasive skills. Even fewer matched Nitze's ability to alienate superiors, but his talent could not be overlooked for long. George Kennan was the dove, consistently arguing that the U.S. must end its reliance on nuclear weapons, advocating forbearance in the face of provocation. He had an unusual ability to forecast events: the Sino-Soviet split, the way the cold war would eventually end. In these days of personalized polarization, the close friendship between these two men seems anomalous—but instructive. That Thompson is Nitze's grandson does not inhibit his nuanced account of two men whose common goal of serving America's interests transcended perspectives. Their mutual respect and close friendship enabled administrations to balance their contributions. That balancing in turn significantly shaped the cold war's outcome. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Thompson (Wired magazine) has crafted an impressive dual biography of two of the most prominent participants in the 50-year-long Cold War. The author is the grandson of Paul Nitze; he became aware of a great deal of primary material that Nitze had filed away in storage cabinets unknown to other historians. George Kennan, the Dove of the title, a longtime State Department official famous as the author of containment as an approach to dealing with the Soviets, was often opposed intellectually by Nitze, who favored a more aggressive approach. Thompson weaves an impressive narrative that alternatively discusses what each man was doing and thinking over the decades between 1945 and about 1990; the two maintained a personal friendship in spite of their different personalities and politics. The book provides a more nuanced interpretation of the sometimes volatile Nitze, which serves as an important counterpoint to the better-known Kennan. VERDICT Thompson writes exceedingly well, and his book not only provides new information on Nitze and his friendship with Kennan, but will introduce a new generation of readers to these two significant architects of American Cold War policy. Recommended for all. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/09.]—Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Kirkus Reviews
A gently critical assessment of two influential shapers of U.S. foreign policy, hawk Paul Nitze (1907-2004) and dove George Kennan (1904-2005). Wired editor Thompson-Nitze's grandson-transitions eloquently between his two portraits. Kennan was the urbane writer from Milwaukee who cut his teeth at the American embassy in Moscow at the end of World War II, and warned early on about the need for a policy of "long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies." Nitze was the Wall Street upstart who started at the Defense Department under FDR assistant James Forrestal in 1940. Despite surveying firsthand the devastation of Hiroshima, he would propagate the buildup of the nuclear arsenal to match the Soviet threat during the next 40 years. Kennan first hired Nitze as his deputy at the Policy Planning staff, attempting to figure out how to implement a plan to resurrect the economies of Europe and draw them closer to America. Though they initially agreed on a hard-line approach to the Soviet threat, they began to drift apart on the hydrogen-bomb debate. Kennan warned against the "resource-devouring arms race," but Nitze's alarmist strategies won the day, convincing President Truman to pursue the bomb. During subsequent events in Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, the SALT talks, glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall, both men would play key roles, either as the bruising insider (Nitze) or diplomatic outsider (Kennan). Both made mistakes and vast turnarounds. Kennan testified against pursuing the war in Vietnam, yet worked with the FBI to track student demonstrators; Nitze alienated President Carter's SALT team by his hawkishness, yet admitted as anelder in 1999 that he saw "no compelling reason why we should not unilaterally get rid of our nuclear weapons." While ably portraying the unlikely friendship between the two men, Thompson doesn't take sides, but rather adheres to a respectful historic distance. A fascinating revisiting of Cold War estrangements. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn/The Sagalyn Agency
From the Publisher
"A gently critical assessment of two influential shapers of U.S. foreign policy.... Fascinating." ---Kirkus

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The Hawk and The Dove

Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War

By Nicholas Thompson

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2009 Nicholas Thompson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4050-4



Surrounded by chaos, George Kennan remained calm. He stood on the balcony of the American embassy in Moscow, gazing down on the wild celebration below. Women in headscarves danced, screamed, and hugged one another. Men in big lumpy jackets raised their arms and passed each other through the air. Kennan's nine-year-old daughter, Joan, pranced about on the balcony, tossing candy down to the celebrants. Starved of sugar for the last few years, people lunged up to catch the Life Savers and Necco Wafers.

It was May 9, 1945, just after American and Soviet troops met in Berlin, together snuffing out the last noxious flames of Nazism. Four years before, invading German forces had pressed up against the very outskirts of Moscow. But the Red Army had held the city, and then gradually begun to push the Wehrmacht back. For the last two years, the Soviets had steadily marched west, with the government marking each victory by firing salutes over Moscow. The bigger the victory, the bigger the salvo. In recent months, Muscovites had followed their soldiers' progress by counting the shots exploding gloriously into the night sky.

As word of the capitulation spread, Soviet citizens had swarmed toward the American embassy, a five-story building just across Red Square from the Kremlin. By early morning on a cloudless day, thousands of people were standing out front, cheering. America had helped defeat the Germans and it had supplied wartime Russia with everything from Spam to Studebakers. "Now is the time to live," declared a Russian officer deep in the crowd. "Boy, oh boy," mused a young American corporal, "if I'd played post office every day until I got into the army, I wouldn't have been kissed as many times as I've been kissed today."

Amid the frenzy, Kennan remained more pensive than passionate. The door now opening led to a very uncertain future. Old Europe had dominated the world for centuries. Now, two countries from beyond Europe's borders — a former British colony separated by an ocean and a neighbor long considered backward — had joined hands at the center of the continent. From this moment on, everything began anew.

Kennan, a student of history, understood that the future depended on who won the peace, not only on who had won the war. The communists in Russia had been a small, isolated group of pamphleteers before grabbing power in the mayhem of 1917. "The aftermaths of wars are the decisive moments of foreign policy," he had written his sister two years earlier.

It is here, in the fields of broken ice, that the lines are drawn which endure — depending on the wisdom with which they are selected — anywhere from a generation to a century. And it is naturally the victors to whom these opportunities present themselves. This is the second great chance we have had. We muffed the first. If we muff this, too, can we be sure that we will be given a third?

With the ambassador away, Kennan, the deputy chief of mission, was the most senior diplomat present. Terrified that the masses might carry him off on their shoulders or toss him in the air, he eventually began waving from the balcony. Then, as the crowd continued to surge and grow, he decided he really had to do something more. He walked downstairs and stepped gingerly out onto the pedestal of one of the great columns in front of the building.

FORTY-ONE YEARS OLD in the spring of 1945, George Frost Kennan stood about six feet tall. He dressed in a gray or black three-piece suit, wore a felt fedora, and stood straight. He had already lost much of his hair, which helped to give him a dignified and weathered look. When deep in contemplation, which was much of the time, he would draw his eyebrows together narrowly. The feature everyone noticed first was his eyes: a bright but pale blue — to many friends, an index of the intensity of the thought behind them.

He liked to take long walks through the countryside, and he liked to sketch, always in black and white, because he was colorblind. Everything in his life was ordered and neat: he kept every tool he owned in exactly the right place and always wrote his thank-you notes on Christmas Day. He enjoyed making things with his hands, and he loved telling stories to his daughter, Joan, the nine-year-old on the balcony. At night, he would regale her with tales about two pixies named Tim and Bell and their droopy-eared cocker spaniel, Uncle Zachariah. He made up these stories as he went, always ending in a way that made her want to hear more.

He felt deeply; he observed deeply; he saw every event as an opportunity to train his mind. Disciplined in the extreme, he believed that outward order, created by staying in control of his actions and his attire, could offset inner turmoil. And of the latter there was much. Kennan despaired for his country and for himself. To his friends, he appeared perpetually worried. Throughout his life, he kept a dark and somber diary, entering a world of literary self-flagellation even on days when he appeared cheery. When traveling alone, instead of calling ahead to find a good restaurant, he would wait until the last minute, rush out to the most miserable-looking place in the neighborhood, and then complain about the food.

Kennan felt an almost karmic connection to the Soviet Union. An older relative, also named George Kennan, had explored Russia in the late nineteenth century and written popular books criticizing the czardom and describing life in Siberia. The younger Kennan would often say that he felt like a reincarnation of the traveler: his birthday, he would point out, February 16, 1904, fell fifty-nine years to the day after his namesake's.

Soon after joining the Foreign Service, Kennan had begun to study the Soviet Union. He began working in the American embassy in Moscow when it opened in 1933, after the United States normalized relations with the Communist government. He stayed until 1937 and returned in 1944. He traveled extensively, studied the Soviet economy, and read much of Russia's classical literature. He started writing a book on Chekhov, though he never finished it. He spoke better formal Russian than Stalin, whose thick Georgian accent was hard for many Muscovites to understand.

Living abroad, Kennan missed the events that transformed America during his early adult years: the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the mobilization for World War II. His distance from his homeland was matched by his closeness to this new place. "As always Russia seems something poignantly familiar and significant to me — as though I had lived here in childhood, and I react intensely to everything I see and hear," he wrote upon his return to Moscow in 1944. "It gave me an indescribable sort of satisfaction to feel myself back again in the midst of these people — with their tremendous pulsating warmth and vitality. I sometimes feel that I would rather be sent to Siberia among them ... than to live on Park Avenue among our own stuffy folk."

These warm feelings extended only to the people and the landscape, and only to the boundaries of Russia proper. For the Soviet government, and for communism, Kennan had nothing but contempt. Having worked as Ambassador Joseph Davies's interpreter during the purge trials of the 1930s, Stalin's first effort to exterminate everyone who might have ever had an independent or counterrevolutionary thought, Kennan saw through the dictator's madness and demonic suspicion. Stalin, in turn, was aware of the young American and his opinions.

During World War II, Kennan watched Moscow squeeze its supposed allies whenever it could. In the months leading up to the exultation in Red Square, he tried desperately to warn Washington that the Soviet Union was gobbling up eastern Europe and absorbing lands with every right to independence. Poland — an ally of the United States and Russia and an early victim of the Nazis — was a particular concern. Kennan was certain that the Soviet Union was behind the massacre of nearly five thousand Polish officers in the Katyn Forest early in the war. In 1944, the Soviets had refused to give aid after the Polish resistance rose up against the Germans in Warsaw; more frustratingly to Kennan, Moscow even refused to allow the United States the use of a base in Ukraine to help deliver arms to the resistance. It seemed clear to Kennan that Moscow intended to turn postwar Poland into a communist vassal state, not one run by democrats or friends of the West. "Soviet political aims in Europe are not, in the main, consistent with the happiness, prosperity or stability of international life on the rest of the continent," Kennan wrote his friend Charles Bohlen, then Franklin Roosevelt's interpreter, in January 1945.

No matter how anxious he felt as delight engulfed the Moscow streets on May 9, Kennan was still the ranking American in the capital. He had to respond to this outpouring somehow. He stood upon the pedestal: deeply hostile to the government, devoted to the people, and terrified that some epic clash was looming between a country he had learned to love and the country he served. The crowd quieted and looked up; his daughter stopped tossing the candy and peeked over at her father.

"Congratulations on the day of victory," shouted Kennan. "All honor to the Soviet allies." The crowd screamed riotously, and he darted back inside.

THAT SAME DAY, another fast-rising student of international affairs sat in his office in Grosvenor Square, London. He was exhausted, having spent the previous days racing around the German front. But the winding down of the war meant the acceleration of his job. And he would soon get an urgent message — to his mind, the best he could possibly receive.

Thirty-eight-year-old Paul Henry Nitze was one of the directors of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, an organization charged with investigating the effectiveness of the Allied bombardment of German industry. Ground troops had dominated past wars, but many people believed that airpower would win the wars of the future. Nitze's job was to draw the strategic lessons from this conflict.

Nitze stood a wiry five foot nine and three-quarters. What everyone noticed first was his intensity: the pencil ripping through paper as he took notes, the constant motion, the desire to break every problem apart and reassemble it as a series of neatly ordered lists. He grasped concepts quickly; he gave orders well and carried them out exactly; he seemed to need little sleep. Even when ostensibly relaxing at home, he would stay up late talking, eating, and drinking but then get up at four A.M. to read. He delighted in the origin of his last name. "Nitze," he liked to assert, comes from the same root as the Greek word nike, "and the Greek word nike means 'victory.'"

He dressed with haste, but always in a fine suit and often in elegant suspenders. Although he was perpetually a bit rumpled, he gave the impression of a man with excellent taste who had more important things on his mind. (A burglar once cleaned out his closet and passed up everything else in the house.) When at home, he would begin his days by practicing Bach on the piano. After work, he would return and mix a martini for himself, judging the gin and vermouth ratio according to, he claimed, a finely calibrated sense of sound. He loved to meet new people. "PHN collects people," his wife wrote, "as some collect butterflies."

An economist by training, Nitze had spent the 1930s working as an investment banker (and learning that one can make money even when an economy collapses). He had moved from Wall Street to Washington as the Panzers rumbled through France in the early summer of 1940. He spent much of the next five years at the State Department, mainly working to obtain strategic minerals from South America. But in May 1945, as the ceasefire sounded, he was flying back and forth between London and the front lines, carrying a pistol. His noncombatant ID for that period shows a haggard figure, bow tie slightly askew.

He had come to the USSBS through a back door. In the fall of 1944, an old family friend, Colonel Guido Perera, mentioned that he was helping to start up this new organization. A few days later, Nitze got into a fierce argument with his boss at the Foreign Economic Administration, Leo Crowley, over a group of people Nitze had "borrowed" from elsewhere in the State Department to help on a project. The fight ended with Nitze resigning and Crowley hollering that if he quit now the younger man would never again work in a Democratic administration. Nitze strode out, hopped in a cab, and headed to Perera's USSBS offices at the Pentagon. As he liked to tell the story, he had another job within two hours of Crowley's threat.

Just as Russia had special meaning for Kennan, so did Germany for Nitze. Both his grandfathers had been born there, he learned the language as a child, and his parents identified strongly with its intellectual traditions and culture. The Nitzes had been in Germany when World War I broke out; seven-year-old Paul had watched from a hotel window in Munich while people lined the sides of the central road to cheer the first soldiers marching off to the front. His father pinned a small American flag on the boy's clothes so that no one would mistake him for a Brit. At fifteen, Paul worked in the engine room of a ship that traveled across the Atlantic to Germany. He returned in 1929, delightedly exploring Berlin and the countryside by bicycle with a new friend named Alexander Calder. In spring 1937, he had cruised through the country with his wife in a Ford Model T. As an adult, Nitze found much pleasure in Beethoven, Wagner, Goethe, and Hegel. The culture of the fallen Kaiser Reich was to be admired and honored, and his USSBS work was thus much more than a means to analyze the effects of the Allied bombing; it was part of a quest to understand what had deformed the country of his roots.

Nitze's job in early May of 1945 was to track down the surviving leaders of the Third Reich, particularly those who could assess the effectiveness of the air campaign. Nitze was coordinating a series of teams dashing about countrywide, measuring bomb crater depths and rounding up enemy technocrats. He would join his men for interrogations, when not journeying through the ruins himself, and then return to headquarters to report back.

And this day, as he worked in London, he got an urgent message. Two of his people poking through makeshift offices in northern Germany had found a door marked "Speer," gone inside, and waited. About an hour later, an elegant man walked in and declared that, yes, he was indeed Reichminister Albert Speer — the man known as Hitler's architect. Speer probably knew more than anyone else about what the raids had accomplished, and now he was in Nitze's hands.

ALBERT SPEER HAD JOINED the Nazis out of misplaced idealism and opportunism, not boiling hatred. An energetic young storm trooper, he caught Hitler's eye in 1933 and became the Führer's luncheon partner. From then on, each step forward meant one deeper into darkness. Soon he earned the task of designing the structures appropriate for a Thousand-Year Reich. His statues would out-tower the Statue of Liberty; his arches would dwarf the Arc de Triomphe; history, he hoped, would rank his buildings far above those of the pharaohs. His personality matched his creations: cold and technocratic, overwhelming and overbearing.

In 1942, Speer became the Reich's minister of armaments. For the next three years, he would maniacally, and brilliantly, manage steel shipments, railroad tracks, and components for V-2 missiles. As German production somehow kept going under the rain of bombs, Speer began to earn a reputation as a wartime genius: a master of detail who could somehow increase Germany's fighter aircraft production even after the Allies had destroyed all the plants along with the ball-bearing factories that fed them. Speer was a worthy enemy, the West decided. His black magic explained how Germany had resisted for so long.

But in May 1945, the towering enemy had crumbled. Hitler had spent most of the past year living in a damp underground bunker, receiving daily injections of sulfides and other toxins that he considered panaceas, even as they slowly mottled his skin and rotted his mind. As the Russians and Americans closed in, he demanded one last round of death, calling for the heads of his brother-in-law, his old surgeon, and other newfound "traitors." Then he put a pistol in his mouth while his wife of twenty-four hours poisoned herself next to him on their sofa.

With Hitler dead and the war over, Speer knew the role he would have to play to survive: the man of all-knowing competence. Germany was full of besotted men who had once held great power and who either defied their captors or were merely too hungover to be of much use as informants. The Allies could capture them, interrogate them, learn nothing, and have no reason to keep them alive. Speer would be affable, charming, and indispensable.


Excerpted from The Hawk and The Dove by Nicholas Thompson. Copyright © 2009 Nicholas Thompson. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Nicholas Thompson is an editor at Wired magazine, a fellow at the New America Foundation, and a regular contributor to CNN. He has written articles for The New York Times, The Washington Post and numerous other publications. A grandson of Paul Nitze's, he lives in New York City with his wife and son.

Nicholas Thompson is an editor at Wired magazine, a fellow at the New America Foundation, and a regular contributor to CNN. He has written articles for The New York Times, The Washington Post and numerous other publications. A grandson of Paul Nitze’s, he lives in New York City with his wife and son.

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The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
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JPotestivo More than 1 year ago
A good read for anyone interested in "Cold War 101." Far from an in depth study of Kennan, Nitze or the Cold War, "The Hawk and the Dove..." nevertheless delivers an interesting survey of each through the juxtaposition of the two foreign policy heavyweights' careers.
DGUTS More than 1 year ago
This dual biography is a masterpiece. The subject is important, the research is impeccable, and the writing is flawless and very engaging. One of the best books I have read in a while.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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