Mr. George Kennanonce again displays his unique brand of fausse naivete in a recollection published in The New Yorker. Here is how he registers his shock of recognition activated by a stylish and moody encounter between William C. Bullitt, the first U.S. Ambassador to the U.S.S.R., and Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, on a Polish provincial railway station:
On the second day of that long railway journey, on a brutally cold afternoon, when the train has been rolling for hours over the frozen fields of western Poland, we stop for a while at the Polish town of Bialystok, and Litvinov gets out and paces gloomily up and down the station platform, coat collar up against the wind. Bullitt goes out and joins him, and Litvinov then tells Bullitt (as Bullitt later reports to me) that this place, Bialystok, is actually the place where he was born and brought up; and he observes how strange it is for him to find himself there again after all this time, and confesses to Bullitt that he never wanted to be Soviet Foreign Minister in the first place—that his real ambition had always been to be a librarian. And from this very human confession I begin to realize what I am never to be allowed to forget: that these Soviet Communists with whom we will now have to deal are flesh-and-blood people, like us—misguided, if you will, but no more guilty than we are of the circumstances into which we all were born—and that they, like us, are simply trying to make the best of it.
Kennan, one of our most eminent authorities on the Soviet Union, ought to be aware that Litvinov was a consummate liar. Stalin is supposed to have wisecracked that Litvinov had only his mendacity to recommend him as a diplomat. A small-town Polish Jew, he realized during his lifetime the wildest dreams about power a man of his descent in his geographical circumstances could have entertained. An ambition to be a librarian, my eye! It is as if Henry Ford confessed that all he wanted was to be an auto mechanic, or Elizabeth Taylor a nun. Litvinov was certainly an intelligent, well-read man, an heir to the grand Russian tradition of intellectual posturing. And what better scenery and audience for a little tableau than a God-forlorn train stop and a well-educated, but simpleminded (by Russian standards), highsociety American. Mr. Kennan declares himself an admirer of Chekhov, but he apparently learned nothing from his dissection of the hypocritical sentimentality of a Russian poseur. And on this “recognition,” Mr. Kennan based his lifelong, influential studies of Soviet Communist leadership.