Skip to content

George Frost Kennan


Mr. President, it is a personal privilege to present George Kennan.

Clark’s graduation ceremony la graced by the presence of this distinguished diplomat, national policy advisor, historian, expert on American-Soviet relations. Now in his 80th year, this elder statesman should be especially honored for his wisdom, courage, and eloquence in speaking out on the two major issues of our time: nuclear disarmament and the defamation of the Soviet government which, on the American side, propels the arms race.

More than any other prominent American George Kennan has responded to the agonies of power politics and war in our age. An observant teenager during World War I, he trained for the nation’s service at Princeton University. Choosing to become a career diplomat he was stationed in his most impressionable years amidst the rawest realities of totalitarian rule, in Moscow and Berlin. During World War II he spent grim years in Moscow until the break-up of the American-Soviet alliance. Raised to sudden prominence in 1946 he became America’s chief interpreter of Soviet intentions, caught up in the confused post-war reorientation of the American presence in the world. While helping to define the American response to Soviet expansion, he was yet deeply aware of the fatal risks in Super Power rivalry during an age of atomic weapons. Even at the height of his influence he stuck to the qualifications which he had set earlier for people charged with keeping the precarious peace. These qualifications, in his on words, were: “a gift for self-effacement, a decent educational background, an intellectual humility before the complexity of the Russian world, and above all an exceptional capacity for patience.” He has steadfastly kept to his own advice.

Finding little response to his advice within the government or among the public, he retired in 1950 to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton for a second career as a diplomatic historian. Despite two brief interludes as ambassador to the USSR and Yugoslavia, he has kept to his scholarly pursuits. He has devoted himself to the study of Soviet-American relations and to public enlightenment on this crucial issue in American foreign policy. He has published many volumes, one of which was honored by a Pulitzer Prize, another by a National Book Award. All his writings are outstanding for their impeccable historical scholarship, intellectual integrity, and grace of writing.

Seeing ever more clearly with how little wisdom the world is governed, George Kennan has addressed, alone and in company with other eminent Americans, the major issue of nuclear disarmament and world peace with increasing urgency. For these efforts he was awarded in 1981 the Albert Einstein Peace Prize.

We here pay tribute not only to him personally but also to the inspirations which prompted his efforts on behalf of peace: his love for his country; his sense of responsibility for America’s peaceful role in the world; his gentlemanly dedication to public service; his life-long commitment to the intellectual and spiritual arts embodied in historical studies as a guide to human action in the perilous game of power politics; and, informing all these qualities, a transcendent moral obligation toward all humanity.

Mr. President, in recognition of George Frost Kennan’s distinguished contributions to society I request, on behalf of the Trustees and Faculty of Clark University that the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, be conferred upon him.