George Kennan Says Farewell to the Policy Planning Staff, 1950

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Secretary of State George C. Marshall established the Policy Planning Staff in May 1947.  He created it to be the Department of State’s office for long range planning, the first in the Department’s history.  Marshall chose George F. Kennan as the first director of the staff.  Kennan, then a 22 year veteran of the Foreign Service, including several years in the U.S. embassy in Moscow during World War II, had written the famous “Long Telegram” of 1946 and the “Mr. X” article in Foreign Affairs that helped define the U.S. Cold War relationship with the USSR.  He is considered the father of the containment policy.

Kennan’s years at the Policy Planning Staff did not end well.  In his last months there he grew to understand that his ideas were out of step with the thinking of other senior officials, especially Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and the Policy Planning Staff was losing influence.  In late 1949, Kennan stepped aside as head of the Policy Planning Staff, but remained in the Department as Counselor, with the aim of taking a leave of absence beginning in June 1950.  Instead, he remained for several more months to help shape the U.S. response to the war in Korea.

After leaving the Department for a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, Kennan penned some verse as a farewell to the Policy Planning Staff.  He included this “farewell address” in his memoirs, noting their genesis as follows:

     I was driving . . . to a nearby nursery to buy some trees. Driving along the highway, I fell to reflecting on the occasional successes and the frequent failures the staff had experienced over those past two years and a half years, in its efforts to enrich the intellectual and decision-taking process of the United States government.  The process put me in mind of the bee, planting his pollen here and there, the flying on and never seeing or knowing the fruits of his little labor. The result was that I stopped the car by the side of the road, found a piece of paper, and penned a parting missive in verse to my erstwhile associates on the Policy Planning Staff.[i]

What he did not note in the memoir was that the verse was mimeographed for distribution to his former colleagues on the staff and likely many others in the Department of State and perhaps other agencies.[ii]

verse from George Kennan for his farewell address
G. F. Kennan to Members of the Policy Planning Staff, subject: Their Peculiar Fate, 6 Sept, 1950. Subject Files, RG 59

Kennan also did not note that one of the members of the staff, Charles B. Marshall, who Kennan noted as one of “the truly outstanding people” there,[iii] authored his own lines of verse in response that were also mimeographed for distribution.[iv] 

Response verse from Charles Marshall
“Lines to George F. Kennan” Suggested by his verse on a peculiar fate, from C. B. Marshall 25 Sept, 1950. Subject Files, RG 59

After leaving the Department in 1950, Kennan went on to a long and distinguished career as a diplomat, scholar, and public intellectual.  For Kennan’s own story, see:

♦George F. Kennan, MEMOIRS, 1925-1950 (Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown & co., 1967)

♦George F. Kennan, MEMOIRS, 1950-1963 (Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown & co., 1972) ♦George F. Kennan (Frank Costigliola, editor), THE KENNAN DIARIES (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2014.


[i] George F. Kennan, MEMOIRS, 1925-1950 (Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown & co., 1967), p. 469.

[ii] Source: George Kennan to Members of the Policy Planning Staff, September 6, 1950, file Policy Planning, 1947-52 (NAID 3562197), Entry A1-1583G, Policy Planning Council, Executive Secretary: Subject Files, 1935-62, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

[iii] George F. Kennan, MEMOIRS, 1925-1950 (Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown & co., 1967), p. 468.  Marshall was one of the few members of the staff mentioned by Kennan in his memoirs.

[iv] Source: C.B. Marshall, Lines to George F. Kennan, September 25, 1950, file Kennan (NAID 3562106), Entry A1-1583G, Policy Planning Council, Executive Secretary: Subject Files, 1935-62, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

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