Document PPS23, 24th February 1948

George Kennan

Former Head of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff

This is the complete text of the section of PPS/23 from which the quote is taken.  The complete paper was published in 1976 in Foreign Relations of the United States 1948, Vol. 1, No. 2.


    My main impression with regard to the position of this Government
    with regard to the Far East is that we are greatly over-extended
    in our whole thinking about what we can accomplish, and should try
    to accomplish, in that area.  This applies, unfortunately, to the
    people in our country as well as to the Government.

    It is urgently necessary that we recognize our own limitations as
    a moral and ideological force among the Asiatic peoples.

    Our political philosophy and our patterns for living have very
    little applicability to masses of people in Asia.  They may be all
    right for us, with our highly developed political traditions
    running back into the centuries and with our peculiarly favorable
    geographic position; but they are simply not practical or helpful,
    today, for most of the people in Asia.

    This being the case, we must be very careful when we speak of
    exercising "leadership" in Asia.  We are deceiving ourselves and
    others when we pretend to have the answers to the problems which
    agitate many of these Asiatic peoples.

    Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3%
    of its population.  This disparity is particularly great as
    between ourselves and the peoples of Asia.  In this situation, we
    cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment.  Our real
    task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships
    which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity
    without positive detriment to our national security.  To do so, we
    will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming;
    and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our
    immediate national objectives.  We need not deceive ourselves that
    we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.

    For these reasons, we must observe great restraint in our attitude
    toward the Far Eastern areas.  The peoples of Asia and of the
    Pacific area are going to go ahead, whatever we do, with the
    development of their political forms and mutual interrelationships
    in their own way.  This process cannot be a liberal or peaceful
    one.  The greatest of the Asiatic peoples--the Chinese and the
    Indians--have not yet even made a beginning at the solution of the
    basic demographic problem involved in the relationship between
    their food supply and their birth rate.  Until they find some
    solution to this problem, further hunger, distress, and violence
    are inevitable.  All of the Asiatic peoples are faced with the
    necessity for evolving new forms of life to conform to the impact
    of modern technology.  This process of adaptation will also be
    long and violent.  It is not only possible, but probable, that in
    the course of this process many peoples will fall, for varying
    periods, under the influence of Moscow, whose ideology has a
    greater lure for such peoples, and probably greater reality, than
    anything we could oppose to it.  All this, too, is probably
    unavoidable; and we could not hope to combat it without the
    diversion of a far greater portion of our national effort than our
    people would ever willingly concede to such a purpose.

    In the face of this situation we would be better off to dispense
    now with a number of the concepts which have underlined our
    thinking with regard to the Far East.  We should dispense with the
    aspiration to "be liked" or to be regarded as the repository of a
    high-minded international altruism.  We should stop putting
    ourselves in the position of being our brothers' keeper and
    refrain from offering moral and ideological advice.  We should
    cease to talk about vague and--for the Far East--unreal objectives
    such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and
    democratization.  The day is not far off when we are going to have
    to deal in straight power concepts.  The less we are then hampered
    by idealistic slogans, the better.

    We should recognize that our influence in the Far Eastern area in
    the coming period is going to be primarily military and economic.
    We should make a careful study to see what parts of the Pacific
    and Far Eastern world are absolutely vital to our security, and we
    should concentrate our policy on seeing to it that those areas
    remain in hands which we can control or rely on.  It is my own
    guess, on the basis of such study as we have given the problem so
    far, that Japan and the Philippines will be found to be the
    corner-stones of such a Pacific security system and if we can
    contrive to retain effective control over these areas there can be
    no serious threat to our security from the East within our time.

    Only when we have assured this first objective, can we allow
    ourselves the luxury of going farther afield in our thinking and
    our planning.

    If these basic concepts are accepted, then our objectives for the
    immediate coming period should be:

    (a) to liquidate as rapidly as possible our unsound commitments in
    China and to recover, vis-a-vis that country, a position of
    detachment and freedom of action;

    (b) to devise policies with respect to Japan which assure the
    security of those islands from communist penetration and
    domination as well as from Soviet military attack, and which will
    permit the economic potential of that country to become again an
    important force in the Far East, responsive to the interests of
    peace and stability in the Pacific area; and

    (c) to shape our relationship to the Philippines in such a way as
    to permit the Philippine Government a continued independence in
    all internal affairs but to preserve the archipelago as a bulwark
    of U.S. security in that area.

    Of these three objectives, the one relating to Japan is the one
    where there is the greatest need for immediate attention on the
    part of our Government and the greatest possibility for immediate
    action.  It should therefore be made the focal point of our policy
    for the Far East in the coming period.

Many thanks to researcher Russil Wvong who wrote to me supplying this information