Comparative Critique of Kennan's American Diplomacy and Williams the Tragedy of American Diplomacy

Comparative Critique of Kennan's American Diplomacy and Williams the Tragedy of American Diplomacy

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The works of William Appleman Williams and George F. Kennan have contributed to understanding of American diplomatic history during the period of 1900-1950. Kennan's book, American Diplomacy, offers a sharp critique with its focus on American "mistakes", specifically examining the absence of direction in American foreign policy and with the end result of American strength and insecurity at the start of the Cold War. Williams, in his book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, pursues a different but still critical perspective by asserting that American policy was largely motivated by the "Open Door" policy, which led to the eventual alienation of countries to the United States and ultimately created the Cold War. By analyzing these two works, contrasts in the authors' perceptions becomes clear regarding their treatment of the Spanish-American War, the Open Door Policy, and the origins of World War II. A greater understanding of these perceptions and their distinctions can shed light on the origins of the Cold War.

George F. Kennan starts his discussion on the Spanish-American War by examining the origins of the conflict. Short-term public opinion pressured the American government into a conflict with Spain. This conflict was not for national safety or seen as an enforcement action of the Monroe Doctrine, but was the result of subjective and emotional reasoning. Compounding this mistake was the acquisition of the Philippines, which served to encourage Americans to exploit economic opportunities in China resulting in Secretary of State John Hay's Open Door Policy.

In contrast, William Appleman Williams, states that the need for economic expansion led to the Spanish-American War. Imperialist impulses sought the acquisiti...


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...he basic concepts that should be the foundations of foreign policy. America's position in the world evolved from being a world power that was unconcerned about international security in 1900 to 1950 when America was still a world power, but Americans had to contend with the fear of annihilation by the Soviet Union. Williams states that the ultimate "tragedy of American diplomacy" was the failure of the Open Door Policy. This failure, according to the author, resulted not from its misapplication or inherent weaknesses, but rather its successes. This culminated into the Cold War, as Truman demanded resumption of the Open Door Policy without providing economic assistance to the Soviet Union. These perspectives have relevance in the contemporary international environment and could be utilized in an examination of American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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