Joseph E. Davies

Strategist and Scourge

George F. Kennan: An American Life By John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 784 pp., $39.95) I. George F. Keenan, who was born in 1904 and died in 2005, and served under presidents from Calvin Coolidge to John F. Kennedy, left as deep an imprint on American geopolitics as any intellectual of the twentieth century. But the exact nature of his achievement continues to elude full or even coherent description. One reason is that most of his very long life was spent in comparative obscurity.

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I. Trying political leaders: I do not mean trying them out, in advance, to see if we are likely to find their leadership disastrous, though that might be a good idea if we could find a way of doing it. In politics, judgment does not have to be, and often cannot be, after the fact. But it is post facto judgment that I wish to discuss: the morality and wisdom of putting political leaders on trial after we have endured their leadership and, perhaps, their crimes.

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I. Trying political leaders: I do not mean trying them out, in advance, to see if we are likely to find their leadership disastrous, though that might be a good idea if we could find a way of doing it. In politics, judgment does not have to be, and often cannot be, after the fact. But it is post facto judgment that I wish to discuss: the morality and wisdom of putting political leaders on trial after we have endured their leadership and, perhaps, their crimes.

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