Veteran diplomat and scholar George Kennan ’25 was given Whig-Clio’s James Madison Award for distinguished public service at the Society’s annual banquet in mid-April. Now an emeritus professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, he was the 1976 recipient of the university’s Woodrow Wilson Award for exemplifying “Princeton in the nation’s service.” The former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union was the principal architect of America’s policy of resisting Soviet expansionism after World War II and an early advocate of détente a decade later. He is the author of 16 books on the USSR.

In his acceptance speech, Kennan contrasted the “innocence” of his own student years with the present age. “There is no doubt in my mind that the world you are living in is an endangered one,” he told the more than 100 Whig-Clio members in attendance. “The problems are not only internal ones, like the budget deficit and the trade imbalance. And it is not just the nuclear danger. Beyond…looms environmental danger, overpopulation, the depletion of natural resources, pollution of the water and the air, and the misuse of outer space.”

Compounding everything, he continued, is the fact that “our political system is quite incapable of dealing with these dangers.” He also criticized the system for “creating in the name of national defense a monster – the military-industrial complex – which dominates Congress and government.” He added, “As long as the conventional wisdoms go unquestioned…things will not get better.” Kennan urged his student audience to “take the lead in breaking stereotypes” and work to change American institutions so that they might better cope with the problems of the day.

This was originally published in the April 24, 1985 issue of PAW.