Dean Acheson appeared angry. The former secretary of state fumed at the “foolishness” unleashed by George F. Kennan's radio broadcasts over the BBC in November–December 1957. Kennan, who in 1946–7 had pushed for containing the Soviet Union, was now urging negotiations leading to a US–Soviet military “disengagement” from Central Europe and the establishment of a neutral, reunified Germany. Acheson was proud of having helped create a prosperous West Germany anchored in US-led NATO. Now Kennan was fanning hopes for an easing of East–West tensions and perhaps even an end to the division of Germany. Those changes would undo Acheson's handiwork and undermine America's predominance in Europe. The elder statesman hit back hard, and with a proven strategy. He assailed his opponent's credibility as a rational, sound thinker. In a January 1958 statement published widely in the US and European press, Acheson charged that “Mr. Kennan has never, in my judgment, grasped the realities of power relationships.” Here was Kennan, who had made his reputation as a hard-headed “realist,” being accused of woolly-minded, emotional thinking. In a lead article in Foreign Affairs Acheson went as far as to associate Kennan with the “‘unlovely hordes of apes and monkeys’” from mankind's evolutionary past, those “‘flighty’” creatures with “so much love for absurd and idle chatter.” From his perch as a top Washington journalist, James Reston opined that Acheson's newspaper attack ranked as a “public service,” for “next to the Lincoln Memorial in moonlight, the sight of Mr. Dean Acheson blowing his top is without doubt the most impressive sight in the capital.”
It is not surprising that such incidents, and foreign relations more generally, entail emotional thinking and reactions. The foreign/transnational/international relations of individuals, groups, and states are often high-stakes, cross-cultural, nail-biting ventures. Despite the “realist” assumption that foreign policy remains the domain of the rational actor appraising objective national interests, emotion has figured prominently in the making of foreign policy. Emotional perceptions have predisposed foreign policymakers to propose or oppose policies, make friends or enemies, pursue peace or war. Without succumbing to emotional determinism, historians can examine how culturally inflected, complex emotional reactions – such as insecure pride, craving for respect, anxiety about change, and fear of appearing fearful – have complicated international relations at all levels. Emotions history enables us to delve deeper into the thoughts, motivations, and behavior of historical actors.