Thursday, June 15, 2017

The "Ugly American," has become synonymous with the uncouth American traveler who makes no effort to integrate into a country he is traveling through.  Rather, he puts his chauvinistic attitudes on full display, like this man at a Shanghai airport recently.  Fortunately, it seems that more Americans try to be respectful when traveling abroad.

However, this isn't what William Lederer and Eugene Burdick were writing about in the mid 1950s.  They were appalled by the poor attitudes of American embassies in Asian countries, whose ambassadors seemed to have no idea what was going on around them.   The 1955 novel was based on their own experiences, as summed up in the fictional Southeast Asian country of Sarkhan.  The Ugly American in this case isn't an uncouth traveler, but rather a homely, hard-working man who sees an opportunity to do good in a country that has only seen the worst side of the United States.

Homer Atkins is a millionaire engineer, who tries to initiate projects that actually help people, and some felt he was the progenitor for the Peace Corps.  Apparently, Kennedy spread numerous copies of the book among his staff, hoping to create a similar proactive environment with his state department.  Eventually, this led to the Peace Corps.

From his description, Homer sounds more like a modern-day Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, using his millions to spread relief around the world, counter-acting the policies of his own government. We also see a similar case where Michael Bloomberg has offered $15 million to continue to pay our dues in the Paris Climate Agreement in spite of the current presidential administration's decision to pull out of the landmark agreement.

One assumes Lederer and Burdick would be proud their book had such a profound impact on American foreign policy.  Many ambassadors now take the trouble to learn the language of the country they serve in, as do members of their embassies.  The US Embassy in Vilnius is actively involved in promoting programs to improve the education system in Lithuania at the local level, picking up where the Peace Corps left off in 2002.

Still, there is a lot to question in the way the State Department distributes and manages aid around the world.  USAID has often come under fire for its dubious practices.  A lot depends on the administration in the White House.

I'm looking forward to receiving my copy of the book and hope that we can generate a discussion.  In the meantime, I've checked out the 1963 movie based on the book, with Marlon Brando and Pat Hingle as the main characters, Ambassador MacWhite an Homer Atkins.


  1. I've done a quick read-through of the audio book and will now do a more thorough reading. Indeed, it is an attack on American arrogance and political failure in SE Asia during the 1950s. That because of the arrogance and complacency, the USA failed to recruit SE Asians into its campaign on stopping the spread of communism under Mao, Russia, and Viet Minh. The USA establishment in that region consisted of old world bureaucrats and elitists who were more concerned with making a profit on their terms without regard for the needs of the local peoples. Further, the American presence serves to exacerbate existing difficulties. The communists because of their apparent or seeming empathy take full advantage of those problems. This often happened with violent or tragic consequences.

    Americans sent into that region had little or no preparation or qualification for the job. But the book offers a series of solutions for these deficiencies. If Washington DC heeded this advice, we would not have had the Vietnam war with 58,000 dead Americans. But then, the war wasn't about communism, it was about war profits as we saw in the "Pentagon Papers".

    "The Ugly American" remains as relevant today as it did a generation ago. It makes for very interesting and illuminating reading.

  2. 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love:

    Very relevant today as the same stupid politics, ignorance, and economic corruption that led to Nam have also led to the current mess in the Middle East.

    "Half a century later, it should be clear that Washington’s present quest for "national security" can never end. The national security state itself is a machine that constantly fuels the very fears it claims to fight. In doing so, what it actually condemns Americans to is nothing less than a PERMANENT STATE of insecurity.

    The quest for a more balanced (or even unbalanced) approach to security in the 1960s pointed a way toward at least the possibility of an American world of diminished fears. Now, with a man in the Oval Office who sees enemies everywhere and declares that he alone can save us from them, and with nearly 4 in 10 Americans still approving of the way he’s trying to "save" us, if only there were a radical critique of "national security" somewhere in our world.''

    It is the same quest for corporate war profits and political idiocies that have caused all this mess.

  3. William Lederer

    The man is no stranger to those who watch Hollywood movies that deal with naval issues. He was a career Navy man and wrote the story of Ensign Pulver and McHale's Navy among other works. He gave more specific factual details about USA political corruption in SE Asia in his book "A Nation of Sheep":

    Says one commentator:

    "the political/social/cultural mess I have lived through during all that time, convinces me Lederer was right. We, the people, have given our thinking processes over to Big business/Big Government/and those who don't know how to do anything except manipulate money and the populace. The end of democracy in 2016, which has just expired, only contributed to my disgust with the insane world we live in. We are no longer a nation of freedom, only those who control the arms and purse strings have any freedom - we did it to ourselves by listening to the opinions of others and not accepting our own basic intelligence. A Nation of Sheep is a most appropriate epithet for individual liberity"

  4. Eugene Burdick

    Collaborator Burdick was a brilliant scholar who, sadly, died at a young age due to illness (he had been a WW II marine and athlete despite having medical conditions). He was famous in his time for writing the staggering book "Fail Safe":

    The movie had a great social impact by warning the world of the menace of sub orbital nukes being flown by governments. We do not know how many were in the skies back then but it was rumored that there were many:

    The 1968 Star Trek episode "Assignment Earth" starring Robert Lansing and Teri Garr also dealt with this critical matter:

    History has not been good in regard to the memory of Burdick and his many accomplishments. While he recommended nuke disarmament, he affirmed the crazed Domino Theory and had been an apologist for LBJ's war in Vietnam. Because of this, he was disregarded by those on the left while right wingers hated his anti-nuke stance.

  5. Hadn't seen this before:

    Definitely proves Burdick was quite an athlete. As to why he has been forgotten:

  6. Ale Man, I like that. Nice little bios on Lederer and Burdick. Will start with the movie as I'm still waiting on the book to arrive.

  7. Darn - neither library in my area has a copy of the book nor of the movie. I have just made a request for inter -library loan for both and hopefully they will be available in 2 weeks time. I understand the movie is very different from the book but the message is essentially the same.


    The expression "ugly American" is still in use for a variety of reasons. Example:

    7 Signs You’re An Ugly American

    Bad news, fellow Americans. The rest of the world thinks we’re terrible travelers. It’s so bad, in fact, that the term “Ugly American” has become shorthand for any tourist that sticks out or misbehaves abroad. (Don’t blame us, we didn’t coin the phrase.) Read on to see if you fit the stereotype.


    White sneakers, a fanny pack, a baseball hat ... and a Canadian-flag patch sewn onto your backpack. This uniform can make a tourist stand out—and not in a good way. Wear what’s comfortable, but do make an effort to blend in with what the locals wear, especially when it comes to covering up in more modest countries. We’ve also seen many Americans utilize the Canadian flag to pretend they’re not from the US while traveling. Don’t be ashamed of our country — be an example of what’s good about it. Let your behavior and attitude leave a positive impression when you travel instead of pretending to be from somewhere else.

    English Only ....

    The sentiments expressed above are re-echoed by famed world traveller Rick Steves:

    Still, it cannot be denied that the political "ugly American(s)" still exist and remain detested overseas.

  8. One major reason why the USA's campaigns were doomed from the beginning, and why it lost in Indochina, was because of its support of French imperialist terrorism in that area:

    ''French colonialism was more haphazard, expedient and brutal than that of the British. Paris never articulated a clear and coherent colonial policy for Indochina – so long as it remained in French hands and open to French economic interests, the French government was satisfied. The political management of Indochina was left to a series of governors, appointed by Paris. More than 20 governors were sent to Indochina between 1900 and 1945; each had different attitudes and approaches. Colonial governors, officials and bureaucrats had significant autonomy and authority, so often wielded more power than they ought have. This situation encouraged self-interest, corruption, venality and heavy-handedness.''

    {P}rofit, not politics, was the real driving factor behind the French colonization of Indochina. Colonial officials and French companies transformed Vietnam’s thriving subsistence economy into a proto-capitalist system, based on land ownership, increased production, exports and low wages. Millions of Vietnamese no longer worked to provide for themselves; they now worked for the benefit of their French overlords. The French seized vast swathes of land and reorganised them into large plantations ... ''

    This ruthless aggression and imperialist terrorism began in the 1880s. The occupation continued well into the 1940s when the fascist Japanese invaded. After WW II, when so many peoples of that region helped the French and the allies remove the Japanese, the French rewarded those peoples by another series of invasions, occupation, and depredations.

    These politically criminal acts were supported by the USA.

    By contrast, the Soviet Union CONDEMNED these actions. This gave then a huge head start in winning over the peoples of Indochina.

  9. Soviet propaganda became a great influence all over the Third World as communism was projected as a liberating force against Western imperialism and as a source for advancement:

    Please pay particular attention to page 18 & 19 (sorry, I don't know how to cut and paste those specific segments). In those parts we see that Lenin was portrayed as a benevolent provider for needy internationals. Moreover, within the Soviet Union he was portrayed as a Messianic figure who was the source for all sustenance and freedom from want.

    I well remember listening on short wave radio to Radio Moscow and its pro Soviet propaganda back in the 1960s. Every night you could hear stories about the evils of ruthless and exploitative capitalism while hearing propaganda about the ''virtues'' of communism. People throughout the world listened all the time and saw on tv how USA cities would break out in riots due to racial injustices and the Vietnam war. Similar things were witnessed by people throughout the world in the 40s/50s as well. Thus, there is no secret as to why the USA fared so badly in Indochina.

  10. When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.

    ~ Desmond Tutu

    Haven't two hundred years of failed missionary work overseas taught anybody anything? You can't convert people to anything - whether religion, or something as inane as our flicks.

    ~ Kevin Smith

    In Indochina as elsewhere, the Christian missionaries and other Westerners brought the Bible with its all-too-often false sense of hope while the Russians brought food, irrigation, medicine, and technology. No surprise why one failed and the other succeeded.

  11. "The Quiet American"

    Graham Greene's excellent novel which depicted Vietnam under the imperialistic occupation of the French, British, and Americans. As with "Ugly", it predicted the serious consequences that would arise out of the stupidity of the continued and unjustifiable occupation of that land along with the depredations imposed its innocent people by the foreign imperialists. As with Iraq today, the capitalists who profited from the wars continue to rub their hands in orgasmic glee while American taxpayers paid a price in terms of money and blood. Despite all the predictions, all the facts, all the profiteering by the wealthy elites, all the disruptions that occurred in the occupied lands, all the upheavals which arose, the wars continue. There have even been calls for the expansion of those wars.

    With all this as precedent, I can safely and accurately say that it will happen again.

  12. The funny thing is the white sneakers and baseball caps are all the rage in Europe at the moment. Americans would fit right in. Whether Europe likes it or not they have adopted much of the American "culture" over the years. You have bad boy movie directors, crazy politicians and a religious nativism that has crept into the continent that is going to be pretty hard to purge.

    1. The grass is always greener on the other side.

      In the past we have discussed on this forum several books which revealed how certain Americans of the intellectual sort idealized and imitated Europeans. This starting with the Transcendentalists such as Margaret Fuller and others in Italy during its civil war of the 1840s/50s. We have also discussed William James whose books dealt almost exclusively with overseas Yanks. We've also touched upon the so called "Lost Generation" of American Bohemians living in the continent during the 1920s. But ones thing these ex-pats (many of whom returned after a prolonged period of times overseas) had in common was that they were all intellectual elites, many of whom came from wealthy families.

      Decades later, Europeans became enthralled with the American intellectuals such as the Beat Niks of the 1950s and imitated them. I well remember when Rock & Roll stars such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Eric Burdon & the Animals were asked who inspired their works, they all pointed to black blues singers of the 1940s such as Big Joe Turner, Eddie Kirkland, Muddy Waters, and others as their musical inspirations. Then a working class subculture phenomenon arose as Mods & Rockers (both comprised of working class peoples) became rivals. As with those R & R stars above, they were the poorer classes of society, not from intellectual or wealthy elites as were the American ex-pats.

      Funny how elite Americans idealized wealthy Europeans while poor Europeans idealized the lower classes in American society.

  13. I finally received the book and read the first three chapters. It's a real page turner! Sets up five interesting characters right and I haven't even got to Homer Atkins yet. Basically we have the cunning of the Communists pitted against the ignorance of the Americans with the interesting role of the "Papists" led by an American Jesuit hoping to rid Indochina of communist before it spreads like a Biblical plague. The Communists are represented by a hardnosed agent named Krupitzyn. Probably the most interesting character so far is Colvin, a former American soldier who wants to turn the Sarkanese onto milk only to be undermined by Deong, who had helped him defeat the Japanese in WWII. Lots of intrigue here. One can see why it was adapted into a movie.

  14. Not what I expected at all. The Ugly American is a series of character sketches moreso than a traditional story. Quite a few characters presented of all stripes, from truly ugly Americans like Lou Sears to revolutionary priests like Father Finian to Iowa farm boys trying to revitalize chicken farming in Cambodia. All very interesting. So where do we start, Trip?

    1. Good start, just where it belongs with a good analysis of the principles in this Cold War classic:

      What is most notable about them is the realism of the characters and setting. They actually seem to come out of TV news coverage from that time, not just from a work of fiction. If you were old like me, you would readily recognize these people because of the prevailing news of that turbulent era. I can readily imagine Douglas Edwards, Robert Trout, and Charles Collingwood among others giving us live feeds from the battle scene reports of these proceedings.

  15. A little bit before my time, but did note that Hillindale was very similar to the descriptions of Lansdale. Illustrious career until he encountered Castro,

    What I'm enjoying is that it gives me a sense of what it was it like when my mother served in the State Dept. between 1952-54 in Angola.

    1. For some reason, the name of General Edward Lansdale stands out in my memory. While there is no question that he served honorably during WW II, he subsequently became an imperialist agent who engaged in subversive terrorist activity in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cuba. His was a household name back in the day as he appeared on several Tv interviews where he attempted to "justify" the imperialistic invasion of Vietnam by the USA. Far too many people bought into his propaganda. Thankfully, the majority of patriotic Americans did not.

      Castro's successful revolution victory is proof that you just cannot win a war without support from the majority of the people. Lansdale, the CIA, fascist Batista, and the corporate Mafia may have had much money on their side. But they lacked the will of the people. This is why those evildoers lost. And why the USA can never win in the Middle East. Sadly, the lessons imparted by "Ugly American" were never adopted by the powers that be as war profits remain their primary goals.

      Over the years, I've been doubtful of any possible role Lansdale may have had in the assassination of President Kennedy as has been suggested by some. In reviewing some videos on youtube and elsewhere, I now find myself wondering if, indeed, there may have been a connection. Wouldn't be too big a surprise considering his history of subversion and terrorism.

    2. What was interesting to me is how favorably Lederer and Burdick spoke of "HIllindale." He was clearly one of his role models for how Americans should work abroad. Like you said, Lansdale was an opportunistic foreign agent purely interested in promoting American interests abroad.

    3. I wonder if Lederer ever changed his mind about Lansdale especially after the Pentagon Papers were disclosed. Will have to look into that some day.

      It's amazing how times have changed as back in the day people used all kinds of {expletive deleted} words to describe Lansdale and his cohorts in Vietnam. Today in this era of right wing political correctness he is pedestaled:

  16. ''farms''

    A good topic with which to begin a more in depth discussion of "Ugly". Colvin's experience when he was betrayed by Deong may appear to be a vicious act that was unwarranted. In fact, initially I felt that way. But on reflection, I was reminded of the squaw man - one held in contempt by Native Americans because he was a white or black man who sought to profit by marrying into an Amerind tribe when the government doled out farm land. This because NA men did not do farming as it was viewed as unmanly work. Only black or white men did especially when the farm land was given to him for free. Here is the key: with few exceptions, "farms" are the main work of women in Third World countries. If Colvin was as smart as he thought he was, he would have employed women in that milk facility as managers who would easily have neutralized Deong and his exploits. But instead of having women in such supervisory capacities, he attempted to manage the facility alone (in all probability to maximize profits). Having no females or other managers, Deong persuaded the women there (none of whom spoke English) that Colvin was up to no good. As a result, as Deong said, "America had its chance and it missed" and now the communist won that unlucky contest.

    A prince is quoted as saying, "Americans, for reason which are not clear to me, send stupid men as ambassadors". Such naivety certainly did put the USA in a bad light. And it nearly cost Colvin his life.

    Over the years I have read incidents where well meaning Americans were killed overseas when attempting to do some seemingly benevolent work. No doubt Colvin's actions were to a large extent benevolent. But despite all his knowledge of the people there, he remained a naive Westerner who tried to impose his will, his ways upon those Third World peoples. Others died in these efforts. Luckily for him, he was spared and ultimately prospered.

  17. Colvin was obviously interested in turning a profit, the same with the later chicken man, but at least they offered something the Sarkhans could use, which I guess was the point of those two narratives. USAID typically is interested in big money projects so that they can create dependence on American products. This is why the Soviets and later Chinese were so effective. They offered simply, effective solutions to improve the local sustainable farming, which is what Colvin was doing in his backhanded way.

  18. Stranger than truth?

    Under the Nixon regime there was a bigly controversy (among many) in which the Russians committed the Great Wheat Steal or Wheat Deal. This incident was also known as The Great Grain Robbery:

    Through the stupidity of Nixon and his yes men, USA taxpayers financed the sale of wheat to the Commies. This in turn raised the cost of grain thereby enriching certain enterprising dealers. Farmers missed out on the profits and consumers paid higher amounts for commodities. Meantime, though not stated in this wiki link, Russians were said at that time to have put some of that grain in international markets and profiting from the sale.

    Nixon and his cronies were left red faced. Russians and elites capitalists prospered, and USA taxpayers were stuck with the bill.

    In Chapter Two of "Ugly" we are told of an incident in which the ever enterprising Lucky Krupitzyn contrives a scheme in which he manages to convince Sarkhans that a yuge shipment of grain was financed by Russians. This despite the fact that it was manifestly American in origin. The reason for this being that the grain packaging was stamped with signs in the Sarkhanese language which stated that they were Russian in origin. Had it not been for the ignorance of the Americans, they would have realized the contrivance immediately. But it took at least one month for the Americans to realize how they and all else had been deceived. Meanwhile, the Russians gained many new allies through this very enterprising contrivance. Had the Americans only troubled themselves to learn the native language and culture, this would easily have been avoided.

    As stated in the narrative Lucky K acted with "initiative and boldness". Ambassador Sears was a "jewel" to the Soviet interests as he burdened his staff with endless meetings and cocktail lunches rather than get out and do grass roots work with the Sarkhanese. Because of this they never learned how the culture was really like and made themselves susceptible to this type of incident. And as history subsequently showed us in Vietnam, the USA never learned.

  19. I just watched the George Englund movie and give it a big thumbs up for its dialog, setting, and generally good characterizations. However, I thought the NYT's review was a bit too generous in its praise of Brando's acting:

    Still I cannot help but wonder what if ...

    What if the public listened to the prophecies of people like Lederer and Burdick and Englund.

    What if right wing delusionals troubled themselves to listen to the Noam Chomsky's and Alexander Cockburns of this world rather than the warmongering profit seekers like traitor Bush and Cheney.

    What if ...

    What if ...

    The world sure would have been a far more peaceful if only ....

  20. Father John X Finian. X for Xavier as in Francis Xavier whose missions to Asia were for the conversion of those many peoples into Catholicism (?).


    As with Francis Xavier, Father Finian attempted to learn the language of his converts and set up networks with which to recruit. He had great disdain for communism which he felt was evil, forceful, and deceptive. By contrast, he felt Catholicism meant salvation and would be spread through persuasion, not force. He engages in strenuous testing of his "9 friends" because he wanted to insure that these Catholic Asians were on his side, not that of the communists. In this recruiting, he allows his friends to take the initiative in setting an agenda and in the execution of their game plan - an allowance that is not normally allowed by Westerners there. All this unlike the recruitment efforts that are shown in the chapters that follow: in others there were far too many unfounded suppositions made by the recruiters owing to their naivety and predisposed thinking (if I can call it thinking).

    While he feels communism is deceptive, he creates a publication that spreads deception in its efforts to defeat communism. In doing so Finian forgot that the Bible forbids using any form of untruths - thus, he committed sin!

    Ultimately he creates a school where different ideologies are studied and it is a success because it gives the Sakhans what they needed, not what the Americans wanted.

    Very interesting character this Father Finian. He and his actions in this chapter remind me of Michener's "Fires Of Spring" {1949} - a book that reminds me so much of my own life. I forget the name of the tough Boston Irishman in that story who, like Finian, is a scholar and who is also enterprising. I can well imagine that a book or series of books can be written about both characters.

    One final thought on Finian - while there were undoubtedly more such people like him in Southeast Asia over many decades, they failed in converting the majority of Asians and leading them away from communism. This, not because their offerings to the people were deficient in any way, but because of the corruption of the French and the Americans who claim to worship the Prince of Peace while spreading imperialistic terrorism, imposing depredations, and worshiping the almighty dollar.

  21. Communism proved its own demise. It works fine on a local cooperative scale but fails when it comes to nation building. If only we had the foresight to see that it was doomed rather than trying to impose our own ruthless form of capitalism.

    1. Very true.

      Bolshevism is a product of the twisted evil minds of Republican Wall Street:

      It never was about progressive reform for the benefit of humanity or nation building but for the purpose of creating war profits that enrich the wealthy elites. Conservative Professor Sutton also wrote the same things about Wall Street's role in underwriting Hitler's rise to power.

  22. I have yet to find the origin of the bicycle irrigation pump but glad to see USAID actually adopted it in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Cambodia,

    1. Funny that there is no reference to earlier bicycle irrigation pumps, as if the idea sprang up in the early 2000s with this Maya pedal-powered pump,

      Even treadle pumps are only dated to 1980,

      but will keep "pumping."

  23. Chapter 4 starts out with the title "Everybody Loves Joe Bing". But do they really?

    Well, the wealthy elites that he is photoed with, the politicians, the State department bureaucrats, the media lap dogs all sure do. But the rank-and-file types, the grass roots reporters like Ruth Jyoti, and in all likelihood, the Father Finians don't. After all, the good missionary tried to convince him to get some pens as incentives for his assistants and Bing wouldn't trouble himself to assist him. By contrast, the down to earth public service types like Bob Maile accorded himself with humility by learning the language, sending his kids to native schools, and having his wife work with local ladies. His did his best to provide truthful news reports and to debunk mythical news that had no basis in reality thereby relieving political tensions. A great distinction is made between these two bureaucrats with one serving Washington DC's selfish interests while the other better representing the USA. The point being that if there had been more of the latter in Sarkhan, the communists would have failed and the USA succeeded: "I wish the other Americans were all like him. If they were, the communists couldn't last long in Asia."

  24. Funny after finishing the book and reading the epilogue I had forgotten Joe Bing. He is your typically faceless diplomat no one remembers after meeting him. Plenty of those floating around. But, what was interesting about the epilogue is Lederer and Burdick's attempt to steer the state department in a new direction. I'm not sure their plan would work unless individuals devoted 5-10 years to a specific country. Most state department officials are in a country for 2-4 years, which is why there is little incentive to pick up the language beyond a few rudimentary phrases. There is no way a person is going to pick up a complex Indochinese language in 3 months, as L&B suggest, unless you are an incredible linguist. Of course, the effort is the most important part, so if you can at least show interest in the language and make an effort to pronounce names correctly you will garner respect.

    I can see why this book inspired early PC volunteers. Unlike the state department, Peace Corps was a total immersion program. I served in Lesotho from 1988-90. After two years I had relatively decent grasp of the language and customs and felt to a certain degree at home in the country. This is what L&B were suggesting the state department do, but then with career diplomats shifting from one country to the next, often in completely different parts of the world, it would become a grind to repeat this process over and over again. Only the most committed diplomats would attempt to do this.

    Also, I think you have to show trust in the local population and hire local people. How else do you build trust? The screening has to be rigorous, and there will be cracks, but in the long run I think this establishes a strong connection.

    L&B praised the Soviet model, but this was an insular model as well. As they noted in the chapter concerning the rice shipments, it was a matter of deceiving the local population into buying into the Communist ideal.

    The efforts L&B praised were all about integrating American and local systems to create a conducive environment for economic growth. The Soviets had no such ambitions. They were just as much using these Asian countries as pawns as was the US, they just managed to achieve a few short term successes. However, few panned out as eventually these countries figured out the Soviet Union had no more interest in them as people than did the US, culminating in the bloody war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

    1. That epilogue is especially compelling because it neatly summarizes all that take place during the book. Consider the events of chapter 5-7 where Ambassador Sears is overly preoccupied with appearances. Appearances re how he is perceived there in Sarkhan and in Washington DC and his "solution" to existing problems. He feels that the Joe Bings are the ideal models for bureaucratic/media dealings and he schemes to recruit pretty ladies for his office. This superficiality will, in his deluded mind, be the better way to deal with existing problems. A more logical way to deal with them is to hire honest, forthright administrators, and media ombudsman. Ultimately, the recruits are people seeking to get enriched and the government pays them far more than they make in private industry. Their work conditions are very cozy and it seems like they are enjoying a permanent vacation in Paradise. This despite the fact that the location is defined as a "hard ship" post.

    2. ''The efforts L&B praised were all about integrating American and local systems to create a conducive environment for economic growth.''

      Sadly, Washington DC decided that the economic growth should be in the form of war profits rather than building up of Vietnam's infrastructure:

      "Responsibility for building that necessary infrastructure was given over to the largest construction entity ever, the RMK-BRJ (Raymond International, Morrison-Knudsen, Brown & Root, and J.A. Jones Construction). Calling itself “The Vietnam Builders” and receiving highly lucrative “no bid” contracts, this consortium of private corporations was to turn southern Vietnam into a modern, integrated military installation that would enable the United States to properly defend its client. The Vietnam Builders entered into a contract with the federal government, via the U.S. Navy, as the exclusive contractor for the huge military buildup that was to come; there would be no open bidding or otherwise competitive process.

      Brushing aside the messy reality that the nation of “South” Vietnam had yet to be created, U.S. officials ordered a staggering volume of military projects be begun immediately. The congress granted to the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson for 1965 $700 million for the expected ramping up of a direct American military role."

      In this day and age of right wing political correctness, somehow, we are all compelled to remain silent about this truth. Back then we had no such reservations. When the Pentagon Papers were disclosed everybody openly admitted that this is what the Vietnam war was all about. Hopefully, some day people will stop being a bunch of political sissies and admit that the imperialistic wars on Iraq and Afghanistan are about the same damn thing.

  25. It was interesting that L&B spent so much time on Vietnam. This seems to be where they gathered quite a bit of their information that led to the book. From the get-go our involvement there was militaristic in nature, first supporting the French and then taking over the war ourselves. You really have to wonder why LBJ would have put himself in such a quagmire, but the loss of China to communism weighed heavily on politicians at the time. So, it would have been really hard to get them to listen to any talk of sustainable development, which is what L&B were pitching.

    1. "LBJ ... quagmire"

      He did so because he was a tool of the military industrial complex:

      "the real money is in government contracts. Indeed, military contractors are among the most profitable businesses in the country today. The largest contractors are the Vinnell Corporation of Fairfax, Virginia, which on July 2 {2003} received a $48 million contract to train a new Iraqi army; Military Professional Resources, Inc. (best known by its acronym, MPRI), located in Alexandria, Virginia, and owned by L-3 Communications; Kellogg Brown & Root, the Texas company that, long before its merger with Kellogg, BANKROLLED LBJ'S POLITICAL CAREER and that is today a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation"

  26. I finally did manage to track down a bicycle water lift pump to a 1958 Chinese agricultural exhibition. No pictures. But, I assume Homer Atkins' bicycle pump predates this.

    1. bicycle pump used as part of a manual laundry machine:

      bicimaquinas - bike machines:

      Actually, quite an interesting subject. I marvel at the industry of these folks and the ingenuity of the developers.

    2. There's all sorts of modern-day adaptions, but I was surprised to see so little historical references. Probably goes pretty far back as it is a cheap and easy way to generate power.

  27. Ch 8

    Ambassador Sears and the media.

    Sears does everything wrong but it all turns out right for him: a minor scandal arises over land and forcible evictions because elite American land speculators want to profit from the land. The local media is enraged and it is reported that this matter is "hurting the USA". He dismisses all such concerns because he does not want trouble owing to the possibility that it may impair the possibility of him being appointed to a judgeship. His friend Bing is away and unable to assist him so he decides to just deny that there is any trouble, writes a letter to Washington DC to demand that the hospitalized Colvin be denied a visa, and criticizes Father Finian. In his twisted mind, Sarkhan is firmly on the side of the USA and there is nothing to be hung about there. After all, elites like him are boozing it up and nobody else matters.

    But do they? Yes they do, but it is no matter for "Lucky Lou" who is now rewarded for his stupidity by being appointed to that judgeship.

  28. Ch 9 "Everyone Had Ears"

    I thought this was perhaps the most significant chapter in the book because it showed how policy alteration eventually brought about positive changes which benefited everyone. In fact, the Li interrogation sequence is one of the most striking incidents I have ever read:

    Gilbert MacWhite is the new ambassador to Sarkhan. The guy is well educated, highly motivated in his new capacity, and is very determined to succeed in his personal war against communism. However, he has one major flaw as he is too naive in that he allows himself to be fooled into thinking that his Chinese servants do not speak English. Agent Li cleverly forces the servants to admit that they do understand English and that they have given vital information to the communists thereby jeopardizing American security interests.

    After learning this crucial lesson, MacWhite is given permission to go to the Philippines where he speaks with a government official named Magsaysay. The official gives him very important lessons on proper tact and strategy. One important lesson being that the cocktail circuit needs to be limited. Then he introduces him to Col Hillendale who had much successful experience in Vietnam.

    Bottom line is that Sears ignored all good counsel like Captain Ahab in "Moby Dick" while MacWhite humbly learned his lesson and made the proper adjustments.

    1. I should have added above one important point: when MacWhite learned of his crucial error, he thought to himself that "somewhere in his carefully trained mind ... was a flaw ... there had been a rigid core of ego which permitted him to place a fatal amount of faith in his own, unsupported judgment."

      Upon visiting the Philippines he was advised to get what was called "unaffected Americans" as they were a genuine asset. It is then when he meets Hillendale.

  29. Ch 11 could well have been entitled "shrapnel", for this characterizes Tex Wolchek who is the principle subject in that unit. No doubt he is a war hero for his services in WW II and Korea. But he is present as a mercenary in Nam albeit a principled one in his mind.

    The French imperialists and their mercenary allies are dealt a terrible blow by the patriotic Vietnamese freedom fighters. All is clearly lost. But why?

    Tex, his commander Monet, and MacWhite puzzle over this unhappy but inevitable outcome. The Texan comes to an accurate conclusion: the imperialists have lost because they fought a conventional fight. The patriots won because they used Mao Tse Tung's lessons on Guerilla Warfare (same methodology used against the Japanese imperialists in the 1930s-40):

    great quote:

    this is especially pertinent to the chapter:

    MacWhite is there to observe the proceedings in Nam as the imperialists are clearly losing and he wants to know what is the cause for this. When asked why, he replies " because it may happen next in Sarkhan". Monet says "I feel I'm living in a nightmare" to which Tex replies "it has been long long godd@mn nightmare". MacWhite accurately prophesies that Mao's tactics would soon be used all over Asia. Monet (whose family has a long history of decorated military service) resolves to use those same tactics. History shows that the French and American imperialists did not adjust so that this is why they lost.

    This chapter contains rather shocking imagery. For those who haven't read it yet, please be advised that it may be rather disturbing.

  30. The director's cut of Apocalypse Now has a lengthy segment on the French presence in Vietnam, told in retrospect by a family still living on the river. Reminds of a decaying Southern family out of one of Faulkner's novels.

    The big problem here as in Burma and other Asian countries is that the Brits, French and Americans never saw the Asians as humans, let alone their military equals. They failed to mount an effective counterinsurgency because they simply weren't willing to bring themselves down to the local level.

    1. 100% spot on, Gintaras.

      The imperialists called them "insurgents" and terrorists but they saw themselves as liberators. History shows that this is not unprecedented as shown in the example of the 13 colonies and the efforts of Washington and other patriots.

      When you think about it, a close look at Mao's writings on local liberators and guerrilla tactics sound a lot like the actions and organizational patterns of the Minutemen. As always, while politically delusional right wingers believe communists influenced the political left in the USA, it was the Founding Fathers who actually influenced Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and other liberators.

    2. It's funny how the US views countries. Reagan was all high on the resistance fighters in Afghanistan in the 80s because they were resisting the Soviet Union, but when they are resisting the US or one of their allies they become terrorists.


      'Nuff said.


  31. As a sports coach, I always taught my players that the key to success in baseball and softball, if there is one magic term for these sports, it is the word "adjustment". Learn to make the proper adjustments and you will improve your chances of success.

    Same for war.

    In ch 12, MacWhite, Monet, and Tex made an effort to learn Mao's successful tactics used in his wars of liberation from Japanese and French imperialists. It took a while for Mac to get his hands on the book but he cleverly manages to get hold of one. After a while they manage to execute a battle plan utilizing the good Chairman's techniques. In making this adjustment they actually demonstrated a degree of humility that they had not done before. This because in their Western arrogance, they believed the myth of Western exceptionalism and of a natural superiority they had over the Easterners. The imperialist forces employed guerrilla tactics such as by surprise attacks and a truck disguised with natural greenery. It works. At least temporarily it does. And if this had been done more often, it appears they may have succeeded in maintaining their imperialist occupation of Sarkhan.

    Problem: they were supposed to be neutral, not combative. This was a violation of international law and set them back. What's worse is that because French used their outdated tactics, they lost the war at Dien Bien Phu. They were severely reprimanded by martial bureaucrats who felt they were insulted by these people utilizing unrecognized methods thereby dictating how to fight. Thus, the arrogant higher ups in command never developed humility and remained in their entrenched methods. They even called Mao a "primitive Chinese"! This is why they lost in Vietnam and SE Asia.

    The three partners in crime are dismissed by the command and head off to a tavern in order to drink their blues away.

    The French have a parade as they leave Vietnam in defeat. Their uniforms polished, and they parade in style. When the Vietnamese liberators come, they are bedraggled, barefooted, and have home made weapons. This was the rag tag patriotic army that defeated the imperialists and allies. In the end, it was their motivation and tactics that won the day.

    Humility defeats arrogance. As they say, God punishes.

  32. It seems much of L&B's criticism was directed at our support of the French in Vietnam. We were forewarned, yet we got into that quagmire anyway. Never could understand why LBJ wasted his Civil Rights legacy on Vietnam. Those who don't read history are doomed to repeat it.

  33. Ch 13 starts out with an error. An Asian expert is quoted as saying,

    "Poor America. It took the British a hundred years to lose their prestige in Asia. America has managed to lose hers in ten years."

    Actually, British imperialism and the many genocidal depredations they imposed on the Indian subcontinent starting in the 1700s never was a secret. Nor was the condemnation for these evils restricted to a small class of social malcontents. The Opium wars were not exactly looked upon as a holiday, either. The myth that Third World peoples loved being enslaved or were "civilized" by the West and happy to be victimized like that is a lie that the imperialists could continue to affirm in their twisted minds. However, the myth has no basis in reality.

    The Asian expert quoted in the chapter goes on to repeat issues that were shown throughout the book - that Americans bring disdain upon themselves through their smugness and exploitation of Asians. But that despite all, the USA could re-gain prestige if it sent people like the Martins and Colvins who are (in his opinion) good hearted people. That once these people are firmly in place and their projects are completed, then they can send over big infrastructural projects financed by government. This, he said, should be the proper procedure for improving Asia and building up USA prestige.

    Also notable in this chapter is a summary of the evils of Chiang Kai Chek. I well remember how right wing news propaganda during the 1950s/60s spoke of him as being some kind of hero - a marvelous exemplar for the Third World who should be looked upon as the closest thing to a human Messiah for all the world to marvel at. This when in reality he was a murderer and exploiter who stole billions in resources from China. His forces crossed the border into Burma where they sold opium to enrich themselves and to corrupt the social fabric in that small country. As always, the USA endorses and supports imperialistic terrorists like him but, somehow, always manages to proclaim its "innocence" to the world. It is evil actions like this which cause a tremendous loss of international prestige to this day. This is why the USA is so often hated through out the world.

    As Gintaras says, ''Those who don't read history are doomed to repeat it.''

  34. Food for thought:

    In addition to reading/studying history, literature, and sports, I also enjoy a good discussion of food. Over the years, I have exchanged recipes with forum posters and with professional cooks and have been complimented for my culinary ideas.

    In "Ugly" there are numerous references to food and I thought a discussion of that is apropos here.

    - pancit -



    sole escabeche:

    San Miguel:


    Indonesian Rijsttafel:

    Aside from Filipino lechon (roast pork), I have not eaten these but they do look rather intriguing.

    1. oops, for some reason the sole escabeche did not appear above

      here is a recipe:

  35. Seems like blogger is blocking a recent comments widget. Yet, they won't block unwanted ads. I've tried several widgets available online. Don't know why they don't supply one themselves. One of the many reasons I thought about canceling this blog.

    Anyway, it has been fun Trip. Seems like we are coming to and end of the discussion here. Food is also a window into another culture. L&B touched on it, noting how Hillindale wasn't afraid to eat local food. I remember when I was in Zimbabwe, they served sorghum beer in buckets. If you wanted to chat with the locals in the beer garden you had to share the small white plastic buckets, otherwise they ignored you. Beer was a bit grainy for my taste but the conviviality was excellent.

    1. Actually, I had a few more ideas that I wanted to share. But if you prefer, I won't add them.

      Meantime, just a brief meander:

      150th Anniversary of Thoreau's "Walden". It has gotten much attention from folks who prefer the simple life away from all the hassles of the big city and dirty politics.

    2. I'll try to be brief:

      Ch 14 =

      Chicken farmer Knox learns the local language and does all he can to expand poultry farming for the good of the people. He is unhappy with the results and resolves to go to Washington DC to demand change. Along the way he is lavished with all kinds of goodies and is literally seduced by it all. Thereafter, he drops his claims.

      MacWhite gives up on the effort to promote poultry farming which, ironically enough, had actually been a success.

      Ch 15

      Hillendale. A matter we discussed briefly, above. Perhaps more on that later ...

      Ch 16:

      Captain Boning + Solomon Asch.

      The latter is a rather stern type. A dynamic Jewish-American administrator who is straight from the shoulder. He has great tact and organizational skills. But he relies on Boning who allows himself to be sexually seduced by a communist agent.

      As a result, Asch's mission also fails.

      These chapters reveal that there had indeed been successes and able agents which could have greatly improved upon the situation there. Unfortunately, the French were more interested in themselves and the communists were far more organized and more clever in dealing with the existing problems. Because administrators and pols failed to realize all this potential, the missions failed when they actually had a good opportunity to succeed.

      If possible, more to follow ...

  36. Ch 17/18 Homer Atkins ~ the Ugly American.

    "His hands were laced with prominent veins and spotted with big, liverish freckles. His fingernails were black with grease. His fingers bore nicks and tiny scars of a lifetime of engineering. The palms of his hands were calloused. Homer Atkins was worth three million dollars, every dime of which he had earned by his own efforts..."

    Atkins has no patience for diplomats and other assorted know nothing "fools". He readily sees through the phoniness of the foreign do-goodies who are out to make a profit at the expense of the locals. The USA government consults him about building up dams and other heavy industry works in Vietnam. But he says that the real solution to the problems facing locals is in building up small enterprises and the promotion of successful agriculture. Things they can make and profit from for themselves. His advice is ignored in Vietnam. But MacWhite who has now learned from experience consults him and asks to take his enterprising ways in Sarkhan. While there he directed to a local named Jeepo, engages in deep discussion as to the amount of compensation he is to receive, collaborates with him, and together they invent that water pump that saves much money, much labor, and which helps turn a profit for the local people. The enterprise becomes a great success as was predicted by Atkins - the Ugly American.

    I found it interesting that the two men enlisted 12 others into their enterprise. 12, the same number as Jesus had in number of disciples. Maybe I'm reading into it too much but seems like a big coincidence that these 2 uglies turned out to be saviors of the locals.

    Both chapters illustrate the theme of the book - that the mere presence of the USA in countries such as those in SE Asia were of no value to those people. That the only good that could come from that presence was one in which the locals were personally benefited on their terms, not those of the USA. That the promotion of heavy industry projects only serve to profit the USA and has a counter productive effect as locals become disgusted with the snobbery and profiteering of the Americans. Finally, that the Russians and Chinese communists exploit the stupidity of the Americans and French by pointing out these deficiencies and that this is how communism spread in that region. The USA could easily have won over the communists if they only had the wisdom to follow the suggestions made by the likes of Atkins and others. But as history has shown us enough times, there is far more profit in war than in peace. No surprise that this is the course subsequently taken by the imperialistic USA.

  37. Bent backs - a message that still has not been fully delivered in Asia and other parts of the world to this day:

    Frightening to me since I am arthritic. But the solution to the problems faced by these farmers has been readily available since the beginning of time:

    modern Asian farmers:

    Ch 19:

    Mrs Atkins is every bit as straight from the shoulder as is her husband. When she sees a problem, she does not stand by idly but questions it and seeks a solution. To her question, "Why are old people bent over?" She is told that's the way it is always so and meant to be. This spurs her to take corrective action. Mrs Atkins determines that the old people are bent that way because they use short handled brooms rather than long handled ones. In a brilliant move, she uses a long handled broom, openly shows that this is a far more efficient method to use, and then leaves her broom out in the open where others can readily see it and its utility. In other words, she set an example of efficiency rather than just preach a sermon about it like so many of the Westerners did all throughout the book. Months went by and the couple moved into another village where they duplicated their exemplary successes. Eventually they went home and received a letter of gratitude from villages who praised them for the lessons they successfully imparted.

    Clearly had other Westerners undertaken such valuable tasks in such an efficient manner, the people would have flourished, Western influenced succeeded, and communism failed. It took the "ugly" people to succeed where the governments and selfish capitalists failed.

    1. I should have added above that when she got that letter, her eyes welled at the kindness bestowed on her by the villagers. This showed that she had a genuinely humble heart which is a big contrast with the snobby and exploitative French and American know nothings.

  38. Homer and his wife made quite the couple, like a transplanted Midwest pair. I particularly liked the business deal he struck up with Jeepo. It was important to L&B to show the need to get local input as well as subtly giving back something to the community as Homer's wife did with the brooms. You get so set in your ways, you don't even see what it does to you until someone from the outside points it out to you.

  39. Ch 20

    Senator Brown was once a rather shady character but is now incorruptible (or so it is said). As member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he wants to see first hand how things are going along in SE Asia because of all the USA money and energy spent there. While he believes that he has taken every precaution imaginable to make this a fruitful and informative trip, he is hoodwinked by officials in Saigon. They employ a translator who falsifies the record of people interviewed and is given a rosy picture of events and circumstances. While taking an unescorted tour in Saigon, he confronts two drunk officers (Tex and Monet who have obviously been corrupted by their environs). He challenges their sense of professionalism because trained military officials, as representatives of the West, should comport themselves with class and dignity. But when it is clear that he has a fight on his hands, he wisely backs off. After this he is told that the French are succeeding because they are organized and make good soldiers. The natives are said to be puny unlike the Chinese who are willing to sacrifice any and everyone for their cause. Because of this African mercenaries by the French in their ''noble'' effort to save Vietnam from the commies. Thereafter he is wined and dined and leaves with a false impression that all is well.

    After all this he testifies before the Senate that Vietnam is in good shape and that the Western efforts there are noble (this in contrast to another senator who said that Vietnam was a living hell). Like so many others he falls for the lies and deceptions of those who profit from wars and political corruption.

    Again, the truth was out there. But those in power failed to see it. Some willingly, others because they were blinded to the truth. Had some only bothered to open their eyes and used more knowledgeable support staff, they would have seen through the deception employed by those who profited from war and the circumstances in SE Asia.

  40. Ch 21

    The Sum of Tiny Things

    A humbled MacWhite has seen the errors of his past ways and now stands corrected. He further sees how corrections have taken place in Sarkhan. He writes to Washington DC in reply to a warning from the Secretary of State regarding what are alleged to be instances of undue interference from him. His letter gives details as to the successes of the small time Western operators discussed in the posts above. MacWhite gleans ideas from these successes and makes a number of highly constructive suggestions which could well defeat the spread of communist influence in Sarkhan and SE Asia.

    Sure enough his suggestions are disregarded. Because of that he resigns. All that hard work, self sacrifice, and hope for the future, was for largely for naught. To make matters worse, he is replaced by Bing.

    Thus, the future looks less than bright.

  41. Heading down the stretch ...

    But before I do, a slight meander once again, if you please.

    It is often said, there are no atheists in fox holes. Many moons ago I read Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead" in which he presented tormented soldiers who became atheists as a result of the hell fire they went through in war. While some of the soldiers hoped that they would be protected by some divine entity, others said if such a being existed they would never be under such a torment.

    Recently, I watched the movie "USS Indianapolis" in which a sailor said the same things. While some took to prayer for relief from their torment, others cursed out the god of this world for failing to live up to the promises shown in the Bible.

    In Ch 3 Father Finian had been confronted by a marine (an avowed atheist and a communist) who angrily condemns that same god for also failing to live up to the many promises made by these preachers. The soldier's words (which had been made during WW II) stimulated the priest to alter his ideas on dealing with communists and spurred him to work fervently in post war SE Asia.

    So interesting how Jesus [the Prince of Peace] has so often been used as a source or justification for war by professing Christians. Instead of turning the other cheek as he ordered, and instead of being at peace with all men, Jesus's followers have proven themselves to be the greatest murderers in human history. Imperialist Bush is one such example because he told us he was ordered by God to launch his invasion as part of his "crusade" against terrorism and the quest for peace.

    As written in the Bible, there is nothing new under the sun.

  42. Ch 22 Epilogue

    This reads like one of my old PAST IS PROLOGUE segments which were summaries of what we can glean from the readings so that we can utilize it today for our betterment.

    The writers affirm that the story is one of fiction, but fiction based on fact. They knew the territory first hand and personally knew the events that were taking place. The characters portrayed were based on real people and their struggles. They knew that American representatives there must be able to speak the local language so that they can fully grasp the nature and character of the people, the culture, their struggles, their needs, and the ideal solutions. This need goes from the top to the bottom of the scale of those agents. This is in marked contrast to the Russians where 9 of 10 agents speak the local language. Employing locals leaves the USA interests in great jeopardy as spies could well be planted into the staffs. Not so with Russians who employ their own people loyal to their cause. John Foster Dulles and his emphasis on the need to know the language and culture is reported. While the USA concentrated on having its staff in the cities and wasting much valuable time in cocktail parties, the real need was in the provincial areas. Schools which helped advance the locals and achieve progress are the key. Highways were useless as most folks rode bicycles. Small trade is what people survived on. The writers also suggested that Americans need to study and understand communism and its motivations. Know your enemy, learn from their example, copy their methods, go among the people, employ dedicated foreign service people, and desist from the endless cocktail parties with elitists - this is how you win the people's trust. The authors believed in the Domino Theory and could readily foresee that Soviet expansionism would win many millions more people. It was this that they were trying to avert. Had the politicians and pundits listened to them instead of the war profiteers, there would have been far more peace in Asia and the world. A lesson the USA has failed to learn to this day.

    This is why we need to read books like UGLY AMERICAN rather than to set them aside as we do all too often today. I mentioned the book on a web chat the other day and those there never heard of it. Indeed, people today prefer to succumb to the lies of the Fo卐 network and to Breitbart. All too often there isn't a single word of truth on the broadcasts of these disloyal pro war propagandists. When people point out the truth and refute those right wing lies, they are immediately branded as communists and traitors. Because of this Americans continue to do die overseas, the military industrial complex continues to make billions in war profits, taxpayers are gutted out of all their money, and international regions become increasingly de-stabilized with refugee crises increasing with every passing month. The handwriting is and has always been on the proverbial wall. Sadly, far too many people choose to disregard those truths. Hopefully, some day the majority will choose to open their eyes and minds so that we may have international peace. UGLY AMERICAN is the ideal book to start the crucial lessons needed to achieve it.

  43. I've been wondering, how much better the world would have been if the pols in Washington DC only bothered to learn the wisdom taught by Lederer & Burbick. So many similar books and articles have been written which reveal that these and other wars are all being fought in order to generate higher corporate profits. Years go by, people needlessly die, more instability takes place, more and more refugees flee thereby creating more problems - the crises never end. But people will not be convinced until it is just too late. Soon enough another war will take place with corporations making endless profits. You can bet on it.