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The Ugly American

policymakers, journalists, and officers made leading to the loss of Sarkhan to the Communists knowing that Sarkhan has border difficulty with the Communist country to the north.
Lederer and Burdick The Ugly American, set in the mythical southeast Asian nation of Sarkhan, is a critique of U.S. foreign policy. Lederer and Burdick point to the willful ignorance, careerist self-interest, and cultural arrogance that confound American efforts to close down the spread of communism. Their novel, essentially a series of loosely linked vignettes relating to the actions of foreign service officials, is meant as a counteractive to many harsh assessment. Even though liberal and unsparing in their representation of administrative incompetence and bureaucratic inertia, Lederer and Burdick appear oblivious of the use of terror by U.S. agents. They attribute the failure of U.S. policy to the lack of ability to distinguish the competent deception of communists, a refusal to learn native languages and customs, a lack of enthusiasm to leave the comforts of the capital city and its American enclave, a preoccupation with diplomatic social life, and an overriding anxiety with large-scale, capital-intensive projects rather than with less significant innovations more likely to develop the daily lives of the native population.
On the other hand, communist success is attributed to the careful training of its diplomats, their enthusiasm to respect native language and customs, and their capability to sarcastically prey upon natives' mistaken resentment. Consequently, the communists are on the threshold of world power and domination. As one Sarkhanese states, "America had its chance and it missed. And now the Communists are going to win" (Neilson p. 24). Or as a fictional U.S. senator declares, "we're facing the final crisis with Russia . . . the next few years will decide whether we're going to win or lose" (p. 242). This paranoia about the imagined abilities of communists is seen in the imaginary timetables by which they are said to plot world domination. The Senator in The Ugly American glimpses the fate of the world being determined in the next few years; Soviet agents in The Ugly American plan "to bring [Burma] within the Communist orbit within 30 months" (p. 35), and, according to Time, Anthony Eden's military advisors estimated in 1956 that by 1961 the communists would be ready to endeavor violent global conquest.
Despite the fact that their basic thesis is that the United States needs more competent foreign service officers, Lederer and Burdick also give specific examples of policies and programs the United States might adopt that might make a difference in the struggle against communist hegemony: providing Asians with powdered milk to accustom them to fresh milk, which is alien to their diets, so they can begin raising dairy cows; broadcasting surreptitiously taped conversations of Russian field operatives telling their local agents not to "talk about 'socialist ownership of lands' " because that "only scares the peasants. Peasants are backward types" (Neilson p. 63); constructing simple water pumps run by bicycles, without exporting technology or giving aid money, since "Whenever you give a man something for nothing the first person he comes to dislike is you" (p. 216); or teaching Asians to construct and use long-handled brooms (rather than the traditional ...Show more

Summary

The Ugly American was the first novel of American authorship to deal with U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. The book has been influential in shaping the paternalistic way Americans have regarded Asians. The novel's real battle is perhaps between the United States and the super-subversive Russians.
Author : cornell11
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