MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD
SUBJECT:BOOK REVIEW OF THE UGLY AMERICAN
First published in 1958, The Ugly American became a national bestseller for its explanation of American arrogance, incompetence, and corruption in Southeast Asia. Based on fact, the book's eye opening stories and sketches drew a devastating picture. Combining “gripping storytelling” with an urgent call to action, the book prompted the President at the time President Eisenhower to launch a study of our military aid program that led the way to much needed reform. The attack on American policy in Asia this book makes is clothed in sharp characterizations, frequently humorous incident, and perceptive descriptions of the countries and people where the action occurs.
The novel, taking place in a fictional nation called Sarkhan, an imaginary country in Southeast Asia that somewhat resembles Burma or Thailand, but which is meant to refer to Vietnam as its setting and includes several real people, most of whose names have been changed. The book describes the United States's losing struggle against Communism what was later to be called the battle for hearts and minds, much like Iraq or afganistan, in Southeast Asia, because of innate arrogance and the failure to understand the local culture. The title is actually a double entendre, referring both to the physically unattractive hero, Homer Atkins, in contrast with the ugly behavior of the American government employees. In the novel, a Burmese journalist says "For some reason, the American people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They're loud and always trying to be the center of attention. The ugly American of the book title fundamentally refers to the plain looking engineer Atkins, who lives with the local people, who comes to understand their needs, and who offers genuinely...