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The Ugly American

By Amccaffrey1 May 13, 2013 514 Words
12 may 11


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 useful assistance with small scale projects such as the development of a simple bicycle powered water pump. It is argued in the book that the Communists are successful because they practice tactics similar to those of Atkins. According to an article published in Newsweek magazine in May 1959, the "real" "Ugly American" was identified as an ICA technician named Otto Hunerwadel, who, with his wife, served in Burma from 1949 until his death in 1952. They lived in the villages and taught farming techniques and helped start home canning industries.

All in all the battle comes down to Democracy vs. Communism. As the book states all over Asia we have found that the basic American ethic is reverted and honored and imitated when possible. We must, while helping Asia toward self sufficiency, show by example that America is still America of freedom and hope and knowledge and law. If we succeed, we cannot lose the struggle. As a nation on fire we can do anything. I like this book for it outspokenness and I recommend this to anybody easily board of politics because it will open there minds.


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