Five Lessons Learned from “the Ugly American”

In: Other Topics

Submitted By pinkant
Words 2021
Pages 9
There are tens of thousands of “how-to” books, but “The Ugly American” is unique in that it’s actually a “how-not-to” book. Published in 1958, the action takes place in the early 1950s at the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Set primarily in the fictional Asian country of Sarkhan, the struggle between Russian Communists and American Foreign Service personnel plays out battle by battle through examples of military and political events riddled with “Ugly American” social faux pas.

In Lederer’s and Burdick’s book, the day-by-day business of American policy implementation and foreign aid to other countries is described. Central to The Ugly American is the historical reality of the cold war. Behind all the individual stories lies the larger picture of a global struggle between two superpowers that embrace competing ideologies and compete ruthlessly for influence and control over smaller countries not only in Southeast Asia, but all over the world.

Given the fact that both superpowers in the book have the capacity to destroy each other several times over through the use of nuclear weapons, reading the descriptions of cringe-worthy behavior employed by many of the books’ American characters was terrifying. It begs the question: Will World War III begin due to a lack of something as basic as knowledge of local etiquette and simple civility?

The Ugly American is an unusual novel in that there’s only a loose connection between all the different stories. The only nod to a unified plot is in Ambassador Gilbert MacWhite's gradual accumulation of the knowledge about how to win the struggle against communism. Each story serves as a fable, illustrating either the recklessness of U.S. behavior and policy, or a positive alternative. The aim of the all the stories novel and the novel as a whole is to point out…...

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