CriticalBook Analysis: The Ugly American
EugeneBurdick and William Lederer’s, “The Ugly American,” is aphenomenal book that dramatically explores the conflicts that Americafaced in its foreign mission in a fictional country during the coldwar (Dean 29). Although the book has a fictional setting, it isbetter read as a novel than a fictional masterpiece because thethemes embody the actual experiences of America during the cold warera. At some point, one would imagine that the book is blatantcriticism of America’s foreign policy during the cold era, but theidea turn out to the contrary after careful introspection. Unlike thecommon notion that the authors simply intended to criticize, thetruth is that they intended to juxtapose the common will andpatriotism of ordinary Americans against powerful influentialdiplomats. Furthermore, the main theme in the book constantlyremains, “America’s commitment to spread a capitalist ideology,”(33). However, the ordinary citizens in the novel such as Tom Knoxand John Colvin pursue the agenda in a more conciliatory andreassuring manner than the powerful Americans charged with the stateresponsibility of dispensing the American foreign policy such asambassador LouSears(Lederer and Burdick 12). In summary, Burdick and Lederer, compare pride against humilityagainst one single pedestal American realism in the wake of the ColdWar.
Americansare people who endear to others and they are normally eager tounderstand other cultures. In fact, America is a conglomeration ofmany cultures brought together. Americans also keep transformingtheir cultures with time. Thus, the self-important and arrogantattitudes of Americans as depicted by Burdick and Lederer aims toexplain how Americans were misrepresented by their diplomats.Americans desired to pursue and spread capitalism in the world, butnot in a self-imposing manner that is overly inconsiderate of theindigenous cultures of foreign countries. The people of Sarkhanrelate well with the Soviets to the point of appreciating communism,not because communism is a good economic system, but because theSoviets establish a healthy diplomatic relationship based on mutualrespect and understanding. The cultural relations between theSarkhans, Americans, and Russians reveal the vitality of forginghealthy diplomatic relationships that guide the way foreign policiesare executed in foreign countries. One way of that diplomats can showthat they value the culture of a foreign country is by learning theirlanguage and their ways of life. Interacting with villagers throughthe native language has bolsters the needed trust for a successfulforeign policy. However, all was not lost for America since ordinaryAmericans had a different approach.
Thereare two comparisons that depict Ambassador Sears as the symbol of“The Ugly America,” the authors are talking about. The firstcomparison is his approach to foreign activities that would transformthe economy of Sarkhan versus the approach that ordinary Americanssuch as Father Finian, John Cowlin, Edward Hillandale, Tom Knox, andHomer Atkins. The second comparison is his snobby and extravagantapproach to diplomacy versus the inclusive and endearing approach ofthe Russian Ambassador to Sarkhan, Louis Krupitzyn. The author’sfigure out how America should earn respect and trust from poorcountries it seeks to establish diplomatic ties and friendship. Inthe authors’ perspective, huge spending on ostentatious projectsand an attitude of self-importance is counterproductive.
Diplomatswho portray Americans in this light are misrepresentative of the realattitudes of Americans (63). Father Finian, a Catholic Jesuit helpssmall anticommunist in Burma to understand and defeat communists whothreaten to take over their land. John Cowlin sees milk projects aspart of a solution to poor Sarkhan farmers (67).Colonel EdwardHillandale crucially influences the outcome of an election byconvincing people in a small Filipino province that Americans are notcontemptuous and disrespectful people (73). Neither are they rich andsnobby. The Colonel helped reversed the misguided attitudes that werefast spreading against Americans in poor countries. Tom Know, achicken farmer working as an economic consultant demonstrates toCambodians the process of converting chicken into fat and transformchicken farming into a lucrative business (81). Finally, Homer Atkinsuses his engineering skills to set a water pump that helps poorfarmers in the dry areas of Vietnam (101). The ordinary citizens dotwo things for America that ambassador Sears cannot: effectivelytransform the lives of the poor and win friends for America as well.
TheRussian ambassador, Louis Krupitzyn, shares the same traits withordinary American citizens. Krupitzyn is a professional diplomatwhose training includes learning the local language of Sarkhan andtheir indigenous customs. He finds time to read local literature andattends local traditional events. The entire Russian staff speaksfluent Sarkhanese language and has a deep understanding of theircustoms. Hence, they are able to tilt Sarkhan towards communism. Bothordinary Americans and Russian diplomats are keen to understand otherpeople with a sense of human decency, devoid of arrogance.
Inconclusion, the juxtapositions in this novel send a clear message tothe reader. Mutual trust emanates from the relationship thatcountries forge with each other. Some countries may have identifiedwith communism during the cold war not because it was a good idea,but simply due to the diplomatic approach that diplomats used intheir missions abroad. From the author’s perspective, gooddiplomacy entails understanding and respecting other people’scultural nuances. Otherwise, imposing thoughts without addressingtheir real needs is counterproductive. Although ordinary Americansand Soviet diplomats pursued different ideologies they used the sametool, which is respect. They both succeeded in one way or another.
Dean,Robert D. "Masculinity as ideology: John F. Kennedy and thedomestic politics of foreign policy." DiplomaticHistory22.1 (1998): 29-62.
Lederer,William. "J. and Burdick, Eugene, The Ugly American."(1958).