The Ugly American

by William J. Lederer, Eugene Burdick

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Chapters 1–3

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Chapter 1: Lucky, Lucky Lou #1

Louis Sears, the American ambassador to a Southeast Asian country, Sarkhan, is unhappy. He is a former US senator known as “Lucky, Lucky Louis” because his political opponents always seem to collapse just before an election. His current unhappiness is the result of his having been caricatured in a Sarkhan newspaper, and he has complained to Prince Ngong, the Sarkhan Minister of Protocol.

An aide to Sears then tells him that John Colvin, an American former officer of the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency) who fought with the Sarkhanese against the Japanese during World War II, has been viciously attacked. A mob of women believe that Colvin is trying to weaken the morals of young women by introducing a Sarkhan aphrodisiac into powdered milk provided by Colvin’s company in the US. Sears mistakenly believes that this is a “girl meets boy” affair gone wrong and plans to visit Colvin in the hospital.

In actuality, Colvin has been attacked by a World War II Sarkhan ally, Deong, now a Communist sympathizer. Deong’s goal is to force Colvin at gunpoint to put ipecac, an emetic, into the powdered milk to sicken those who use it. Deong wants to shatter the people’s faith in US aid. When Deong’s attack on Colvin fails, Deong escapes—though not before he lies to the women waiting for powdered milk in order to get them angry enough to attack Colvin. After the attack, Colvin, gravely injured, is “deposited” in front of the US Embassy in Haidho.

Prince Ngong convenes a meeting of the Sarkhan Cabinet to discuss Sears’s complaint. The cabinet discusses the fact that Sarkhan is caught between the competing ideologies of America and Russia and that the Sarkhanese must find a way to satisfy both, especially because they are trying to negotiate a large loan from the US. Their judgment about Sears is that he is “more stupid than most,” but they resolve his complaint by having the editor of the offending newspaper publish a “flattering cartoon” and a complimentary editorial.

When Sears visits Colvin in the hospital, he is still unaware of the actual cause of Colvin’s injuries. He tells Colvin that his actions reflect poorly on the US and that he will have Colvin sent back there. Colvin responds forcefully that he will not leave Sarkhan.

Chapter 2: Lucky, Lucky Lou #2

A new character enters the narrative: Louis Krupitzyn, a Russian who was orphaned when his parents were killed by Bolshevik soldiers in 1917 and who was then raised by the Soviet state. Krupitizyn rises rapidly in the Russian diplomatic corps. After being posted to several countries, Krupitzyn (with his wife) prepares to become the ambassador to Sarkhan by studying every aspect of Sarkhan life, including losing forty pounds so that he will be closer to the physical ideal of a Sarkhan man. He learns the Sarkhan language, art, literature, music, and form of Buddhism so thoroughly that he earns an audience with the chief Buddhist leader in Sarkhan. They discuss philosophy for several hours. 

Shortly after Krupitzyn arrives in Sarkhan, the southern part of the country loses its rice crop because of devastating weather, and Krupitzyn discovers that the US is sending many tons of rice to relieve the ensuing famine. Krupitizyn buys five tons of rice on the black market for immediate use and travels to the famine area. Upon arrival, he announces that thousands of tons of rice will be delivered courtesy of their Russian friends. After the US rice supplies arrive, Krupitzyn arranges for the bales of rice...

(This entire section contains 1275 words.)

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to be stamped “This rice is a gift from Russia,” ensuring that the Sarkhanese believe that Russia, not America, has come to their relief.

Krupitzyn reports to Moscow that Sears is ineffective and occupies his people “with meetings, social events, and greeting and briefing” visitors. Krupitzyn also includes in his message a request for information on a Roman Catholic priest, Father Finian, who is reputed to have adopted the customs and language of the Burmese people in order to carry out, according to Krupitzyn, a “Papist plot.”

Chapter 3: Nine Friends

John X. Finian, stationed in Burma, is a tough-minded, dedicated Jesuit priest. Finian’s understanding of Communism’s danger to the American way of life and its interests in Southeast Asia stems from an encounter with a US Marine who, when right before going into battle during World War II, told Finian that he was a Communist. Finian describes the Marine as “infinitely tougher than any man [he] had met before,” and this experience convinces Finian that he must devote his life to Communism’s defeat, because he believes it is trying to destroy Western religion.

While in Burma, Finian recruits eight men, some of whom are Catholics, to gather intelligence on Communist activities in the area and take practical steps to reverse the influence of Communists among the working class. However, rather than telling the Burmese men what they should do to fight Communism, Finian encourages the group to decide what they want most for their society and then formulate steps to achieve that goal. After extensive discussion, the group concludes that their greatest desire is to live where people can exercise freely any belief system they wish, a goal that Finian tells them is good. He also tells them that they must use persuasion; unlike the Communists, though, they must avoid any type of force.

The group of Burmese tell Finian that many Burmese follow Communists because they are “against the white men” (who are not always just) and because they believe that Communism supports the peasant class. Finian notes that Communists dominate villages either through “chilling ferocity” or by demonstrating Communism’s love of the common man. Another lengthy discussion begins in which Father Finian and the eight friends decide to follow an eight-step process to persuade the Burmese to reject Communism. The first step is to publish a newspaper titled The Communist Farmer, a title that masks its anti-Communist ideology. The paper is designed to counter the belief that Communism cares about the common people.

In trying to suppress the newspaper, the Russians send a man named Vladimir Vinich, an expert on Burma, whose job is to weaken the anti-Communist sentiments of The Communist Farmer. During a radio broadcast, which is introduced as an opportunity for Russia to set the record straight, Vinich is heard to say that the Burmese must stop expecting farm equipment from Russia, because Russia is concentrating its resources on Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Vinich argues further that the Burmese should not focus their efforts on collective ownership of land: peasants, he says, want private property rather than collective farms. Vinich—or the speaker imitating Vinich—also notes that the Burmese must concentrate their anger not at America but at the government of Burma, which is responsible for the poor conditions. He observes that Lenin said that “the worse things are, the better they are,” and he notes that crops and transportation systems need to fail in order to bring about revolution.

The chapter concludes with Father Finian and his group celebrating their success in defeating the Russian attempt to delegitimize The Communist Farmer. They vow to extend their struggle to other areas of Burma—and to Sarkhan, where the language is similar and the struggle against Communism must begin before it is “too strong to conquer.” Father Finian, just before leaving for Sarkhan, comments in his diary that Communism’s goal is to destroy the peasant class, and America’s role is to do “what is right and necessary” to prevent that eventuality.


Chapters 4–8