The Ugly American

by William J. Lederer, Eugene Burdick

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Chapters 4–8

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Chapter 4: Everybody Loves Joe Bing

Ruth Joyti, whose mother is Cambodian and whose father is white, edits and publishes the Setkya Daily Herald, and she has been invited to address the American press corps. During her trip to the United States, she is taken aback to learn that the conditions at airports there are not equal to conditions afforded to travelers within Southeast Asia. After she arrives in San Francisco, she is surprised, too, to learn that one of the most important meetings of seven Asian countries in Setkya is not being covered by the American press.

When she meets her State Department escort, Joseph Rivers, he asks her if she knows the most well-known State Department representative in Setkya, Joe Bing. Joyti doesn’t recognize the name until Rivers describes his dress and mannerisms and insists that everyone knows and likes Joe Bing. Joyti responds by calling Bing a “bastard” who doesn’t know anything about Asian customs and abuses his position by associating with only high-level “westernized” people. He gives lavish parties every month rather than using his resources to help the working class. Rivers suspects that Joyti might not be a “friend of America.”

As an example of Bing’s diligence, Rivers mentions that Father Finian requested some supplies from the American commissary in Setkya, including ballpoint pens as prizes for the distribution of The Communist Farmer. The request, however, was refused by Bing, because Finian is not a representative of the US government.

When Joyti gives a speech to the American press at a dinner in her honor, she tells her audience that Americans are generally ineffective in Southeast Asia; they insulate themselves from natives and therefore fail to understand most Asians they encounter. Americans, she says, make “one mistake after another.” Joyti provides an example of an effective American working for the United States Information Service: Bob Maile. Unlike most American representatives, Maile engages with members of the working class rather than the upper class, learns the language, helps the press operators and cameramen of the Daily Herald with technical issues, and sends his children to native schools. Joyti characterizes Maile as “humble about everything.”

When a story breaks that an American soldier has raped a native woman in a temple, Maile does not try to cover up the story. Instead, Maile politely asks local authorities to carefully look into the circumstances, which they do, after which they discover that the story of the rape is incorrect. Joyti concludes her speech by noting that Bob Maile’s “good deeds are published all over by the bamboo telegraph,” noting that if all Americans were like Bob Maile, Communists would not thrive in Asia.

Chapter 5: Confidential and Personal

Ambassador Sears writes to Dexter Peterson at the State Department to tell Peterson to ignore the negative reports in the Sarkhanese press about Sears and John Colvin. Sears mentions Father Finian, accusing him of starting a revolution in Burma. Sears assures Peterson that, based on Sears’s understanding of the Sarkhanese (gleaned by attending dinners and social functions), the threat of Communism is overstated. Sears then complains about his assistant, Maggie Johnson, who “agrees with the native press too much,” and requests that Petersen send several “good looking girls as secretaries.” Lastly, Sears praises Joe Bing, whose spirit and intellect he admires, and requests that Bing be assigned to Sarkhan.

Chapter 6: Employment Opportunities Abroad

The State Department is aggressively seeking candidates for foreign service. Among those who attend an informational meeting hosted by Hamilton Bridge Upton and Joe Bing is Marie MacIntosh. Upton’s address is very formal and emphasizes...

(This entire section contains 1142 words.)

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the need during “such momentous crises” for patriotic citizens to “contain this clever and malignant conspiracy”—that is, the spread of Communism.

Joe Bing, about to leave for Sarkhan, addresses the group informally and focuses on the perks that come with foreign service: first-class travel, subsidized housing, American food, and an active social life with fellow Americans. Bing notes that they will have to “work among foreigners, but we don’t expect you to love ’em.” Bing tells his listeners about the “high American standard” of life overseas, and when asked by a listener if they have to learn the language of the country in which they are stationed, he responds that they are not expected to know the language.

Of those who apply, Marie MacIntosh and a retired engineer, Homer Atkins, are selected. A third candidate, a newspaper writer, is rejected because he has criticized the government in some articles. Upton worries that the selectees appear to be motivated by pay rather than duty.

Chapter 7: The Girl Who Got Recruited

Marie MacIntosh, who thinks her life in the US is drab and completely boring, is thrilled to be accepted into the foreign service. After training, she writes a letter from Haidho, the capital of Sarkhan, telling her ex-roommates that she is now living in an apartment with “built-in servants” who attend to her every wish and do all the daily work, including cooking. She comments that parties among the Americans occur nightly.

Nowhere in the letter does she mention either the work she does or anything related to Sarkhan or the Sarkhanese people. MacIntosh is able to buy an English car, which is shipped free from England as part of the foreign service’s subsidies, and in addition to her salary, she receives $680 per month, because Sarkhan is considered “a hardship post.”

Chapter 8: The Ambassador and the Working Press

The US purchased land outside Sarkhan’s capital, Haidho, for an unspecified purpose years ago. In 1947, the Sarkhan government asked to use it for the training of its air force and spent “many millions improving the land.” A story published in a Sarkhanese newspaper indicates that the Sarkhanese Air Force is to be evicted from the land so that a residential development benefiting the US can be built.

In Joe Bing’s absence, his assistant notifies Ambassador Sears that representatives of the Sarkhanese press would like to meet with him to discuss the intentions of the US. When the Asian editors ask Sears if the story is true, he answers, “I have no comment to make,” which shocks his listeners. Bing’s assistant tells Sears that his answer is an acknowledgement that the story is accurate and suggests that Sears call the State Department to get the real answer, an idea that Sears hasn’t considered.

Almost immediately, Sears receives confirmation that his judgeship has been approved and that his successor as ambassador is Gilbert MacWhite. Before his departure from Sarkhan, Sears’s last official acts include the refusal to provide official protection to Father Finian, now in Sarkhan, because he is interfering “in the domestic politics of another power,” and recommending that the Sarkhanese government refuse a visa to John Colvin, who has recuperated in the US and is now trying to return to Sarkhan.


Chapters 1–3


Chapters 9–11