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Authors: Eugene Burdick,William J. Lederer

The Ugly American





THE Ugly American


W. W. Norton & Company
New York


Copyright 1958 by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick Copyright renewed 1986

First published as a Norton paperback 1965; reissued 1999

All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 58-7388

ISBN 0-393-31867-2

W. W. Norton
Company, Inc.

500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10110

W. W. Norton &: Company Ltd.

Castle House, 75/76 Wells Street, London WIT 3QT 8 9 0


The Lessons of War What Would You Do If You Were President?



This book
is written as fiction; but it is based on fact. The things we write about have, in essence, happened. They have happened not only in Asia, where the story takes place, but throughout the world—in the fifty-nine countries where over two million Americans are stationed.

At the end of the book we have added a documentary epilogue which we hope will convince the reader that what we have written is not just an angry dream, but rather the rendering of fact into fiction. The names, the places, the events, are our inventions; our aim is not to embarrass individuals, but to stimulate thought—and, we hope, action.


Bill Lederer Eugene Burdick
Pearl Gty, Oahu Territory of Hawaii 1958


The Ugly American


Lucky, Lucky Lou #1


The Honorable Louis Sears, American Ambassador to Sarkhan, was angry. Even though the air-conditioned kept his office cool, he felt hot and irritable. He smoothed out the editorial page of the
Sarkhan Eastern Star,
the most widely distributed paper in Haidho, and studied the cartoon carefully.

I don't give a damn what the Prime Minister and all those little advisers of his say, Ambassador Sears said to himself, that damned
Eastern Star
is a Red paper, and that cartoon looks too much like me to be an accident He jerked his head away from the paper, with a tic of anger, and turned toward the window. The lawn of the Embassy swept down to the main road of Haidho in a long, pure green, carefully trimmed wave. On each side it broke into a froth of color ... the red and purple of bougainvillea, the softer colors of hibiscus, the myriad orchids hanging in elegant parasitic grace from banyan trees, the crisp straight lines of bamboo trees. At the end of the lawn the pickets of a wrought-iron fence separated Embassy grounds from the confusion and noise of the road.

From the countryside an unbroken line of women were moving into Haidho, as they did every morning, carrying on their backs faggots of wood, or baskets of vegetables— radishes, spring onions, and beans laid out in simple perfection on moist leaves. Occasionally a woman went by with a basket of fish on her head, the tiny silvery bodies catching the early morning sun. Whenever a man passed he was on a bicycle, making his way along the chattering lines of women.

Strange little monkeys, Ambassador Sears thought, forgetting for a moment his pique at the cartoon. Women do all the work, men have all the fun.

The only motorized vehicles he could see were trucks which had been given to the Sarkhanese government by the American military advisory group. They went down the road at a fast clip, their horns blaring steadily as if they had been turned on when the engine was started. They carried military supplies toward the north; neat boxes of hand grenades, bundles of barbed wire, barrels of gasoline and oil, big rectangular boxes which contained disassembled 50-calibre machine guns.

And all of it made in America, Ambassador Sears thought At once his anger returned and he looked down again at the
Eastern Star.
The cartoon was obvious. Although he could not read Sarkhanese beyond a few words forced upon him by constant repetition, the point was clear. The cartoon showed a short fat American, his face perspiring, and his mouth open like a braying mule's, leading a thin, gracefully-built Sarkhanese man by a tether around his neck toward a sign bearing two of the few Sarkhanese words the ambassador could recognize—"Coca Cola." Underneath the short fat man was a single English word: "Lucky."

Ambassador Sears wished to hell some American in the Embassy could read Sarkhanese. He hated to interrogate the native translators attachéd to USIS about the meaning of cartoons. He suspected that the damned little monkeys always lied. But they couldn't soft soap him on this one, not when the fat character was called "Lucky."

Lucky, Lucky Louis had been Ambassador Sears' nickname when he was in politics in the United States. For eighteen years he had been a popular and successful senator; but it was said about him that he always won his elections by a lucky fluke. When Sears, a Democrat, first won, Drew Pearson had said that he had been elected because he was lucky enough to be a Democrat in a Democratic year. In his second race his Republican opponent had dropped dead ten days before the election, which even Sears had recognized as luck. His opponent's wife had got involved in a scandal during his third campaign. But, as Sears had noticed wryly, no one had thought it was bad luck when he lost the fourth time up.

Actually Sears had not been too much worried when he lost this last election. He had been in politics long enough to know that the party owed him something. Two days after the election, with his voting record under his arm, he called on the National Committee.

The political strategists were ready for him.

"What kind of a job would you like, Lucky?" they asked.

"A Federal judgeship with a nice long tenure," he answered promptly.

"Okay, but there won't be an opening for two years. In the meantime, Lucky, how would you like to be an ambassador?"

"Me, an ambassador?" said Sears, immediately picturing himself appearing in a morning coat and striped trousers before the court of St. James, or running the big handsome embassy building in Paris. Sears was a shrewd enough politician to keep any look of expectation from crossing his face. "Now look, boys, an ambassador has to spend a lot more than he makes. That's all right, if you've got a philanthropist who might stand the gaff for me; but you know my personal situation. After eighteen years, everything I've gotten has gone into the party."

The strategists nodded without comment. It was a remark they heard often, but it never failed to touch them.

"There's an ambassadorship open in Sarkhan," the strategists said. "It pays $17,500 and you ought to be able to save money on that. There's an entertainment allowance of $15,000, and you can buy liquor tax free. There's also an ambassador's mansion which you get rent free."

"Where the hell is Sarkhan?"

"It's a small country out toward Burma and Thailand."

"Now, you know I'm not prejudiced, but I just don't work well with blacks."

"They're not black, they're brown. Well, if you don't want it, we can fix you up as legal assistant to . . ."

"I'll take it."

At first Ambassador Sears had liked his assignment. It was true about the cheap liquor, and the ambassador's mansion was the most spacious and beautifully furnished house he had ever occupied. Mrs. Sears was in ecstasy over it. However, soon after his arrival, the cartoons had started and Ambassador Sears had been profoundly hurt by them. In America he had never minded being kidded about his stoutness and his red face. In fact, at Rotary meetings he always started out his speeches by saying, "Now, for a fat man I think I'm doing all right by you boys in Washington." It had always gotten a laugh. But Ambassador Sears felt that it was a bit uppity and quite another thing for natives to joke about his physique.

He was still looking at the cartoon when the door opened. It was Margaret Johnson, the embassy's press attaché. She was flushed with excitement, and began talking without even saying good morning.

"Ambassador, a mob of people beat up John Colvin—that powdered milk man—and dumped his body on the embassy steps sometime last night," she said in a rush. "We called the doctor and he thinks the man will live, but we'd better prepare a statement for the papers."

"Oh, for Pete's sake," Ambassador Sears said angrily. "Why does this kind of thing always have to happen so early in the morning? Why did they beat him up?"

"We're not sure," Margaret said. "There was a note pinned to his body which said something about his molesting Sarkhanese girls."

Ambassador Sears sat back in his chair and laughed. "Well, I'll be damned," he said with pleasure. "I always thought that guy Colvin was a little too serious. I tell you, Maggie, it's always those quiet kind that when they can't get a piece of tail they resort to a little force."

Margaret's face showed her distaste for the Ambassador's words, but her voice was calm when she spoke.

"This might turn out to be a pretty serious thing, Mister Ambassador," she said. "You never can be sure when one of the political parties might pick up something like this and blow it up all out of proportion."

"Aw, come off it, Maggie," Ambassador Sears said. "Since when is a boy meets girl affair something that involves big politics? If you want something to worry about, worry about this cartoon. Get me that Prince Ngong, or whatever the hell his name is, the one responsible for protocol. When we get this newspaper business cleared up, then I suppose I'll have to go to the hospital and see that fool Colvin."

Miss Johnson nodded politely and left the office.


In the midst of vague and unremarkable dreams, John Colvin became aware of his bandages. He came back to reality slowly. The hospital room emerged, sunny and quiet. The washstand in the corner took its place firmly, and his bed appeared before him. Finally, he realized that he was part of the scene himself. He was in the bed, swathed in gauze, and aware of pain behind a soft barrier of drugs.

The memory of the events which put him in the hospital returned to his consciousness until finally the events were in order and established as fact. He even remembered his disbelief of them while they were happening, and his thinking that it was impossible that Deong, a man who had been his friend, who had saved his life ten years ago, who had shared terrors with him, was now holding a gun in his back. He had met Deong shortly after he had parachuted into Sarkhan in 1943. It had been a meeting which had saved his life.

Colvin had been dropped into Sarkhan with two other Americans. They had been carefully selected. They all knew the Sarkhanese language perfectly, and they all had approximately the size and stature of the average Sarkhanese man. Their faces had been dyed the light brown native Sarkhanese. They were OSS agents, and all three were tough enough and competent enough to think they would live forever. Two weeks later Colvin was the only one still alive—and he had had four narrow escapes from Japanese patrols. Only his friendship with Deong made it possible for him to survive.

Colvin was running down a jungle path in what he knew was a futile effort to escape the fourth Japanese patrol which had encircled him, when he had come out into a small clearing where Deong was watering the family water buffalo. They had stared at one another for a long moment, and Colvin had instantly decided to trust Deong.

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