The Ugly American explained in graphic detail the reasons why American diplomacy was failing in Southeast Asia in the 1950's and the reasons why communism was succeeding. As a list of events for the struggle for influence in Asia, it caused quite a diplomatic rage. Its lessons seem urgent today because of what is going on in Central America and in the Middle East. Whether the foreign policy mistakes this book overstated have been corrected is an important question.
The novel begins with the "Honorable" Louis Sears, ambassador to the country of Sarkhan, a small underdeveloped country in which communist and American interests are competing for control. Sears has assumed his post as a political substitute is over. Between three terms in the Senate and a predicted federal judgeship "with a long tenure," he's simply filling time in a "cushy" job with a large entertainment funds and providing living conditions, in a country he had never heard of, serving people he thinks of as "little monkeys." A cartoon drawn of Sears as a crying mule was published in a local Sarkhanese newspaper, making it obvious just how the American ambassador seemed to be. Sears is the example of "the ugly American."
In the following chapter the novel presents the Russian ambassador to Sarkhan, Louis Krupitzyn, a professional whose two-year training period has included instruction in the language and the traditions of the country he has been sent to work in. His entire staff is fluent in Sarkhanese and the culture is somewhat different, which make the Sarkhanese people unique. The Soviet ambassador makes himself into the ideal Sarkhan. He diets, losing forty pounds; he studies ballet, reads Sarkhanese literature and drama, and becomes a skillful nose flute player in which all as an introduction to an actual diplomacy. With his country's big political goals for Sarkhan and a clear plan, the ambassa…