Photo by Edward F. Palm)

About Me

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Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Death of an "Ugly American"

Late last week, I learned that William J. Lederer, co-author of the highly influential polemic The Ugly American (1958) died on December 5.  He was 97.
       A retired Navy captain before he became a best-selling author, Lederer will be buried at Arlington on February 16.
       I interviewed Lederer in Peacham, Vermont, on June 27, 1996.  (I took this photo on that occasion.)  He was generally reluctant to grant interviews by then; The Ugly American had been credited with making our Vietnam involvement seem like a national imperative--a charge Lederer vehemently denied.  But I shamelessly pulled out the old Naval Service tie.  I introduced myself as a Vietnam veteran and retired Marine major turned academic, and Lederer agreed to see me.
       Through that interview, and by combing through his papers at the University of Massachusetts, I came to understand that Lederer's legacy was the Peace Corps, not the Vietnam War.  If Lederer was "ugly," it was in the ironically good sense of the title character of his book--a man who isn't afraid to roll up his sleeves and live and work with the people of a developing nation on their own terms.  He was not one of truly "ugly Americans" who isolate themselves in American enclaves abroad and look down on the "natives."
      Lederer's mentor was the legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale.  Both men felt that worst thing we could do would be a large-scale military intervention in Vietnam.  As revealed in The Pentagon Papers, Lansdale had an unfortunate tendency to believe that the end justified the means.  (Behind the scenes in Vietnam, he engaged in a series of dirty tricks aimed at discrediting and vilifying the Communists.)  But in the main, Lansdale and Lederer both  advocated psychological warfare.  They understood that we couldn't force American values and ideas on the people of developing nations; we had to sell people on those ideas.  Lansdale proved to be an asset to the CIA precisely because his background was in advertising, not military affairs.  And Lederer was very much his faithful disciple.  The Ugly American is essentially the gospel according to Edward Lansdale.  --EFP


Anonymous said...

I would have liked to see your interview online. I knew Bill, though all too briefly. He was a remarkable man.

Siddhartha Banerjee
Oxford, Pennsylvania

Edward F. Palm said...

I have not had occasion to transcribe the whole interview. Shortly after the interview, I tried to place an interview article, but I couldn't find a journal that would take it. I did eventually publish a long article on Lansdale, Lederer, and Dooley. That journal was not online at the time. I would be happy to send you a copy. Contact me at efpalm@wavecable.com. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post and to leave a comment. --Ed Palm