The Ugly American: Peeling the Onion of an Iconic Cold War Text”

In: Journal of American-East Asian Relations
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  • 1 Northwestern University

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The Ugly American, published in 1958, was a literary blockbuster that offered a powerful vision of how the United States should fight communism in Asia. Yet despite the textual simplicity of the novel, it had a complex and layered backstory. Its characters were not wholly fictional but were based on real-life models, whose work in Asia laid the backdrop for the novel’s vignettes. Adding an additional layer of complexity, two of those models lived covert lives—one as a closeted gay man working with the Central Intelligence Agency (cia), another as a cia officer tasked with putting down peasant insurgencies—that belied their public images.

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