Deong had a passion that all revolutionaries have, a kind of passion that it is easy for us to misinterpret. We forget that the men that started our country had that same kind of passion that Deong had and that these other leaders have; and unless we recognize their fight to be independent to be part of our own then we drive them to seek understanding in some other place. We can’t win the Cold War unless we remember what we are for as well as what we are against. I have learned in a very personal way that I can’t preach American heritage and expect to be believed if I act out of impatience or sacrifice my principals for expediency. I have learned that the only time we’re hated is when we stop trying to be started out to be 200 years ago. I am not blaming my country, I am blaming the indifference that some of us show to its promises.
The novel, The Ugly American (1958), takes place in a fictional nation called Sarkhan (an imaginary country in Southeast Asia that somewhat resembles Burma or Thailand, but which is meant to allude to Vietnam) and includes several real people, most of whose names have been changed. The book describes the United States’s losing struggle against Communism—what was later to be called the battle for hearts and minds in Southeast Asia—because of innate arrogance and the failure to understand the local culture. The title is actually a double entendre, referring both to the physically unattractive hero, Homer Atkins, and to the ugly behavior of the American government employees.
John Kennedy was gripped by The Ugly American. In 1960, he and five other opinion leaders bought a large advertisement in the New York Times, saying that they had sent copies of the novel to every U.S. Senator, because its message was so important. John Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the US in January 1961.
The novel was made into a film and released in April 1963 starring Marlon Brando as Ambassador Harrison Carter MacWhite. President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. In the closing scene after Deong has been assassinated, MacWhite, his friend for the past fifteen years shares his thoughts with reporters (above).
In 1959 there were 790 American troops in Vietnam; in 1961 there were 3205; in 1963 there were 16,300; in 1965 there were 536,100; in 1973 there were 50.