Letter: Are you an Ugly American?

The expression “Ugly American” had mostly faded into history except occasionally when a sports person behaves badly in another country or a newspaper article reminds us of its origins. It was once used to describe demanding and offensive travelers abroad especially when in a less affluent country.

One wonders if this term is now resurrected and applies on social media for those espousing strong nationalist and protectionist views and behaviors that are essentially un-American.

The phrase came into common usage in 1958 when Eugene Burdick and William Lederer published a fiction book of that title about the efforts of an engineer in Southeast Asia tasked with helping the population but hamstrung by political and diplomatic bureaucracies. While Homer Atkins, the engineer, thought of himself as unattractive, even ugly, because of his face and work-worn hands, the real ugly Americans were those who did not choose to understand the cultures and behaviors that would have headed off the growing Communist influence the area.

About 3,500 libraries own the book “The Ugly American” so it should be available to those who want to reflect on what our country is becoming. A few years later, there was an article in the American Journal of Economics & Sociology titled “The Compassionate American.” The author reminded readers that “Whatever the form, compassion has deeply and permanently lined the American national image.”

We have the power to choose compassion over ugliness. Think hard before you choose.

Linda Scarth

Cedar Rapids

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