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Turns Out He Wasn't An Ugly American


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eleven comments


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Be careful you don’t promote the “Quiet American”.


Had no idea there’s a time limit in place before the bell rings and the accuser is declared the winner, no matter actual determinants of truth and falsehood.

More likely, you’re just not used to an Ugly American with a growing hole in his atrium and an anuerysm to boot. (Maybe open-heart surgery did not exist when Lederer and Burdick were writing?) GM’s cardiac rehab is apparently going smoothly, as his next trip to the Roof of the World is already scheduled.

No doubt we will all hear from him before he leaves…

While I genuinely enjoyed your bringing the original meaning of UA to folks’ attention, I think you’ve confused two concepts to the detriment of both: An Ugly American cannot be replaced ~ s/he continues the work s/he believes in come hell or high water. It’s the HERO who is replaced, because being one is solely the result of people projecting their desires onto that person.

Mr. Mortenson certainly IS responsible for both the good and the bad he’s done, from the funding of education for girls to whether he broke the law or simply got sloppy to handing power for “3CofT” to Viking Books and author David Oliver Relin. He IS NOT responsible for your opinion of him, so it matters not whether you regard him as hero or antihero or simply a nobody.

The work of Central Asia Institute and its co-founder is not “World Wide Wrestling” — it’s real, it’s good, and it’s continuing as we write.


Steve-Yes that comes up whenever I mention the Ugly American. People always say, you mean “The Quiet American” and I have say, no, no I don’t.

Susan- We will make this point more in future posts, and I think Jon Krakauer already made it, GM isn’t Bernie Madoff. He isn’t Osama bin Laden. GM was doing great things in many parts of the world.

That said, and I truly believe this, too much of the philanthropic world gets a free pass. As a result, many so-called “charities” are either out right frauds, or just wastes of money.

To me, the biggest problem highlighted in the 60 Minutes article wasn’t the lying that they allege in Three Cups of Tea, it was the fact that the Central Asia Institute does not have audited financial statements. CAI also spends more money, according to their one audited financial document, in America than in central Asia. That is something I cannot condone.

I wish GM the best in his recovery, and I hope he can rebound and bring the millions of dollars in his charity back to Pakistan and Afghanistan.


@ Steve Connors – Why?


“In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -– it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.”
President Barack Obama, June 2011.

I’ll assume that you’ve read Greene’s book. I’ve always assumed that he used the same methodology for this as he did for most of his other books. Greene was essentially a reporter whose final product was “fiction”. The best place to observe this is by first reading “The Lawless Roads”, a reportage commissioned by the Vatican in the 1930’s that explores the persecution of Mexico’s Catholic clergy. Then read “The Power and the Glory”, a novel using the same reporting in a fictionalized setting. What you will find is a great similarity of character and circumstance with an emphasis provided by novelstsic licence. Orwell also used this method at least once, using characters from “Down and Out in Paris and London” for his novel, “The Clergyman’s Daughter”.

If Greene did use this method (he was certainly a very frequent visitor to the region where he would indulge his opium habit) it’s reasonable to assume that Alden Pyle was less a figment of Greene’s imagination and more likely an intricately portarayed character (or amalgam of characters) he met along the way.

Now, I don’t wish to insult anyone but Americans are brainwashed from an early age with the sort of guff I’ve quoted at the beginning of this post. Unfortunately, tens of millions grow up with that sense of messianic mission deeply embedded in their belief system as it is burned into their minds through political dialogue, religion and right the way through the educational system – including the higher seats of learning.

Where this becomes most destructively dangerous of course, is when it is sent abroad. Whether soldiers, foreign service officers or religious evangelists, these are the Quiet Americans of Graham Greene’s “fiction”. Iraq and Afghanistan were given their full attention, as were Vietnam, Chile, Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the Philipines in other eras. They will tear the heart out of a political system or a culture, comfortable in their belief that it’s all for the greater good. And heaven help anyone who rejects their lover’s overture.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” is full of these people. Starry eyed young (and not so young) Republicans flocking to Baghdad to remake that society in their own image. Democrats sneered at their incompetence but in doing so perhaps gave away much more than intended. The subtext was clear; that “liberals” would have carried out that Mission with greater proficiency but there was little argument that it was their destiny to do so.

So no, please don’t promote the Quiet American. The world has had a bellyfull of his ilk.


@ Steve – I haven’t read “The Quiet America” yet, so I’m glad I got your take on it. I was actually planning on reading “The power and The Glory” after I finish “Matterhorn”, so I’ll continue on that path.

And I really want to read Chandrasekaran’s book, so i think we ar ein accord on this. Just curious for your take.


I won’t spoil it for you but the most amazing part (for me) of the QA is Phuong’s reaction when she learns of his death, very early in the book.

I’ve always thought the book should be on evry American high school curriculum. But, alas, GG was banned from entering the US. so not much chance of that.

There is also a very good film starring Michael Caine.


Michael C. — Afraid your response neither speaks to my concern nor tells me anything new.

Simply put: You believe about CAI / GM what CBS News / JK want you to believe. Then, because some “set” period has elapsed without contrary evidence, you believe the allegations are now facts.

On the other hand, I believe that waiting until we read the Montana AG’s report on CAI donations, book sales, and expenditures is the proper “innocent until proven guilty” approach. (I hope and expect the AG’s report will also outline CAI’s new, legal, credible, sensible way of accounting and reporting.)

I hope we can talk again after that. Thanks…


From a practical point of view, there has been no lawsuit for defamation of character. Further, from my experience, 60 Minutes’ exposes are generally not presented as opinion but unbiased reporting. Not that a report indicates guilt, but the volume of evidence brought forward is an excellent indication.


First, to address your concern Susan, I can make up my mind. The Montana AG shouldn’t have to release a report defending GM. The week after the 60 Minutes article, CAI should have released a rebuttal post detailing all the factual inaccuracies of the report. They should have launched a media counter-narrative campaign explaining in hard numbers exactly how much they spend in Asia each year, and how little Mortenson spends on himself and his family.

The Montana AG shouldn’t have to do that. CAI shouldn’t need a “new, legal, credible, sensible way of accounting and reporting.” The CAI should have already had it!

None of which speaks to the allegations of lying. If Mortenson had truly been kidnapped by terrorists, why didn’t he immediately refute that claim? Or the claim that he never got lost coming of K2? Those are huge claims, it shouldn’t take the Montana AG to decide that.

Susan, I know I’m not going to change your mind, nor you mind. I will say I have made up my mind according to the evidence I have read.


Michael C, re: your last sentence. Honest? YES. Open-minded? NO.

That is exactly my point. (Guess I should have just said it that way in the beginning!)

Looking forwward to the next installment of this series.