Swans Commentary » swans.com September 24, 2007  



The Ugliest Americans


by Gerard Donnelly Smith





(Swans - September 24, 2007)   Sure there are "Ugly Americans." I've seen them wearing tee shirts shouting "Nuke them all, let God sort them out"; some believe that words like nigger, spic, and towel-head help define racial types; some argue that English should be the only language taught in schools, perhaps because they can't learn a second language themselves.

The term was first used in 1958 by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick in their book The Ugly American, which included the "ugly" actions of Americans involved in foreign policy during the Vietnam War. The authors wrote in their preface that "The things we write about have happened. The have happened not only in Southeast Asia, where the story takes place, but throughout the world -- in the fifty-nine countries where over two-million Americans are stationed." However, the main character in the novel was sensitive and his action supportive. Although unattractive, his actions were not.

Since the book's publication, however, the term has become a stereotype, which American tourist are warned to avoid. Simply put, the ugly American believes he/she is culturally superior to the members of the host country; that American values should be everyone's values, and he/she need not learn about the customs or speak the language of the host country. These individuals expect to find a McDonald's or a KFC in every foreign city. They don't understand that their manner of dress may be insulting to others, or that one should not photograph "everything and everybody." Because of these individuals, Americans are viewed as selfish, arrogant, rude, intrusive, and egocentric.

The stereotype has been so pervasive that in 2006 the non-profit organization Business for Diplomatic Action created a guide for American corporate employees abroad. The BDA, funded by major American corporations, hoped its "World Citizen Guide" would turn employees into ambassadors: polite and sensitive employees would be good for the bottom line. Indeed, we often won't do business with people we don't like.

Unfortunately, the ugly American syndrome may have gotten worse despite efforts to educate tourists and employees, but not because of these American individuals. No, the ugliest Americans are the corporate criminals, the war profiteers and the war criminals who by their greed and brutality create resentment and resistance toward American foreign policy. Indeed, what else can one label Americans who support torture, who support death squads, who support illegal invasions and occupations?

US foreign policy perpetuates the ugly American stereotypes, and all other perceptions of the nation and its people. American corporations don't move to foreign countries to help raise the standard of living for their new employees, but to increase profits. American corporations don't move to foreign countries to create ecologically safe industries, but to circumvent regulations meant to protect the environment and thus decrease the incidence of cancer, leukemia, and the myriad other diseases caused by industrial waste. The corporate "individuals" along with those politicians who support them through free-market legislation are the ugliest Americans. Those who support blood for oil are the ugliest Americans; those who put profit above human life are the ugliest of all.

It's time for a makeover, isn't it?


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About the Author

Gerard Donnelly Smith on Swans (with bio).



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This Edition's Internal Links

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art13/gsmith93.html
Published September 24, 2007