Edward Lansdale's Cold War

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Univ of Massachusetts Press, 2005 - Biography & Autobiography - 278 pages

The man widely believed to have been the model for Alden Pyle in Graham Greene's The Quiet American, Edward G. Lansdale (1908--1987) was a Cold War celebrity. A former advertising executive turned undercover CIA agent, he was credited during the 1950s with almost single-handedly preventing a communist takeover of the Philippines and with helping to install Ngo Dinh Diem as president of the American-backed government of South Vietnam. Adding to his notoriety, during the Kennedy administration Lansdale was put in charge of Operation Mongoose, the covert plot to overthrow the government of Cuba's Fidel Castro by assassination or other means.

In this book, Jonathan Nashel reexamines Lansdale's role as an agent of American Cold War foreign policy and takes into account both his actual activities and the myths that grew to surround him. In contrast to previous portraits, which tend to depict Lansdale either as the incarnation of U.S. imperialist ambitions or as a farsighted patriot dedicated to the spread of democracy abroad, Nashel offers a more complex and nuanced interpretation. At times we see Lansdale as the arrogant "ugly American," full of confidence that he has every right to make the world in his own image and utterly blind to his own cultural condescension. This is the Lansdale who would use any conceivable gimmick to serve U.S. aims, from rigging elections to sugaring communist gas tanks. Elsewhere, however, he seems genuinely respectful of the cultures he encounters, open to differences and new possibilities, and willing to tailor American interests to Third World needs.

Rather than attempting to reconcile these apparently contradictory images of Lansdale, Nashel explores the ways in which they reflected a broader tension within the culture of Cold War America. The result is less a conventional biography than an analysis of the world in which Lansdale operated and the particular historical forces that shaped him -- from the imperatives of anticommunist ideology and the assumptions of modernization theory to the techniques of advertising and the insights of anthropology.

 

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Contents

Confidences
27
Selling America Selling Vietnam
51
The Power of Secrets
79
The Perils of a Usable Past
106
Gazing at the Third World
129
Fictions of Quiet and Ugly Americans
151
The Halflife of Celebrity
189
Southeast Asia after Edward Lansdale
210
Notes
223
Index
271
Copyright

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Page 8 - Take up the White Man's burden In patience to abide, To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride; By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain, To seek another's profit, And work another's gain.
Page ix - If often he was wrong and at times absurd, To us he is no more a person Now but a whole climate of opinion.
Page 10 - Second, the Soviet Union, unlike previous aspirants to hegemony, is animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world.

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About the author (2005)

Jonathan Nashel is associate professor of history at Indiana University, South Bend.

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