I am one of the authors of The Ugly American. The one, who as Mr. Buttinger so graciously puts it, “calls himself a political scientist.” The editors of DISSENT describe the essay by Mr. Buttinger as a “sustained polemic” against The Ugly American. I am no stranger to polemics and would have been pleased to argue the value of our novel as well as the larger issues of politics.
But Mr. Buttinger does not enter into a polemic. He enters into a Kafka-like world in which arrogance becomes identical with authority, suspicions once voiced are accepted as “facts,” dark revelations are promised and their darkness becomes their proof. I am not quarreling with the boring or angry aspects of the essay. They are not a necessary part of polemics, but they are frequent. I am asserting that Mr. Buttinger’s essay is literally senseless. I can conceive of no basis on which the essay can be refuted. It has nothing to do with logic, with standards of proof, with evidence. In the same way that nightmares or pure acts of imagination cannot be “proved” I cannot prove that the essay is fallacious. To do that one would have to enter into Mr. Buttinger’s private nightmare. I think there are sound reasons for not making the trip. Mr. Rovere in Senator Joe McCarthy talks about McCarthy’s use of the “multiple untruth” and the impossibility of “refuting” McCarthy once you enter the labyrinth of his assertions. Mr. Buttinger’s case is more difficult because he accompanies untruth with a kind of rowdy and enchanting ignorance of logical presentation and a soaring imagination which alternates strangely with a harsh Prussian bark to believe something because he asserts it. One can enter such a weird literary structure only by forfeiting rationality.
Let me state at the outset that I agree with Mr. Buttinger’s estimate of the “literary quality” of The Ugly American. We wrote the book hurriedly, with a sense of great urgency, and while separated by a great distance. Such conditions make for rough work, a lack of polish and some jarring transitions. I have never differed with critics who remark the literary imperfections of the book. Mr. Lederer and I were, from the start, fully aware of them. It was not our intention, a thing which Mr. Buttinger seems persistently incapable of perceiving, to write a polished literary novel. His persistent outrage and anger on this point only serve to confuse the main issues. Let me also state that I think there are substantial errors of emphasis and interpretation in The Ugly American and I have tried to acknowledge them publicly whenever I have been convinced they are demonstrated.
The Buttinger essay opens by suggesting a dark plot. It states flatly that our novel had a large initial sale because it was “bought and distributed in unusually great numbers by private parties and organizations” and ...
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