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Edward Lansdale's Cold War

Edward Lansdale's Cold War

Jonathan Nashel
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 304
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    Edward Lansdale's Cold War
    Book Description:

    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 singlehandedly preventing a communist takeover of the Philippines and with helping to install Ngo Dinh Diem as president of the Americanbacked 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-141-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: On the Trail of Edward Lansdale
    (pp. 1-24)

    When Edward G. Lansdale died in 1987, his obituary made the front page of theNew York Times. Characterizing him as a “dashing” air force officer and “counterinsurgency” expert, theTimesretraced the trajectory of Lansdale’s career and catalogued some of the reasons for his notoriety.¹ An advertising executive before World War II, he then joined the military and eventually served with the Office of Strategic Services (oss), the forerunner of the CIA. After the war he was sent as an adviser to the newly independent Philippines, where he soon established a reputation as an innovative and effective agent of...

  5. 1 Confidences
    (pp. 25-48)

    Herman Melville’sThe Confidence-Man(1857) foregrounds the Cosmopolitan, the Devil, a stranger “in the extremist sense of the word.” He urges his wares upon the unsuspecting and the cynical alike, including a cripple who is busy selling confidences himself. The cripple’s guilt-inducing tales of being a veteran of America’s war against Mexico, however, are no match for the strategies of the Cosmopolitan, who in the guise of an herb doctor proclaims his ability to cure the cripple of his many afflictions with the Omni-Balsamic Reinvigorator. The cripple, though wary at first, becomes even more seduced by the idea of this...

  6. 2 Selling America, Selling Vietnam
    (pp. 49-76)

    However central the idea of progress may be to the workings of advertising, its projection of an ideal future is always mingled with a nostalgia for a recreated past. The art critic John Berger dissected these connections, pointing out that when advertisers design publicity, “they never speak of the present. Often they refer to the past and always they speak of the future.” Berger’s argument about the way the past is mythologized and decontextualized in order to project the advertiser’s desired vision of the future ties into Lansdale’s continual use of a mythical past and an idealized future to further...

  7. 3 The Power of Secrets
    (pp. 77-103)

    “Ed told me that he was never in the CIA.” This simple statement, said with a bit of a chuckle by Lansdale’s second wife, Pat, is noteworthy for a variety of reasons.¹ The disclaimer reflects Lansdale’s cover as a U.S. Air Force officer, which he maintained throughout his public career. Although it is true that he was never an actual employee of the CIA, since he received his paycheck from the air force, the document trail linking him with the CIA is extensive and goes far beyond the odd yet instructive detail that although he eventually rose in rank to...

  8. 4 The Perils of a Usable Past
    (pp. 104-126)

    Edward Lansdale was never in the first tier of policymakers, yet he thought of himself as being at the forefront of those who explained the intellectual basis for U.S. actions in the Cold War. This belief was reinforced by reporters who found in him the government official who always had a timely phrase or the aptly drawn historical analogy for current U.S. policy. The journalist Frances Fitzgerald dug a bit deeper, surmising that Lansdale was “no theorist, he was rather an enthusiast, a man who believed that Communism in Asia would crumble before men of goodwill with some concern for...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 5 Gazing at the Third World
    (pp. 127-148)

    In a 1957 episode of the popular television programSee It Now, opera singer Marian Anderson was featured on a U.S. government-sponsored goodwill tour of Vietnam.¹ The ostensible purpose of this TV segment, hosted by America’s premier journalist, Edward R. Murrow, was to highlight the ways in which the United States was promoting civil and human rights around the world. It was also intended to demonstrate U.S. concern for the impoverished nations, in stark contrast to America’s communist adversaries with their economic and political “iron curtains.” Yet all did not go as planned. Anderson was greeted in Saigon with flowers...

  11. 6 Fictions of Quiet and Ugly Americans
    (pp. 149-186)

    Edward Lansdale was a Cold War celebrity. His fame perfectly mirrored a culture in which people live vicariously through their entertainers, athletes, and politicians. Although he was never accorded the public adulation offered to those Hollywood stars cast as defenders of American freedoms, or the attention paid a secretary of state pronouncing on the evils of communism, his fame was real. It can be attributed in large part to a series of writers who looked at Lansdale and saw a great story.

    Though countless authors wrote about him, the core of his celebrity lay in just two novels: Graham Greene’s...

  12. 7 The Half-life of Celebrity
    (pp. 187-207)

    Always lurking in and around the fictions of Edward Lansdale created by Greene and by Lederer and Burdick was his association with the CIA. Norman Mailer’s massive novel about the CIA,Harlot’s Ghost(1991), eerily reproduces and extends those earlier representations of Lansdale as the narrator describes him:

    The General is another matter. He delivers each one of his presentations with all the sincerity of an inspired salesman. He’s an odd, tall man, who does not, but for his crew cut, look in the least like an Army general. In his fifties, he is mild, pleasant, soft-spoken, and not bad-looking—...

  13. Epilogue: Southeast Asia after Edward Lansdale
    (pp. 208-220)

    “I put Lansdale over there but nothing happened” was President Johnson’s caustic comment to columnist Drew Pearson when Lansdale did not deliver the victory that proved so elusive to the United States.¹ After LBJ sent the fabled cold warrior back to Vietnam in 1965 to rework his magic and fashion a stable anticommunist state, Lansdale spent three more years in Vietnam, yet he, along with over 500,000 American soldiers, failed to achieve this goal. “Quite an unusual enemy we are up against,” he wrote in 1966 to Henry Cabot Lodge, then U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, when reflecting on the...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 221-268)
  15. Index
    (pp. 269-278)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-279)