I am using these two books as a springboard to a rather lengthy story that ultimately explains some characteristics about me and is surprisingly still apropos to Americans of today. This entire post is pure opinion, but I'm telling you how I got here.
First, let's get something out of the way. This blog isn't about the importance of what I think. I certainly opine on this site, however what I think is only my thoughts. You have to get your own thoughts. When I first started writing this blog in 2014, I tried to make clear that the purpose of the blog was not to convince you to think the same as I thought, but to think what you thought. That is still true today. I want to motivate you to observe, inquire, research, ask questions, and form your own thoughts. If they are contrary to my thoughts, so be it. DO NOT FOLLOW SOMEONE ELSE'S THOUGHTS BLINDLY. Both books referenced above deal with this issue.
The two books above substantially influenced my "maturing" process. They unexpectedly influenced my evolution into a pretty good real estate development analyst. That skill is enhanced by a certain type of personality trait. I will get to that later.
The two books above deal with life just prior to the escalation of the Viet Nam War. The setting of the books was Southeast Asia, but the messages of the books were aimed at the body politic analytical skills of citizens of the United States. The messages were simple. They said, "Think, dumb ass, before you let some silver tongued devil con you into believing something that isn't true."
Up until reading those books, I was fairly naive and took everyone pretty much at face value. I had already learned Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny weren't real. I had learned that sometimes girls are fickle. However, generally I believed everyone was honest and was worthy of my trust. Then, being a college student, I began to mix with other students and their little academic discussions at the student union. I was becoming worldly. I began to drink coffee. One of the major discussions of the day was the book, "The Ugly American." I had read it and I loved it. It had become the "in" thing to read during my college years. My little coffee sessions began to reveal that a lot of people weren't honest. In discussing the book, many referenced the "pretty" Americans like diplomats, politicians, ambassadors, etc., and how their behavior was screwing up the image of the USA in general and Americans in particular. My cohorts were labeling these people as the "ugly Americans." They were giving the USA a bad reputation. That is when I began to realize how effective "bullshit" was in gaining acceptance. They hadn't read the book. They only said they did. They talked in non-specific ways to avoid being found out. You know, like politicians do.
Well, the real "Ugly American" was an engineer with dirt under his fingernails. There was a whole chapter in the book named, "The Ugly American." He genuinely wasn't "pretty" at all. He came from a small engineering school without any particular educational hosannas. He took a job with a company that was doing contract work for the USA in Southeast Asia. He was a civil engineer and loved building bridges, roads, sewer systems, and water systems. He always had dirt under his fingernails. He fell in love with Southeast Asia and it's people. In his job he often came into contact with the Washington bureaucracy and the performances of the "pretty Americans." He tried to warn, most often to deaf ears, the mistakes the USA was making in Southeast Asia. Of course, he was just a civil engineer working out in the elements digging holes and covering them up. What did he know? They ignored him.
Of course, he knew a lot. He was in daily contact with the people of Viet Nam and knew what the people thought. Washington only knew what the "pretty" people thought, which was nearly always flawed. He never got his story out. The war in Viet Nam trudged on to 1975 without a significant improvement in anything. The "pretty" Americans never got outside their bubble, essentially no different than today.
Of course, the books recited stories about how badly things were going in Southeast Asia, but the "real" message was to the American people about how they chose their leaders. The "real" message was to ask questions. Don't believe the first story you hear without verifying it. ALWAYS, ALWAYS CHECK THE FACTS PRESENTED BY THE PRETTY FACES!! You don't have to dislike your leaders. In fact, they could be good friends. They may have accepted someone else's bad facts. You are not making a personal evaluation. You are checking facts. Americans had let some bad facts influence their decisions in Southeast Asia. They allowed it because they believed their leaders and were loyal Americans. However, the foxes were in the hen house.
A Nation of Sheep told much the same story, however the book was more explicit about Americans thinking for themselves rather than following blindly the advice of others.
Probably the best thing to do here is to give a couple of other opinions. It is astonishing to read how things never change, even when one knows what seems to be a law of “civilized America.” Lederer was not prescient. He just reported the events of his day as an historian would—objectively. This book first published 56 years ago, went through two re-printings within a year. His preface says it all:
Below is an opinion written by the author himself.
A Nation of Sheep -- Book Review
By William J. Lederer
co-author of The Ugly American.
Book Review with commentary
Preface (partial--written 1963)
These are disturbing questions and certainly professor Burdick and I gave no more than hints as to the solutions in The Ugly American. The key to the riddle lies in the causes of the blunders; and the chief cause is ignorance-- an overwhelming national ignorance--of the facts about the rest of the world. A nation or an individual cannot function, unless the truth is available and understood. Since the United States is a democracy, the broad answer to the questions asked in the 8000 Ugly American letters is that all of us must become informed.
Another notable comment from Edward R. Murrow
(a paraphrase of Thomas Jefferson)
"A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves."
- Edward R. Murrow”
Probably, "The Nation of Sheep" had more influence on me than the "Ugly American." The "Ugly American" taught me that people of substance and breeding often lie to reach a desired point. A "Nation of Sheep" taught me to question and guard myself against self serving influences by people that should not need to do so.
These books set the stage for good analytical skills. As luck would have it, I accepted an internship with a real estate appraisal firm while in college. One can't get a job requiring much more analytical skills than real estate appraisal. Of course, I didn't have those skills when I joined the firm, but the training process had begun.
Real estate appraisal training led to mortgage banking and the analytical skills needed for loan processing. That led to real estate development lending, which led to inspection, auditing, and distressed loan "work outs." All the jobs led to more and more analytical skills on real estate development. In order to be good at those functions, it is imperative that you do not let appearances fool you. That does not mean you can no longer trust anyone or even like them. All it means is one checks the facts. If not as presented, either make mention of them, or walk away from the deal. Often, I am called upon to render opinions on the disbursement of hundreds of thousands of dollars. My banking clients are satisfied with, and demand, that I can not be influenced by smiles, funny stories, falsified invoicing, kickbacks, etc. My early and subsequent training developed this skill. Sometimes I ask hard questions. Sometimes elected officials don't like this.
The acquisition of knowledge is true when analyzing the behavior of your elected officials. You don't have to dislike them, or even question their motives. Motives may be pure, but flawed. However, you must be informed!
Only then can you make intelligent decisions regarding who you vote into leadership positions. This is true for local, state, and federal positions.
Sometimes when you ask questions, or have different opinions about government issues, you can be criticized by those same officials as being "combative." Of course, this is done to discredit you and enhance the official that thinks you have no right to your own opinion. This is precisely what you must guard against. If those officials exist in any of our governments, again, the fox is in the hen house. You then have arrogance and superiority in leadership roles. They will either try to influence you or ignore you and imply that you are less that worthy. In any event, they think you are their subjects rather than free thinking citizens. As for myself, I don't care to be a subject.
Now would seem to be an appropriate time to think about your analytical skills regarding elected officials. Just because you are trained different from me does not mean you need to be less inquiring. You must inform yourself about the issues and make some analysis about the persons on the ballots. Are they selling you a smile, or being condescending, or acting superior? Do they even have the skills to be good at their job? Some people get into offices of leadership without knowing even the minimum skills needed. Now there is a recipe for disaster. Folks, you got to know this stuff. Be informed. Banish ignorance.