Wednesday, October 5, 2011
The Ugly American - and the Jesuits
I had the great fortune in life to be educated by the Jesuits, also known as the Society of Jesus. For those of you unfamiliar with the "SJs", the Jesuits are not some fanatical religious organization bent on destroying nonbelievers. They are a 500 year old Order of the Roman Catholic Church, founded in Spain by Ignatius of Loyola. The Jesuits’ focus and principal mission since their establishment five centuries ago has been education, especially the education of young men. To that end they run premier, prestigious high schools, colleges and universities worldwide. Most of their high schools are all-male institutions. Lots of famous – or infamous – people have attended Jesuit schools. Bill Clinton attended Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C., of which I am also proud to be a graduate. Who else is a Jesuit product? Fidel Castro, for one. Wouldn't the good Fathers be proud of how he turned out? That’s one reason I enjoy writing about Cuban affairs so much.
It’s my Jesuit high school education of which I’m most proud, because it helped form me intellectually in a very significant way. I attended Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri, from which I graduated in 1970. That’s where I learned to think, and that’s where the Jesuits taught me how to teach myself. Their philosophy was that you can learn anything you want, if you first learn how to teach yourself. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” You might say the Jesuits taught me how to fish.
Which brings me to the point of this post. When I was a freshman at Rockhurst High, a then classic work of fiction was mandatory reading: The Ugly American. I won’t digress into a discussion or analysis of the book, but now I understand why the Jesuits insisted we read it. The Ugly American was set in the fictional Southeast Asian nation of Sarkhan, but everyone understood that the name was just a euphemism for Vietnam – a front page topic in those days. It told the story of American diplomatic and military personnel (and others) stationed in Sarkhan who failed to appreciate what was actually happening in and to the country. Eventually, Sarkhan fell to the "communist empire" (as it was called then), because the communists better comprehended what was really going on, and how to relate to its people. More than that, the term “ugly American” came to symbolize anyone residing outside of his or her own country who is unable to comprehend the profundities of life in the “adopted” (foreign) country which has become his or her new home, temporarily or permanently. It is allegory for profound cultural ignorance - and bias. Not infrequently, it applies to so-called "expats" living abroad.
Recently I had to deal with an Ugly American on this Blog. A few days ago I posted an article about Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and his suggestion that the United States should consider sending troops into Mexico. Many of you read that post, but if you haven’t seen all of the comments – including today’s – take two minutes and go back to it now. Be sure to read all the comments at the bottom.
[Image: Ignatius of Loyola, 1491-1556, a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. In the United States alone there are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities, and more than 50 preparatory schools.]
at 4:15 PM