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Burdick’s “The Ugly American” and Okada’s “No-No Boy” Essay

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Updated: Jan 19th, 2021

For this reading essay, I have chosen the following novels: The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer and No-No Boy by John Okada. My choice fell on these two novelists’ works since they impressed me most of all as compared with others. Both The Ugly American and No-No Boy describe the historical period between 1920 and 1960, particularly the time during and after World War II, and have been written to throw light on particular American military policies that turned out to be unsuccessful; however, the events of these two books are still very different.

At the end of the nineteenth century, America experienced a massive flow of immigrants. Those were primarily coming from the Eastern parts of Europe, Canada, South America, China, and Japan. The majority of the immigrants were searching for better job opportunities than their own country could offer, and that is why they considered the US as the permanent residence. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the number of Japanese living in America vastly increased and reached almost a hundred thousand. That is when the country became concerned about the issue of Japanese immigration and with a series of acts (such as The Immigration Act of 1924) literally prohibited it. In view of this, almost all young Japanese who lived in America by the time World War II burst out were already born in this country and considered themselves American. When the war began for the US, and Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan, the American government not only entered the war but also decided to isolate all Japanese, who resided in the territory of the country at that time. Hence, Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps, where many of them were offered to join the American army instead. In that case, people were asked only two questions: if they were willing to serve in the armed forces, and if they could swear loyalty to the United States. Those who answered in the negative to both of those questions were sent to prison. When the war was over, Japanese Americans were released with excuses.

The title of the novel by John Okada refers to those two questions – the novelist’s work is about a person who refused to join the American army, was sent to prison for that and then was released. The events unfold at the end of the war when the main character of the novel, Ichiro, is already free, and tries to find out what to do with his life. The excerpt from the third chapter of No-No Boy, which we have been required to read, describes these events really well. It is all about the character’s thoughts, which lets readers understand how every one of those “American born, American-educated Japanese” felt about what the country they considered native had done to them (Okada 47). Firstly, the man wonders if he can be accepted into American society, and then, gradually, he begins to wonder if he wants to be accepted at all, and if he can possibly be happy here. Apart from Ichiro, readers also find out about his friend Freddie, presumably Japanese American as well, and it becomes clear that Freddie is not happy either, that he is “too … alone against the world he has denounced” (Okada 47).

There are no doubts that after years in prison, Japanese Americans felt lost and alien in the place that had been their home for a very long time. For example, Ichiro likes studying and engineering, which is his specialty, but when his former professor suggests him to continue the education, he does not want to do this. Additionally, while I was reading Ichiro’s conversation with his professor, it seemed to me that the professor was embarrassed and perhaps even felt guilty for what his country had done to Ichiro and others. However, the excerpt also makes it clear that many other Americans think quite differently, and the relationships between Native Americans and Japanese Americans are strained. As an example, Ichiro wonders if his future family will be able to visit other families whose fathers have been two years in the army instead of the prison, and if they will be able to talk “about the weather and the ball games and the elections” (Okada 48). So, the excerpt from No-No Boy contains many Ichiro’s thoughts, describes the relations between Japanese and Native Americans and lets readers understand why the American policy toward Ichiro and others has been wrong. Considering all of this, I think that John Okada’s work describes this period of American history really well.

As for Lucky, Lucky You from Burdick and Lederer’s The Ugly American, the excerpt also refers to the postwar period and reveals the drawbacks of the American policy but describes other events. During the times of the Cold War, America had a foreign policy, which implied sending diplomatic corps to the countries overseas, primarily to different parts of Asia. It was aimed to win the sympathy of local people but turned out to be unsuccessful since Americans that were chosen for that task knew nothing about those people’s culture, traditions, religion, and did not speak their language as well. That is why diplomatic corps usually failed and were not accepted by the locals while the East Block’s efforts were much more successful. Gradually, all of this led to the Communist diplomatic victory in many countries.

Burdick and Lederer gathered many stories connected with that period of time, changed the names of people and the context and wrote a series of interrelated political novels addressing the issue. The events of Lucky, Lucky You, which is the first novel in the book, take place in the fictional country of Asia, Sarkhan, and tell about Louis Sears, the American Ambassador of this country. From the very first page, it becomes clear that Louis Sears (as well as probably all Americans per se) is out of favor in Sarkhan. While reading the newspaper, Louis sees the cartoon, which depicts a short and fat man with perspiring face and says something about Coca-Cola. Although the man in the cartoon is supposed to be an abstract American, Louis is sure that he looks much like him. Moreover, not only the locals do not like Louis, he does not like them either. To be more precise, he does not understand them: their culture, their language and the way they live. He even calls local people “damned little monkeys” (Burdick and Lederer 13). At the same time, this novel shows that Communism becomes more and more popular among the local population.

It becomes obvious from the beginning of the chapter when we find out that the title of the newspaper Louis Sears reads is Sarkhan Eastern Star (Burdick and Lederer 11). Besides, it is also called “a Red paper” several times (Burdick and Lederer 11). Finally, communist views of the population become even more evident when authors tell the story about the milkmen. The embassy’s press attaché comes to Louis and tells him that the American milkman has been beaten by the locals for seducing a young girl. Offenders have left him on the stairs of the embassy, and now he is in the hospital. In fact, the situation was different. The milkman had a good Sarkhan friend, but even their friendship was not enough to stop that friend from betraying the milkman on behalf of his communist views. The man tried to add poison in milk to prove that Americans were not worthy of trust. When the milkman found out about that, he wanted to stop the man. So, the man could now poison the milk and then told the locals that the milkman added aphrodisiac to his products, which resulted in the real fury of buyers who then beat the milkman. From my point of view, this story clearly shows how unwelcome Americans have been.

With all of this in mind, it should be said that two fore mentioned stories have something in common. Firstly, both of them describe almost the same period of time in American history. Secondly, both address unsuccessful American war policies and reveal their drawbacks with the help of a concrete example. However, historical events they tell about are different. Besides, No-No Boy shows an internal problem, and its events unfold in the territory of the US while Lucky, Lucky You is all about the foreign policy of the country. And although that foreign policy touches lives of Americans as well, it still seems not so global and fundamental as the story told in No-No Boy since internment camps and prisons probably affected not one generation of Japanese Americans. Additionally, while both of the novels contain a lot of phrases and sentences that help a reader to understand to which time in the US history the story refers, the excerpt from No-No Boy provides much more thoughts of the main character than the authors of Lucky, Lucky You give. From my point of view, nothing can help to understand the history better than the story of one person, which a lot of other people experienced in the same way, and nothing can help to understand the story of a particular person than the thoughts of this very person. That is why I believe that No-No Boy is a bit more valuable in terms of understanding the history.

To conclude, both stories I have chosen for this assignment are definitely worth of reading, and both have impressed me very much. Each one describes historical events of the US in 1920-1960 very well: provides a lot of details, precisely determines the period of time and a particular problem. Nevertheless, No-No Boy tells about an internal problem and contains much more thoughts of the main character that helps readers to understand historical events deeper. Still, these two stories address different events, so both of them are needed and valuable to learn more about the history.

Works Cited

Burdick, Eugene and William J. Lederer. The Ugly American. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. Print.

Okada, John. No-No Boy. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 2014. Print.

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IvyPanda. "Burdick's "The Ugly American" and Okada's "No-No Boy"." January 19, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/burdicks-the-ugly-american-and-okadas-no-no-boy/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Burdick's "The Ugly American" and Okada's "No-No Boy"." January 19, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/burdicks-the-ugly-american-and-okadas-no-no-boy/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Burdick's "The Ugly American" and Okada's "No-No Boy"'. 19 January.

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