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Edward Lansdale's Cold War

Jonathan Nashel

Publication Year: 2005

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 single-handedly preventing a communist takeover of the Philippines and with helping to install Ngo Dinh Diem as president of the American-backed 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.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Series: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War


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Front Matter

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pp. i-xiii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

Books take t i m e , and it is because of friends and family that this one was finally able to appear. First and foremost there are my parents, Richard and Susan Nashel. They believed in me and provided me with unfailing support. I am dedicating my book to them with gratitude for their love and for the love of learning they passed on to me. Graduate school seems to have taken place in another lifetime, but some of the first people I met at Rutgers provedto be not only good friends but my best critics....

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Introduction: On the Trail of Edward Lansdale

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pp. 1-23

When Edward G. Lansdale died in 1987, his obituary made the front page of the New York Times. Characterizing him as a “dashing” air force officer and “counterinsurgency” expert, the Times retraced 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...

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1. Confidences

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pp. 25-48

Herman Melville’s The 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...

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2. Selling America, Selling Vietnam

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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...

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3. The Power of Secrets

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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...

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4. The Perils of a Usable Past

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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...


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5. Gazing at the Third World

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pp. 127-148

In a 1957 episode of the popular television program See 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...

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6. Fictions of Quiet and Ugly Americans

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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...

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7. The Half-life of Celebrity

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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...

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Epilogue: Southeast Asia after Edward Lansdale

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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...


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pp. 221-267


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pp. 269-278

E-ISBN-13: 9781613761410
E-ISBN-10: 1613761414
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558494527
Print-ISBN-10: 1558494529

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War
Series Editor Byline: Christian Appy See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 667100518
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Edward Lansdale's Cold War

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Subject Headings

  • Espionage, American.
  • Cold War.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- United States.
  • United States. Central Intelligence Agency -- Officials and employees -- Biography.
  • Lansdale, Edward Geary, 1908-1987.
  • Intelligence officers -- United States -- Biography.
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