EDWARD LANSDALE: The Unquiet American by Cecil B. Currey

EDWARD LANSDALE: The Unquiet American

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An uncritical but informative biography of Air Force General Edward Lansdale, whose controversial efforts as a counterinsurgency specialist were romanticized--and maligned--in such novels as The Quiet American, The Ugly American, Yellow Fever, et al. Currey (History/Univ. of South Florida) had access to Lansdale (who died last year at 79), his family, friends, and colleagues as well as private papers and archival sources. Perhaps because he spent so long a time in clandestine operations, the cold warrior proved an elusive subject. Here, the author offers a notably sympathetic account of the ex-ad-man's military/intelligence service, which began with a WW II stint in the OSS. Among other exploits, Lansdale devised tactics that helped crash the Communist-led Huk rebellion in the Philippines and engineered the elections that made Ramon Magsaysay president of the island nation. Moving on to Vietnam in 1954, he became a confidant of Ngo Dinh Diem, engaging in dirty tricks that gave his corrupt, remote regime a fighting chance for survival. Lansdale's career-long advocacy of grassroots reforms and psychological warfare, plus his CIA ties, brought him into constant conflict with more traditional strategists who favored set-piece battles that permitted body counts or bombing raids against presumptive enemy strongholds. While Currey often corrects the truncated record provided by Lansdale in his 1972 memoir (In the Midst of Wars), he gives him the benefit of almost every doubt in reviewing run-ins with adversaries and/or superiors. In commenting on the retired general's last tour (ostensibly as a USDA employee) in Vietnam (which ended in mid-1968), the author asks: ""What chance did Lansdalian notions of civic action have when the dominant U.S. military doctrine was search and destroy?"" The absence of answers to this rhetorical question (which might reasonably be expected of a scholar) makes Currey's detailed version of Lansdale's activism an essentially inconclusive adventure story.

Pub Date: Nov. 29th, 1988
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin