*Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century*

By George Packer, I thought this book would be dull, but in fact it is interesting throughout.  Holbrooke, if you don’t already know, was a lifetime American diplomat, but much more than that too.  Here is one excerpt:

After the evacuation of dependents and the arrival of ground troops in 1965, South Vietnam became a vast brothel.  But even before there were half a million Americans, sex was an elemental part of the war.  “I have the theory that if the women of Vietnam had big copper spoons through their noses and looked like Ubangis,” a reporter once said, “this war wouldn’t have lasted half as long, and maybe wouldn’t have even started.”  The whole scene repelled the Boston Puritan Henry Cabot Lodge.  “I not only don’t wanna,” he said, “I don’t wanna wanna.”

A vivid passage to be sure, but two points.  First, why call the one sensible guy a “Puritan”?  (Yes, the Puritans in fact were great, but I don’t think the remark is to be taken in that spirit.)  Second, it seems to me that many Ubangi women are likely quite beautiful, and probably I saw some of them while in Ethiopia.  Furthermore, at least these days, it is optional whether they wish to take on the famed “lip plate.”

In any case, I would describe the book as “rollicking.”  You can order it here.

For the recommendation I thank Mr. C. Weber.


It's not just the lip plate. It's the archaic scowl and r-selected mentation. You are venturing way, far afield at that point.

Such trifles would never slow our race-blind saint and blogger.

The current trade spat between South Korea and Japan is related to "comfort" women during the WWII era. Since this is stock and trade for just about any war that involves putting young men in dangerous situations, in other words all of them, is South Korea asking for too much, especially after Japan has apologized numerous times and paid reparations?

Exactly right. Camp followers predate Alexander. Koreans are a bunch of crybabies whose hatred and jealousy of Japan will never end. If you look at the structure of the, uh, hospitality business in Korea during the Japanese occupation, it tracks the standard pattern, including some local entrepreneurs, some freelancers, some official suppliers, and so on. The same happened in Japan during the occupation, although the victor writes the history, so the information is buried.

Japan's actions in Asia were horrible and disgusting and goes far beyond comfort women. Having said that it does not make sense to blame Japan today for what happened 70 + years ago since all of the people who committed those terrible crimes are dead. It is likely that a lot of the hatred is kept alive because it benefits certain politicians and agendas.

"r-selected mentation"

You mean low IQ due to r-selection.

I have met some very beautiful and very smart Vietnamese women.

Ubangi? The photos don't impress.

This is a good book for reasons the author completely did not intend. It gives great insight into the complete lack of virtue and wisdom of the first generation of meritocratic aristocracy. Holbrooke Did nothing that was in the interest of the actual American nation. his terrible character was a disaster for the country. People like him should have never ever been allowed anywhere near the levers of power. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of the great men who put together the post-World War II international framework, but unlike them he was entirely motivated by personal ambition. He had no vision for how foreign policy and an international order could serve the interests of the American nation.

I worked with many WWII veterans. The negative pulchritude-ratings of North Africa women didn't end WWII in North Africa. VD put out of many troops.

A saying among Italy WWII troops was, "If you put a roof over Naples, you'd have the World's largest whore house."

Earth to 27 year-old geniuses, prostitution was a feature of every war since Achilles and Hector fought it out before Troy. Homer used Agamemnon's taking of Achilles woman in The Iliad.

The ambassador omits a major immorality of the Vietnam war, and every US war after WWII. America was fighting for a draw, i.e., to show the Soviets and Chinese reds we were serious about containment. In other words, every one of us that served did so for naught.

They fought to keep imperial wealth from propping up the terminally ill USSR longer than it had to (and relatedly reducing the likelihood of nuclear holocaust). Any individual intervention may have been dumb but that wasn’t nothing.

You're right. I guess it contributed to the ultimate collapse.

Poetic justice? The USSR had its version of "Vietnam" in Afghanistan. Maybe if Afgh. had more whores . . .

My son spent a year with the 10th Mountain in Afghanistan.

Fighting to a draw would have preserved the independence and more or less free-market economy of South Vietnam. It would not have been for nothing if we had achieved that.

I can not imagine Brazilian soldiers behaving in such a disgraceful way.


You mean they wouldn’t have charged foreign soldiers for sex? Just supplied it I suppose?

I can not imagine Brazilian soldiers dealing with prostitutes. Prostitution is antithetical to the Brazilian character.


I can assure prostitution is exceedingly rare in Brazil.

I can assure you that if it's rare, I have a unique talent for finding it. I wandered in to what I thought was a topless bar and I hightailed it out of there when I found out what it really was.

Sorry Senhor Ribeiro, you are wrong, again.

"Thiago" - eu sei muito bem que você não é brasileiro. Deixa de dizer disparates, por favor.

LOL! 7/26/19 - It took less than three minutes for eight armed men to make off with $30 million worth of gold bars from Sao Paulo’s international airport -- possibly the second-largest heist in Brazil’s history. Criminals disguised as federal police officers drove to the Guarulhos airport on Thursday afternoon in an SUV and flatbed truck, both fashioned to look official, according to the airport’s press office. Security camera footage shows them wearing balaclavas and giving orders to cargo terminal employees, one of whom used a forklift to load the precious cargo onto the truck’s bed.

"The ambassador omits a major immorality of the Vietnam war, and every US war after WWII."

Someone should have told the North Koreans, when even Kim Il-Sung thought everything was lost before the Chinese hordes, I mean, "voluntaries", saved him from the Americans... and himself.

North Africans are very different from Sub-Saharan women, and far more attractive to Westerners. Particularly back in the days when Ubangi women still used "lip plates", which is probably why the reporter selected them - he was referring to the self-inflicted deformity more than the color of their skin.

@An - seems harsh to judge Holbrooke by standards of "real politik" i.e., what the USA can gain from his diplomacy. That's because almost nothing--no, I will say nothing--that is produced in Africa or the Balkans has any relevance, geopolitical or otherwise, to the USA. It's all humanitarianism, nothing else. For Holbrooke to be judged a failure you have to envision an alternate universe where real politik reigned unchecked. In this world, "imperialism" usually benefits the subjected country, and "revolution" does not. That would go for the Philippines (compare to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, US territorial islands), or Nigeria (pre-independence vs post) but arguably (?) not modern Greece, pre vs post Ottoman empire, ditto Tibet (assimilate with the Han or die? which is better?) Is the USA much better off as independent from the UK? Canada? Mexico from Spain? All of Latin and South America? Honduras from under the United Fruit corporation (Big Business love letter!?) Jury is out... but in any case Holbrooke cannot be faulted for siding on the side of 'self-rule' which was the traditional post-WWI Wilsonian 14 Points ideal.

Wikipedia: "Holbrooke's unfulfilled ambition was to become Secretary of State; he, along with George Kennan and Chip Bohlen, were considered among the most influential U.S. diplomats who never achieved that position. Several considered Holbrooke's role in the Dayton Accords to merit the Nobel Peace Prize.[9][10][11][12]"

Reminds me of another book on Kenya by a "politically incorrect" Reagan era diplomat in that country, name escapes me. Of interest when I was in Thailand there were some African prostitutes, they seem to have a niche there.

Are you talking about Smith Hempstone’s *Rogue Ambassador: An African Memoir*?

He was a George HW Bush appointee as ambassador to Kenya.

@Kalim Kassam - yes, that's it.

It sounds like the Ubangi "tribe" was fabricated by a Ringling Brothers employee to market their freak shows. (Based on a real place name, but not an actual group of people, and cited at hyperlink.)

You should make speculation on "what they are like today" a bit more specific, if you don't want some bad feedback that is.


@Clerk - your cited passage does not support that the Ubangi tribe was fabricated, except maybe their name was, since they did practice this ritual mutilation, just like girls from Angola knock out their front teeth and girls from the hills of Southeast Asia elongate their necks with brass rings, and how the ancient Huns shaped infant heads to look pointy and lizard-like, giving them a ferocious "alien" appearance presumably to make them scarier in battle. True!

Bonus trivia: if you don't rotate your infant it will get a flat spot on its head. Useful in later life for balancing a beer mug on? Cruel...

That's what I am saying. The name was made up. It looks like many groups did this, and people from these groups working in the circus were all labeled as "Ubangi" by the organizers. Today, we should probably try to use the real names.


A vivid passage to be sure, but two points. First, why call the one sensible guy a “Puritan”?

Because the author's an ass. Pretty unremarkable among our intelligentsia and their dependents and hangers-on. (BTW, Lodge was an Anglican, which was bog standard in his family; not a Calvinist of any kind).

Second, it seems to me that many Ubangi women are likely quite beautiful,

Please. If you have to speculate, you should already know you're full of crap.

Because Lodge was a Boston Brahmin, who are descended from the Puritans.

"After the evacuation of dependents and the arrival of ground troops in 1965 ...": what? Were the American troops there before '65 given to levitating? In what sense were they not "ground troops"?

It really got going as JFK's war, you know, not as LBJ's. LBJ just Texasized it.

You are such a tiresome bore. Why do you boomers suck so much?

Were the American troops there before '65 given to levitating? In what sense were they not "ground troops"?

Prior to March 1965, American troops were attached to South Vietnamese units, leading and training them. The number of troops was around 3,000 when Americans were first sent into combat and never exceeded 25,000 in this period. Mass deployments of American fighting units did not begin until March 1965, and troop levels reached 185,000 by the end of that year (the peak was in mid-1969 at which time there were 630,000 troops; troop levels were cut in half by the end of 1971 and > 95% of the remainder were withdrawn by the end of 1972.

Utterly irrelevant to my point. In what sense were the up to 25k troops not "ground troops"?

I'm explaining why the two periods were distinct in the author's mind. You're bound and determined to be a prick.

Utterly irrelevant to his point, Mr Polite

I've been pondering the whole issue of 'camp followers'. After conquering Persia, Alexander had mass weddings where his military married their Iranian girlfriends. Camp followers are usually portrayed as mass prostitution, but I find myself wondering if it's a lot more complicated than that. As far as I know there hasn't been much scholarship on it, and yet it seems like an important topic in many ways. My impression over the years has been a lot of G.I.'s came back from the Korean War with Korean wives, and then again the same dynamic with the Vietnam War, though perhaps less so. If someone were to write a popular book on the topic I wouldn't be surprised if it was a bestseller, if only because so many who are currently or have been in the military find it interesting.

I’d volunteer to serve in Iceland!

Well, my younger self would. I’m married to a “Miss Nordic.”

There are different kinds of camp followers. Soldiers (including ordinary infantrymen, not just officers) during the Revolutionary War might be accompanied by their wives and children. Sutlers (private commercial sellers) also accompanied the army, selling supplies to the soldiers. Plus there were servants, slaves (and during the Civil War, freed slaves who followed the Union army, not having any particular other place to go), and yes prostitutes. During medieval times knights also had squires although I'm guessing they were considered to be part of the army rather than to be camp followers, probably the same with drummer boys and buglers.

I haven't read any books that focus on camp followers but I'm guessing there's considerable scholarship that's already been done, because discussion of camp followers is a standard part of most books that go into detail about army organization and army life. General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne infamously is said to have had 30 carts to carry his personal baggage including bottles of champagne on his doomed Saratoga campaign.

Google Scholar yields a couple of hits of books on specific countries, Britain's war brides and Japan.

There is a word which, when translated from Hebrew, is very close to "sloe-eyed" .... Ubangi women are often sloe-eyed, more so than their neighbors to the immediate south and the immediate north .... and that is a good thing

--- and, from the Latin of Saint Jerome, from his talented, and maybe even genius-level, translation of The Canticle of Canticles, allegedly by "King Solomon" but probably with the help of one or more of his many gifted children (see what you can learn when you actually read those genealogies in the Old Testament, which I did so many times in my "traveling salesman" type days when I used to read the Gideon Bible, flipping open a page at random before settling down to sleep while the trucks and other lesser vehicles streamed along the American highway, a hundred yards or so from my "motel room", sometimes shifting gears for no particular reason ('Find them don't grind them", one would think, half-asleep, at the more egregious failures to efficiently use the clutch ....) an excerpt from song of songs "liliae convalliu ...igra sum sed formosa filiae ierusale "

relatedly, and so you can check the accuracy of my observations, I point this out ----- When it comes to using makeup to look classically beautiful, the richer the Sub-Saharan country, the easier it is to spot the effect
for example, try an image search of Miss Nigeria from the 80s and compare to the last 7 or 8 Miss Nigerias
you will see what I mean

Buried in treasure, the map told me, “I’m terribly proud of you.” Maybe I do act like I’m some random page in a book when you all know the book about planning and being held some baroque painter, but I know it doesn’t matter the next page has the sea-colored sentence, that I’m actually acting like the painter’s discolored finger because a whale’s swimming the ocean. Jules Verne’s theory is ceaseless. Mythological creatures are capable of production. It is what we call dimension. A school of fish at dusk, conscious expulsion, it is all eccentricity. Thirty-four then. I admire exhibitions of patience, but assumptions are my gold standard. Yours is victory. An animal’s expression is like a sculpture’s patience. Innocence lost. The reason evil decays is directly proportion to the wisdom gained from suffering. See mon cher, draw to parallel lines and chalk up bias to a form of suffering. Am I yawning? How do you create beginning, middle and end? The answer will both develop conscious and cleanse the soul. Our savior. Hello.

That is much better,as prose, than what you were offering us just a year or 18 months ago.

The "Am I yawning" phrase was sophomoric Melvilleana, and the mistaken use of "conscious" when you meant to say "conscientiousness" or, maybe, "aware of my own conscious" were the only faults in a really good prose poem.
(and you meant proportionate, not proportion, but who cares)

I offer a contrary opinion. The post or prose poem is mostly wrong, and pretty bone-headed even in the parts that are right.

It’s funny how far many libertarians will twist cognitively in order to not see the obvious. Whiteness is expressed as a fraction of non-blackness so Asians are less Black and therefore more beautiful and worthy of compassion/sacrifice/money. The point he’s making is that you aren’t going to fight a war for REAL Black people. The lip plate is a throw in to heighten the disgust of Africans.
It’s probably sloppy at best to conflate 19th Boston with Purtitans. Lodge’s line is funny tho.

Don't confuse the mouthpieces of the banker elite with "libertarians." I used to fall for this trick, too.

Strange I always thought the slaves that the Civil War was fought over were real black people.

If you have to be an idiot to think that the bloodiest war in American history, the Civil War, was actually fought on the behalf of black slaves. Just a simply arithmetic could tell you that the Civil War ended in 1865, yet desegregation didnt end until 1964, almost 100 years later. So hundreds of thousands of Americans fought and died to free the slaves, but nobody wanted to share even a water fountain with them?

The sanctimony over the Civil War is so tiresome. The war was fought over the right of secession, a right increasingly being invoked today as the crackup of America continues.

It’s more complicated than that. The South Carolinians certainly listed the fear of abolition as one of their justifications for going to war. And, many in the North who fought to preserve the Union abhorred slavery and expected it to die out eventually. That doesn’t count the 200,000 black soldiers or the true abolitionists who fought for the North. As for water fountains, there’s a big difference between restricting someone’s right to a public water fountain and making someone a slave.

'the point he’s making is that you aren’t going to fight a war for REAL Black people'.

Glory, glory Halleluyah...

But maybe they too are not REAL Black.

I read the (long) excerpt in The Atlantic (where Packer is a contributor) when it was first placed on The Atlantic website several months ago. My reaction was ho-hum. I read it because Packer wrote it, and if Packer wrote it, it must be important. Is it? I don't know. Holbrooke was just an obscure diplomat (obscure to all but a few Americans). Of course, the Balkans are the gateway between East and West, between the Christian World and the Muslim World. It's suffered as a result. That it is such a beautiful place is the irony. And likely why it's one of Cowen's favorites. The point of Packer's book is that the Balkans represented the end of Pax Americana: America failed to deliver in its self-appointed role.

Here's the link to The Atlantic excerpt: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/05/george-packer-pax-americana-richard-holbrooke/586042/ At the end of the excerpt:

"There’s something else that would trouble Holbrooke’s ghost. Not the end of our global leadership—it was never sustainable, and 1995 was unique—but the withering-away of our example. We overestimate ourselves in almost every way, from jingoism to self-hatred, and all the while we ignore nameless people in obscure places like Sarajevo and Banja Luka who still think we stand for something that they want for themselves. To adapt with grace to a cut in power is wisdom. It’s folly to throw away the pearl of our real greatness."

I don't think the coup that Lodge orchestrated against Diem seems "sensible" in retrospect. Unless he actually wanted to hand South Vietnam over the communists.

So, the war was fought for racist and sexual reasons? Couldn't they have gotten cheaper sex and not get shot at in New Orleans?

Why did you expect a book by George Packer to be dull???

"The whole scene repelled the Boston Puritan Henry Cabot Lodge. “I not only don’t wanna,” he said, “I don’t wanna wanna.” "

That's probably why he died about 40 years earlier

Comments for this post are closed