THE UGLY AMERICANS
Some of you are probably old enough to remember a best-selling book titled “The Ugly American,” which was popular 20 or 30 years ago. It told the story of a physically ugly American who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Third World.
Although he was the hero of the book, many of his diplomatic colleagues were depicted as “ugly” because they didn’t take the time or make the effort to learn anything about the languages or customs of the countries where they served. They reminded me of some of my Foreign Service colleagues.
But the point of this column isn’t to beat up on my fellow diplomats; with diminishing budgets and scant public support, they already have enough trouble. Rather, I want to comment on a pair of modern-day ugly Americans – a murderer and a terrorist – who have given our country a black eye in the rest of the world.
Their names are Ira Einhorn and Lori Berenson, from Philadelphia and New York City, respectively, and they deserve to live the rest of their lives in infamy.
Einhorn, a prominent anti-war activist and New Age guru in Philadelphia during the 1960s and early 1970s, was convicted in absentia for the 1977 bludgeoning death of his girlfriend, Holly Maddux. He jumped bail days before his trial, however, and fled to Europe, where he lived the good life until he was arrested in France 20 years later. After a four-year extradition battle, he finally exhausted his appeals last month and French authorities sent him back to the U.S. He’ll probably spend the rest of his life in prison; it couldn’t happen to a more deserving fellow.
Ms. Berenson, the 31-year-old daughter of wealthy New Yorkers, went to Peru in the early 1990s after working as the personal secretary to a Communist rebel leader in El Salvador. Five years ago, a military tribunal convicted her and sentenced her to life in prison for collaborating with leftist guerrillas in a thwarted plot to seize Peru’s Congress by force.
She appealed and was granted a new, public trial earlier this year. She was convicted on terrorism charges again in June and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Believe me, she earned it! She’ll be eligible for release in November 2015.
Let’s deal with the Einhorn story first. Somehow, he managed to con the Philadelphia establishment for several years. Though he usually dressed in an African dashiki and dirty jeans, he became a New Age corporate guru/consultant in the 1970s with a network of scientists, corporate sponsors and wealthy benefactors. During his preliminary hearing in April 1979, the courtroom was packed with professors, lawyers, civic leaders and other prominent Philadelphians who wanted to testify about Einhorn’s “good character.” He was free on $40,000 bail when he fled to London with a new girlfriend in 1981, shortly before he was to stand trial.
The facts of the murder case against Einhorn are horrific: According to the Associated Press, Einhorn was already known as a serial womanizer when he met Holly Maddux, a starry-eyed former high school cheerleader, in October 1972, and she soon moved into his small apartment. She moved out later that year, however, and their stormy relationship ended in 1977 with her death at age 30, when she disappeared after a visit to Einhorn’s apartment.
Her mummified body was found 18 months later stuffed into a trunk in his apartment after tenants in the apartment directly below Einhorn’s reported “a horrible stench and a brown stain in the ceiling.” Of course he denied any knowledge of her death and claimed that he was the victim of a CIA/FBI frame-up – a likely story.
After fleeing Philadelphia, Einhorn lived in England, Ireland and Sweden before moving to the French countryside, passing himself off as an “English writer.” You’ve seen him on “Dateline” and “60 Minutes,” wearing a self-satisfied smirk, sipping wine and complaining about American justice.
“I hope this (his extradition) has actually wiped that smirk off his face … and I’m sure he’ll enjoy his stay in the Pennsylvania penal system,” said Maddux’s sister, Elizabeth Hall. “It’s our time to smirk.” Is it ever!
As for Ms. Berenson, she was convicted in Lima for collaborating with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a terrorist organization blamed for the deaths of some 200 people since it took up arms in 1984. I remember the MRTA well since they’re the folks who machine-gunned our embassy while I was serving there in 1985 or 86. Although they added a few dozen bullet holes to my office decor, no one was injured.
Prosecutors say Ms. Berenson posed as a journalist to enter Peru’s legislature several times in 1995 to gather information for a terrorist attack. She acknowledged that she rented the house used as a hideout by MRTA guerrillas, where police discovered 8,000 rounds of ammunition and a large quantity of dynamite. But she denied knowledge of the arms cache, described herself as a social activist caught up in circumstances beyond her control, and lambasted Peru’s judicial system, which gave her a new trial.
The moral of these stories is that Americans living or traveling abroad must obey local and national laws, and that their U.S. “rights” don’t apply in foreign courts. And if you’re arrested, the nearest American embassy won’t bail you out. So if you’re traveling overseas this summer, obey the local laws and have a good time. In other words, don’t be an ugly American.
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.