the lost american
viewer discussion


Thank you Frontline for profiling Fred Cuny. I worked in the Kenya and Somalia during 1994 and saw many of the things reported by you show. Your unbiased and comprehensive representation of the facts is seldom seen today. Thank you for great journalism. I did not know Fred Cuny, but now thanks to you program, I feel a little that I do. Fred Cuny writings is now on the top of my reading list. The Web page is comprehensive and a good resource on humanitarian operations. The subject of reforming the international disaster relief 'mechanism' has been widely written about, but I think your presentations and excerpts of Fred's writing are excellent. Please keep up the good work. Thank you again on the excellent program. Fred truly was modern day hero and leader. He will be sorely missed.

Robert J. Belch
Newberry, FL


Last night's show, all I knew about Fred Cuny was what I had read in The Dallas Morning News, shortly after his disappearance. I think that, unfortunately, there are some places in the world that are too dangerous, and too unstable, for even someone like Fred. I think Chechnya was one of those places. If Fred were still around, he would be working his magic in Mexico, helping victims of Hurricane Pauline.

His work in Bosnia was especially heroic. I can remember days when I was so angry about what I saw happening in Bosnia, that I wanted to kick in the TV. It was hard to watch, especially since the West wasn't lifting a finger to stop it. I am a Republican and a conservative, but I believe we have the moral responsibility to be the world's policeman. I hope that our government, in the future, will listen to people like Fred.

I've been watching Frontline since the first program in the fall of 1982. I've always enjoyed it, even when I disagreed with the political slant of a particular show.

Keep up the great work.

Steve Harkins
Allen, TX


I applaud Frontline on the superb program on Fred Cuny and its success in bringing to greater public awareness the significant work of this man and of the wider humanitarian community. Despite this appreciation, however, I do have several concerns, not only with the content of the program itself, but particularly with certain components of the educational materials.

First, the program. Although the program from its title was most directly focused on Cuny the man, the overemphasis on his personality and his motivations seemed to minimize the significance of his work in saving innumerable human beings, his creative response to those needs, and his deep understandings of the problems. This struck me as being most unfortunate, leaving the impression that somehow his work can be ignored because it may have been driven by his ego.

The educational materials. While I recognize that these materials are designed to be accessible to elementary age children, accessibility is no excuse either for factual error or misleading statements. The answers to many of the questions diminish the significant role played by NGOs throughout the world. Even in wealthy countries, NGOs are usually the first entities to develop immediate and effective responses to need. In the US., the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are often the first organizations to arrive after hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes. Certainly it is true that most of the funds for these activities in the US come from the country itself, your materials lead one to the impression that the responses are more from the governmental side. Similarly in the "Who Helps?" section, the claim that governments are usually the first on the scene is somewhat incredible. Any examination of the facts would lead one to the conclusion that most governments are most immediately concerned with minimizing the pubic relations problems that a humanitarian emergency creates, from the Kobe earthquake to the famines in Somalia and Ethiopia, to the earthquake in Armenia. Government action often is nothing more than attempts to hide the fact that the government cannot respond adequately to the demand. NGOs, despite the limitations imposed upon them by governments, remain the most responsive and flexible agents for responding to humanitarian emergencies. In fact much of the work done with USAID monies is channeled through NGOs as is much of the work done by the UN. Undoubtedly, one can criticize the duplication of effort and the failure to coordinate activities that may mark some of these operations, but when compared to the undertakings of governments, NGOs stand far above them in terms of flexibility, commitment, and responsiveness. I believe it is most unfortunate that a program dedicated to the work of a man whose entire life was immersed in the world of NGOs--and who was funded often by private contributions such as those from George Soros--should fail to recognize and to illuminate their role adequately.

Edward L. Queen II
Director, Jane Addams-Andrew Carnegie Fellowship Program
Director, Religion and Philanthropy Project
Visiting Professor of Philanthropic Studies
Indiana University Center on Philanthropy


Congratulations on an outstanding web site. I came to it via the documentary -- and specifically because I spent time in Sarajevo as a journalist covering Fred Cuny and his water project.

Good work on the innovative use of graphics prompting viewers (on the broadcast piece) to go to the web site for more info. And, once there, they can find a rich amount of info on him and a thought-provoking teachers' guide.

Good work all around!


I was riveted to the screen. This story was reminiscent of my father recounting Vietnam. My mother made me read "All's Quiet on the Western Front", so that I'd have an idea of what war really came down to, in a hand to hand combat. Your special illuminated war in a similar but significantly different fashion. Personal motivation aside--you special gave a stark look at the US in international affairs. Thank you for jogging my memory and heightening my awareness of my US citizenship.

Sincerely yours


I just finished browsing through your "viewer discussion" section regarding the program on Fred Cuny. Similarly to other viewers I too, was both fascinated by the story of his life and accomplishments, and enormously grateful that Frontline is able to bring such reports to it viewers on a regular basis.

I can only add that I am surprised that I had never before (at least not that I can remember) heard of Cuny. Apparently, I am far from being alone in my ignorance. Something is not right when a man of his significance is largely unrecognized by those of us who consider themselves well-informed. Kudos again to Frontline for bringing his life to our attention.

Carl M. Heffner
Modesto, CA


Great special on an interesting man. It frustrated me, however, how Cuny consistently saw US. inaction as "stupidity" despite the fact that he encountered it time after time. Perhaps he might have been more successful had he seen this unwillingness to effect the cause (instead of the symptoms) as a consistent response by the US throughout the past 75 years.

If the same course of action is consistently taken, it is *not* stupid, it's policy.

McClain Watson
Winston-Salem, NC


I commend you on your treatment of Fred Cuny's life. Often an individual who has so much to offer is faulted for minor mistakes or personality flaws, despite this I was glad to see his imperfections. People like Fred Cuny prove the epicenter of true power and ability lies within our humanity, our imperfections, our caring and personal loss. Many will say he was an extraordinary man, I would say he was ordinary, that his ideals and vision are what all of us share as ordinary people. Let's just hope that more of us will make extraordinary efforts, as Fred Cuny did, to realize those ideals.

Christopher Wick


It is a very large comfort to know our species has within it those who are motivated to altruistically attempt to prevent war and suffering.

Fred's drive to aid the suffering excelled so much that it lead him to take a shot at doing the most good possible by trying to prevent the conflict in the first place.

It would not diminish his story to relate a small embellishment to that history, so wonderfully depicted on FRONTLINE.

Your show only mentioned it for an instant, like the explosive instant that ended her life, another American, the first and 'last' American to die in a post cold war Russian air-raid, Cynthia Elbaum died in Chechnya as did Fred.

That year was a record year for journalists to die serving the common interests of us all.

Tris Metcalfe


I watched your documentary last night (Tuesday, October 14th, 1997) and was moved by the dedication of Fred Cuny. The film footage is what touched me the most though, because I had to bring myself to realize that Fred Cuny was living under those circumstances daily.

I don't believe for a moment that there are politicians serving us who would do the same as Fred Cuny has done for the world. Fred Cuny is a world hero.

I hope that his son may know, that Fred, as a real Texan, in his final moment, would not have kneeled to anyone.

Anthony H.
Dallas, Texas


The story of Fred Cuny has moved and inspired me in a most profound way. My humanity is confirmed ever so more after hearing the story of his life. Life is made more bearable knowing that there are people on this planet with the courage to act selflessly in the face of danger, who have the compassion to face the suffering that would be unbearable for most of us face, and who have the strength and resolve to do all they can for their convictions. Fred Cuny was a true hero, belonging in the ranks of people such as Raoul Wallenberg, Harriet Tubman, and Mother Teresa .

Thank you for being here FRONTLINE ! You make the world a little better place with the integrity of your journalism.

Don Wheeler
Pleasant Hill, California


I saw the report aired yesterday on Fred Cuny, "The Lost American". This man was truly an American hero. Whatever his shortcomings, they are far outweighed by his social conscience. Your reports are, as usual, well balanced and to the point. They present the facts as they are, whether the facts supports the "liberal" view or that of the "conservatives".

As I was reading some of the entries in the Viewer Discussion, I was shocked by some of the comments made by some of the viewers of the program. And if I may, I would like to respond to some of them:

To the person who didn't even sign his name that suggested that the sniper attacks were orchestrated by the Bosnians themselves: Do you mean to say that it was the Bosnians themselves who were in the hills laying siege to their own city? I don't condone the fact that the Bosnian Government refused to let Mr. Cuny open the water plant, but with the apathy of the "civilized" world towards taking any action to stop the genocide taking place in Bosnia, I can certainly understand it. To the gentleman who is an Air Force reservist: The United States was NOT the first country in Bosnia. The French and the British had sizable contingents there long before US troops were deployed, not to mention troops from many other countries that were also there.

The truth (as I see it, of course) is that moral correctness and "national interests" have nothing in common. As was said by somebody in the documentary, Politics and Economics go hand in hand. If it's worth my while I'll do something about it. Kuwait is a case in point. It's Capitalism at its best. I guess I'm getting cynical in my older age. However, when I see stories about homo sapiens like Mr. Fred Cuny (and I do mean a thinking man!) it restores my faith a little. Then a man like belief comes into the act, and ..."Homo Homini Lupus", though I do hate to give wolves a bad name.

Eugenio Escobar, Jr.
Ridgewood, New York


Three Cheers for PBS and Frontline! How tragic it is that "mainstream media" fails to relay the reality of the situations this remarkable man experienced. If the network TV channels broadcast this caliber of program to substitute the "cat up the tree" type evening news, I would expect there would be a dramatic change in the foreign policies which permit these civil wars.

Mervyn Chapman
Sunnyvale, CA


Thank you for an inspirational program. I decided to watch after listening to a preview about the program on NPR. I follow the news very closely and yet don't remember ever hearing about Fred Cuny. It is too bad that we only hear about the politicians, warlords, armies associated with the world's conflicts, but never the good people who are trying to make a difference. Now that he is gone, I wonder if his legacy will continue. In light of this, I think that your comments about his ambition were a little too harsh. He had every right to seek a more powerful position. Maybe if he had been given the sort of post he sought, his ideas would have made it to the mainstream and had a better chance of becoming part of our policy. Your web site is great. Reading Fred Cuny's letter about the visit to DC with his best friend's daughter showed a private, human side of the subject that you couldn't have portrayed with a camera. Keep up the good work, Frontline.

Daphne Nugent
New York, NY


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