the lost american
viewer discussion


After viewing the fascinating program, I was struck by the fact that Fred Cuny really does qualify as a dramatic "hero." His flaws enhance his legend as much as his strengths do. Without even saying what kind of a loss to the world his death represents, it is regretful that Mr. Cuny, who seemingly so much wanted to be liked and respected, can not hear the respect that people are now expressing. It is ironic that in the end, tale-telling, exaggerating Fred Cuny (who said he wanted to be "important") underestimated his own import. We do, indeed, need more Fred Cuny's. Congratulations on a fine program.

Robert Wall
Salem, Oregon


I was captivated by this man's story. He was portrayed as a three dimensional human being. Not only was he a great humanitarian but he had an ego and faults. I was really impressed that here was a man who was not much different than the rest of us, and who had a commitment to making a difference in the world. Too often heroes are seen as extraordinary people, inaccessible, and not like you or me. I think the genius of this episode was in showing us that hero's are real people with big commitments.

After the show I changed channels to watch the local news and there was the usual media frenzy about John Denver's death. It made me angry to realize I will get endless information from television about celebrities and the minutiae of their lives, but I had not heard of Fred Cuny until this evening.


Thank you for the true-to-life rendering of Fred Cuny, a bigger-than-life personality who achieved so much. You have left me with a great deal to ponder and learn about the ways he went about doing things...the conundrum of knowing when to cross lines, rules, laws, to achieve the goal of doing the right thing...and who said what that right thing was in the first place? Fred's decisiveness made it clear that what HE thought and knew WAS the right thing. Too bad everyone else didn't share that notion.

I had looked forward to the airing of this program since hearing of it through a Peace Corps grapevine of people who had worked with Fred in Guatemala. When Fred came to town, suddenly there was work to be done, educational materials to design (for non-literate indigenous people), teams to form. We all thought it was for the good, never realizing that the outcome for some of the people ultimately could be so ruinous.

On the lighter side, it was great to see the meeting in Reggie's living room, the field photos, the Guatemalan faces, and remember the useful feeling and the huge learning curve that was part of the experience with Peace Corps, CARE, and finally, Oxfam-World Neighbors. I had the good fortune to be invited by Fred to apply the knowledge of educational materials on another construction education project on a month with Intertect in Peru a year later.

By the end, just helping to understand how to build better housing with native materials had been eclipsed by what must have been a profound desire to build better communities, nations and foment world peace. He saw a need and was filling it.

Thanks for this type of programming. I'll be checking into your PBS Web site later; it is good to see the connection with the program. Go back out and tackle another inspiring person, someone who makes us question their actions as we ponder our own inaction. An individual whose actions illuminate a much greater field than any single issue. There's nobody just like Fred. You did a real good thing here.

More power to you! It is a considerably skilled and wise power you have. More of your power to us, the viewers, to be more informed, to take more action. Thanks.

Nancy Fritch
Los Osos, CA


Frontline is by far one of the more interesting and challenging pieces of television documentary available and I always learn something. Last night was no exception. However, I have two comments. Although the journalism is quality I find that you are often subtly and not-so-subtly biased in your reporting. Last night was also an example of that. The United States has done more than any other country in the world to provide financial and resource assistance to countries and people in need. Of course we have not always been motivated by altruism and we bear responsibility for many times we have acted negligently or not at all. But on the whole, this country has acted proactively in many situations that the UN or other nations with a greater interest have ignored. I think it was unfair to provide snippets of political hyperbole regarding US policy without putting that policy in context and within a framework. There is no doubt that Cuny was an extraordinary man but posturing brief statements regarding the overall US policy against the backdrop of his biography did not do justice to the complicated framework encompassing that policy.

Secondly, I know many unsung heroes, friends and acquaintances of mine who are missionaries laboring in Africa, China, Croatia and other troubled spots of the world who are not only bringing physical relief (medical, food, education) to people in distress but, more importantly, caring for their souls and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to them. While the physical needs are the first that Jesus advised we meet, He instructed us that the eternal nature of man's soul is the most in need of remedy. Thanks be to God for the men and women who are faithful to this call!

Minneapolis, Minnesota


Thank you for this insightful report on the life and work of Fred Cuny. It's not often that I get spellbound by TV these days (and we have cable). Both my wife and I didn't move until the broadcast was over. What an inspiration!

Jorg Metzner
Chicago, IL


Fred Cuny's story is just another example of us as individuals ignoring the rest of troubled world, while our elected leaders whom by definition have been enabled in our behalves to make things happen, choose to be silent. Often times the popular opinion is that various situations are assessed not to be strategically of interest to the country, in the absence of thoroughly thinking about the human ramifications of their decisions.

This is indeed another sad reminder of us individuals taking democracy for granted in so many ways. we trust our leaders to make good decisions if not the correct ones. they have failed so many times. We all make mistakes. But to turn our backs to those who are in need is indeed irresponsible at a minimum.

Fred's family is correct in saying that he is not known in Texas. Maybe one day far in the future, when we are just a little more aware of what goes on around us, would acknowledge that someone such as Fred lived among us.

We renamed the Houston international airport to bear George Bush's name. The president who did absolutely very little good for the country, but we don't even know who Fred Cuny and his like are and what they have accomplished.

It seems so unfair. But Fred and his like will always be in the mind and memory of those to whom he and his like bring hope and light at the darkest moments. During the hunger, the shelling under the cover of the night, the desperation of a refugee campground, and so many other incredible situations which us humans inflict upon ourselves. It is said that war is the nature's way of population control. It is indeed a brutal solution. However, for all of us who recognize why wars start, to stand by and just watch, should leave much room for us questioning ourselves and our reasons for being silent alongside our indifferent leaders.

Houston, Texas


With regards to the Frontline presentation: "The Lost American"

This was a fantastic presentation on Mr. Cuny's work in the humanitarian world efforts. Congratulations on a great job. It really made me stop and think, especially about my place in the world. So often, I have found, that college, while providing a pathway to the world, initially limits ones perception of what really is happening in the world. Not that this is something that everyone can comprehend, but rather the focus inward tends to be dramatic enough in college, that you forget about even the intermediate world around you, let alone some sort of global understanding.

Thank you for opening my eyes a little bit more, to the world around me.

Rob Bernhard


Tonight's program was a very interesting one more for the questions it raised rather than the answers it provided- that Fred Cuny was robbed & murdered in a place, as the former Ambassador states, has no significance to America's national interests.

I think that Mr. Cuny was devoted to showing that America's (and the rest of a civilized society's) interests lie, in attempting at least, to help those in need.

G J Howard
Iqaluit NWT Canada


Thank you for your program about this man. The world lost a great man when he died and I think that this caliber man comes only once in a lifetime, and you did it justice by showing him he was, an immense ego driven man Thank God that blesses us with such men from time to time.


I really enjoyed your program tonight regarding Fred Cuny. His story reminds me of that of Mohamed Amin whom I had the privilege of meeting in 1995 and who I understand was killed on the high jacked Ethiopian airliner in the Comoros last year. Mohamed brought the Ethiopian famine to the world and so much more. See the book "Mo" by Brian Tetley for a start. He lived a similar life of adventure and, like Fred, tried to help war and famine victims with few friends in this world. I think Frontline would be well-served to do a story about him.


Excellent presentation. A sad but gripping and ultimately inspirational story of a man who, though driven by ego, was also driven to help others on an heroic scale. You've done a wonderful job of telling that story.

Larry Martin
St. Louis, MO


I think Fred Cuny was a very imaginative and bold person. He knew exactly what kind of situation he was in. In the end, he got what he wanted most: to be loved and respected by all.

Mamoon Ansari
Hancock, MI


Fascinating, what an education. I didn't know relief work was a business. A lot was said about Mr. Cuny's ego - good thing he had one. I don't think anyone has suggested that Mother Theresa had an extraordinary ego, but surely she did. She claimed to get her orders directly from God. Worked out great for India and destitute people all over the world.

And I don't think that before your program I understood the magnitude of the horror of Bosnia, Sarejavo, Chechnya and all the other places where life is truly hell on earth. And I am sure I will never understand why.

Looking forward to the IRA next Tuesday. Don't understand that either.

Mette Smith
Raleigh, NC


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