the lost american
viewer discussion


Would that we have more Fred Cuny's. I had not known of this remarkable man. Your portrayal was excellent--exposing both his greatness and his flaws. His greatness far outweighs his flaws. I hope his son knows that, and it appears from your program that he does. Frontline is the only real documentary left on television, and is my "must see" whenever it is broadcast.

Virginia Perrenod
Tryon, NC


Excellent Report. It filled in a few gaps in my knowledge of Fred's activities. I was only associated with Fred through his love of aviation. In this case, flying sail planes, but found him to be just as insistent on helping out and getting things done right as you indicated in you documentary. He was a fine gentleman, the like of whom, the world sorely needs.

Fort Worth, TX


What an amazing experience I had the opportunity to live thanks to PBS's Frontline. Cuny's episode give common people like me the chance to venture through fields of much adventure and excitement as few times in my life I have seen.

As a person living with HIV, many times I wonder if I will be able to live so many dreams I have for the future. Stories like this one featured tonight make me realize that life is uncertain and the you live the moment and dream the future.

Thanks for taking me along.


Missing from the PBS presentation, and even from the 'laptop' excerpts is reference to Fred's scholarship. His sociological research and writing on repatriation, for example, is landmark. Fred read. Fred studied history. Fred knew his basic science. He improvised and cut corners, but he did his homework too. Fred traversed many dimensions and did each well. The Frontline show noted Fred's uniqueness, but did not fully contrast it with how many relief workers -- particularly NGOs -- plug into the field but never think to ask the questions Fred asked. The dire circumstances of disasters tends to lead people to shun analysis and recording. Fred's professionalism was leaps and bounds above that of the thousands of other professionals who populate the field. The final segment of the show implied that Fred was trying to build a name for himself. The reality is that Fred cared about the affected populations, and paid attention to them with focus and passion that was incomparable. It is precisely because stuff shirts like ambassador Pickering claim that Chechnya isn't a vital security interest to the US that people like Fred needed to get out and stick our noses in it.

The final segment also implied that Fred's risky decision to go back to Chechnya was an unusual event. In fact, relief workers invariably make choices under enormous uncertainty to accept conditions where there is a significant chance that they will die. Fred had made that choice a thousand times before, dating back to Biafra where Red Cross planes were shot down next to Fred.

Steve Hansch
Washington DC 20009


I happened to click on the TV last night in the middle of the Fred Cuny piece. I don't normally watch documentaries, (about people - usually animals) but it was well done, kept me interested, and I wanted to know what happened to him in the end. I'd never heard of him before - which I regret. Here was a man who could actually get things done - what a shame he died the way he did.

Any how, thank you for such a compelling show. Looking forward to the whales.

Janie Eskuri


I found the report on Fred Cuny's life extraordinary, in the sense that here was a man who dedicated his life to saving life and we didn't know who he was, while his compatriots in corporate and political America are household names. The horrific situations that he put himself into to offer hope to the hopeless remind me of another great individual, Mother Teresa. Thank you to PBS for enriching our lives with quality television.

Toronto Ontario


An utterly SUPERB program! This is what public television/radio is all about - the stories that are just plain important, but which the government or the glitzworks won't tell you.

Programs like this make me proud to be a supporter, but I would encourage a bit more effective warning about the content posted at the beginning of the broadcast.

Philadelphia, PA


I immensely enjoyed your program on the disaster-relief expert Fred Cuny. Only after the program ended did it hit me that the subtle, insightful aspects of the man's psyche / personality would never been examined in a program produced by anyone else (they would probably only cover the obvious, superficial aspects of his life). This program has again made me proud to be a supporting member of Public Television (KERA, Dallas/Ft. Worth to be specific). Thank you for your time.


I watched your wonderfully done, amazing story the Lost American about the powerful life of Fred Cuny. I also checked the well prepared related material on your web page.

I am writing in shock, because I heard it said explicitly, several times, during the course of the program that the reason why water supply could not be restored to Sarajevans during the war, despite enormous superhuman efforts of Cuny's, had been the Bosnian government's opposition. As you say, the Bosnian government (although it is more accurate to say Muslim forces) would not restore water to its own citizen even though innocent people were getting killed from snipers daily. This revelation shocked me, as PBS was part of the great media effort at satanization of Serbs for years now. What you failed to reveal, however, is that we now know that the Bosnian Government sniped its own people (although not only them), and even though you showed the pictures from the Markale massacre you failed to say that we now know (even Yakashi went public with this) that the Muslims were the ones responsible for this horrific act of killing their own people for political gains.

Thus, I wonder, did the information about the true cause of the failure to restore water supplies to Sarajevans somehow just mistakenly slipped through the PBS information filter which was installed to make sure that the Serbs get blamed for everything that went on in Bosnia?


Congratulations on the Fred Cuny story. I had once read of the water project in Sarajevo, but knew little about the remarkable man behind it...I was fascinated by the entire program. I'll be hitting your web site to learn more. I don't know what's changed, but I have been enjoying Frontline much more during the past year. I think your more politically neutral. I like just present unvarnished facts and let the viewers draw their conclusions. Keep it up!

J Graham


I found the program while channel surfing and got hooked into it. I don't know which is more shattering: the pictures from tonight's program of the suffering and the insanity, or the fact that governments--especially the US--would not listen to him at critical junctures (like Somalia and Bosnia). If his fatal flaw was his ego, it was no worse than that of other people who have been in government, military, or diplomatic circles and who have accomplished far less good.


You asked for feedback: it was excellent. He was presented objectively as a man driven by the need to be significant, yet his contribution teaches us that his level of self-interest is far more useful to humanity than the self-interest of states.

Clinton has been disappointing in this regard. The United States will not be capable of freeing itself or others until it shares its immense powers with its own 40 million people who lack health care -- until the power and glory that is so often touted by its politicians really extends towards its own citizenry. It has the infant mortality rate of a banana republic.

Yet individual Americans have wonderful full hearts and great resourcefulness. You cannot show the living stares of the starving children of the third world too often. It moves us beyond words and it is an ongoing disgrace that we live alongside the human infant in its dismayed state of helplessness when we have the resources to change things.

Thank you all at Frontline for your compassionate and educational role in our social evolution, and thank you to PBS for your continuing decades of responsible television broadcasting.

Elizabeth Woodworth
Victoria, BC


I thought it was especially telling that the U.S. Government completely ignored Cuny's sound advice regarding Somalia, and promptly turned a humanitarian relief effort into a military battle. But our government, like most, rarely goes outside its closed world to seek intelligent advice that might avoid pain and embarrassment, preferring to look to individuals within the government who are more likely to go along with the status quo and avoid "rocking the boat." And look what we usually get instead.

Princeton, NJ


Regarding the PBS special on Fred Cuny, very well done documentary but I wish to take issue with the general tone of the program. Several times, the U.S. government was painted as an uncaring monolith, who, even when it tried, only gave a lame and highly faulted effort at humanitarian assistance in places such as Ethiopia and Bosnia. It may be important to consider, that the U.S. is usually at the forefront of assistance to these areas of the world, making the first move, and organizing the efforts of the rest of the international community. Take Ethiopia for example. The Soviet government, the major international player in that country totally ignored the crisis. It was the U.S., moving into a Communist controlled country, who flew the C130s along with other NATO countries dropping supplies to the beleaguered millions. To say the U.S. is to blame for not doing it the "right way", is to ignore the fact that the Soviets did nothing, despite their presence. If it were not for the U.S's leadership in Bosnia, the European community would have stood by and watched. Not until IFORs presence did the killing finally slow down. A massive U.S. airlift bringing in the supplies, troops and equipment is what, as usual, finally got the ball rolling. As part of my job in the Air Force Reserves, I am continually taking part in enormous logistical efforts involving sending our C5s, C17s, C141s and C130s to the far corners of the world. A non-stop process to places such as Haiti, Bosnia, Kuwait, Northern Iraq, Ethiopia, Somalia, other African countries, to name a few. Allegations of our government conveniently ignoring international famine for political purposes, just doesn't hold water. Where was Europe during the Somalia and Bosnian crisis before the U.S. stepped in?

What all this seems to boil down to is, the liberal establishment in this country simply cannot accept the fact that, if it wasn't for the U.S. the world, as bad as its problems are, would be a much worse place to live.

Joel Siegel
Federal Way, WA


Thank you for the fascinating, sad, maddening story on tonight's Frontline. I'm thankful for having learned about Fred Cuny and his work, and I'm in awe of him.

I just don't recall EVER reading about Fred Cuny and I'm an avid reader of the L.A. Times -- but I did often skip the war stories from Somalia, Sarajevo, Chechnya. I'm shocked about that.

Politics is such crap to me, but now I've just been reminded (as I was during the Viet Nam war) how disgustingly far the crap extends -- to the humanitarian organizations, to the civilians and the rank and file soldiers. Your live action field videos and interviews are very, very affective.

Your program made me angry and disgusted with the Pentagon & the U.S. Govt., and with the U.N.'s pitiful efforts. I know war and famine are horrible, but U.S. complicity and negligence is just mind-boggling to me.

I'm amazed by Fred Cuny's power -- he was an enlightened human being -- and by George Soros' incredible generosity, and the humanitarian organizations & r representatives you spotlighted. I feel so ashamed of myself for living an easy life.


There's enough war in the world. We need more peacemakers. I admired Desmond Dos for winning the Medal of Honor by saving men in combat while refusing to carry a gun. Fred Cuny is my newest hero. He knew where he was needed, and found ways to save lives in several senseless wars.

We keep selling more guns and more bombers to other countries. I wonder when we'll learn to bring food, and restore peace like Fred wanted to? Maybe your show will inspire more peacemakers.

Lynnwood, WA


In the mid-80's when the starvation was occurring in Ethiopia, in the newspapers and the TV broadcasts that I read or saw this famine was almost always treated as a natural disaster.

I did not believe this at the time. My own intuition was that the famine was the intentional policy of the government of Ethiopia and that government had gone to great effort to create it. In particular, I believed that in the years before the drought the Ethiopian army had destroyed both the food and the seed stocks of the provinces where people had rebelled.

The mainstream media, in particular the "left-wing" media were extraordinarily uniform in their treatment of this as a "natural" disaster.

I remember, at the time, feeling a great deal of anger about that "lying" about the nature of what was going on, and how it had happened.

It is I think very relevant that the Ethiopian government was Marxist.

In the Universities and much of the media at that time my experience/impression was that any criticism of communism was likely to meet with ridicule and hostility.

But now, I've seen Frontline and I know the real truth! It was all part of a plot by those right-wing anti-communists. The starvation of millions was a tactical maneuver in Ronald Reagan's war on the "evil empire"!

There was not one of those famine reporters that could not have done research on Ethiopia and found out about the Ethiopian policy of destroying food and seed stocks. And in fact, I don't believe they didn't do it. I believe that there was a deliberate editing out of this along with other things.

The manner in which the famine was reported had everything to do with the ideology of the reporters.

The human capacity for mendacity and self-deception continually amazes me, and I am at loss as to what to do about it.

Mark Amerman
Silver Spring, MD

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