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The Quiet American

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David Brooks wrote in The Weekly Standard on 6 April 2002 that much of the European reaction to the American response to September 11 “has been straight out of Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American,” and went on to paraphrase European criticism of the U.S.: “They will go marching off as they always do, naively confident of themselves, yet inevitably unaware of the harm they shall do.” The reference is to Greene’s Alden Pyle, an American government secret operative in Vietnam whose support for a political leader who commits a terrorist bombing causes Thomas Fowler, an apolitical British journalist, to conspire in Pyle’s murder by Communists in order to prevent Pyle from innocently causing more harm. And Phillip Noyce’s current movie version, starring Michael Caine as Fowler and Brendan Fraser as Pyle, has been reviewed in this country as prophetic of the inevitable disaster of the American involvement in Vietnam. The novel was criticized in America upon its publication in 1955 for being anti-American, but a little digging into Greene’s biography raises the surprisingly slippery question to what degree and in what way Greene intended this condemnation of American foreign activity.

Part I: Culture

To begin with the most obvious anti-American element: the word “quiet” in the title should be italicized because the point is that the American Pyle isn’t your typical, brash, noisy, moronic American. The son of a professor, Harvard-educated, and intensely idealistic about his undercover work to set up an indigenous Third Force to battle both the fading French colonialists and the Communist Vietminh, he’s nevertheless so inexperienced he’s more dangerous than his stupid, obnoxious countrymen. (Fowler thinks of him: “[Y]ou can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.”) Pyle is as good as this country can produce and yet it comes across as a form of redemptive political engagement for Fowler to conspire in his murder.

Fowler’s motive is mixed, to be sure, grounded in Pyle’s forthright, gallant competition for Fowler’s teenaged Vietnamese mistress Phuong. Fowler is married to a Catholic woman who won’t give him a divorce, whereas Pyle wants to do the honorable thing by Phuong. But that doesn’t make the anti-Americanism an inaccurate statement of Greene’s feelings, it just gives its voicing a personal motive in the story. What Fowler says about Americans feels grounded in Old World snobbery, especially against crusading Americans like Henry Luce whose Life magazine sponsored Greene’s first trip to Vietnam. Greene gives Fowler, his alter ego as detached-but-aroused journalist in Indochina, swipes at American culture of the kind that Europeans often take to be devastating: we have air-conditioned lavatories; women’s lunch clubs that play Canasta; grocery stores where the celery comes wrapped in cellophane. Fowler refers to our “sterilised world,” so different from the real world of “rumpled sheets and the sweat of sex,” and wonders if American women take deodorants to bed with them. Even the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French, is blamed on us–it may not be our fault that it’s “ill-designed” but it is we who have rendered it “meaningless.”

Nowadays this level of critique can be summed up in one word–“McDonald’s”–or even the initial “Mc.” And though Greene makes Fowler self-conscious enough to be aware that sexual rivalry with Pyle had made him a “bore” on the subject of America, that just means he’s talking about it more than his auditors care to hear, not that he’s wrong. After all, Greene called his American Pyle for the connotation with hemorrhoids–Americans give Greene a pain in the ass. Hearing about the awfulness of American culture from an English screenwriter of this era is especially odd seeing as so many of the interesting English movies, of all genres–The Stars Look Down, Odd Man Out, Outcast of the Islands, The Man in the White Suit, The Belles of St. Trinians, Room at the Top, I’m All Right, Jack, Look Back in Anger, The Entertainer, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The L-Shaped Room–were peeling back the aristo-colonial-high-literary veneer of British movies to expose the full range of their dysfunctional society.

I suppose it’s the price Americans pay for having come from behind, for offering opportunities to a world of immigrants and having developed unprecedented general wealth, not to mention having invented an internationally triumphant popular culture. And it’s not as if there’s no connection between American materialism and what we stand for politically. The protections of property are not merely coincident with American freedom; as Milton Friedman has pointed out, one makes the other possible. The promise of rewards to ingenuity and freedom of thought, speech, and enterprise go hand in hand, and the more that opportunity is evenly distributed the more social value is created overall. Usually social value takes the form that ordinary people, not cultural mavens, want. What can you do? They want it. It’s because all and sundry have been able to come here and prosper under such protections, as they could not in their homelands, that we have our great, big, expanding-but-stable, tacky-comfortable middle class. Why do you never hear of people risking their lives at sea in overcrowded boats to get into Vietnam or Cuba? (Isn’t it also fair to wonder why there are so many Europeans in American graduate school programs?) It isn’t that there aren’t plenty of ludicrous aspects of American culture. What’s irritating is the smug assumption that all Americans are blind to them, and that those aspects are indicative of a bigger American bullying soullessness–we’re not just a bunch of plastic soldiers, but soldiers in the cause of plastic.

The question of snobbery about American culture is especially relevant here because Greene was not only a popular screenwriter but an interesting movie critic, and a certain amount of high-browism can improve anyone’s view of movies. It can discipline readers’ minds to have a critic put pop artists on a continuum with literary and visual artists. At the movies, the lights go down and larger-than-life beauties fill the screen and act with an abandon and a remoteness from consequences that’s utterly seductive. We’re susceptible to this fantasy world in highly erotic, personal ways; almost all sex and violence in movies are inescapably pornographic at some level. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but you want a movie critic who instinctively gets the appeal of pop and yet has a resistant mind. In Greene’s 1939 novel The Confidential Agent, an agent for the Spanish Republican government takes a British industrialist’s daughter to a movie theater to see a musical, which Greene describes in this passage:

They sat for nearly three hours in a kind of palace—gold-winged figures, deep carpets, and an endless supply of refreshments carried round by girls got up to kill: these places had been less luxurious when he was last in London. It was a musical play full of curious sacrifice and suffering: a starving producer and a blonde girl who had made good. She had her name up in neon lights on Piccadilly, but she flung up her part and came back to Broadway to save him. She put up the money—secretly—for a new production and the glamour of her name gave it success. It was a revue all written in no time and the cast was packed with starving talent. Everybody made a lot of money; everybody’s name went up in neon lights—the producer’s too: the girl’s of course, was there from the first. There was a lot of suffering—gelatine tears pouring down the big blonde features—and a lot of happiness. It was curious and pathetic; everybody behaved nobly and made a lot of money. It was as if some code of faith and morality had been lost for centuries, and the world was trying to reconstruct it from the unreliable evidence of folk memories and subconscious desires—and perhaps some hieroglyphics upon stone.

Greene sets down the intelligent critic’s double feeling of awe and disdain for mass entertainment as exquisitely as anyone ever has. (I think he was wrong descriptively in writing that Shirley Temple coqueted with “dimpled depravity” to appeal to “middle-aged men and clergymen,” in an infamous review over which he lost a libel suit–if any star ever pointed up the American audience’s taste for amateurishness, it was Temple–but I still understand his desire to defile what she represents.)

But it’s one thing to let your disdain for mass entertainment push you to write better than average screenplays, and another to write popular fiction, as Greene did, and think that you’re accomplishing more. When G.L. Arnold reviewed The Quiet American in the January 1956 issue of the British periodical Twentieth Century, he wrote that Fowler

exists only by virtue of his descent from a long line of ‘tough’ characters in modern American fiction…. Put [him] down in Hollywood, and you have the ideal part for Humphrey Bogart, down to the cynical wisecracks about women and the verbal fencing with the police. The final joke then is on Mr. Greene, for if the Americanization of the English novel has reached the point where even a Yankee-hating character like Fowler can only be presented in terms of the hard-boiled school of American fiction, the literary war has really been won by the Americans, however much this result may be concealed by Greene-Fowler’s sarcastic comments on their manners, morals and ideals.

To get one central issue out of the way: Greene is almost always referred to as a Catholic novelist, and given credit for depicting minds struggling with evil–not just countering its activities in the outside world but, more importantly, writhing with it internally. Fowler, though not a Catholic, is the tormented character in The Quiet American, sensitive to the evil Pyle represents while still aware of his own unsavory motives in wanting to kill Pyle to keep Phuong, and also in what’s unsavory about keeping her. Some of Fowler’s ruminations are succulently morbid. This also means that Fowler is the only developed novelistic character in the story; Pyle and Phuong are both political-allegorical types. (And anyone who wants to give Greene credit for political insight should read the colonialist-tourist generalizations about the passive Phuong again: “To take an Annamite to bed with you is like taking a bird: they twitter and sing on your pillow.” The movie alters this as much as it can by making her more proactive sexually.)

You want to keep in mind that Greene converted to Catholicism as an adult, in part to get his first wife to marry him. At times, then, it can seem perverse for an adult convert to make a literary reputation out of being a bad Catholic, but then you can also say that conversion was a way of bringing his fascination with evil into recognized, solid confines. As for the literary results, Orwell wrote of Greene’s 1948 novel The Heart of the Matter that Greene “appears to share the idea, which has been floating around ever since Baudelaire, that there is something rather distingué in being damned; Hell is a sort of high-class night club, entry to which is reserved for Catholics only, since the others, the non-Catholics, are too ignorant to be held guilty, like the beasts that perish.”

Considering its derivation from pop fiction and movies, Greene’s writing is better than it needed to be. Though it may be due only to the cosmopolitan glamor of a cultivated disillusionment, good Greene is more piquant than mediocre Hemingway. But The Quiet American is not Greene at his best. Fowler’s weirdly passive torment is well done, for what it is, but the story itself is melodrama. It’s ironic melodrama in the sense that the courtly, idealistic American is the villain and the opium-smoking, lying-and-cheating man who kills a friend in part so that he may get his girlfriend back is the unlikely hero, saved from political indifference by his vices, but melodrama nonetheless. (It is also, as Greene biographer Michael Shelden shows, a recycling of Greene’s early novel Rumour at Nightfall, which he had suppressed, and in part a rehash of his screenplay for The Third Man, but even if it were brand-spanking new the irony would be tinny.)

Noyce’s movie is clumsy in a way Greene never would be–for instance, showing Pyle obstructing medical relief for a dying man in order to get a photograph of his agony that he may use as propaganda. (The photographs that appeared in Life that Greene “reproduces” in the text were taken by an independent Vietnamese photographer.) But the movie just points up the basic melodramatic structure. If The Quiet American were not in essence a trashy suspense story then Greene could have focused on Fowler’s awareness of Pyle’s ingenuously composite personality and dispensed with the murder and detection. Think how much Henry James, Greene’s “model of excellence” according to Shelden, got out of the dawning perception of corruption in The Ambassadors simply by having Chad and Madame de Vionnet boat into Lambert Strether’s idyllic landscape.

The question is, then, in light of the fact that the book is conventional entertainment, however high-grade, and putting aside the anti-Americanism that’s attributable to snobbery, how seriously do we take the political implications of the American as terrorist?

Part II: Politics

In his review of the book in the May 1956 issue of Commentary, Philip Rahv seconded Arnold’s perception that the book is essentially detective fiction, and Noyce’s movie makes this even clearer, with a closeup of the telltale dogpaw print in cement, etc. Consequently, Rahv didn’t think it was worthwhile to get worked up about the political posturing in the book. Diana Trilling responded to Rahv’s review in the July 1956 issue by calling the book an example of the kind of neutralism in world affairs that often masked pro-Communism. Rahv answered that it was only a book, and that the opinions of Fowler, the first-person narrator, couldn’t be directly attributed to Greene. But if, like Rahv, you think the book is second-rate as a literary matter, then how are you to understand the political payload, which is delivered all the more cleanly?

Greene’s actions and statements, on the surface, certainly bore Trilling out. It may seem unfair to judge a book by external events, but in 1948 George Orwell characterized Greene as “a mild Left with faint CP leanings,” and went on, “If you look at books like A Gun for Sale, England Made Me, The Confidential Agent and others, you will see that there is the usual left-wing scenery. The bad men are millionaires, armaments manufacturers etc and the good man is sometimes a Communist…. According to Rayner Heppenstall, Greene somewhat reluctantly supported Franco during the Spanish civil war, but The Confidential Agent is written from the other point of view.” (Noyce’s movie certainly invites us to interpret the story in terms of events outside it, by tacking on a series of news stories under Fowler’s byline about America in Vietnam in the ’60s, and movie critics have obligingly hailed Greene for his prescience.) Greene spent the rest of his public career bolstering the view that he was a sincere leftist: by taking a tour conducted by East German guards of the freshly-erected Berlin Wall after which he, as Shelden puts it, “criticised the materialistic people who went over the wall simply for the freedom of being able to buy more consumer goods”; by having a well-publicized private chat with Fidel Castro and Gabriel García Márquez in 1983; by concluding a 1987 speech in Moscow with the sentiment, “I even have a dream, Mr. General Secretary, that perhaps one day before I die, I shall know that there is an Ambassador of the Soviet Union giving good advice at the Vatican”; and perhaps most infamously by announcing in his 4 September 1967 letter to The Times (London), “If I had to choose between life in the Soviet Union and life in the United States I would certainly choose the Soviet Union.” (As a matter of record, he lived in neither the USSR or the US, but preferred Anacapri in Granada, Antibes in Provence, and later Vevey.)

But before getting too worked up, it’s necessary to point out that Shelden, writing after Greene’s death and with the benefit of a 1993 briefing by the British Cabinet Office about Greene’s work for the Secret Intelligence Service (“SIS”), suggests that Greene may well have been a double agent in his capacity as the public radical, using his anti-American works and statements to gain access to Communist countries for intelligence purposes. (His friend Evelyn Waugh wrote in a 5 September 1960 letter, “He is a great one for practical jokes. I think also he is secret agent on our side and all his buttering up of the Russians is ‘cover’.”) Everyone knows that Greene worked for the SIS during World War II; Shelden presents evidence that he worked for it until the 1980s and that his trips to Vietnam were paid for in part by the SIS. (Remember, however, that his turnaround on the question of Spain occurred by 1939, before he went to work for the SIS.)

It gets more confusing. Shelden’s description of Greene’s presence in Prague during the revolution of 1948, which Greene dishonestly claimed came about by chance, makes Greene sound less like Fowler and more like Pyle using his health relief mission for a cover: “He could pretend to be a harmless author, not a spy, and could easily be forgiven for wandering the streets in search of local colour or of some curious literary connection which only he could appreciate. And there were publishers who wanted to see him, writers who wanted to discuss their works with him, admiring Catholics who wanted him to sign books. With so many reasonable excuses available, he could go almost anywhere and talk his way out of a tight spot.” Greene doesn’t come off as much more successful than Pyle, either, and far less idealistic, though he managed not to get himself killed over a girl. The overall assessment of his spying work is that he was “amateurish but useful,” a “dilettante,” and certainly interested in having his expenses paid after being flown all over the world. As another SIS officer stated: “Despite the money he makes out of making the great British public worry about its soul, he is extremely mercenary.”

This raises the possibility that Greene had reason to identify to some degree with both Fowler and Pyle, and yet reception of the book and of Noyce’s movie have not reflected that. For instance, the book was very well reviewed in Pravda, and the website dealmemo.com reports of the making of the movie, “The script has clearly struck the right note with the communist authorities in Vietnam, who gave approval [for location filming] on the grounds that ‘it condemns the manoeuvres of hostile forces and foreign aggressors against the Vietnamese people’.” It seems certain that Greene at the very least enjoyed the mystery and gamesmanship of his life undercover in plain sight.

His usefulness as a spy is another question. How much intelligence could he gather from a chat with a dictator? And could it possibly offset the prestige lent to them and their regimes by his books and public statements? Did he enjoy cloak-and-daggering in the world’s hot spots, with occasional access to kahunas, so much that having his name become associated with shameless political pandering was worth it? Oddly, this can’t have much effect on our interpretation of The Quiet American: if Greene were working as a double agent as its author that would only confirm his intention to make it pro-Communist if it were to work effectively as bait. In any case, the question of his intelligence activities speaks only to his personal motives; the political meaning of the book is something apart.

In the melodrama of The Quiet American Pyle is the villain because he’s complicit in the death of civilian non-combatants, including a child, as a result of a terrorist bombing by the Third Force that he supports. Fowler sneers at the concept of finding a nationalist Third Force, though Jeff McMurdo in the online Front Page Magazine has shown that there was an indigenous ideological basis for it much earlier in the century. One of the things that makes the Americans especially bad in this instance in the book is that they warned other Americans to stay out of the area of the bombing. Greene’s sympathetic, painstaking biographer Norman Sherry has shown that General Thé could easily have perpetrated the bombing without American help, and further that the charge that Americans were forewarned is untrue. (The latter is on a par with the claim that Jews knew not to show up for work in the World Trade Center buildings on September 11.) In the context of his handling of this evidence, it’s interesting to know that when Greene covered a British campaign against Communist rebels in Malaya in 1950, according to Shelden, he made “no attempt to question the savage tactics of the British troops.” Greene’s article in Life includes a photo of a dead rebel being carried over a pole like game.

But is this political choice to rest on the swapping of atrocity photos? On this basis you couldn’t back the American alliance with the Soviet Union during the Second World War, not after the purges, the assassination of Trotsky, the murder in Washington, D.C. of Walter Krivitsky, the abduction from Manhattan of Juliet Stuart Poyntz, the massacre in the Katyn Forest.

And if we’re going to look at The Quiet American with our vision improved by hindsight, how on earth would a terrorist bombing send us into the arms of the Vietnamese Communists? The year the book was published Ho Chi Minh instituted radical land reforms in the north, hauling land owners before “people’s tribunals” and executing or sending thousands to forced labor camps. In Casualties of War, an exposé of the kidnap-rape-murder of a Vietnamese girl by American soldiers and so hardly a patriotic whitewash, New Yorker journalist Daniel Lang wrote that the Vietnamese “constantly reported rapes and kidnappings by the Vietcong; in fact, the Vietcong committed these crimes so indiscriminately that the victims were sometimes their own sympathizers.” And let’s not forget the reeducation camps. At this point you shouldn’t have to say it, but whatever you can tot up against the American involvement in Vietnam, and there’s plenty, we were not on the wrong side of the conflict.

Supposedly in America we don’t believe that the end justifies the means. But ends and means can be evaluated separately. The critique of how America conducts foreign policy is not the objectionable form of anti-Americanism here, as Diana Trilling wrote in 1956: “Europeans, no less than Americans, have the entire right, even the duty, honestly and openly to challenge our country on the many manifest errors in its activities abroad.…” But she properly won’t give in to the “reluctance, not only sharply to distinguish between fair and unfair attack upon America, but also to confront and combat whatever bad political intention may inform the attack.” It isn’t Greene’s intention in writing The Quiet American that is subject to attack–whether that intention was duplicitous, frivolous, or deluded–but the conclusion it seems inevitable to draw from the work itself.

So the melodrama in The Quiet American answers only half the question. If you think it means you can’t support the US involvement that’s one half. But I don’t see how this can push you toward the Communists, who everywhere oppress their own citizens with barbarous police state enforcement. If you put the melodrama Greene concocted around the murky bombing aside, you have the fundamental political choice of the 20th century. The Americans are at worst naive, misguided. Anyone who supports the Communists as the lesser evil in Vietnam, or elsewhere, should be made to acknowledge that they’re signing off on the other half of the question as well.

In his 1987 memoirs Out of Step, Sidney Hook, the greatest American polemicist of the anti-Communist left, nailed the pro-Communist rhetorical maneuver of assessing the Soviet Union in terms of its ideals and the United States in terms of its reality. But the half-argument that has been taken to be the message of The Quiet American goes farther. It reminds me of the statements of Theodore Hall, the youngest of the physicists who gave nuclear weapon secrets to the Soviets. Hall justified himself in this way: “Maybe the course of history, if unchanged, could have led to atomic war in the past 50 years–for example the bomb might have been dropped on China in 1949 or the early 1950s. Well, if I helped to prevent that, I accept the charge.” By all rights, he should at the same time have to accept responsibility for the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and China’s domination of East Asia, not to mention the havoc they wrought on their own populations, which Communist nuclear capability made possible. (See Ronald Radosh’s 20 October 1997 Wall Street Journal review of Bombshell, the book in which Hall’s comments appear, for a principled reaction.) People who are opposed to the American involvement in Vietnam should figure out what that means they’re for. If not the Communists, then what? Though the characters in the book The Quiet American are meant to be types, there’s no satisfactory political discussion. In their dialogue in the watch tower Fowler is given all the snappy comebacks, which Pyle can’t answer, though they are answerable. Maybe it doesn’t matter if, like Greene, you see the Vietnamese as eternal peasants who every now and then produce an irresistible erotic pet.

To be fair to the movie’s fans, they have praised it mostly for Michael Caine’s performance. He is a great actor, but the material isn’t very well shaped for him to get at what’s interesting about the character. Fowler is the first-person narrator of the book and so most of his best material is internal monologue. That’s a downside to the book’s resemblance to detective fiction that doesn’t serve the movie very well. The movie can turn only so much of it into voice-over or dialogue; the rest we have to guess at. You can admire the way Caine can change complexion with self-loathing and be amazed how, by the end of the movie, his eyeballs look as if they’ve been hardboiled in a cauldron and then reinserted in the sockets. But the movie feels more like an illustration of the complexly simplistic book than a dramatization. The question is an illustration of what? dramatization of what? Greene was such a murky character and covered his tracks so well we may never know what he intended but we can hear plainly enough what he said. I can’t let it go without objecting.

You can read this review and more at www.kitchencabinet.blogspot.com.

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About Alan Dale

  • Eric Olsen

    Alan, exceptionally thorough and well-done. Thanks.

  • C Grant

    I think you miss the point. Obviously the American experience has worked well for you, setting up in your mind a clear distinction: ‘with us or against us’. Greene communicates a much broader message, and to view the novel as a polemic against American foreign policy is a narrow approach. If you read closely you notice Greene empathising greatly with Pyle: “was I that different from Pyle”, “was I the only one who really cared for Pyle?”, etc. It is not about how much he detests Pyle, it is a discussion of involvement, personal and political – the American cliche simply provides a distinctly recognisable example, some great vocabulary for an exploration of innocence and ignorance and its consequences.

    The reconciliation with Granger at the end of the novel is something worth great consideration. In it, Fowler overcomes his labelling of Americans as dim-witted, idealist morons, to realise that he is nothing more – albeit with a a bit of European enlightenment.

    And please, why bring up Milton Friedman to support your case. Why don’t you just use York Harding to support it instead?

    You speak from a distinctly American perspective, attacking European snobbery. Perhaps you could look beyond this parochialism. Or maybe you’re like Pyle, you seem very similar – “A soldier for democracy, a Red Menace”, or in your case “Commie apologist or Double Agent?”

  • http://www.weirdprofessortype.com Alan Dale

    Hey Cameron,

    Thanks for the e-mail. Hope this doesn’t sound too harsh.

    You write: “Obviously the American experience has worked well for you, setting up in your mind a clear distinction: ‘with us or against us’.”

    This is a strange way to begin, with assumptions about my personal history. I don’t know what you think you know about me; I could tell you about my personal setbacks, outright failures, about bankruptcy and misery in my life and my family’s, but that would be beside the point. No reasonable person adopts a belief solely because it “works well” for him. How do you define “works well,” anyway? What’s the metric–education, income, liberty, happiness?–and what’s the threshold–PhD, 6 figures, a wife and kids? You risk being accused of a classic form of left-wing cynicism: One is in favor of American-style free-market democracy not because it supplies the most opportunities to the most people to make of themselves what they can, because it’s based on individual rights and liberties and thus permits the closest tailoring of outcomes to individual talents and desires, but because one has got rich by it (at everyone else’s expense) or else, under the false-consciousness wing of the argument, because one is deluded (applied, for instance, to pro-market working-class people). This is the kind of argument Graham Greene, to his eternal shame, made after taking a tour with East German guards of the freshly-erected Berlin Wall, criticizing “the materialistic people who went over the wall simply for the freedom of being able to buy more consumer goods.” This argument isn’t applied to Communists, who are presumed to be idealists–they’d pretty much have to be, wouldn’t they, since their avowed system “works well” for no one, apart from the party elite.

    The corollary point is that anyone in favor of free market democracy willfully, shamefully ignores all those people for whom it hasn’t “worked well.” Do the struggling people of the world fare better than in the United States? Immigration trends suggest otherwise. (I make it a point of talking to taxi drivers; “freedom” and “opportunity” aren’t just abstractions to them.) As for lapses with respect to groups already here–racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities, and women–the point of any civil rights movement from a liberal point of view is to integrate marginalized groups into the mainstream economy so that they may take care of themselves as they see fit, and that is clearly working, as a general trend. No possible system works well for all people at all times, by any measure. The point is to remove the prejudicial institutional bars to opportunity and achievement, as the African-American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s finally has done. At the same time, American homosexuals have blossomed in this free-market democracy before we have established our rights with national legislation. Rights emanating from private sources of law, e.g., the same-sex health-care benefits my partner gets through the firm I work for, may be more practically valuable than national laws, however plainly just it is that such laws eventually be enacted. I am in favor of this system because it tends to work well for all comers, without regard to my personal ups and downs.

    In addition, “with us or against us” is not how I view anything. In my analysis of narrative, I tirelessly argue against the polarized moral view of melodrama, in movies and in politics. I’m always getting into trouble at parties because I don’t go along with anybody’s partisan venting.

    Most of what you say about me does not describe me accurately, but even if it did, it’s still argument ad hominem. Think: I could favor the right answer for the wrong reason. (Like the southern U.S. Senators who insisted on attaching sexual-equality provisions into Civil Rights legislation with a view to undermining it–their motivation doesn’t make sexual equality wrong.) The better approach is to address your criticism to the idea, not the man espousing it.

    As for the smaller points. I don’t think fiction “communicates messages”; it tells stories. The story of The Quiet American is shaped as a melodramatic romance in which two national/political/moral types struggle for dominance. Pyle is plainly a type, as is Phuong. The trick of the book, and the essence of its appeal both from the literary and political viewpoint, is that Fowler is the only character with any complexity. You point out: ” If you read closely you notice Greene empathising greatly with Pyle: ‘was I that different from Pyle’, ‘was I the only one who really cared for Pyle?’, etc.” In fact, close reading tells you that Greene isn’t empathizing with Pyle here, Fowler is. What you write is comparable to saying, “Shakespeare said, ‘All the world’s a stage’.” Greene gives Fowler complexity by making his moral traits cut against his national/political traits. But whatever Fowler may realize about Pyle, or about his reactions to Pyle, is undercut by the depiction of Pyle itself (e.g., the fact that Pyle is given no answers to Fowler’s political comments in the tower).

    You also write: “You speak from a distinctly American perspective, attacking European snobbery.” Okay–how else is an American supposed to counter European snobbery? In fact, how is an American supposed to speak at all except from an American perspective. What’s wrong with that? Nothing strikes me as more American than hearing American intellectuals and academics and cultural figures say how they’ve always felt more European. Presumably they don’t mean they feel more like their peasant ancestors who came to this country to gain the freedom and opportunities their descendants now take for granted. Greene writes with amused condescension about the air-conditioned lavatories and grocery stores where the celery comes wrapped in cellophane, just as Evelyn Waugh in The Loved One writes about Aim饠Thanatogenos’s being “dressed and scented in obedience to the advertisements,” about her going through “the prescribed rites of an American girl preparing to meet her lover–dabb[ing] herself under the arms with a preparation designed to seal the sweatglands, gargl[ing] another to sweeten the breath, and brush[in] into her hair some odorous drops from a bottle.” (You only have to read the more scabrous of Swift’s poems to know this isn’t uniquely American. And it never occurred to me that when Shakespeare and Cervantes write about stinking breath and body odor that they thought of them as virtues.). Waugh writes of the mortuary hostess that she was “the standard product. A man could leave such a girl in a delicatessen shop in New York, fly three thousand miles and find her again in the cigar stall at San Francisco, just as he would find his favourite comic strip in the local paper.” Sorry, but I’ve never noticed the apparently endless variety among European receptionists, and I’ve been in European toilets and grocery stores, seen European advertising, stood downwind from European women, and I just don’t feel a crushing cultural inferiority on these counts. It’s all about what you’re used to. I don’t apologize for refusing to swallow other people’s spit.

    Why not bring up Milton Friedman? You use the name as if it inevitably causes shudders, though you don’t cite any evidence in defense of whatever point you assume you’re making against him. We read Friedman in Robert Ellickson’s class on Property in law school, and I was struck by the cogency of Friedman’s point that to the extent a system provides security for property rights (unlike Communist Vietnam, for instance), citizens are more likely to voice and defend oppositional political opinions. What’s wrong with that?

    In the case of Graham Greene, “Commie apologist or Double Agent?” is not a melodramatic reduction on my part but a literal question. He was either one or the other and the record leans toward the latter. “Commie apologist” was facetious wording, of course, but that’s a mild term for a man who applied his international cultural reputation to burnish the image of the likes of Fidel Castro, and who notoriously wrote in a letter to the Times (London), “If I had to choose between life in the Soviet Union and life in the United States I would certainly choose the Soviet Union,” while indulging his freedom to live instead in Anacapri, Antibes, and Vevey off his stream of royalties from book sales and movie adaptations. If Greene was a double agent, then apologists for The Quiet American are the dupes that Lenin laughingly appreciated left-leaning western intellectuals for being, though not the kind of dupes Lenin would have wanted them to be.

    Thanks again for your comment.

  • C Grant

    Don’t worry mate, it didn’t seem “too harsh” – you provide a powerful response to my rather flippant comment. But, my concern still stands. Whilst we are most likely at cross-purposes, in trying to interpret The Quiet American, your approach irks me nonetheless.

    I would like to criticise your ‘liberalism’, your ‘free’ taxi-drivers, your ‘opportunity-craving’ refugees but I couldn’t bear to stand another barrage.

    Instead I would like to discuss how you have interpreted the novel, not in the particular, but the more general. It seems you have offered some very clever insight into Greene as a character and how his ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘shortcomings’ are reflected in his most renowned anti-American novel.

    The big sticking point, in my reading of your critique, however, was “I don’t think fiction “communicates messages”; it tells stories.” Now, when Tolstoy wrote ‘War and Peace’ was he talking about the politics of the Russian aristocracy or was he “communicating messages” about humanity? What about in ‘Childhood, Boyhood, Youth’? Was Tolstoy talking about the shortcomings and cold winters of the Russian upbringing or was he “communicating messages” about what it is to grow up, more generally? Perhaps in ‘Frankenstein’ Shelley was intending to “tell the story” of how crude scientific instruments were back in the day. Or perhaps Shelley was telling us something about the incessant curiosity of man. How about Sophocles? Was his ‘Oedipus Rex’ about Pericles and his mismanagement of Athens during the Peloponnesian War? Or was it about something a bit more significant?

    I think I have illustrated my point. Now, I’m not comparing Greene to Tolstoy, Shelley or Sophocles, insofar as greatness or eminence is concerned. However, at heart, they are all writers of fiction. In the end they are judged on their ability to express common concerns and observations.

    Two things have made The Quiet American a great novel. On one hand it is written well. More importantly, it is accompanied by 50 years of ‘corroborating’ evidence. Because of this, its central metaphor – American foreign policy – has ensured the novel is as relevant today as it was in the 50’s and 60’s. Therefore it is able to “communicate messages” via some familiar vocabulary and events: Americans interfering with the support of their York Harding’s and their Milton Friedman’s. Hence, its ability to express common concerns and observations is enhanced by the world events we have confronted for the last 40 years.

    Essentially I don’t think we should be concerned with a character sketch of Greene. Sure, he had terrible motives, he was a man of great hypocrisy and he didn’t exactly love the American dream. But his work should not be judged poorly because of this. I still maintain that he offers something more than a polemic against American foreign policy.

    I noticed you didn’t respond to my comment on Granger, where Fowler realises something common between himself and this “noisy bastard”, the quintessential American reporter. I think this scene is where the real ‘message’ rears its head. And, I think a discussion of scenes like this, within the book, are of far greater importance.

  • http://www.weirdprofessortype.com Alan Dale

    Hey Cameron,

    If I’m reading your opposed interpretations of Tolstoy, Shelley, and Sophocles correctly, you’re saying that, in the instance of Sophocles, to the extent Oedipus Rex is about “Pericles and his mismanagement of Athens during the Peloponnesian War,” that would be telling a story, but if it’s about “something a bit more significant,” then that would show that it’s communicating a message. The problem with all of these opposed interpretations for me is that both sound like what I mean by “communicating a message.”

    When I say that narrative artists tell stories, I mean they convey their meanings by the narrative structure itself. War and Peace is a bad example for you because Tolstoy interpolated historical essays into it; it’s thus an atypical, hybrid work. But Sophocles is also a bad example for you because he conveys meaning thoroughly through the tragic structure. If you compare the philosophical content of Oedipus Rex to any Platonic dialogue it should be obvious that Sophocles cannot be thought of as conveying discursive, non-narrative ideas to anything like the same degree as Plato. It makes sense: If narrative artists weren’t engaged in a specific for of composition, then why would there be a separate, readily recognizable category for fictional works? If fiction writers had some message separable from the narrative, why wouldn’t they just write an essay?

    You may say that the narrative makes the message more powerful, but it also makes it more ambiguous. By far the best case for your point of view would be medieval romance, in which the authors do work out intricate symbolic narratives to exemplify certain beliefs. Which also forces me to admit that I take a more extreme structuralist position than I otherwise would if such a position were more fully represented in literary analysis. Structuralism is too little understood and yet it’s very basic: the art of narrative is the art of narrative, not the art of universal messages or generating emotional responses or whatnot. You say, “In the end they are judged on their ability to express common concerns and observations.” We simply disagree; to me they are judged by their power in using the forms of narrative they’ve chosen. We judge Dante as an epic poet not as a theologian–that is, we judge him without examining whether we share his judgments and epiphanies. He gives us literary epiphanies whether or not we share his Christian vision.

    As for the “corroborating evidence” supporting the supposed greatness of The Quiet American, this is a circular, and hence unconvincing, mode of argument. Such “evidence” is not what is normally meant by that term—something with the power to objectively verify an assertion. That American foreign policy has been baneful meddling is a belief; of course such a belief “corroborates” a book that presents American foreign policy as baneful meddling. But it’s corroborative only for people who also hold that belief. It is not corroborative for anyone who thinks that Communism has been a disaster for Vietnam, as it has been everywhere else in the world. (Do the former Iron Curtain countries think that their liberation from Soviet domination corroborates Greene’s depiction of American foreign policy?) In any case, even if I did agree with you, as stated above, I don’t agree that this is what makes narrative art “relevant” at any time. It certainly can’t explain why works with topical associations, such as Paradise Lost and Gulliver’s Travels and The Beggar’s Opera have outlived those associations.

    I agree that the characterization of Fowler is by far the most interesting part of the book. That makes it somewhat more complex melodrama than average, but it’s still thin-textured melodrama. In addition, Greene is a good prose stylist, but he is not what I mean by a great writer. And I don’t say that because I disagree with him–I think Norman Mailer is a great writer, and his Why Are We in Vietnam a great romance, and he’s about as loony-left as you can get.

    Thanks again for the comments.

  • DARYA

    really gives food for thought. another good case of how the uncommon background reveals one’s personality.

  • Zenah

    What an absolute load to crap!! This is the worst analytical piece of writing that I have ever read! Talk about a dishonest and shameful attempt to promote all that is great about the American way of life.
    The mere support of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War is laughable.
    Way to go Dale, support all that is blatantly imperialist about the United States of America.

    The Quiet American is a brilliant book, because before its time, it had already predicted the deceit and MURDER that would come at the hands of the American troops. Pyle engaged in the murder of civilians and non-combatants, not because he was American, but because he was an American who thought that he could police the world. That his way was the only way. Well, guess what? Democracy is not the solution to the world’s problems. I’d go as afar to say that it is the cause of the modern world’s problems.

    An advocate of war is being praised. How shameful.

  • S.T.M

    This is beautifully written and nicely thought out but I do feel nevertheless there is a bit of pseudo-intellectual claptrap clouding the real issue here.

    The reality is, had Greene been writing 80 years earlier, at the time when his own countrymen were the world-dominating, English-speaking imperial power (yes, folks, hard as it is to swallow, that’s what the US has become), the novel might well have been called The Quiet Englishman.

    I suspect, too, that the novel is not really in any way genuinely anti-American but simply a really obvious literary device – rather, Greene’s intent was to document the continuation of imperialism, in a new guise perhaps, but once again (as it was with the British) dressed up as freedom and carrying with it the offer of great benefit – but at a dreadful price.

    The one thing that leaps out in this thread is that too many Americans find it hard to accept that others don’t always see Americans as Americans see themselves. In the collective American psyche, there seems an element of delusion, as there was with the British, and a belief in the absolute righteousness of the spread of US “ideals”.

    That is not to say that many of them aren’t good – they are. But they are mostly good for America. Greene doubtless had some knowledge of these kinds of attitudes as a result of his own country’s blinkered and blundering attempts at foreign policy and his wartime background.

    And it’s not good for an imperialist power to be either thin-skinned or prone to hand wringing. It’s important not to care what others think.

    Like Pyle, you need the balls to carry it all through: from that perspective, perhaps Greene was being complimentary, rather than condescending.

  • http://www.weirdprofessortype.com Alan Dale

    Zenah,

    Did you stop to consider what purpose you had in responding to the review? It cannot reasonably have been to convince me, or anyone who might agree with me, that my point of view is mistaken because you have taken no care to address my arguments or ground your own. You speak insultingly in slogans. Only people who already agree with you, and therefore respect you as a moral authority in a position to call shame on others with respect to their political views, could see this as anything but an ill-tempered, distinctively adolescent outburst. Unfortunately, the fact that you think democracy is not the solution to the world’s problems is the only revealing part of your comment. You don’t even understand Greene’s irony: Pyle was the farthest thing from “dishonest.”

  • http://www.weirdprofessortype.com Alan Dale

    Thanks for the comment, STM. I don’t know that there’s any way to accord our very different basic beliefs. England was an empire precisely in the way the U.S. is not. The fact that the no-blood-for-oil slogan in opposition to the current Iraq war faded away due to the plain fact that we did not expropriate “colonial” resources for our own use suggests how different the U.S. is from Victorian England. In the case of the Cold War, how anyone could see the U.S. rather than the Soviet Union as imperialistic is beyond me. Compare the freedom with which western Europe has criticized and opposed its liberator, benefactor, and protector with the clampdown on dissent behind the Iron Curtain. I’m not sure which American ideals you think are good for America but not the rest of the world. Notice that Greene complained about American adventurism against Communism in Southeast Asia, but not our fight against fascism in Europe during World War II.

    It is true that Americans find it hard to accept that others don’t always see us as we see ourselves. At the same time, foreigners often fail to recognize the spite and envy in their view of Americans.

  • S.T.M

    The imperialism Greene is documenting here isn’t very different. It’s simply about bringing other people into your orbit for your own gain.

    If you look at the proliferation and spread of US corporations on the global stage, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that this is a genuine form of imperialism (or neo-imperialism). Most of the profits return to the US to benefit the US, which is exactly what imperialism is really all about (an example of the similarities: the British, during their mandate there post WWI, waged a war in Iraq in the 1920s and ’30s every bit as destructive and ultimately as unpopular at home, as that which is going on today … and it was, of course, about oil).

    Many of these corporations pay near-slave wages overseas and sell at huge profits at home and around the world, which feeds consumerism and gives America the lifestyle it loves. For those being ripped off, however, the story is very different.

    The fact that it is in a different guise, and doesn’t involve the US flag flying over half the world, doesn’t make it any less the same kind of imperialism.

    Instead, the corporate flags fly. And where they don’t, there is meddling – in central and south America, for instance. There is no real difference, honestly.

    These are the values that ultimately are not good for others, just as the values of the British were not good for others.

    My point is simply this: imperialism may come in forms that seem benign (and as you point out, also magnanimous) but it is still imperialism – those “empires”, taking into account the eras and thus values were a bit different, remain classic examples for study and may well be so similar because of their common values.

    And I’m not sure that all others see Americans through spiteful eyes (although some certainly do, and they are often misguided). It’s worth noting that constructive criticism is often a tool used among friends. Rose-tinted glasses sometimes need to come off.

    To feel you can’t be criticised, or that you don’t have to remain teachable, is actually a very arrogant view. It also indicates a degree of collective over-sensitivity.

    And the belief that one is either 100 per cent with you or 100 per cent against you just doesn’t hold water. It’s probably best described as a naive way of looking at things.

    And by the way, I like America and Americans a lot. It is just some aspects of US foreign policy (and the foreign policy of my own country) that sometimes leaves me a bit cold.

    In my view Greene simply used what might have seemed to others like rabid anti-Americanism as a literary device to make a point that was not neccessarily just about America.

    It was a very valid observation and remains so today.

    In support of my argument, can I suggest if you are so inclined the critically accliamed movie Breaker Morant, a true and historically accurate account of three soldiers from a mounted special-forces unit accused of shooting prisoners during the Boer War in South Africa in 1901. The parallels with Vietnam and Iraq are remarkable (replace oil with gold and diamonds), if you keep an open mind. And if you do choose to see it, listen out for Lord Kitchener’s subtle response to the suggestion of British “altrusim”.

  • Zenah

    Alan,

    Allow me to address the clear fault in your argument and therefore seriously distinguish myself from the previous “ill-tempered, distinctively adolescent outburst”; an insult so thoughtfully constructed.

    I will offer a critique of your brash and unchallenged decription of Pyle as a man who “innocently commits harm”. The combination of these words is (if permitted to use such an ill-tempred, adolescent word) laughable. Is there such a thing as one who commits harm innocently? We’re not talking about accidently putting salt in a cake instead of sugar, we are discussing mass involvement in a political force which directly and knowingly results in the death of the “real” innocent people. People who have children, who have parents, who have FAMILY. People who are soon forgotten as a statistic, much like the hundreds dying on a daily basis in the name of American democracy in Iraq today. Your acceptance of such a character, whose death is brought about as a form of redemptive political action, speaks volumes of a nation’s people who are innocent in their blind patriotism. Inexcusable are Pyle’s actions, in my eyes, and yet you give him leave.

    You see an America that has offered “opportunities to a world of immigrants and having developed unprecedented general wealth”. I see an America that has fought centuries to maintain its control over the third world. Greene wrote of the disgraces it committed in Asia, today people write of the atrocities it commits in the Middle East.
    You speak so proudly of an America that allowed for the death of its own people in New Orleans, while VALIANTLY continued its war against terrorism and boasted victory. We here in Australia are fighting on a DAILY basis to prohibit our government from becoming like yours, a collecting agency, that offers no health services, nothing.

    I will discuss the so called “melodrama” of Greene’s novel. Not just melodrama, IRONIC MELODRAMA. Again, you offer your opinion as though it were fact. Fowler is not the “unlikely hero”, nor is he depicted as such. He is a weak, patronising, cynical, and frightened old man. He is however, the lesser of two evils.
    The idealism which you praise in Pyle again reminds me of the idealism of a classmate who asserted that Israel’s use of cluster bombs during its unjustified war on the Lebanese people would not go unpunished. I reminded him that an ally of the United States will never be held accountable for its actions, not while the blind patriotism of its FREEDOM AND VALUES is promoted. Not while its action in Iraq and Afghanistan go unpunished. Greene sets himself apart by, for once, allowing the party at fault to be punished.

    Greene does not put his reader in a position, as you have claimed, of advocating communism if opposing the “idealism” of Pyle’s Third Force. In fact, communism is the definition of idelism, in other words impractical. But communism is certainly not what you have decribed it to be. The Soviet Union’s ADOPTION of communism was incorrect. Yes, there was oppression, and barberous actions, but its fault was in its application, not its philosophy. Secondly, an issue which you conveniently ignored, is that the communism of Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam was not oppressive and barberous, nor was it idealistic, but it certainly, as any historian will tell you, took the backfoot to his nationalism and his desire to see a united Vietnam.

    I hope to have “reasonably” convinced you or anyone who might agree with you, that your point of view is clearly mistaken. I made every attempt to not “speak insultingly in slogans.”
    I do believe that the democracy which has been established by the United States is not the solution to the world’s problems, in fact the HUMAN BEINGS in IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, LEBANON, SUDAN and countless other countries would agree with me and I write this in the hope that they know that while the world’s predominant superpower cares nothing for their future and their people, there is a single, ill-tempered adolescent out there who sees a real error in the world. I hope to never lose that or I will become another human being who lives a routine life and accepts all that is wrong and unforgivable in the United States’ practice of democracy, freedom and liberty.

  • http://www.weirdprofessortype.com Alan Dale

    Dear Zenah, Thanks for the comment. This review has touched off more lengthy comment than any other I’ve written. It’s fascinating.

    As for what you say, let me point out that you do not address any “clear fault in [my] argument.” You make statements to show that you hold opinions that are odds with mine.

    There’s a good deal of one-sided sentimentality in what you say. All people on earth have family; including the Israelis killed by Hezbollah rockets, statistics you seem to have “forgotten.”

    America has “fought centuries to maintain its control over the third world”? One century at the most.

    What happened in New Orleans was caused by 1) force majeure, and 2) shoddy levees which surely are the fault of the local gov’t as much as the federal.

    It is factually inaccurate to claim that the US gov’t “offers no health services, nothing.” What are Medicare and Medicaid? And offers “nothing” is an uninformed joke. The big financial argument within the US is that the current administration keeps cutting taxes while INCREASING entitlements. They may not offer the services that you would if you were in charge, but surely that is a matter that intelligent adults can disagree about.

    “Again, you offer your opinion as though it were fact.” Every critic offers opinion as though it were fact. The only other option is to keep saying, “in my [humble] opinion,” or something like that, which intelligent readers understand to be the case in any event. And I might add, the ONLY readers who make this accusation are readers who disagree with me, which suggests that something else is at the root of the problem.

    “He is a weak, patronising, cynical, and frightened old man. He is however, the lesser of two evils.” This is a description of an ironic hero.

    “The idealism which you praise in Pyle again reminds me of the idealism of a classmate who asserted that Israel’s use of cluster bombs during its unjustified war on the Lebanese people would not go unpunished. I reminded him that an ally of the United States will never be held accountable for its actions, not while the blind patriotism of its FREEDOM AND VALUES is promoted. Not while its action in Iraq and Afghanistan go unpunished.”
    I don’t see how your example is illustrative of what follows from it. And “unjustified war” is such sloganeering, albeit compact in form, that you have no chance of convincing someone like me who sees the Israeli response as self-defense, whatever it is you’re trying to convince me of here apart from a generalized attack on the US. Speaking of forgotten statistics, do you ever think about the status of women and girls in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s reign and after?

    “The Soviet Union’s ADOPTION of communism was incorrect. Yes, there was oppression, and barberous actions, but its fault was in its application, not its philosophy.” But seeing as it’s impossible to name a Communist gov’t that hasn’t implemented oppression and barbarism against its own population (of a kind and on a scale that dwarfs anything you can say about the US), then maybe there’s something wrong with the philosophy if it can never be implemented without them. And as for Vietnam, you don’t consider re-education camps “oppressive” and “barberous” [sic]? Judging from the tenor of your comments, I bet you’d hate being put in one. Which is one of the bizarre aspects of Western democractic left-wing sentimentality about the Soviet Union, Cuba, Vietnam, as well as the Palestinian state (where, remember, homosexuals are tortured and put to death), etc. Left-wingers would not only hate being subjected to such oppressions as the lack of intellectual freedom, they would be appalled by such country’s use of force if it were used against them.

    “I hope to have ‘reasonably’ convinced you or anyone who might agree with you, that your point of view is clearly mistaken. I made every attempt to not ‘speak insultingly in slogans’.” Not even close–you have stated your opinions in conclusory slogans. You did not, however, “speak insultingly,” which was in itself refreshing.

    “[T]here is a single, ill-tempered adolescent out there who sees a real error in the world. I hope to never lose that or I will become another human being who lives a routine life and accepts all that is wrong and unforgivable in the United States’ practice of democracy, freedom and liberty.”
    This has something of a self-satisfied Messianic tinge. You can’t possibly imagine you’re the only one–the US media are full of people who would agree with you more than with me. And to say that people who disagree with you live routine lives, etc., is silly. There is plenty that is “routine” in your comments and outlook. I was in academia in the northeast of the US for fifteen years and I have heard everything you’ve said repeatedly. And why on earth do you excuse the Soviet Union’s falling short of its philosophy but not the US? Have you ever made a list of what is NOT wrong and unforgivable in the US’s practice of democracy, freedom, and liberty? Why is it that more people immigrate here than anywhere else–do you think that the world’s poor and oppressed have been delusional for nearly 200 years?

    Anyway, thanks again for your contribution to this dialogue.

  • vieh

    o no
    i have to read this book and im nor interested, neither able to read this book.
    mince alors
    its f*** boring

  • AMOUL

    WHAT IS THE THIRD FORCE

  • William Sorensen

    Sadly, this is my first encounter with Alan Dale’s challenging and thought-provoking commentary and criticism. His words, and those of his readers, represent some of the best I’ve found about film anywhere.

    However, Mr. Dale, your views regarding a sustained belief in Capitalism must have been tempered by more recent events. Looking back at this exchange about Greene, his writings and his motivations for writing, I can’t help but add that unregulated greed and a melting arctic may have us all looking at a hybridized future in which social and capital forms must intertwine. The Gulf of Tonkin incident shares much with the mythology of weapons of mass destruction and colossal cover-ups that endanger the Constitution you so clearly defend. Neither of these fabrications was innocent. When you write criticism that leans so politically, as yours so eloquently does, you must be prepared to accept the consequence of events… of history as we’ve now come to see it.

    Your reviews are extraordinary in their depth and obvious affection for motion pictures. They provoke much and add much.

  • Dan Haag

    Is Mr. Dale’s arguement that if the U.S. had not gotten involved in Vietnam then it would have been supporting Communism? That to me is the only point. But if this was the right thing for the U.S. to do, then why were the results and the war and the events leading to war so aweful?

  • Dan Haag

    I wonder too about the historical accuracy of the book/movie. Did the U.S. actually prop up a third force, allow/authorize it to commit atrocities which it then blamed on the Communists?