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« Preservation in other places | Main | Our friends the Saudis »

Jul 15, 2007

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mc

if you want to read something truly hair raising- read Robert McNamara's "The vietnam war: a retrospect" (the title might be slightly different than that).

Cunningham

Interesting editorial about a book worth revisiting. In the 2002 movie version, Pyle is not so innocent, which accords more with the evidence from the Pentagon Papers (e.g. the US gov never believed in the domino theory - it was about corporate hegemony; the US had saboteurs in Vietnam before Dien Bien Phu, etc.).
Another one for the prescience file: Malcolm X said in his famous 1964 speech "The Ballot or the Bullet" that "The white man can never win another war on the ground."

Steve Flynn

Powerful and meaningful column. Well done. I rarely mull over columns: but this one I certainly did.

andy gould

excellent column. excellent analogy.

Bubba

"'The Quiet American' is a work of fiction that speaks truth. It should be required reading in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Too bad that hasn't been the case for the last five decades."

Not quite, Ed

There's a good chance that Greene and this work had a hidden purpose beyond the lefty agenda and anti-American sentiment that they appeared to profess.

Excerpts regarding the politics involved:

"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?"

....but there's also this:

"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.'"

Given this information, the value you ascribe to "The Quiet American" is questionable, at best.

Danny Wright

Bubba, you cite an article from December, 2003 as your main rebuttal to Ed's point that the Vietnamese setting of "The Quiet American" has great similarity to the circumstances surrounding our entry into / presence in Iraq. Perhaps you could come up with a more relevant, recent article (one that takes into account, say, the past 3-4 years) that refutes this instead of simply finding a review that critiques Greene's biases.

The grand logic behind both US efforts is pretty much the same -- try to change another part of the world to serve our own interests without having much of a clue as to how local circumstances will affect the effort and outcome.

That is what Ed was speaking to, I believe.

Bubba

"That is what Ed was speaking to, I believe."


In that case, it would have been better said if he had used something other than "The Quiet American" as an example, based on the information provided above.

Any way you would care to analyze it, Greene's work is propaganda.

Ed Cone

Messenger-shooting is one of Bubba's hobbies. Arguing with him is a waste of pixels.

The messenger in this case was a major literary figure who published an eerily accurate and prescient view of the situation in Vietnam, with obvious implications unto and beyond the present day.

Going after Greene does nothing to change those facts.

Fred Gregory

Today in a post, on the NY Times and a Hamas terrorist Scott Johnson evokes memories of Sydney Schanberg's 1975 column on the coming to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, "Indochina Without Americans:For Most, a better life" which was cited by Gabriel Schoenfeld in Was Kessinger Right ?

Certainly worth discussing along Green's book.

And of course there is the prescient Larry Johnson , ex-CIA expert who wrote a piece in the NY Times July 10, 2001 " The Declining Terorist Threat" , who like Schanberg got it wrong.

Bubba

"Going after Greene does nothing to change those facts."

In other words, you have nothing that validates your poor choice of an example to make your partisan point.

Good work, Ed.

We've come to expect that sort of thing from you.

clara

The Quiet American analogy: Vietnam= step into French colonialism quagmire, Iraq = step into British colonilism quaqmire.

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