Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On Second Thought

I'd forgotten that Bush himself was mangling Quiet American references. Maybe we should just keep them all away from books. There are dangerous ideas in them! Especially if you don't understand them.

Now that’s going too far. George W. Bush cited my favorite 20th century novel and its author – Graham Greene’s prescient "The Quiet American" – in his speech on Wednesday that drew several dubious links between the catastrophic Vietnam and Iraq conflicts. Perhaps because it’s unlikely he’s ever read the book it was difficult to figure out exactly what the president meant.

Bush could have used a fact-checker as well. He describes Alden Pyle, the U.S. operative, as the “main character” in the book, when it’s actually the narrator of the story, Thomas Fowler, the Saigon-based British newspaper correspondent (played by Michael Caine in the fine recent film). And, of course, “many” back in the 1970s did not say there would be “no” consequences for the Vietnamese after our pullout, as Bush alleged. Finally, I would love to know the name of the purported “anti-war senator” and find out if the views ascribed to him are accurate.

In any case, here’s the Bush statement today: “In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called ‘The Quiet American.’ It was set in Saigon and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. He was a symbol of American purpose and patriotism and dangerous naivete. Another character describes Alden this way: ‘I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.’

“After America entered the Vietnam War, Graham Greene -- the Graham Greene argument gathered some steam. Matter of fact, many argued that if we pulled out, there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people. In 1972, one anti-war senator put it this way: ‘What earthly difference does it make to nomadic tribes or uneducated subsistence farmers in Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos whether they have a military dictator, a royal prince or a socialist commissar in some distant capital that they've never seen and may never heard of?'"