THE QUIET AMERICAN

3 stars – Thought Provoking

War hides many sins.  Regardless of the moral imperatives that lead men into battle, the final result is usually a far cry from what one imagined or even hoped for.  In the end, history is written by the victors, and in this case, the viewer will understand why the current Vietnamese government allowed this film to be made within their borders.

“The Quiet American” is a story set in 1952 Vietnam.  France is still trying to hold on to Indochina that is under their control.  The communists are in a battle to oust the French, and the Americans idealistically believe they could rid the world of the emerging evil empire of communism by backing a third-party puppet government.

Although the story is told from the perspective of Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine), a weary and cynical British newspaper reporter assigned to Vietnam, the focus on America comes in the form of a young AID worker named Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser).  Innocent on the surface, Pyle befriends himself to Thomas Fowler, and eventually falls in love with Fowler’s Vietnamese girlfriend, Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen).

Much of the film is centered on this love triangle.  The decision made by young women in that culture to seek security through love relationships with westerners is an intriguing moral question in its own right.  But what makes this story noteworthy in the context of current world events is the focus on American intervention in the affairs of another country that hasn’t formally or informally sought a war with the United States.  What is the role of an outside super-power, such as the United States, in the determination of the leadership of a third world country? 

Alden Pyle went to Vietnam as a medical technician to provide humanitarian aid.  As we soon discover, he has murky links to the CIA.  This is no cold-blooded murderer for hire, but a true believer in protecting what he believes to be democratic, western civic virtue.  We see in his eyes the same kind of patriotism that marched off to France in World War I, or on the faces of soldiers heading off to stop Nazi Germany.

The rude awakening that became the American-Vietnam experience, was that there are no clear-cut, simple, or safe ways to intervene in the internal struggles of another country, especially if war is the point of entry.  From the perspective of Vietnam today, “virtue” was preserved by ousting America.

While it is true that there is a major difference between Iraq and Vietnam, the fact remains that America’s approach to what it perceives to be “rogue” nations is to speak as the world’s policeman.

Alden Pyle expressed to Thomas Fowler that America, unlike Fowler’s homeland, had the moral imperative and the armed strength to make corrective course changes in small countries on behalf of world peace.  In his words, “it is only a matter of weeks before the US led forces will have restored order to Vietnam.”  Sadly, as we now know, the war lingered for 25 years and over 250,000 people on all sides lost their lives.

Fowler and Pyle each lost more than their innocence in Vietnam.  Ultimately, only God will judge what the correct moral action to take might be, but whether in Vietnam or Iraq, there are no easy or quick answers. 

Discussion:

  1. In comparing Vietnam with Iraq what similarities or differences do you find?
  2. The example that is often given for U.S. military involvement in foreign nations is in pursuit of world peace.  Where do you think such involvement will and will not work?  What are the criteria by which we can discern the answer to this important question?
  3. In the relationship of the first world nations with the developing world the analogy of a “mistress” has been used.  Do you believe this analogy is appropriate?
Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, THOUGHT-PROVOKING.