How did Graham Greene describe the political role of the United States in "The Quiet American?"
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Like his contemporary and colleague John LeCarre, the late Graham Greene was well traveled and an observant student of Asian affairs. Also like LeCarre, Greene was extremely critical of the conduct of foreign policy by the United States. Like LeCarre, Greene had worked for Britain's foreign intelligence service, MI6.
At the time The Quiet American was published in 1955, Great Britain was well on its way to an ignoble end as a former world power, to be replaced by Britain's former colonialists, the Americans. Both LeCarre and Greene were dismayed by the lack of sophistication and subtlety they witnessed in their American counterparts. As with many of their ilk, these two former intelligence officers-turned-authors decryed what they saw as America's mismanagement of world affairs. Bitter over the decline of their own empire, they very begrudgingly accepted the increasing role of the United States on the world stage.
Which brings us to The Quiet American. Greene's protagonist is a British journalist Fowler who observes the arrival in Vietnam of a brash, young American "foreign service officer" named Pyle who Greene leaves no doubt is an inveterate bungler and a fool. Here is how Fowler describes his impression of Pyle:
"Pyle was very earnest and I had suffered from his lectures on the Far East, which he had known for as many months as I had years. Democracy was another subject of his -- he had pronounced and aggravating views on what the United States was doing for the world."
That passage summarizes very well Greene's view of U.S. foreign policy, particularly in a part of the world to which the United States was new and in which Great Britain had enjoyed access and colonies for many years. Resentment of the United States and condescending attitudes were prevalent among the British foreign service in those years, and Greene's story is no exception. He viewed U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia as ill-advised and ill-informed, and The Quiet American was intended as an indictment of that involvement.
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