The Quiet American

by Graham Greene

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How does Graham Greene's The Quiet American demonstrate the lack of accountability and transparency within authoritarian governments?

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In The Quiet American, Graham Greene reflects on the situation in Vietnam during the days when there was conflict between the French forces colonizing the country and the communists that were trying to take over. The novel centers around an American agent, Alden Pyle, and a British journalist, Thomas Fowler, who have very different ideas about how politics in Vietnam should play out.

What Pyle doesn't completely realize as he promotes the idea of a "third force," a power other than the French or the communists, in Vietnam is that authoritarianism in any form is all about deception and violence and a lack of accountability. Pyle has a difficult time accepting this even after General The, an anticommunist whom Pyle thinks might be the third force, orders the detonation of a car bomb on a busy public street. Many innocent people are killed, but Pyle believes that the general simply made a mistake. He thinks that he can talk to him and sort everything out. Pyle, however, is rather naïve, because the general doesn't have to answer to him and will not. There is no accountability or transparency in the general and his potential regime.

Fowler knows this, and he believes that Pyle's intervention will actually turn even more dangerous. Therefore, Fowler contacts the communists about Pyle. Yet Fowler, too, is naïve. He wants Pyle stopped, but Pyle ends up dead, murdered by the communists, who also lack any sort of accountability or transparency.

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