Williams Guest Op-ed: W. and Graham Greene

John S. Williams writes:

“One of the most curious comments in Incurious Boy George’s recent speech before the Veterans of Foreign War in Kansas City was his totally uninformed reference to Graham Greene’s novel about American involvement in Vietnam, The Quiet American. Perhaps the best article on the matter I’ve read thus far is one by Frank James entitled “Why would Bush cite ‘The Quiet American’?” that I quite accidentally stumbled upon.

I have long been interested in the themes of naive idealism, frequently taking the form of innocence (as in ignorance, in the religious sense of ignorance of good and evil, the dreaming innocence of childhood, immaturity), and the evil and havoc that can be the consequence of such innocence or equally important the discovery of the power of evil through the loss of innocence. Think Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, or Melville’s Billy Budd, or Faulkner’s Sutpen for the former; or Twain’s Huck Finn, or Salinger’s Holden Caulfield or Faulkner’s Ike McCaslin for the latter.

Graham Greene, a Brit, understood this aspect of the American character just as well as do American writers. But in the article I’ve linked above and in the other things I’ve read, all have missed the crucial sentence in Greene’s great novel that stands as an indictment of Alden Pyle, the young naive, idealistic, innocent (Greene’s word, not mine) CIA agent. This sentence is equally an indictment of our strutting, smirking President and apparently his current speech writers who put the words in his mouth. Greene’s indictment is: “He was impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance.”

Incurious Boy George may have not learned about irony in a literature course in college, but one would have hoped his speech writers had! “

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