1956 March 11

Author Graham Greene Skewers CIA Mentality; U.S. Reviewers Denounce the Novel


In his novel, The Quiet American, British author Graham Greene skewered the mentality underlying CIA covert actions to devastating effect. The novel is set in Vietnam, two years after the end of French colonial rule of what was called Indochina. A CIA agent who plays a major role in the novel perfectly expresses the combination of idealism, manipulative cynicism, and plain violation of human rights standards that have historically been the basic outlook of CIA covert actions. The idealism is a professed desire to bring democracy to other parts of the world; the cynicism is the eagerness to use any means to that end; and the violation of human rights in the novel includes a CIA-arranged bomb that kills many innocent people, and which the CIA then blames on the Communists. Greene had been involved with the British equivalent of the CIA, MI-6, during the 1940s, and was quite familiar with the mentality of both secret agencies.

When it was published in the U.S. in 1956, The Quiet American was savagely attacked by book critics because of its criticisms of American CIA activity and his failure to take a strong anti-Communist position. Hollywood retaliated with a movie version of The Quiet American (1958) that completely reversed Greene’s point of view, was belligerently anti-Communist, and is worth watching only as a Cold War curiosity. The more recent 2002 movie version is faithful to the novel and well worth watching.

The Quiet American is astonishingly prophetic. Not only does it anticipate the disaster of the Vietnam War for the U.S. but also the disaster in the 2000 Iraq War. Greene also captured the true CIA mentality in his book, Our Man in Havana (1958), in which an utter disaster is covered up by proclaiming it a great success and honoring and promoting everyone responsible for it.

Read the great novels: Graham Greene, The Quite American (1956) and Our Man in Havana (1958)

Watch a documentary on Graham Greene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqOpurufruQ

Learn more about Graham Greene at Greeneland: http://greeneland.tripod.com/

Watch the movie: Our Man in Havana (2002)

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