Tonight we watched the 2002 film, The Quiet American. It is pretty faithful to Graham Greene’s original novel in its essentials. What Greene described so cleverly was the beginnings of the covert American involvement that would lead ultimately to the Vietnam War, a hideous conflict that would, as we now know all too well, leave deep scars as much in the psyche of the United States as in that of the Vietnamese. I last read Greene’s novel again whilst in Vietnam. Being there, it didn’t take much imagination to see that this was a war the Americans could never ultimately win, and Greene’s novel, through the metaphor of Phuong, hints perceptively at this. Its people are beautiful, graceful, and completely inscrutable and unknowable. If one adds in the impenetrability of the languages, it is really not so surprising  that American soldiers could never be at their ease, an unease well captured in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, with all of its potentially hideous consequences. Now, the war cemetries in countless Vietnamese villages recall the First and Second World War cemeteries in Europe. There is a thankful sense of distance, of healing time. Though Greene’s anti-war message was clear (and earned him the undying suspicion of American intelligence services thereafter) the fatalistic moral of his novel seemed to be that we should be wary both of cynicism and of idealism but also of the innocence of Phuong.