Quiet American, The - Summary

The 2002 movie, The Quiet American, comes from a novel by Graham Greene. The story begins as French involvement in Vietnam is ending.

France has ruled Vietnam from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. The hero of the story is a young American, Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), who is an undercover CIA agent. His job is to create a native force to overthrow the growing Communist Viet Minh party. Pyle has good intentions, and wants to help the real-life General Trinh Minh The’ become the new Vietnamese leader. 

The Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh has become a member of the French Communist Party during his time in Paris in the 1920s. He builds an army of supporters called the “Viet Minh” and forms the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. His goal is Vietnamese independence, and he rallies the Vietnamese people in support.

Even with the help of the United States, France is losing the war against the Vietnamese guerillas. China then joins in the fight, supporting the Vietnamese. This turns the tide, and France loses the war.

Several factors figure into France’s loss to Vietnam. France’s primary objective is to rebuild itself after World War II. This effort does not support ongoing military spending or involvement in Vietnam. The Viet Minh are aware of the French loss of interest in the war and focus their efforts on keeping the French forces on the defensive. Adding to this mix is the fact that the Viet Minh know the countryside and how to best navigate it. While France struggles to receive their shipments, the Viet Minh hold the upper hand in the battle. 

In the early 1950s, Ho Chi Minh suggests that his government is willing to work with the French to create settlements. A peace conference is planned in Geneva and the Viet Minh leaders decide to attack a French camp. Aided by China, the Viet Minh troops cut off the French supplies and force the French to surrender. Around 25,000 Vietnamese and 1,500 French troops die during this siege. Even though France fails in Vietnam, the United States ignores the French warnings and begins another war.

Americans serve as advisors to the French as they try to exit Vietnam. These American advisors conduct covert operations but are not allowed to defend themselves even under attack. In The Quiet American, the character "Thomas Fowler" (Michael Caine) appears to be Greene, who spent time in Vietnam.

Greene’s novel, which is first published in 1955, uses Fowler as the voice to predict where America’s involvement in Vietnam will likely go. He predicts that America will grow tired of its involvement in Vietnam and leave the native people to fend for themselves. Fowler further accurately elaborates that this will result in the natives being slaughtered by their enemies. 

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 01, 2003

Updated Last Revision: Jun 22, 2019

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