A person, in this case a British reporter, Thomas Fowler, is forced out of his “uninvolvedness” to make a choice between two – often bad – alternatives. Here the choice is between communism and America, represented by Alden Pyle, an idealistic young man, who has come to Vietnam as part of a medical assistance team, sent by the US government. It soon becomes apparent that Pyle is in fact an operator for CIA, covertly arming a Vietnamese splinter group, a “third force” against both French colonialists and communists, trying to steer the war according to American interests. To Fowler America is too materialistic and “innocent” to understand other cultures. When they intervene in other countries’ affairs, they only cause suffering.
Fowles: “I had better look after Pyle. That was my first instinct to protect him. It never occurred to me that there was greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection, when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering around the world, meaning no harm. You can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them.”
This novel was published in 1955, well before US became really intangled in Vietnam, but it reads like a prophecy of what would happen 10 years later when US troops would arrive, determined to teach a rich and complex culture their politicians’ latest theories, a policy that in years to come would cause such a disaster.
“I never knew a man who had better motive for all the trouble he caused.”
The novel was filmed in 2002. It generally recieved good reviews, but I was a bit disappointed. I felt they had simplified Fowler’s complex motives and over-emphasised the triangle drama.
The film was directed by Phillip Noyce. Michael Caine did an excellent performance as Thomas Fowler. Brendan Fraser had the role as Alden Pyle.