War mixes everything up. Or maybe everything is already mixed up and war just jumbles it around. Love and lust and vulnerability; ambition and power and youth. Ideologies and instincts, all shaken together and served upon a platter before a backdrop of steamy jungles or quiet dehydrated mountains in the third world.
War is a third world affair; it has been now for generations. Theaters collapsed in upon themselves; fire-bombed towns; grand old cities occupied by crisply dressed soldiers drinking Champagne and dancing with elegant ladies dressed in white – concentration camps filled with the college educated, those were the wars of our grandfathers. Our wars, the wars that our fathers started are the wars of villagers against peasants – the under-trained against the poorly armed. Child soldiers with bloodshot eyes pointing an AK-47 at a passing car; an explosion planted in a market to kill vendors sitting cross-legged in front of a pile of dried fish. With an occasional drone strike to accent the difference, making it somehow absurd.
The Quiet American is about this kind of war – war in third world Asia, Vietnam specifically. Rice farmers fighting street thugs. It is the story of a journalist and his love for a local girl which brings him into competition with a naïve young American. It’s a simple book – a simple story. Perhaps too simple, but well-enough written to elicit emotion.
I made common cause, because we all know the types – those of us who know modern wars. Four of them, I think, for me – the wars I have known. The camps full of fly-covered children, bodies heaped in a pile as their blood drains into a small river seeking an exit. The jaded journalist, the ambitious diplomat, grandiose plans of nations built upon a foundation of the imperfect; like an oil painter swiping away reality with each pass of the brush, making her painting plain; cellophane wrapped like the west sees its wars.
The book did take a surprising ending, especially for those who have seen the movie. I won’t spoil it; but I will say that sometimes a sad ending can also be happy, and vice versa too.