President Alden Pyle
Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher comments on George W. Bush’s rather surprising invocation of Graham Greene in his speech earlier this month to the VFW in Kansas City:
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Greene’s novel, in any case, pits the cynical, apolitical newspaperman (who has a Vietnamese girlfriend and an opium habit) against the Pyle character, who seems to be a U.S. aid official linked to the CIA (and purportedly based on the legendary Edward Lansdale). Pyle is attempting to find a “third force, ” a democratic alternative to the French-backed puppet government and the Communist insurgents. With brilliant writing, biting humor and keen insight on local politics and customs (based on Greene’s research there), the novel perfectly anticipates the massive U.S. urge to intervene deeply and then escalate.
… Pyle ultimately assists an urban bombing to be blamed on Viet Minh insurgents, and many civilians die. Greene observes that “a woman sat on the ground with what was left of her baby in her lap; with a kind of modesty she had covered it with her straw peasant hat.” Fowler asks Pyle how many such deaths he would accept in “building a national democratic front.” Pyle responds: “Anyway, they died in the right cause. … They died for democracy.”
Bush would never say something like that but plenty of Greene’s comments about Pyle would apply to him. (Philip Noyce, director of the recent film based on the book, has said “Bush is the ultimate Alden Pyle.”) Greene’s description of the character even sounds like the young Bush, with a crew cut and a “wide campus gaze.” If only he was merely “reading the Sunday supplements at home and following the baseball” instead of mucking around in foreign lands.