Wars are folly. Rudimentarily, we know why wars happen. We know they spring from inhumane impulses and ignorance. We know the corrupting nature of avarice and the geopolitical realities that propel conflict. We know that the lust for power is systemic and that unrestrained nationalism plays a role. We understand the psychology of war.
The impulse to war sits in front of us like a morsel of poison. Yet we bite it off and swallow it. Like Vietnam, where France clung to its colony until the bitter end and was finally routed by a people seeking the ideal we supposedly fought for in Europe—actual freedom. The hypocrisy of the epoch astonished Graham Greene and seemed worthy of a novel, The Quiet American. Greene had seen the brutality of the French close-up in Vietnam, reporting for the London Times and Le Figaro. In creating quiet Alden Pyle, a naïve and privileged American, Greene wasn’t about to let American duplicity off the hook in 1955. A decade later, America had taken over the war in France’s stead, and the tragedy of America’s own neo-imperialistic adventure began to play itself out.