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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, February 05, 2010

Quiet Americans in Haiti

by bert
It just so happens that I was reading the Graham Greene novel The Quiet American this past week when the news broke about this case of well-meaning Americans wreaking havoc in the Third World with the best of intentions.

Ten members of a Boise-area Baptist church led by a self-described missionary Laura Silsby were arrested trying to cross from Haiti into the Dominican Republic with 33 children. The group members say they were attempting to rescue children victimized by the earthquake last month and bring them to a Dominican orphanage. However, they admit they did not have any proper documentation to do so, and it is a fact that some children still had living parents in Haiti.

Freaky that I was just then reading Greene's 1955 novel about an idealistic but naive American agent in French Indochina. (Also a movie with Brendan Fraser as Pyle).

With simplistic and earnest ideas about how to fix things, the agent Alden Pyle victimizes Vietnamese and makes a mess that others have to clean up. Greene describes Pyle at one point in the midst of the mess as "impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance." Elsewhere the narrator, a wizened British reporter, said of Pyle "I never knew a man who had better motives for all of the trouble he caused."

Who knows the true level of ignorance or criminal intent on the part of these folks from Idaho. One emerging possibility is that the leader Silsby instigated a rash act for which the rest will have to pay.

But the novel about Indochina says best what is wrong with this picture in Haiti, and its verisimilitude (I've been itching to use that word for a week now) furthers the case that the late Greene kicked a#% as a writer.

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