The continuation of an American National Identity rooted in the frontier produces spectral forces that risk annihilation of the planet.
Spanos 08 [William Spanos, American Exceptionalism in the Age of Globalization: The Specter of Vietnam, pg. 95-97] Huntington, too, like virtually all of the neoconservative deputies of the Bush administration, posits the dependence of a unified civilization (a mobilized national identity) on an “Other,” a rival civilization it can define itself against. In keeping with the binarist logic of this assumption, he and his fellow conservatives not only celebrated the “triumph” of American democracy over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Invoking the tradition of the American jeremiad (to which I will return in chapter 6, these nationalists also began to lament its end in that it meant the loss of an enemy that could “reinvigorate their core culture” (WAW, 20). As Huntington puts this primary agenda at the beginning of his book, “The dissolution of the Soviet Union eliminated one major and obvious threat to American security and hence reduced the salience of national identity compared to subnational, transnational, binational, and other-national identities. Historical experience and sociological analysis show that the absence of an external ‘other’ is likely to undermine unity and breed divisions within a society” (WAW, 17; 277). The attacks by Al Qaeda on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, according to Huntington (and the Bush administration), did not simply fill this disturbing void; these “militant Islamic” terrorist acts also catalyzed the disintegrating essential American national identity, that is, its Protestant “core culture”: “When Osama bin Laden attacked America and killed several thousand people, he also did two other things. He filled the vacuum created by Gorbachev with an unmistakably dangerous new enemy, and he pinpointed America’s identity as a Christian nation” (WAW, 357–358; see also 263). To reiterate, I have invoked Samuel Huntington’s latest books in my attempt to demonstrate the quite remarkable relevance of Greene’s The Quiet American to the post-9/11 global occasion, not for their uniqueness, but because they are, like York Harding’s books in the context of the Cold War, representative of the discourse of the policy makers of the Bush administration about America’s global war against terror. The difference— and it is a crucial one, as we shall see when I return to him in chapter 6—is that Huntington makes quite explicit the deeply backgrounded religiocultural or “civilizational” foundation of this extremely dangerous—but finally self-defeating—national initiative that most of his other neoconservative colleagues conceal behind the geopolitical “realism” of their global vision. I mean specifically the American exceptionalist problematic of the frontier (the Puritan “errand in the wilderness”), epitomized by the American jeremiad, that determined the theory and practice of those who inaugurated and executed the American war in Vietnam—and, in the fulfillment of its oversight, inadvertently turned that which was invisible to it into a spectral force that defeated the most powerful army in the world. As I have been suggesting by way of pointing to the indissoluble relationship between York Harding’s policy books and Alden Pyle’s American Protestant “textual attitude” and its disastrous practical consequences, Greene’s novel about America’s initial intervention in Vietnam is proleptic of the post 9/11 occasion. In perceiving the United States’ original intervention in Vietnam in terms of the perennial American exceptionalist/Cold War/Orientalist problematic, it enables us a halfcentury later to retrieve the singular actualities of the Vietnam War from the oblivion to which they were relegated by the American culture industry in its aftermath. By overdetermining the role of York Harding’s books in the clandestine terrorist practice of Alden Pyle, Greene anticipates not simply that this American exceptionalist problematic, in privileging oversight, in spatializing time/history, manifested itself in the following decade as an oversight that ultimately resulted in the devastation of an inordinate number of innocent Vietnamese people (it is estimated that about half of the two million that were killed were civilians) and of their land in the name of saving them for the free world. Insofar as this problematic was necessarily blind to the blood of its subaltern victims, it also rendered that invisible blood visible—made it a specter that haunted the American exceptionalist problematic, a specter whose visible invisibility molecularized and eventually defeated the most powerful army in the history of warfare.45 By thus anticipating these paradoxical consequences of the American exceptionalist problematic in the Vietnam War, Greene’s novel also anticipates the disastrous consequences of the exceptionalist “civilizational” problematic of the intellectual deputies of the Bush administration that is now determining America’s global “war on terror”: not simply the carnage its relentlessly single-minded (Ahabian) perspective (“staying the course,” as the president has insistently put it) is wreaking in the Islamic Middle East in the name of saving it for the “civilized world,” but also, as the sporadic and dispersed but increasingly frequent acts of a “terrorism” suggest, the emergence of a spectral force—one that promises to become global—the visible invisibility of which, as in the Vietnam War, is molecularizing the American juggernaut and thus threatens to eventually produce an impasse that is likely to terminate in the peculiar kind of defeat that America suffered in the Vietnam War—or the annihilation of the planet. Unlike the imperial and totalitarian societies it measures itself against, killing its Other—and all too many of its own—“at long range” seems to be the American way: this kind of killing—and the specter it activates— is, to put it succinctly, what renders Graham Greene’s Quiet American, especially in its focus on the remote immediacy of York Harding, a prophecy not only of what was to happen in Vietnam in the years following the United States’ violation of the Geneva Accords, but also of what is happening in the Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11. Much of the literature written by American veterans of the Vietnam War will bear witness to these unpleasant realities that Greene foresaw at the origins of America’s intervention in Vietnam. As I will show in the following two chapters, Philip Caputo’s memoir, A Rumor of War, and Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato, are, in their very resistance to its disclosures, remarkably exemplary of this witness.