The historical context of The Quiet American is rather turbulent. The film is set in the early 1950s, amidst the First Indochina War. Known as the Anti-French Resistance War in Vietnam, this war lasted between 1946 and 1954. It involved the French military on one side and Viet Minh government on the other side. Viet Minh was an organization that united nationalist organizations in Vietnam, with the focus on resisting imperialism, freeing Vietnam from the occupation by the French, and, later, fighting the army of South Vietnam, which was supported by the military forces of the United States. North Vietnam was politically the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. It was founded in 1945 and its president was Ho Chi Minh, a revolutionary leader of Communist ideology.
Although the war was officially fought between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and France, behind the scenes major powers fought for their dominance over Vietnam in the Cold War. The former USSR backed Ho Chi Minh, while the French were initially backed by the United States. With time, the United States, which started seeing Vietnam as a politically important region in Asia, stopped helping the French and got involved as an independent player. They backed the pro-Western South Vietnam and, when the latter turned out no longer capable of defending South Vietnam against Ho Chi Minh, fully intruded in the war. General Trinh Minh The, who first broke from the South Vietnamese forces to fight with both French and Viet Minh and later integrated into them, was heavily supported by the U.S.
Fowler’s reaction to Pyle’s words that the Vietnamese need democracy is skeptical. He says that freedom is a Western word. He then reflects on what freedom means for the Vietnamese. If this is about freedom to vote, Fowler says, the Vietnamese would vote for Ho Chi Minh.
When Fowler journeys up to Phat Diem, he becomes a witness to the outcomes of horrible massacre. As the reporter sees lots of corpses, he asks who is responsible for this massacre. The French attribute the massacre to the Communists, but Fowler rightfully points out that this goes against their interests. So there might be some Third Force who did this.
General The is a ruthless leader of the Third Force, i.e. the nationalist-oriented army, which is supported by the United States. General The, as is shown in the film, is fully guided by the U.S. foreign intelligence, who thoroughly disguise their leading role behind General The. Pyle is one of the leaders of the U.S. foreign intelligence, and he personally designs the terrorist acts and oversees how they are executed (as, for example, is clear from his trip to Phat Diem and his presence in Saigon as the time the terrorist acts take place), controls the illegal import of explosives, and organizes and oversees anti-communist propaganda in Vietnam.
Fowler, Pyle, and Phuong represent allegory. Fowler represents the UK and the Old Europe, very much conservative, supporting colonialism, and using Asia for its benefits (beautiful women, pristine nature, warm climate, etc). Fowler symbolically does not see his life without Phuong (Vietnam) and his greatest motivation is to keep her beside him in order to prolong his own life and vigor. His motivation is selfish. However, at the end, after he reveals the truth behind Pyle, he also develops a noble motivation – if Pyle is murdered, he believes, Americans might stop arranging terrorist acts. His two motivations are mixed by the end of the film. Pyle represents American pragmatism, so his behavior is overtly pragmatic in politics. His attitude to Fowler is friendly but deceitful, and virtually his motivations are all centered on achieving his political and personal aims. Phuong represents poor Vietnam, a country which is a toy in the hands of great powers, she adheres to the one who promises more.