Chapters 12–15

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Last Updated on February 13, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1354

Chapter 12: The Lessons of War

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MacWhite acquires a copy of Mao Tse-tung’s pamphlet on wa and reads it aloud to Monet and Tex. The Communists’ key tactics, the men decide, require opposing forces to be highly mobile, operate in darkness, and ensure that the central command is within a half-mile walk of a battle site. Using these principles, they find an area near Hanoi that is perfect for an ambush in the dark and make a powerful rocket launcher to use on the approaching Communists, who will not suspect such unconventional tactics by French forces. When Communist forces approach the French position, Wolchek orders a barrage of rockets that devastates the unsuspecting Communist soldiers—the first French victory in a long series of losses.

After the battle, however, the three men face intense criticism for their unorthodox attack from French and American generals in Hanoi. Tex is accused of violating his “neutral” status as an observer. The French are appalled that Monet would adopt the tactics “of a Communist bandit,” and Monet reminds them that the French have lost every engagement with the Communists—until now—because they have been ignorant of the appropriate tactics for Vietnam’s terrain. MacWhite supports Tex and Monet. Monet, in turn, tells his superiors that he is solely responsible for the tactical decisions and that he would use them again, because they work.

Despite this tactical victory, the French have lost their struggle in Vietnam. They evacuate Hanoi and, later, all of Vietnam. When MacWhite, Tex, and Monet see the first Vietnamese communist troops enter Hanoi, they are shocked to see some Viet Minh soldiers dressed in breech-cloths, parts of French uniforms, and carrying what appear to be homemade rifles.

Chapter 13: What Would You Do If You Were President?

It is 1954, and U Maung Swe, Burma’s best-known journalist, is at a dinner for Ambassador MacWhite. Swe is intimately familiar with the US, speaks American English fluently, and is a devout Roman Catholic and anti-Communist. Swe believes that both Britain and the US have lost their prestige in Southeast Asia—but while Britain lost it within one hundred years, the US lost it within ten.

The chapter comprises a series of questions to Swe and his answers about what has gone wrong and right with American and Russian assistance in Burma and Southeast Asia. Swe argues, for example, that the key to the United States’ effectiveness is to send aid workers who are down-to-earth people with various types of technical expertise—agriculture, education, engineering. They must not only speak the language but also live among the Burmese working class. 

As an example of ineffective help, Swe refers to a dredging project that was supposed to make trade and transportation better throughout Burma, but the dredge could not be made to work. He contrasts that failure with the success of an American couple, the Martins, who were able to teach an entire village to grow larger vegetables and preserve food by canning, an effort that turns the community into the canning center of Burma. Because of the Martins, the entire province becomes pro-American. In Swe’s view, the United States’ aid strategy is ineffective because it sends bureaucrats, who don’t have skills that can help the common people, and then must develop a bureaucracy to take care of the bureaucrats.

Swe contrasts American aid workers with their Russian counterparts by noting that Russians are usually technical experts who know the language and culture and stay in the country for as long as five years. Russia also has a very small bureaucracy compared to that of the US. Whereas Americans tend to isolate themselves from the native population, Russian aid workers immerse themselves in Burmese culture. And although Russian aid is not as good as American aid in quantity, their aid is more effective and creates more good will.

At the end of the dinner, MacWhite asks Swe what he can do to benefit Sarkhan. Swe mentions that MacWhite should seek men like John Colvin, who try to implement plans that will help the common people and therefore cultivate good will toward the US.

Chapter 14: How To Buy an American Junior Grade

Thomas Elmer Knox is an outgoing, down-to-earth agricultural expert, and every Cambodian who meets him is drawn to him. His expertise is in poultry farming, and during his travels around Cambodia, when he sees an agricultural problem, he fixes it. Every time he enters a village, he looks for ways to make its farming activities more effective. Knox is so knowledgeable about poultry that when he examines a chicken he can accurately diagnose a problem and explain to the villagers how to fix it. He enjoys his work with the Cambodians, and they return his dedication with acceptance and gratitude.

Knox travels to Phnom Penh to attend a yearly meeting of agricultural experts and the bureaucrats to whom they report to present recommendations for new projects. Knox proposes to import chickens and roosters from the US to strengthen the native stock. Knox’s superiors tell him that his recommendation is not sufficiently ambitious. Knox argues strenuously for his project and then threatens to resign and take the matter up with congressmen in the US who understand poultry farming. To his surprise, his resignation is accepted.

As Knox prepares to leave, a French diplomat tells him that, to show France’s gratitude for his efforts in Cambodia, they would like to pay for Knox to go home, routing him through the Far East, India, the Middle East, France, and England. The expenses will be paid by “counterpart funds.” Even though Knox is suspicious, he has always dreamed of such an adventure, and he accepts. He flies in first class, eats lavish meals, drinks expensive wine and champagne, and spends time in Jakarta, New Delhi, Nice, and Paris.

Weeks go by as Knox is awash in luxury living, and his anger at the nearsightedness of his superiors in Cambodia begins to dissipate. His return to the United States is on a luxury liner in which he has a suite. As he draws nearer to home, Knox discovers that his memory of Cambodia is growing vague and his anger “seemed somehow almost ridiculous.” After eight months at home, Knox cannot recall why he was so angry.

Chapter 15: The Six-Foot Swami from Savannah

Colonel Edwin B. Hillandale (“The Ragtime Kid”) is temporarily part of MacWhite’s staff in Sarkhan. While touring Haidho, Hillandale observes that there are many astrology and palm-reading shops. As it turns out, Hillandale has a diploma from the Chungking School of Occult Sciences and sees that it might be useful in Sarkhan.

Hillandale is invited to a dinner hosted by the Philippine ambassador and asked to give some palm readings for the dinner guests. His first reading is for George Swift, an obnoxious assistant to MacWhite, and the reading uncovers some unpleasant information, which causes Swift to terminate the reading abruptly. Hillandale then has a session with the Philippine prime minister that apparently goes very well.

After MacWhite’s return a few days later, MacWhite meets with Swift, who has a black eye, and Swift asks MacWhite to sign a letter of reprimand addressed to Hillandale.

MacWhite asks Hillandale to explain Swift’s black eye. Hillandale discloses that he had been asked to do a reading for the king of Sarkhan. At the time, Hillandale was aware that the Chinese Communists were mobilizing along Sarkhan’s northern border, and he intended to tell the king during the reading that the stars indicated that he should send Sarkhan’s army to the northern border.

Swift, who was responsible for setting up the meeting, was out of his office when the call to do so occured. When Hillandale confronted Swift about his failure, Swift made a remark about the unimportance of the proposed astrological reading. Hillandale, realizing that he had lost the chance to do something in both the interest of both Sarkhan and the US, punched Swift in the face.

On hearing this, MacWhite, understanding that Swift has ruined a perfect opportunity, tells Swift that he is being transferred.

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Chapters 9–11

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Chapters 16–19