Chapters 12–15

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

Chapter 12: The Lessons of War

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.

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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...

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Chapters 16–19