Chapters 16–19

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Last Reviewed on February 13, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1373

Chapter 16: Captain Boning, USN

At a weapons conference in Southeast Asia, the head US negotiator is Solomon Asch, a tough former union negotiator who has been asked to convince several Asian countries to allow the US to install nuclear and conventional weapons in their countries. Asch understands that several countries—India, Burma, and Thailand in particular—will likely oppose having these weapons in their countries. Among Asch’s negotiating team are Ambassador MacWhite and a United States Navy weapons expert, Captain Boning, as well as two US foreign service officers, Dooling and Anderson.

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Asch tells his negotiating team that there will be dinners and cocktail parties every night, but they are to avoid the cocktail parties altogether and attend only two dinners per week. Dooling objects on the bases that avoiding the social gatherings will offend the Asians and that Americans will miss opportunities to pick up intelligence during social interactions. Asch rejects these arguments, saying that nothing useful can come from so much socializing.

During the first week of negotiations, MacWhite and Captain Boning do very well. Political issues are directed to MacWhite and weapons-related questions to Boning. The British representatives, however, point out to Asch that the Asians are not accustomed to dealing with weapons issues on a national level: they are used to thinking in terms of provincial needs. Asch responds that the Asians must be treated as if they are fully capable of handling the weapons issue as representatives of their entire country. If they think they are being treated as inferiors, Asch argues, they will never agree to the United States’ proposals.

The meetings in the second week do not go as well, and Asch is puzzled. He decides that the problem is Captain Boning, who seems tired and answers questions hesitantly. When Asch confronts Boning and asks if he is tired from “living it up,” Boning denies this emphatically. He says that the questions are becoming more difficult to answer quickly because he has to think about what information is public and what is still classified.

It is revealed to the reader, however, that Boning is tired because he has been seeing a Hong Kong professor named Ruby Tsung, who was educated both in the US and at a “special school in Russia.” At first, she is simply a willing guide, but after two weeks, she and Boning spend the night together. During the next day’s negotiations, Boning, his eyes barely open, hesitates to answer a crucial question from the Indian representative about nuclear bomb safety. The Asian representatives mutter sarcastically about Boning, and Asch immediately recognizes that they have lost confidence that the US is telling them the facts about the weapons. The negotiations fail.

Chapter 17: The Ugly American

Homer Atkins is presenting his recommendations for Vietnam’s infrastructure projects to American and French bureaucrats. He has been roaming Vietnam’s countryside for months and has concluded that what Vietnam needs more than anything are improvement projects. The work could be carried out on a small scale by the Vietnamese themselves and would require only native materials. The bureaucrats, however, believe that Vietnam needs dams and military roads, large projects that would cost millions of dollars. Atkins uses the trail from Hanoi to what is now South Vietnam as an example of what people can do without outside help, a suggestion that enrages the bureaucrats, who believe such a thing cannot be done. Atkins has seen this trail in his travels, but the bureaucrats deny its existence and respond that the Vietnamese will decide what they need, not Atkins. 

Present in this meeting is Ambassador MacWhite, who likes Atkins’s recommendations, and the two continue to talk...

(The entire section contains 1373 words.)

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Chapters 20–22