Last Reviewed on February 13, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1348
Chapter 20: Senator, Sir . . .
Though he began his career with “a high degree of corruption,” experience has changed Senator Jonathan Brown: he has “completely lost his corruption.” Brown’s realization that the US Senate is one of the world’s most powerful political bodies causes him to become both honorable and conscientious. Over the course of three years, he becomes one of the US Senate’s most knowledgeable members regarding foreign affairs, particularly issues in Southeast Asia, and he schedules an inspection trip to the area, including Vietnam.
Once in Vietnam, Brown is accompanied on his tour by Major Cravath and Dr. Barre, an embassy staff member who will act as his interpreter. They first encounter a French officer training a group of Vietnamese in the use of the recoilless rifle. Brown has Barre ask one Vietnamese man how many times he has fired the weapon and at what targets. The Vietnamese man, a cook, answers that he has never fired the weapon, but Barre’s translation is that the Vietnamese hasn’t fired the weapon because there is not enough ammunition. Brown reacts angrily and asks why they haven’t asked for more ammunition. Cravath and the French officer agree that it would confuse Brown to tell him that the recoilless rifle is useless in Vietnam because there are no appropriate targets for the weapon.
On his return to the embassy, Brown sees two officers, one French and one American, who appear to be drunk in a roadside cafe. The officers are Monet and Wolchek, and Brown is outraged to find an American officer drunk. Not knowing who Brown is, Wolchek threatens him with a beating, and Brown retreats and returns to the embassy, where he tells Ambassador Gray that the officers should be punished. Later, Gray considers the episode pivotal in mellowing Brown for the rest of his visit.
There are two additional incidents in which Brown is not told the truth—for example, he is told that the Vietnamese make poor soldiers, and when he asks where the Communists get their soldiers, he is told they are Chinese. As Brown returns to the US, he is startled to realize that throughout his tour he has only talked to two Vietnamese nationals and two officers below the rank of general, both of whom were drunk. Brown briefly begins to doubt the validity of his observations, but he soon falls into a peaceful sleep.
On his return to the US, Brown is on the floor of the US Senate. He and Senator Corona of New Mexico are vying for time to speak, and Brown yields to Corona. Corona announces that despite the US having given four billion dollars to the French in Indo-China, they have lost most of their territory. Corona notes that this information has been given to him by a credible source, Ambassador MacWhite, who is “bitterly pessimistic” about Vietnam. MacWhite has testified that Vietnamese Communists and anti-Communists both hate the French, in part because the French are more interested in making money than helping the Vietnamese. Worse, the French have routinely given US diplomats and military personnel a false picture of how dire conditions in Vietnam really are. Brown vehemently denies the validity of these observations, telling the Senate that Corona’s source, MacWhite, isn’t even stationed in Vietnam and that his information is incorrect. Brown can report this firsthand, he says, “because, gentlemen, I was there. . . .”
Chapter 21: The Sum of Tiny Things
After news of Brown’s attack on MacWhite’s testimony is published, MacWhite defends himself in the press, but he soon receives a handwritten letter from the US Secretary of State. The letter includes a list of MacWhite’s actions since becoming ambassador, all of which are cast in a negative light. The secretary doesn’t ask for MacWhite’s resignation but does insist that...
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