“I went back into the garage and entered a small office at the back. There was the usual Chinese commercial calendar, a littered desk—price-lists and a bottle of gum and an adding-machine, some paper-clips, a teapot and three cups and a lot of unsharpened pencils, and for some reason an unwritten picture-postcard of the Eiffel Tower. York Harding might write in graphic abstractions about the Third Force, but this was what it came down to—this was It."

Fowler makes these observations regarding the abandoned back office in Mr. Muoi’s garage in hree, hapter 1. This quotation proves both surprising and significant due to its reference to the fictional political scholar York Harding and his theory of the Third Force. Pyle advocates strongly for this theory, which argues that ending the conflict between the Viet Minh communists and the French colonial forces will require a third power that can sway the balance. Following his beloved Harding, Pyle believes that the only force capable of achieving this would be a national democracy modeled on liberal American values, such as a commitment to progress and the protection of individuals’ civil liberties. At various points throughout the novel, Fowler rejects the Third Force theory as being too abstract and not grounded on concrete evidence. He does not, however, provide an alternative theory as to how the conflict might resolve, and this is presumably because he pretends not to have an opinion on the matter.

What makes this quotation significant, then, is that it represents the only time Fowler attempts to construct a theoretical alternative to Harding and Pyle’s Third Force. Strangely, Fowler bases his alternative theory on the mess of objects that he finds strewn across a desk. In contrast to Pyle’s “graphic abstractions,” the objects on the desk are absolutely concrete. Furthermore, in contrast to Pyle’s simplistic view in terms of discrete “forces,” Fowler sees the world as being immensely complex. Communists, for instance, may turn out to honor the sanctity of the individual more than American liberals, who would use ordinary Vietnamese people as pawns in a political battle. Dividing the world up in abstract ways proves ineffective and even dangerous. The world is complicated, and for this reason Fowler sees the incongruous jumble of as a more appropriate metaphor for the current state of the modern world. Unlike Pyle’s Third Force, the mess of objects cannot be usefully united; a paperclip and a teapot do not mean something when juxtaposed on a desk. Unable to reduce the disarray in the office to something meaningful, Fowler simply names this real-life mess “It.”