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Fowler goes to the American Legation in search of Pyle, but he is not there. Instead, Fowler finds Joe, the economic attaché, and Miss Hei, who recently started working in the office. Joe explains that Pyle must be at home. Fowler makes a scene, informing Joe that Pyle is sleeping with Phuong and that his typist, Miss Hei, had arranged it. Joe defends Pyle and cautions Fowler against making further trouble. After exchanging curt words, Fowler leaves the office. He locks himself in the Legation’s air-conditioned lavatory and cries.
Leaving his affairs in the hands of Dominguez, Fowler travels north to report on the fighting in Haiphong. Orders from Hanoi state that correspondents are only allowed to go on “horizontal” raids, which involve planes flying above the range of machine-gun fire. Fowler, however, is invited to join a “vertical” raid on a B-26 bomber piloted by Captain Trouin, though he is forbidden from writing about the experience.
From the cramped interior of the bomber, Fowler observes the jungle scenery below. Fowler does not notice when the dive-bombing first begins, since the bombs fall away from the plane silently. After releasing the bombs, though, the guns engage and the plane drops suddenly and quickly. During the first dive, Fowler feels his everyday anxieties slip away. However, as the dive-bombing continues, he grows irritated. On the final bombing, the pilot takes the plane down toward a sampan (a flat-bottomed paddle boat) in a stream and fires on it. The small boat explodes, and the plane ascends to return to base. Captain Trouin takes a detour to show Fowler a beautiful view of the sunset.
Later than night, Trouin brings Fowler to an opium house. Fowler asks if the sampan had been dangerous, and Trouin explains that he has orders to shoot anything in sight, since potential dangers are everywhere. Trouin tells Fowler that napalm bombing is worse than what they did on that day’s raid. He describes the horror of watching the forest and people catch fire after dropping a napalm bomb. Trouin suddenly becomes upset, declaring that this is not a mere colonial war. He tells Fowler that the French are fighting this war for all of Europe. Fowler claims not to be involved in the war, but Trouin insists that someday he will be.
Trouin relates a story about the first time he went on a napalm raid and imagined that he was bombing his home village. He explains that he experiences a similar kind of guilt whenever he drops napalm. Otherwise, when he witnesses the atrocities that the Viet Minh perpetrate against their own people, he feels as though he’s defending Europe. After hearing Trouin describe the violence he’s witnessed, Fowler insists that this violence is why he does not get involved. But Trouin retorts that involvement is not just about reason or justice
Trouin encourages Fowler to employ a he has admired all night. Fowler takes the to his room, but she is wearing the same perfume as Phuong, and he cannot consummate the sexual act. He apologizes, and the woman attributes his sexual failure to opium.
When Fowler retreats to the Legation lavatory to cry, it is the first and only such emotional release he experiences in the novel. However, aside from being significant for its novelty, this incident is also important in that it provides yet another ironic criticism of the American personality. Fowler has largely shown himself to be an even-tempered man. For the most part, even when he has felt most frustrated with Pyle, he has not let his passions get the best of him. Fowler’s outburst at the Legation office is therefore uncharacteristic. What causes this uncharacteristic outburst? Although Fowler comes to the Legation to confront Pyle, the anger he expresses in this scene relates to him only indirectly. More frustrating in this case is the way the economic attaché calmly defends Pyle’s actions. Fowler’s fury at the attaché’s calmness becomes even more potent in the lavatory scene, where the air conditioning serves as a symbol for American temperance. Though luxurious, air conditioning is both wasteful and expensive. Like the moderate air temperature, the moderate American personality comes at a cost.
Fowler’s trip north to Haiphong demonstrates once again how the experience of war can move quickly between numbness and horror. When Fowler decides to make this trip, he does so hoping to court psychological detachment. This is precisely what he seems to get when he accepts Captain Trouin’s invitation to join a vertical raid. Dive-bombing provides an extreme sensorial experience, one that sends Fowler into a state of thoughtlessness. But this thoughtless state quickly wears off, and he suddenly feels thrust into the horror of war. Fowler finds Trouin’s arbitrary violence particularly disturbing. The pilot seems to go out of his way to bomb an apparently harmless paddle boat, and this action results in pointless civilian death. The absurdity of what follows proves even more troubling for Fowler. When Trouin decides to take a last-minute detour to admire the landscape and the sunset, he suddenly becomes “wistful.” Here, beauty serves as a numbing balm, and Fowler eventually succumbs to it as well. In the space of one raid, beauty, horror, and numbness have all rubbed up against one another.
Fowler and Trouin’s discussion of involvement proves significant for two reasons. First, it again shows that Fowler is more engaged than he believes himself to be. Second, it indicates that Fowler’s naïveté about his own engagement makes him more like Pyle than he cares to admit. In telling Fowler that the French are not simply fighting a colonial war, Trouin implies that they are fighting on his behalf as well. Thus, when Trouin , he means this sincerely and ironically. He is sincere in that he envies Fowler, who does not appear to suffer from the guilt has suffered. However, Trouin is ironic in that he knows Fowler cannot actually escape involvement. Even if Fowler does not fight, he remains complicit. This is especially true given Fowler’s emotional investment in Phuong. His relationship with her is only possible because the war brought him to Saigon in the first place. Fowler clearly has , but he doesn’t want to admit it. Whereas Pyle’s involvement is dangerous because it politically naïve, according to Trouin, Fowler is naïve in his failure to understand the inevitability of involvement. This, too, is dangerous.