Once the two men enter the square, they see the full extent of the damage. Bodies lie strewn about. A woman is holding the dismembered body of her baby. The body of the man whose legs were blown off is convulsing. Pyle, who gets blood on his shoes, is horrified by the scene. Fowler places his hand on Pyle’s shoulder and forces him to look around him. Fowler tells Pyle that this square is always full of women and children at this hour, and he asks him why this time was chosen for an attack. Pyle insists that he didn’t know. There was supposed to have been a military parade, but none of his associates informed him that it had been cancelled. Fowler tells Pyle that the killing of women and children makes better press than the killing of soldiers and that General Thé would certainly benefit from the atrocity. Pyle responds that General Thé must have been deceived by the communists. Fowler leaves Pyle there and asks a trishaw driver to take him to the Quai Mytho.

Analysis

Although Fowler has previously criticized himself for how he has treated Helen and Phuong, he has never expressed the kind of self-doubt that comes to mind near the end of his conversation with Pyle. Fowler is a cynic who uses irony to distance himself from his surroundings and from other people. While Fowler has enough self-awareness to recognize his own cynicism, this moment of doubt opens a window onto a more radical kind of self-knowledge, one in which he admits that there is something valuable about Pyle’s idealism. Until now, Fowler’s negative evaluation of Pyle has stemmed primarily from his identity as an American and only secondarily as an individual. Here, however, Fowler forgets his distaste for American politics and society and evaluates Pyle as an individual. As a reporter, Fowler believes in, but he also recognizes that Pyle’s idealism may have its place. Indeed, however inappropriate Pyle’s ideas may be in the political context, Fowler realizes that his idealism may make him a more suitable long-term companion for Phuong. Fowler is thus capable, however briefly, of going beyond mere cynicism and self-pity.

Fowler’s decision not to purchase the French rubber planter’s apartment stems from the conversation he had earlier in the chapter with Pyle concerning the old colonialists. Fowler finds the Frenchman and his stereotypically European tastes old fashioned and distasteful. The engravings the planter owns come from the Paris Salon, a hugely important art exhibition from the late nineteenth century, at the height of imperialism. Not only do these engravings fetishize French art, but they also represent the very apex of a decadent European culture. The rubber planter’s book collection is also typically French What makes this man an old colonialist is the fact that he lives in Saigon as if it were simply an outpost of Paris. Fowler, a self-identified exile who harbors a great deal of hatred for Europe, finds such a lifestyle incomprehensible and abhorrent, and he refuses to buy into it in both literal and figurative senses.

The bombing at the end of the chapter represents the culmination of the political subplot involving Pyle. The event also validates the claim Fowler made in the novel’s first chapter about the danger of Pyle’s innocence. Although Pyle’s covert political interventions led directly to the destruction in the square, what is really at issue is Pyle’s failure to understand that the violence would disproportionately affect common Vietnamese citizens. When he claims that the blast had initially been scheduled for a military march, Pyle reveals his naïveté in two senses. First, he reveals the tenuous nature of his connection with General Thé, who decided to go ahead with the bombing without informing his American contact. Second, and more important, Pyle shows that, in his zeal to make a political statement by killing military personnel, he had forgotten to account for the women and children who would have congregated in the square to watch the march regardless. Fowler sees Pyle’s failure to understand this as a form of that cannot be corrected

Fowler’s critique of Pyle’s innocence is part of a larger critique of something known as American exceptionalism. This term refers to the idea that the United States is unique in the world because of its democratic ideals and commitment to personal liberty. Pyle symbolizes American exceptionalism in that he uses his fervent belief in democracy to legitimize his actions, no matter the impact. However noble Pyle’s American ideals may appear, though, they do have a dark side. With respect to the bombing, Fowler finds it abominable that Pyle made sure to warn American citizens to stay away from the blast site but failed to think about the Vietnamese civilians who might be injured or killed there. This kind of double-standard indicates two things. First, Pyle unconsciously devalues the lives of Vietnamese people. Second, despite Pyle’s strong desire to intervene in foreign affairs, he wishes to avoid all consequences that might stem from his actions. Fowler understands the hypocrisy of American exceptionalism, and the reader can hear this judgement clearly in his darkly sarcastic rhetorical question to Pyle: “There mustn’t be any American casualties, must there?”