The Quiet American

Jack Light – Newcomb Secondary College 

“Conflict is born of ignorance, intolerance and fear.”

Dear Phuong,

I write this letter as I lie here, back in this strange land of England, a place I fell in exile from, even more so now than in my most tragic and confronting of nightmares. Tonight marks a year since my retirement. Subsequent to Helen sending me a letter, informing me of her illness, I made a decision to remove myself from Vietnam, a place that had become a hot spot for conflict. I grew tired of hearing about bombings, grenades, gunfire, communists and the naïve theory that democracy should be forced upon a nation that would simply proceed with their lives regardless.

All of this complemented a decision; of course, to come back here, and care for Helen as she bravely battled, though ultimately succumbed this past Tuesday, to the tumour which had spread through her body much like the monsoonal rains of Vietnam. As she lay in her final moments, she said nothing. I froze, doing little; all I could muster with all I had left was the faintest of smiles. Yet after everything I had done to that woman, everything she had gone through and was still going through, there she was, smiling back at me with the vigor and energy of a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, resemblant of you, Phuong. She had the same aura surrounding her as our wedding day. I was on the brink of my concerns of seeing out the rest of my days alone, I also worried about you as I pondered if you have been treated well in my absence, perhaps you have ended up with one of those Americans or in the House of 500 Girls. None of which would have happened if I had not been so foolish.

It has been a while since I last lay alongside you, Phuong. However, I am more than aware that love was never involved in our relationship; I had long considered that, perhaps, you were fond of Pyle. When considering what you knew of him, it comes into sight that it was quite reasonable. After all, he was young, tall, mildly good looking, well-educated and most of all, he could provide security, something I could not. However, Pyle and his government failed to inform everyone of how they planned to force a democratic society upon Vietnam, upon your people. Pyle claimed he was involved in the ‘Economic Aid Mission’, nothing more than a euphemism to eradicate any threats to democracy, at any cost, including the lives of innocent Vietnamese people far more worthy of life than I, proving not all core values are truly logical.

I stood alongside long enough as a reporter, unwilling to take sides, at any cost. But remember this, Phuong; one has to take sides, if one is to remain human. It was not I who stabbed Pyle, Phuong, but what needed to be done was done. I did contribute to his demise; however, I feel the end justified the means. Perhaps I felt similar to how Pyle did on the day of the bombings at the Town Square as he watched your people be utterly wiped out at the accord of his government, meanwhile he appeared more concerned by the small spatter of blood which had come onto the bottom of his trousers, rather than tend to those still alive subsequent to their community being destroyed due to Pyle’s intolerance and perhaps, fear of a nation not willing to embrace a way of life which does not suit them. As innocent as he may have seemed.

My time has elapsed, Phuong. I have never believed in a god, perhaps if one does exist, he punished me for my lack of faith the night Pyle died. I looked up to the heavens that night for someone to throw him a lifeline, to throw him a lifejacket as he drowned in the ocean of ignorance regarding General The and the idea of a Third Force, and drunk with ideas about democracy. Perhaps Pyle was punishing me portraying a lack of awareness regarding his assignation which was to follow later that night. All speculation, of course, all questions I don’t believe I will seek the answers to any longer. Perhaps in death I will find out the answers sooner.

This will be the last time you hear from me, Phuong. I will not wake at dawn as I have confessed my remorse and revealed what I know of myself. I think I will run towards the finish, just like the coward who runs towards the enemy and wins a medal. I know that Helen is okay and that you will be better off without the burden of me. Fear fuelled many of the dilemmas that occurred throughout my life, it was my ignorance and intolerance which led to my helplessness to prevent it.

I am sorry for everything I have done, I am sorry if I ever gave you false hope.

Thomas Fowler.


Jack Light is a year 12 student at Newcomb Secondary College.