Richard is traveling with two American journalists, both named Charles. One is a redhead and one is “plump.” They have been traveling a long time, and the Americans smell bad. Richard dislikes the redhead, who asks about the war’s one dead white man – an Italian oil worker – and ignores the thousands of dead Africans. Richard has learned that a rule of Western journalism is that “one hundred dead black people equal one dead black person.”
Adichie expands the lens of her story through these foreign journalists, showing how the world (particularly Americans) viewed the Biafran conflict. Richard’s “rule of Western journalism” is unfortunately still very relevant.
The Americans ask about the women in Nigeria, and Richard defensively mentions Kainene. They reach the refugee camp and the Americans are horrified to see a group of children roasting two rats. The redhead mutters racist comments and says he wants to see the “real Biafrans,” who will want to talk about the cause instead of just food. He demands that Richard take him to another refugee camp.
The Americans, particularly the redhead, already have a narrative of the war in mind, and they are just trying to find facts to fit their predisposed worldview. Richard is eager to distance himself from these other white men and show that he is a “real” Biafran.
The redhead interviews a woman and marvels at her patriotism, saying “the Biafran propaganda machine is great.” Richard says that there is no propaganda – the resistance is strong because the Nigerians kill civilians. The redhead mocks Richard for saying “we” when he describes the Biafrans, but the “plump one” tries to befriend Richard and seems embarrassed by his colleague.
Richard is perhaps being naïve in claiming to be a Biafran, but he certainly has greater experience and sympathy with the Biafrans than the redhead does. There is definitely Biafran propaganda, but there is also desperation and the uniting force of the Igbo massacres.
Richard takes the Americans to lunch and then to the airstrip. A plane flies by and fires at them as they wait for their plane, but the airport manager acts like it is nothing to worry about. They watch a plane flying in relief, and the “plump one” comments on how mean the pilots are to the men unloading the planes, as the pilots are being paid thousands for their work.
These are the pilots flying in relief to the Biafrans. They are justifiably tense because the Nigerians fire even at relief planes, but the pilots also dehumanize the Biafrans and seem to ignore their plight.
Richard gets angry at the redhead about America, which is doing nothing while Biafrans are dying. The redhead retorts that people are dying everywhere – his own brother’s body was just returned from Vietnam. After the two Americans get on their plane and leave, Richard comes up with the title for his book: “The World Was Silent When We Died.” It will be an angry condemnation of how the world ignored Biafra.
With the mention of Vietnam, Adichie zooms out to remind us of another conflict resulting in thousands of deaths, supported by a colonial power (America) with economic interests in the region. It now seems likely that Richard is the author of the “The World Was Silent When We Died” sections.
Richard goes home and tells Kainene his title. She is wary of the word “we,” and he counters that the Nigerian bombs do not care about British passports. Kainene has been happier and laughing more lately, and she and Olanna are close again. She wasn’t even angry or resentful when Richard and Olanna finally saw each other again.
Kainene rightfully questions Richard’s identification with the Biafrans. He is in as much danger as they are from bombs, but he still has the privilege of leaving if he wants to, and he was not in danger during the Igbo pogrom. The sisters’ relationship, the most important of the book, is the one that best survives the war.
There is a section from The World Was Silent When We Died. The author’s epilogue is a poem, modeled after one of Okeoma’s. The poem is about children with kwashiorkor, and rich Westerners looking at pictures of them and then returning to their happy lives.
Adichie now gets more pointed in her direct critiques of the reader. By showing such intimate and personal suffering and story arcs, Adichie reminds us that indifference to others’ pain can be an enormous evil in the world.