Shortly after discovering that Phuong has left him for Pyle, Fowler decides to go north of Saigon, where he has friends and associates. He stays with the Gascogne Squadron, and manages to convince a pilot to fly with him while bombing the Vietnamese countryside. During this brief flight, Fowler momentarily forgets about Pyle and Phuong.
This chapter—a break from the novel’s overarching plot—can be interpreted as a moment of “temptation” for Fowler. Upset over losing his lover of two years, Phuong, Fowler drowns his sorrows in the numbing horror of war.
The flight continues, with Fowler’s pilot releasing many tons of explosives from the plane. Fowler thinks, “I hate war,” and remembers the sight of the dead bodies in the ditch at Phat Diem (see Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 1). After the bombing, the pilot informs Fowler that they’ll make a detour before landing, so as to enjoy the beautiful Vietnamese sunset. Fowler watches with amazement as the pilot looks out at the sun, apparently forgetting all about the murders he committed only a few minutes ago.
The fact that Fowler looks on his pilot with amazement suggests that Fowler is more moral than he lets on: he can’t forget about the death of innocent people so quickly or easily. This is what makes Fowler a sympathetic character: yes, he’s an alcoholic cynic, but he’s turned to drink and cynicism because he’s so sensitive.