The narrator pursues Lana by writing her letters in the perfect cursive taught to him by overbearing nuns, composing her sonnets, villanelles, and couplets. At her apartment, he takes her guitar and serenades her with Vietnamese songs. When the narrator talks to Bon about it at the liquor store, he asks the narrator what he’s going to do when the General finds out. The narrator doesn’t think that anyone will tell him, and he and Lana have no intention to marry. While they talk, the narrator and Bon watch a pair of clumsy teenage shoplifters. Bon reaches for the baseball bat beneath the cash register.
The narrator uses his education to appeal to Lana. He chooses to woo her in verse both because it’s romantic and because, as a singer, she would be more likely to appreciate the lyrical approach to romance. Bon, always obedient and worried about what his superiors will think, worries about how the General will respond. The narrator, too, wants to avoid upsetting the General.
The General arrives at the store at his usual time and, when he does, he and the narrator leave. He knows that the General is preoccupied with thinking about Sonny, whose article about “the alleged operations of the Fraternity and the Movement” has become well-known in the refugee community. There are rumors that the General has no money to fund the Movement. Others say that it’s merely a racket and that the money comes from drug dealing, prostitution, and a payoff from the U.S. government to keep quiet about his failure to help his people after the fall of Saigon.
The General is worried because his reputation is being sullied in Sonny’s newspaper. The Fraternity has developed the reputation of being a fraudulent scheme, which makes the General seem morally questionable and which revives his shame about leaving his people behind. The article revives questions about the General’s loyalty to his community.
The narrator drives the General to a country club in Anaheim where the Congressman has invited them. On first sight, it doesn’t look like much. The golfing green is brown and dry and the main building is a cheap-looking steakhouse. After parking the car, the narrator follows the General inside the restaurant. The maître d’ leads them to a private room on the second floor where the Congressman is holding court at a large round table. He rises to greet the General and the narrator. There are six others at the table, including Dr. Richard Hedd. There are seats reserved for the narrator and the General on either side of Dr. Hedd, and the narrator wastes no time in asking the scholar to autograph his copy of Hedd’s book.
Though the country club is unimpressive, the narrator has the wonderful opportunity of meeting his idol. When the narrator enters the room, it feels like he is entering a rarefied world, available only to men of privilege and usually available only to white men. He knows that he’s being granted entry due to his connection to the General. If the men in that room knew of his true allegiances, they would regard him as the enemy to their values that he is. Conversely, he is also someone who thoroughly understands the Western mind.
Dr. Hedd hands the book back to the narrator and regards the younger man intently. Dr. Hedd says to the group that he bets that the narrator is the only one who’s read his book in its entirety. When the topic of conversation turns to the Japanese, including their trade success in the United States as well as their causing a million Vietnamese deaths from famine during their occupation, the mood turns grave. The narrator says that the famine was a long time ago and that the refugees are more focused on becoming Americans. He says that they believe in the American values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In the 1970s, Americans began to perceive the Japanese as a potential economic threat, a feeling that would intensify in the 1980s. The talk about the Japanese is also a way for the Americans to distract attention away from their sins during the Vietnam War. The narrator, unlike the General, wants to focus on the present and wants the men in the room to regard the refugees as fellow Americans, not as historical victims.
Dr. Hedd asks the narrator if he’s happy. The narrator says that he’s not unhappy, then he turns the question over to Dr. Hedd. He says that there’s no good answer to that question. He elaborates by saying that American-style happiness is “a zero-sum game.” People, when measuring their happiness, measure it against someone else’s. The pursuit of happiness is guaranteed for all Americans, but “unhappiness is guaranteed for many.” For the narrator, the unspeakable has been spoken. A refugee like him couldn’t afford to question the American ideology, but Dr. Hedd is an English immigrant, whose heritage and accent triggers an inferiority complex in many Americans.
As in his conversations with the General, the narrator equivocates with Dr. Hedd, thereby avoiding the question. He’s afraid to say that he’s unhappy because that would make him seem ungrateful. However, Dr. Hedd’s criticism of the American concept of happiness is apt: this happiness is often defined by things such as money and a feeling of freedom, which frequently depends on other people being poor or living in conditions that are unfree.
The General intervenes and says that “happiness is not guaranteed,” but “freedom is.” The Congressman raises his glass to the comment. The General knows how to read a crowd. The narrator has already reported to Man, through the Parisian aunt, about his fund-raising success in getting money from a handful of organizations to which he’s been introduced through Claude, as well as his own contacts among Americans who’ve visited Vietnam or done tours of duty there. The small sums, which are worth much more in Thailand, are being used to meet basic necessities, such as food and clothing, while Thai security forces provide guns and ammunition. Congress pays the security forces for the weaponry.
The General responds with a platitude that is guaranteed to satisfy the crowd. He knows that the men at the table are more likely to respond to slogans than they are to complex discussions about freedom. Similarly, their Communist enemies also respond well to slogans. The narrator is able to keep Man well-informed of the General’s army’s impending arrival in Vietnam. He also lets him know that America is still complicit in trying to undermine the new Communist regime.
Over a baked Alaska, the Congressman states his reason for calling the assembly. The General has come to talk about the plight of the Vietnamese soldier. During the General’s speech, which is really a call to rally the support of South Vietnam’s old allies, Dr. Hedd interrupts him. The General, a man not accustomed to being interrupted, merely smiles. Dr. Hedd insists that there are more pressing threats—Palestine, the Red Brigade terrorists in Italy, and the Soviets, for example. The General knows to be patient with white people. He decides to use something that Dr. Hedd has written to disagree with him on his own point. The General frames the Cold War as a conflict between the Occident and the Orient, for “the Soviets are really Asiatics who have never learned Western ways.” He agrees with confronting the Soviets, which is why the South Vietnamese are fighting the Soviets’ “servants” in their country.
The General is less annoyed by the fact that Dr. Hedd doesn’t take his plight seriously than he is in being disrespected. The General is a man who is accustomed to commanding attention. This small slight is yet another of many indications that his status has been demoted since arriving in the U.S. Instead of arguing forcefully with Dr. Hedd, which he knows would be pointless given the scholar’s superior abilities in English, he cleverly uses Dr. Hedd’s own words to confirm the importance of rooting out Communism wherever it finds a place to settle. The tactic satisfies Dr. Hedd’s ego while also allowing the General to make his point.
An assistant district attorney chimes in and says that he still doesn’t understand how America lost the war. A personal injury lawyer says it was because they were “too cautious.” The Americans feared harming their reputation, not realizing that any damage caused to it wouldn’t last. He says that, if they had overlooked this insecurity, they “could have exerted overwhelming force,” showing that they deserved to win. Dr. Hedd offers to speak “the unpalatable truth” about why America lost. He says that the generals chose to fight a war of attrition instead of a war of obliteration, like their predecessors who fought the Japanese. He goes on to say that “the only kind of war that the Oriental understands and respects” is total destruction. Asians, Dr. Hedd argues, don’t put the same value on life as Westerners.
The white men at the table all offer opinions about why America lost the war, but all of their ideas affirm military power. Their assumption is that they lost due to not asserting enough of that power. In other words, they believe that they could have won if they had done the same thing but more violently. Dr. Hedd, like the Department Chair at Occidental College, speaks generically of all Asian people as “Orientals” and makes sweeping generalizations about their moral characters. The men don’t realize that these short-sighted attitudes have more to do with their loss of the war than military might.
When the Congressman asks the narrator what he thinks, he says that he disagrees with Dr. Hedd. Life is valuable to Asians, but it’s invaluable to Westerners. Dr. Hedd raises his glass and praises the narrator’s words. The Congressman then says that now is a good time to introduce the men to the country club. They leave the dining room with their cocktails, and enter the wood-paneled room that the narrator had originally been expecting. Inside are attractive young women in slinky dresses “arranged on leather sofas.” The narrator’s companion is “an enormous inflated blonde” with enameled white teeth and “hard and shiny” Nordic blue eyes. She has a Southern accent and says that she’s from Georgia. She tells the narrator that he speaks “real good English for an Oriental.” The General has a red-headed companion. The men lift glasses of champagne, and Dr. Hedd asks if he can quote the narrator in his next book. “Nothing could make me happier,” the narrator says, though he’s in fact rather unhappy.
The evening ends in a manner that seems like something out of a dream—Dr. Hedd expresses more admiration for the narrator’s words than his own, the men enter a room that resembles the country club of the narrator’s fantasy, and they spend the rest of the evening in the company of prostitutes. The narrator is unhappy, however, because this experience is incompatible with his ideology. If Sonny is a hypocrite for speaking of revolution without fighting one, the narrator is worse for decrying the excesses of capitalism while also enjoying them. His assessment that life in Asia has a “value,” or cost, is practically accurate as well, in the context of all of the bribes that were paid so that he and the General could enter the wood-paneled room.