The first two times that the death of David Webb's (later Jason Bourne) family is exposited, there is some attention drawn to how no one officially knows which side the plane was on.

"... By the time he reached the river the dock was blown away, his wife and children floating in the water, their bodies riddled."
"Oh, God," whispered Marie. "Whom did the plane belong to?"
"It was never identified. Hanoi disclaimed it; Saigon said it wasn't ours. Remember, Cambodia was neutral; no one wanted to be responsible. Webb had to strike out; he header for Saigon and trained for Medusa [to fight on the US side]..."
The Bourne Identity, "Epilogue"

"... Then the Vietnam action escalated and one morning a lone jet fighter—no one really knows from which side, but no one ever told Webb that—swooped down at low altitude and strafed his wife and children while they were playing in the water... As far as he was concerned that plane in Phnom Penh was North Vietnamese."
The Bourne Supremacy, "Chapter 2"

In the first case Marie explicitly asks for further information on this point, while in the second case the fact that no-one knows the plane's true affiliation is set off from the rest of the text by dashes. David's assumption that it was from Hanoi is just that: an assumption. But then we get to the third book and all of a sudden the plane was definitely from the other side.

"... One morning while the wife and kids were swimming, a stray jet from Hanoi strafed the area killing the three of them. Our man went crazy; he chucked everything and made his way to Saigon and into Medusa..."
The Bourne Ultimatum, "Chapter 3"


I suppose this question is really in two parts:

  1. Why bother throwing in the detail that the plane's side was unknown for both of the first two books? It seems to just serve to make the backstory more complicated. Yet is is given emphasis in the text.
  2. Why stop with the uncertain explanation in the third book? This was an established piece of backstory information, why change it now?

Further details

I did check Wikipedia and it claims that the plane's affiliation is unknown:

Due to Cambodia's neutrality in the war, every nation disclaimed the plane, and, therefore, no one took responsibility for the incident.

Also note that, as the wording of the sub-questions indicates, I am scoping this question to just Ludlum's trilogy of novels. They were clearly planned to be a self-contained trilogy. Plus, the later novels were written by other people, who would not be privy to the original author's thoughts about the characters.


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