CHAPTER 19 - COLONEL CATHCART
(AnyBooksFree) CHAPTER 19 - COLONEL CATHCART
Colonel Cathcart was a slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man of thirty-six who
lumbered when he walked and wanted to be a general. He was dashing and dejected,
poised and chagrined. He was complacent and insecure, daring in the administrative
stratagems he employed to bring himself to the attention of his superiors and craven
in his concern that his schemes might all backfire. He was handsome and
unattractive, a swashbuckling, beefy, conceited man who was putting on fat and was
tormented chronically by prolonged seizures of apprehension. Colonel Cathcart was
conceited because he was a full colonel with a combat command at the age of only
thirty-six; and Colonel Cathcart was dejected because although he was already
thirty-six he was still only a full colonel.
Colonel Cathcart was impervious to absolutes. He could measure his own progress only
in relationship to others, and his idea of excellence was to do something at least as
well as all the men his own age who were doing the same thing even better. The fact
that there were thousands of men his own age and older who had not even attained
the rank of major enlivened him with foppish delight in his own remarkable worth; on
the other hand, the fact that there were men of his own age and younger who were
already generals contaminated him with an agonizing sense of failure and made him
gnaw at his fingernails with an unappeasable anxiety that was even more intense than
Colonel Cathcart was a very large, pouting, broadshouldered man with close-cropped
curly dark hair that was graying at the tips and an ornate cigarette holder that he
purchased the day before he arrived in Pianosa to take command of his group. He
displayed the cigarette holder grandly on every occasion and had learned to
manipulate it adroitly. Unwittingly, he had discovered deep within himself a fertile
aptitude for smoking with a cigarette holder. As far as he could tell, his was the only
cigarette holder in the whole Mediterranean theater of operations, and the thought
was both flattering and disquieting. He had no doubts at all that someone as debonair
and intellectual as General Peckem approved of his smoking with a cigarette holder,
even though the two were in each other's presence rather seldom, which in a way was
very lucky, Colonel Cathcart recognized with relief, since General Peckem might not
have approved of his cigarette holder at all. When such misgivings assailed Colonel
Cathcart, he choked back a sob and wanted to throw the damned thing away, but he
was restrained by his unswerving conviction that the cigarette holder never failed to
embellish his masculine, martial physique with a high gloss of sophisticated heroism
that illuminated him to dazzling advantage among all the other full colonels in the
American Army with whom he was in competition. Although how could he be sure?
Colonel Cathcart was indefatigable that way, an industrious, intense, dedicated
military tactician who calculated day and night in the service of himself. He was his
own sarcophagus, a bold and infallible diplomat who was always berating himself
disgustedly for all the chances he had missed and kicking himself regretfully for all
the errors he had made. He was tense, irritable, bitter and smug. He was a valorous
opportunist who pounced hoggishly upon every opportunity Colonel Korn discovered
for him and trembled in damp despair immediately afterward at the possible
consequences he might suffer. He collected rumors greedily and treasured gossip. He
believed all the news he heard and had faith in none. He was on the alert constantly
for every signal, shrewdly sensitive to relationships and situations that did not exist.
He was someone in the know who was always striving pathetically to find out what was
going on. He was a blustering, intrepid bully who brooded inconsolably over the
terrible ineradicable impressions he knew he kept making on people of prominence
who were scarcely aware that he was even alive.
Everybody was persecuting him. Colonel Cathcart lived by his wits in an unstable,
arithmetical world of black eyes and feathers in his cap, of overwhelming imaginary
triumphs and catastrophic imaginary defeats. He oscillated hourly between anguish
and exhilaration, multiplying fantastically the grandeur of his victories and
exaggerating tragically the seriousness of his defeats. Nobody ever caught him
napping. If word reached him that General Dreedle or General Peckem had been seen
smiling, frowning, or doing neither, he could not make himself rest until he had found
an acceptable interpretation and grumbled mulishly until Colonel Korn persuaded him
to relax and take things easy.
Lieutenant Colonel Korn was a loyal, indispensable ally who got on Colonel Cathcart's
nerves. Colonel Cathcart pledged eternal gratitude to Colonel Korn for the ingenious
moves he devised and was furious with him afterward when he realized they might
not work. Colonel Cathcart was greatly indebted to Colonel Korn and did not like him
at all. The two were very close. Colonel Cathcart was jealous of Colonel Korn's
intelligence and had to remind himself often that Colonel Korn was still only a
lieutenant colonel, even though he was almost ten years older than Colonel Cathcart,
and that Colonel Korn had obtained his education at a state university. Colonel
Cathcart bewailed the miserable fate that had given him for an invaluable assistant
someone as common as Colonel Korn. It was degrading to have to depend so
thoroughly on a person who had been educated at a state university. If someone did
have to become indispensable to him, Colonel Cathcart lamented, it could just as
easily have been someone wealthy and well groomed, someone from a better family
who was more mature than Colonel Korn and who did not treat Colonel Cathcart's
desire to become a general as frivolously as Colonel Cathcart secretly suspected
Colonel Korn secretly did.
Colonel Cathcart wanted to be a general so desperately he was willing to try anything,
even religion, and he summoned the chaplain to his office late one morning the week
after he had raised the number of missions to sixty and pointed abruptly down
toward his desk to his copy of *The *Saturday Evening Post*. The colonel wore his
khaki shirt collar wide open, exposing a shadow of tough black bristles of beard on
his egg-white neck, and had a spongy hanging underlip. He was a person who never
tanned, and he kept out of the sun as much as possible to avoid burning. The colonel
was more than a head taller than the chaplain and over twice as broad, and his
swollen, overbearing authority made the chaplain feel frail and sickly by contrast.
'Take a look, Chaplain,' Colonel Cathcart directed, screwing a cigarette into his
holder and seating himself affluently in the swivel chair behind his desk.
'Let me know what you think.'
The chaplain looked down at the open magazine compliantly and saw an editorial
spread dealing with an American bomber group in England whose chaplain said prayers
in the briefing room before each mission. The chaplain almost wept with happiness
when he realized the colonel was not going to holler at him. The two had hardly
spoken since the tumultuous evening Colonel Cathcart had thrown him out of the
officers' club at General Dreedle's bidding after Chief White Halfoat had punched
Colonel Moodus in the nose. The chaplain's initial fear had been that the colonel
intended reprimanding him for having gone back into the officers' club without
permission the evening before. He had gone there with Yossarian and Dunbar after
the two had come unexpectedly to his tent in the clearing in the woods to ask him to
join them. Intimidated as he was by Colonel Cathcart, he nevertheless found it easier
to brave his displeasure than to decline the thoughtful invitation of his two new
friends, whom he had met on one of his hospital visits just a few weeks before and
who had worked so effectively to insulate him against the myriad social vicissitudes
involved in his official duty to live on closest terms of familiarity with more than nine
hundred unfamiliar officers and enlisted men who thought him an odd duck.
The chaplain glued his eyes to the pages of the magazine. He studied each
photograph twice and read the captions intently as he organized his response to the
colonel's question into a grammatically complete sentence that he rehearsed and
reorganized in his mind a considerable number of times before he was able finally to
muster the courage to reply.
'I think that saying prayers before each mission is a very moral and highly laudatory
procedure, sir,' he offered timidly, and waited.
'Yeah,' said the colonel. 'But I want to know if you think they'll work here.'
'Yes, sir,' answered the chaplain after a few moments. 'I should think they would.'
'Then I'd like to give it a try.' The colonel's ponderous, farinaceous cheeks were
tinted suddenly with glowing patches of enthusiasm. He rose to his feet and began
walking around excitedly. 'Look how much good they've done for these people in
England. Here's a picture of a colonel in *The *Saturday Evening Post* whose
chaplain conducts prayers before each mission. If the prayers work for him, they
should work for us. Maybe if we say prayers, they'll put *my* picture in *
The Saturday Evening Post*.'
The colonel sat down again and smiled distantly in lavish contemplation. The chaplain
had no hint of what he was expected to say next. With a pensive expression on his
oblong, rather pale face, he allowed his gaze to settle on several of the high bushels
filled with red plum tomatoes that stood in rows against each of the walls. He
pretended to concentrate on a reply. After a while he realized that he was staring at
rows and rows of bushels of red plum tomatoes and grew so intrigued by the question
of what bushels brimming with red plum tomatoes were doing in a group commander's
office that he forgot completely about the discussion of prayer meetings until
Colonel Cathcart, in a genial digression, inquired:
'Would you like to buy some, Chaplain? They come right off the farm Colonel Korn
and I have up in the hills. I can let you have a bushel wholesale.'
'Oh, no, sir. I don't think so.'
'That's quite all right,' the colonel assured him liberally. 'You don't have to. Milo is
glad to snap up all we can produce. These were picked only yesterday. Notice how
firm and ripe they are, like a young girl's breasts.'
The chaplain blushed, and the colonel understood at once that he had made a mistake.
He lowered his head in shame, his cumbersome face burning. His fingers felt gross
and unwieldy. He hated the chaplain venomously for being a chaplain and making a
coarse blunder out of an observation that in any other circumstances, he knew, would
have been considered witty and urbane. He tried miserably to recall some means of
extricating them both from their devastating embarrassment. He recalled instead
that the chaplain was only a captain, and he straightened at once with a shocked and
outraged gasp. His cheeks grew tight with fury at the thought that he had just been
duped into humiliation by a man who was almost the same age as he was and still only
a captain, and he swung upon the chaplain avengingly with a look of such murderous
antagonism that the chaplain began to tremble. The colonel punished him sadistically
with a long, glowering, malignant, hateful, silent stare.
'We were speaking about something else,' he reminded the chaplain cuttingly at last.
'We were not speaking about the firm, ripe breasts of beautiful young girls but about
something else entirely. We were speaking about conducting religious services in the
briefing room before each mission. Is there any reason why we can't?'
'No, sir,' the chaplain mumbled.
'Then we'll begin with this afternoon's mission.' The colonel's hostility softened
gradually as he applied himself to details. 'Now, I want you to give a lot of thought to
the kind of prayers we're going to say. I don't want anything heavy or sad. I'd like
you to keep it light and snappy, something that will send the boys out feeling pretty
good. Do you know what I mean? I don't want any of this Kingdom of God or Valley of
Death stuff. That's all too negative. What are you making such a sour face for?'
'I'm sorry, sir,' the chaplain stammered. 'I happened to be thinking of the Twentythird Psalm just as you said that.'
'How does that one go?'
'That's the one you were just referring to, sir. "The Lord is my shepherd; I -" '
'That's the one I was just referring to. It's out. What else have you got?'
' "Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto " '
'No waters,' the colonel decided, blowing ruggedly into his cigarette holder after
flipping the butt down into his combed-brass ash tray
. 'Why don't we try something
musical? How about the harps on the willows?'
'That has the rivers of Babylon in it, sir,' the chaplain re "there we sat down, yea, we
wept, when we remembered Zion." '
'Zion? Let's forget about that one right now. I'd like to know how that one even got
in there. Haven't you got anything humorous that stays away from waters and valleys
and God? I'd like to keep away from the subject of religion altogether if we can.'
The chaplain was apologetic. 'I'm sorry, sir, but just about all the prayers I know are
rather somber in tone and make at least some passing reference to God.'
'Then let's get some new ones. The men are already doing enough bitching about the
missions I send them on without our rubbing it in with any sermons about God or
death or Paradise. Why can't we take a more positive approach? Why can't we all
pray for something good, like a tighter bomb pattern, for example? Couldn't we pray
for a tighter bomb pattern?'
'Well, yes, sir, I suppose so,' the chaplain answered hesitantly. 'You wouldn't even
need me if that's all you wanted to do. You could do that yourself.'
'I know I could,' the colonel responded tartly. 'But what do you think you're here
for? I could shop for my own food, too, but that's Milo's job, and that's why he's
doing it for every group in the area. Your job is to lead us in prayer, and from now on
you're going to lead us in a prayer for a tighter bomb pattern before every mission.
Is that clear? I think a tighter bomb pattern is something really worth praying for.
It will be a feather in all our caps with General Peckem. General Peckem feels it
makes a much nicer aerial photograph when the bombs explode close together.'
'General Peckem, sir?'
'That's right, Chaplain,' the colonel replied, chuckling paternally at the chaplain's
look of puzzlement. 'I wouldn't want this to get around, but it looks like General
Dreedle is finally on the way out and that General Peckem is slated to replace him.
Frankly, I'm not going to be sorry to see that happen. General Peckem is a very good
man, and I think we'll all be much better off under him. On the other hand, it might
never take place, and we'd still remain under General Dreedle. Frankly, I wouldn't be
sorry to see that happen either, because General Dreedle is another very good man,
and I think we'll all be much better off under him too. I hope you're going to keep all
this under your hat, Chaplain. I wouldn't want either one to get the idea I was
throwing my support on the side of the other.'
'That's good,' the colonel exclaimed, and stood up jovially. 'But all this gossip isn't
getting us into *The Saturday Evening Post*, eh, Chaplain? Let's see what kind of
procedure we can evolve. Incidentally, Chaplain, not a word about this beforehand to
Colonel Korn. Understand?'
Colonel Cathcart began tramping back and forth reflectively in the narrow corridors
left between his bushels of plum tomatoes and the desk and wooden chairs in the
center of the room. 'I suppose we'll have to keep you waiting outside until the
briefing is over, because all that information is classified. We can slip you in while
Major Danby is synchronizing the watches. I don't think there's anything secret
about the right time. We'll allocate about a minute and a half for you in the schedule.
Will a minute and a half be enough?'
'Yes, sir. If it doesn't include the time necessary to excuse the atheists from the
room and admit the enlisted men.'
Colonel Cathcart stopped in his tracks. 'What atheists?' he bellowed defensively, his
whole manner changing in a flash to one of virtuous and belligerent denial. 'There are
no atheists in my outfit! Atheism is against the law, isn't it?'
'It isn't?' The colonel was surprised. 'Then it's un-American, isn't it?'
'I'm not sure, sir,' answered the chaplain.
'Well, I am!' the colonel declared. 'I'm not going to disrupt our religious services
just to accommodate a bunch of lousy atheists. They're getting no special privileges
from me. They can stay right where they are and pray with the rest of us. And
what's all this about enlisted men? Just how the hell do they get into this act?'
The chaplain felt his face flush. 'I'm sorry, sir. I just assumed you would want the
enlisted men to be present, since they would be going along on the same mission.'
'Well, I don't. They've got a God and a chaplain of their own, haven't they?'
'What are you talking about? You mean they pray to the same God we do?'
'And He listens?'
'I think so, sir.'
'Well, I'll be damned,' remarked the colonel, and he snorted to himself in quizzical
amusement. His spirits drooped suddenly a moment later, and he ran his hand
nervously over his short, black, graying curls. 'Do you really think it's a good idea to
let the enlisted men in?' he asked with concern.
'I should think it only proper, sir.'
'I'd like to keep them out,' confided the colonel, and began cracking his knuckles
savagely as he wandered back and forth. 'Oh, don't get me wrong, Chaplain. It isn't
that I think the enlisted men are dirty, common and inferior. It's that we just don't
have enough room. Frankly, though, I'd just as soon the officers and enlisted men
didn't fraternize in the briefing room. They see enough of each other during the
mission, it seems to me. Some of my very best friends are enlisted men, you
understand, but that's about as close as I care to let them come. Honestly now,
Chaplain, you wouldn't want your sister to marry an enlisted man, would you?'
'My sister is an enlisted man, sir,' the chaplain replied.
The colonel stopped in his tracks again and eyed the chaplain sharply to make certain
he was not being ridiculed. 'Just what do you mean by that remark, Chaplain? Are you
trying to be funny?'
'Oh, no, sir,' the chaplain hastened to explain with a look of excruciating discomfort.
'She's a master sergeant in the Marines.'
The colonel had never liked the chaplain and now he loathed and distrusted him. He
experienced a keen premonition of danger and wondered if the chaplain too were
plotting against him, if the chaplain's reticent, unimpressive manner were really just
a sinister disguise masking a fiery ambition that, way down deep, was crafty and
unscrupulous. There was something funny about the chaplain, and the colonel soon
detected what it was. The chaplain was standing stiffly at attention, for the colonel
had forgotten to put him at ease. Let him stay that way, the colonel decided
vindictively, just to show him who was boss and to safeguard himself against any loss
of dignity that might devolve from his acknowledging the omission.
Colonel Cathcart was drawn hypnotically toward the window with a massive, dull stare
of moody introspection. The enlisted men were always treacherous, he decided. He
looked downward in mournful gloom at the skeet-shooting range he had ordered built
for the officers on his headquarters staff, and he recalled the mortifying afternoon
General Dreedle had tongue-lashed him ruthlessly in front of Colonel Korn and Major
Danby and ordered him to throw open the range to all the enlisted men and officers
on combat duty. The skeet-shooting range had been a real black eye for him, Colonel
Cathcart was forced to conclude. He was positive that General Dreedle had never
forgotten it, even though he was positive that General Dreedle didn't even remember
it, which was really very unjust, Colonel Cathcart lamented, since the idea of a skeetshooting range itself should have been a real feather in his cap, even though it had
been such a real black eye. Colonel Cathcart was helpless to assess exactly how much
ground he had gained or lost with his goddam skeet-shooting range and wished that
Colonel Korn were in his office right then to evaluate the entire episode for him still
one more time and assuage his fears.
It was all very perplexing, all very discouraging. Colonel Cathcart took the cigarette
holder out of his mouth, stood it on end inside the pocket of his shirt, and began
gnawing on the fingernails of both hands grievously. Everybody was against him, and
he was sick to his soul that Colonel Korn was not with him in this moment of crisis to
help him decide what to do about the prayer meetings. He had almost no faith at all
in the chaplain, who was still only a captain. 'Do you think,' he asked, 'that keeping
the enlisted men out might interfere with our chances of getting results?'
The chaplain hesitated, feeling himself on unfamiliar ground again. 'Yes, sir,' he
replied finally. 'I think it's conceivable that such an action could interfere with your
chances of having the prayers for a tighter bomb pattern answered.'
'I wasn't even thinking about that!' cried the colonel, with his eyes blinking and
splashing like puddles. 'You mean that God might even decide to punish me by giving
us a * looser* bomb pattern?'
'Yes, sir,' said the chaplain. 'It's conceivable He might.'
'The hell with it, then,' the colonel asserted in a huff of independence. 'I'm not
going to set these damned prayer meetings up just to make things *worse* than they
are.' With a scornful snicker, he settled himself behind his desk, replaced the empty
cigarette holder in his mouth and lapsed into parturient silence for a few moments.
'Now I think about it,' he confessed, as much to himself as to the chaplain, 'having
the men pray to God probably wasn't such a hot idea anyway. The editors of *The
Saturday *Evening Post* might not have co-operated.'
The colonel abandoned his project with remorse, for he had conceived it entirely on
his own and had hoped to unveil it as a striking demonstration to everyone that he
had no real need for Colonel Korn. Once it was gone, he was glad to be rid of it, for
he had been troubled from the start by the danger of instituting the plan without
first checking it out with Colonel Korn. He heaved an immense sigh of contentment.
He had a much higher opinion of himself now that his idea was abandoned, for he had
made a very wise decision, he felt, and, most important, he had made this wise
decision without consulting Colonel Korn.
'Will that be all, sir?' asked the chaplain.
'Yeah,' said Colonel Cathcart. 'Unless you've got something else to suggest.'
'No, sir. Only'
The colonel lifted his eyes as though affronted and studied the chaplain with aloof
distrust. 'Only what, Chaplain?'
'Sir,' said the chaplain, 'some of the men are very upset since you raised the number
of missions to sixty. They've asked me to speak to you about it.'
The colonel was silent. The chaplain's face reddened to the roots of his sandy hair as
he waited. The colonel kept him squirming a long time with a fixed, uninterested look
devoid of all emotion.
'Tell them there's a war going on,' he advised finally in a flat voice.
'Thank you, sir, I will,' the chaplain replied in a flood of gratitude because the
colonel had finally said something. 'They were wondering why you couldn't requisition
some of the replacement crews that are waiting in Africa to take their places and
then let them go home.'
'That's an administrative matter,' the colonel said. 'It's none of their business.' He
pointed languidly toward the wall. 'Help yourself to a plum tomato, Chaplain. Go
ahead, it's on me.'
'Thank you, sir. Sir -'
'Don't mention it. How do you like living out there in the woods, Chaplain?
Is everything hunky dory?'
'That's good. You get in touch with us if you need anything.'
'Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Sir -'
'Thanks for dropping around, Chaplain. I've got some work to do now. You'll let me
know if you can think of anything for getting our names into
*The Saturday Evening Post*, won't you?'
'Yes, sir, I will.' The chaplain braced himself with a prodigious effort of the will and
plunged ahead brazenly. 'I'm particularly concerned about the condition of one of
the bombardiers, sir. Yossarian.'
The colonel glanced up quickly with a start of vague recognition.
'Who?' he asked in alarm.
'Yes, sir. Yossarian. He's in a very bad way, sir. I'm afraid he won't be able to suffer
much longer without doing something desperate.'
'Is that a fact, Chaplain?'
'Yes, sir. I'm afraid it is.'
The colonel thought about it in heavy silence for a few moments.
'Tell him to trust in God,' he advised finally.
'Thank you, sir,' said the chaplain. 'I will.'