28. Peckem - @thichankem

28. Peckem - @thichankem

  • Peckem

    There was no word about Orr the next day, and Sergeant Whitcomb, with commendable dispatch and considerable hope, dropped a reminder in his tickler file to send a form letter over Colonel Cathcart’s signature to Orr’s next of kin when nine more days had elapsed. There was word from General Peckem’s headquarters, though, and Yossarian was drawn to the crowd of officers and enlisted men in shorts and bathing trunks buzzing in grumpy confusion around the bulletin board just outside the orderly room.
    Không có lời nào về Orr ngày hôm sau, cute_smiley15
    ‘What’s so different about this Sunday, I want to know?’ Hungry Joe was demanding vociferously of Chief White Halfoat. ‘Why won’t we have a parade this Sunday when we don’t have a parade every Sunday? Huh?’ Yossarian worked his way through to the front and let out a long, agonized groan when he read the terse announcement there: Due to circumstances beyond my control, there will be no big parade this Sunday afternoon.

    Colonel Scheisskopf Dobbs was right. They were indeed sending everyone overseas, even Lieutenant Scheisskopf, who had resisted the move with all the vigor and wisdom at his command and who reported for duty at General Peckem’s office in a mood of grave discontent.

    General Peckem welcomed Colonel Scheisskopf with effusive charm and said he was delighted to have him. An additional colonel on his staff meant that he could now begin agitating for two additional majors, four additional captains, sixteen additional lieutenants and untold quantities of additional enlisted men, typewriters, desks, filing cabinets, automobiles and other substantial equipment and supplies that would contribute to the prestige of his position and increase his striking power in the war he had declared against General Dreedle. He now had two full colonels; General Dreedle had only five, and four of those were combat commanders. With almost no intriguing at all, General Peckem had executed a maneuver that would eventually double his strength. And General Dreedle was getting drunk more often. The future looked wonderful, and General Peckem contemplated his bright new colonel enchantedly with an effulgent smile.

    In all matters of consequence, General P. P. Peckem was, as he always remarked when he was about to criticize the work of some close associate publicly, a realist. He was a handsome, pink-skinned man of fifty-three. His manner was

    always casual and relaxed, and his uniforms were custom-made. He had silver-gray hair, slightly myopic eyes and thin, overhanging, sensual lips. He was a perceptive, graceful, sophisticated man who was sensitive to everyone’s weaknesses but his own and found everyone absurd but himself. General Peckem laid great, fastidious stress on small matters of taste and style. He was always augmenting things. Approaching events were never coming, but always upcoming. It was not true that he wrote memorandums praising himself and recommending that his authority be enhanced to include all combat operations; he wrote memoranda. And the prose in the memoranda of other officers was always turgid, stilted, or ambiguous. The errors of others were inevitably deplorable. Regulations were stringent, and his data never was obtained from a reliable source, but always were obtained. General Peckem was frequently constrained. Things were often incumbent upon him, and he frequently acted with greatest reluctance. It never escaped his memory that neither black nor white was a color, and he never used verbal when he meant oral. He could quote glibly from Plato, Nietzsche, Montaigne, Theodore Roosevelt, the Marquis de Sade and Warren G. Harding. A virgin audience like Colonel Scheisskopf was grist for General Peckem’s mill, a stimulating opportunity to throw open his whole dazzling erudite treasure house of puns, wisecracks, slanders, homilies, anecdotes, proverbs, epigrams, apophthegms, bon mots and other pungent sayings. He beamed urbanely as he began orienting Colonel Scheisskopf to his new surroundings.

    ‘My only fault,’ he observed with practiced good humor, watching for the effect of his words, ‘is that I have no faults.’ Colonel Scheisskopf didn’t laugh, and General Peckem was stunned. A heavy doubt crushed his enthusiasm. He had just opened with one of his most trusted paradoxes, and he was positively alarmed that not the slightest flicker of acknowledgment had moved across that impervious face, which began to remind him suddenly, in hue and texture, of an unused soap eraser. Perhaps Colonel Scheisskopf was tired, General Peckem granted to himself charitably; he had come a long way, and everything was unfamiliar. General Peckem’s attitude toward all the personnel in his command, officers and enlisted men, was marked by the same easy spirit of tolerance and permissiveness. He mentioned often that if the people who worked for him met him halfway, he would meet them more than halfway, with the result, as he always added with an astute chuckle, that there was never any meeting of the minds at all. General Peckem thought of himself as aesthetic and intellectual. When people disagreed with him, he urged them to be objective.

    And it was indeed an objective Peckem who gazed at Colonel Scheisskopf encouragingly and resumed his indoctrination with an attitude of magnanimous forgiveness. ‘You’ve come to us just in time, Scheisskopf. The summer offensive has petered out, thanks to the incompetent leadership with which we supply our troops, and I have a crying need for a tough, experienced, competent officer like you to help produce the memoranda upon which we rely so heavily to let people know how good we are and how much work we’re turning out. I hope you are a prolific writer.’

    ‘I don’t know anything about writing,’ Colonel Scheisskopf retorted sullenly.

    ‘Well, don’t let that trouble you,’ General Peckem continued with a careless flick of his wrist. ‘Just pass the work I assign you along to somebody else and trust to luck. We call that delegation of responsibility. Somewhere down near the lowest level of this co-ordinated organization I run are people who do get the work done when it reaches them, and everything manages to run along smoothly without too much effort on my part. I suppose that’s because I am a good executive. Nothing we do in this large department of ours is really very important, and there’s never any rush. On the other hand, it is important that we let people know we do a great deal of it. Let me know if you find yourself shorthanded. I’ve already put in a requisition for two majors, four captains and sixteen lieutenants to give you a hand. While none of the work we do is very important, it is important that we do a great deal of it. Don’t you agree?’

    ‘What about the parades?’ Colonel Scheisskopf broke in.

    ‘What parades?’ inquired General Peckem with a feeling that his polish just wasn’t getting across.

    ‘Won’t I be able to conduct parades every Sunday afternoon?’ Colonel Scheisskopf demanded petulantly.

    ‘No. Of course not. What ever gave you that idea?’

    ‘But they said I could.’

    ‘Who said you could?’

    ‘The officers who sent me overseas. They told me I’d be able to march the men around in parades all I wanted to.’

    ‘They lied to you.’

    ‘That wasn’t fair, sir.’

    ‘I’m sorry, Scheisskopf. I’m willing to do everything I can to make you happy here, but parades are out of the question. We don’t have enough men in our own organization to make up much of a parade, and the combat units would rise up in open rebellion if we tried to make them march. I’m afraid you’ll just have to hold back awhile until we get control. Then you can do what you want with the men.’

    ‘What about my wife?’ Colonel Scheisskopf demanded with disgruntled suspicion. ‘I’ll still be able to send for her, won’t I?’

    ‘Your wife? Why in the world should you want to?’

    ‘A husband and wife should be together.’

    ‘That’s out of the question also.’

    ‘But they said I could send for her!’

    ‘They lied to you again.’

    ‘They had no right to lie to me!’ Colonel Scheisskopf protested, his eyes wetting with indignation.

    ‘Of course they had a right,’ General Peckem snapped with cold and calculated severity, resolving right then and there to test the mettle of his new colonel under fire. ‘Don’t be such an ass, Scheisskopf. People have a right to do anything that’s not forbidden by law, and there’s no law against lying to you. Now, don’t ever waste my time with such sentimental platitudes again. Do you hear?’

    ‘Yes, sir,’ murmured Colonel Scheisskopf Colonel Scheisskopf wilted pathetically, and General Peckem blessed the fates that had sent him a weakling for a subordinate. A man of spunk would have been unthinkable. Having won, General Peckem relented. He did not enjoy humiliating his men. ‘If your wife were a Wac, I could probably have her transferred here. But that’s the most I can do.’

    ‘She has a friend who’s a Wac,’ Colonel Scheisskopf offered hopefully.

    ‘I’m afraid that isn’t good enough. Have Mrs. Scheisskopf join the Wacs if she wants to, and I’ll bring her over here. But in the meantime, my dear Colonel, let’s get back to our little war, if we may. Here, briefly, is the military situation that confronts us.’ General Peckem rose and moved toward a rotary rack of enormous colored maps.

    Colonel Scheisskopf blanched. ‘We’re not going into combat, are we?’ he blurted out in horror.

    ‘Oh, no, of course not,’ General Peckem assured him indulgently, with a companionable laugh. ‘Please give me some credit, won’t you? That’s why we’re still down here in Rome. Certainly, I’d like to be up in Florence, too, where I could keep in closer touch with ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen. But Florence is still a bit too near the actual fighting to suit me.’ General Peckem lifted a wooden pointer and swept the rubber tip cheerfully across Italy from one coast to the other. ‘These, Scheisskopf, are the Germans. They’re dug into these mountains very solidly in the Gothic Line and won’t be pushed out till late next spring, although that isn’t going to stop those clods we have in charge from trying. That gives us in Special Services almost nine months to achieve our objective. And that objective is to capture every bomber group in the U.S. Air Force. After all,’ said General Peckem with his low, well-modulated chuckle, ‘if dropping bombs on the enemy isn’t a special service, I wonder what in the world is. Don’t you agree?’ Colonel Scheisskopf gave no indication that he did agree, but General Peckem was already too entranced with his own loquacity to notice. ‘Our position right now is excellent. Reinforcements like yourself keep arriving, and we have more than enough time to plan our entire strategy carefully. Our immediate goal,’ he said, ‘is right here.’ And General Peckem swung his pointer south to the island of Pianosa and tapped it significantly upon a large word that had been lettered on there with black grease pencil. The word was DREEDLE.

    Colonel Scheisskopf, squinting, moved very close to the map, and for the first time since he entered the room a light of comprehension shed a dim glow over his stolid face. ‘I think I understand,’ he exclaimed. ‘Yes, I know I understand. Our first job is to capture Dreedle away from the enemy. Right?’ General Peckem laughed benignly. ‘No, Scheisskopf. Dreedle’s on our side, and Dreedle is the enemy. General Dreedle commands four bomb groups that we simply must capture in order to continue our offensive. Conquering General Dreedle will give us the aircraft and vital bases we need to carry our operations into other areas. And that battle, by the way, is just about won.’ General Peckem drifted toward the window, laughing quietly again, and settled back against the sill with his arms folded, greatly satisfied by his own wit and by his knowledgeable, blase impudence. The skilled choice of words he was exercising was exquisitely titillating. General Peckem liked listening to himself talk, like most of all listening to himself talk about himself. ‘General Dreedle simply doesn’t know how to cope with me,’ he gloated. ‘I keep invading his jurisdiction with comments and criticisms that are really none of my business, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. When he accuses me of seeking to undermine him, I merely answer that my only purpose in calling attention to his errors is to strengthen our war effort by eliminating inefficiency. Then I ask him innocently if he’s opposed to improving our war effort. Oh, he grumbles and he bristles and he bellows, but he’s really quite helpless. He’s simply out of style. He’s turning into quite a souse, you know. The poor blockhead shouldn’t even be a general. He has no tone, no tone at all. Thank God he isn’t going to last.’ General Peckem chuckled with jaunty relish and sailed smoothly along toward a favorite learned allusion. ‘I sometimes think of myself as Fortinbras—ha, ha—in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, who just keeps circling and circling around the action until everything else falls apart, and then strolls in at the end to pick up all the pieces for himself. Shakespeare is—’

    ‘I don’t know anything about plays,’ Colonel Scheisskopf broke in bluntly.

    General Peckem looked at him with amazement. Never before had a reference of his to Shakespeare’s hallowed Hamlet been ignored and trampled upon with such rude indifference. He began to wonder with genuine concern just what sort of shithead the Pentagon had foisted on him. ‘What do you know about?’ he asked acidly.

    ‘Parades,’ answered Colonel Scheisskopf eagerly. ‘Will I be able to send out memos about parades?’

    ‘As long as you don’t schedule any.’ General Peckem returned to his chair still wearing a frown. ‘And as long as they don’t interfere with your main assignment of recommending that the authority of Special Services be expanded to include combat activities.’

    ‘Can I schedule parades and then call them off?’ General Peckem brightened instantly. ‘Why, that’s a wonderful idea! But just send out weekly announcements postponing the parades. Don’t even bother to schedule them. That would be infinitely more disconcerting.’ General Peckem was blossoming spryly with cordiality again. ‘Yes, Scheisskopf,’ he said, ‘I think you’ve really hit on something. After all, what combat commander could possibly quarrel with us for notifying his men that there won’t be a parade that coming Sunday? We’d be merely stating a widely known fact. But the implication is beautiful. Yes, positively beautiful. We’re implying that we could schedule a parade if we chose to. I’m going to like you, Scheisskopf. Stop in and introduce yourself to Colonel Cargill and tell him what you’re up to. I know you two will like each other.’ Colonel Cargill came storming into General Peckem’s office a minute later in a furor of timid resentment. ‘I’ve been here longer than Scheisskopf,’ he complained. ‘Why can’t I be the one to call off the parades?’

    ‘Because Scheisskopf has experience with parades, and you haven’t. You can call off U.S.O. shows if you want to. In fact why don’t you? Just think of all the places that won’t be getting a U.S.O. show on any given day. Think of all the places each big-name entertainer won’t be visiting. Yes, Cargill, I think you’ve hit on something. I think you’ve just thrown open a whole new area of operation for us. Tell Colonel Scheisskopf I want him to work along under your supervision on this. And send him in to see me when you’re through giving him instructions.’

    ‘Colonel Cargill says you told him you want me to work along under his supervision on the U.S.O. project,’ Colonel Scheisskopf complained.

    ‘I told him no such thing,’ answered General Peckem. ‘Confidentially, Scheisskopf, I’m not too happy with Colonel Cargill. He’s bossy and he’s slow. I’d like you to keep a close eye on what he’s doing and see if you can’t get a little more work out of him.’

    ‘He keeps butting in,’ Colonel Cargill protested. ‘He won’t let me get any work done.’

    ‘There’s something very funny about Scheisskopf,’ General Peckem agreed reflectively. ‘Keep a very close eye on him and see if you can’t find out what he’s up to.’

    ‘Now he’s butting into my business!’ Colonel Scheisskopf cried.

    ‘Don’t let it worry you, Scheisskopf,’ said General Peckem, congratulating himself on how adeptly he had fit Colonel Scheisskopf into his standard method of operation. Already his two colonels were barely on speaking terms. ‘Colonel Cargill envies you because of the splendid job you’re doing on parades. He’s afraid I’m going to put you in charge of bomb patterns.’ Colonel Scheisskopf was all ears. ‘What are bomb patterns?’

    ‘Bomb patterns?’ General Peckem repeated, twinkling with self-satisfied good humor. ‘A bomb pattern is a term I dreamed up just several weeks ago. It means nothing, but you’d be surprised at how rapidly it’s caught on. Why, I’ve got all sorts of people convinced I think it’s important for the bombs to explode close together and make a neat aerial photograph. There’s one colonel in Pianosa who’s hardly concerned any more with whether he hits the target or not. Let’s fly over and have some fun with him today. It will make Colonel Cargill jealous, and I learned from Wintergreen this morning that General Dreedle will be off in Sardinia. It drives General Dreedle insane to find out I’ve been inspecting one of his installations while he’s been off inspecting another. We may even get there in time for the briefing. They’ll be bombing a tiny undefended village, reducing the whole community to rubble. I have it from Wintergreen—Wintergreen’s an ex-sergeant now, by the way—that the mission is entirely unnecessary. Its only purpose is to delay German reinforcements at a time when we aren’t even planning an offensive. But that’s the way things go when you elevate mediocre people to positions of authority.’ He gestured languidly toward his gigantic map of Italy. ‘Why, this tiny mountain village is so insignificant that it isn’t even there.’ They arrived at Colonel Cathcart’s group too late to attend the preliminary briefing and hear Major Danby insist, ‘But it is there, I tell you. It’s there, it’s there.’

    ‘It’s where?’ Dunbar demanded defiantly, pretending not to see.

    ‘It’s right there on the map where this road makes this slight turn. Can’t you see this slight turn on your map?’

    ‘No, I can’t see it.’

    ‘I can see it,’ volunteered Havermeyer, and marked the spot on Dunbar’s map. ‘And here’s a good picture of the village right on these photographs. I understand the whole thing. The purpose of the mission is to knock the whole village sliding down the side of the mountain and create a roadblock that the Germans will have to clear. Is that right?’

    ‘That’s right,’ said Major Danby, mopping his perspiring forehead with his handkerchief. ‘I’m glad somebody here is beginning to understand. These two armored divisions will be coming down from Austria into Italy along this road. The village is built on such a steep incline that all the rubble from the houses and other buildings you destroy will certainly tumble right down and pile upon the road.’

    ‘What the hell difference will it make?’ Dunbar wanted to know, as Yossarian watched him excitedly with a mixture of awe and adulation. ‘It will only take them a couple of days to clear it.’ Major Danby was trying to avoid an argument. ‘Well, it apparently makes some difference to Headquarters,’ he answered in a conciliatory tone. ‘I suppose that’s why they ordered the mission.’

    ‘Have the people in the village been warned?’ asked McWatt.

    Major Danby was dismayed that McWatt too was registering opposition. ‘No, I don’t think so.’

    ‘Haven’t we dropped any leaflets telling them that this time we’ll be flying over to hit them?’ asked Yossarian. ‘Can’t we even tip them off so they’ll get out of the way?’

    ‘No, I don’t think so.’ Major Danby was swearing some more and still shifting his eyes about uneasily. ‘The Germans might find out and choose another road. I’m not sure about any of this. I’m just making assumptions.’

    ‘They won’t even take shelter,’ Dunbar argued bitterly. ‘They’ll pour out into the streets to wave when they see our planes coming, all the children and dogs and old people. Jesus Christ! Why can’t we leave them alone?’

    ‘Why can’t we create the roadblock somewhere else?’ asked McWatt. ‘Why must it be there?’

    ‘I don’t know,’ Major Danby answered unhappily. ‘I don’t know. Look, fellows, we’ve got to have some confidence in the people above us who issue our orders. They know what they’re doing.’

    ‘The hell they do,’ said Dunbar.

    ‘What’s the trouble?’ inquired Colonel Korn, moving leisurely across the briefing room with his hands in his pockets and his tan shirt baggy.

    ‘Oh, no trouble, Colonel,’ said Major Danby, trying nervously to cover up. ‘We’re just discussing the mission.’

    ‘They don’t want to bomb the village,’ Havermeyer snickered, giving Major Danby away.

    ‘You prick!’ Yossarian said to Havermeyer.

    ‘You leave Havermeyer alone,’ Colonel Korn ordered Yossarian curtly. He recognized Yossarian as the drunk who had accosted him roughly at the officers’ club one night before the first mission to Bologna, and he swung his displeasure prudently to Dunbar. ‘Why don’t you want to bomb the village?’

    ‘It’s cruel, that’s why.’

    ‘Cruel?’ asked Colonel Korn with cold good humor, frightened only momentarily by the uninhibited vehemence of Dunbar’s hostility. ‘Would it be any less cruel to let those two German divisions down to fight with our troops? American lives are at stake, too, you know. Would you rather see American blood spilled?’

    ‘American blood is being spilled. But those people are living up there in peace. Why can’t we leave them the hell alone?’

    ‘Yes, it’s easy for you to talk,’ Colonel Korn jeered. ‘You’re safe here in Pianosa. It won’t make any difference to you when these German reinforcements arrive, will it?’ Dunbar turned crimson with embarrassment and replied in a voice that was suddenly defensive. ‘Why can’t we create the roadblock somewhere else? Couldn’t we bomb the slope of a mountain or the road itself?’

    ‘Would you rather go back to Bologna?’ The question, asked quietly, rang out like a shot and created a silence in the room that was awkward and menacing. Yossarian prayed intensely, with shame, that Dunbar would keep his mouth shut. Dunbar dropped his gaze, and Colonel Korn knew he had won. ‘No, I thought not,’ he continued with undisguised scorn. ‘You know, Colonel Cathcart and I have to go to a lot of trouble to get you a milk run like this. If you’d sooner fly missions to Bologna, Spezia and Ferrara, we can get those targets with no trouble at all.’ His eyes gleamed dangerously behind his rimless glasses, and his muddy jowls were square and hard. ‘Just let me know.’

    ‘I would,’ responded Havermeyer eagerly with another boastful snicker. ‘I like to fly into Bologna straight and level with my head in the bombsight and listen to all that flak pumping away all around me. I get a big kick out of the way the men come charging over to me after the mission and call me dirty names. Even the enlisted men get sore enough to curse me and want to take socks at me.’ Colonel Korn chucked Havermeyer under the chin jovially, ignoring him, and then addressed himself to Dunbar and Yossarian in a dry monotone. ‘You’ve got my sacred word for it. Nobody is more distressed about those lousy wops up in the hills than Colonel Cathcart and myself. Mais c’est la guerre. Try to remember that we didn’t start the war and Italy did. That we weren’t the aggressors and Italy was. And that we couldn’t possibly inflict as much cruelty on the Italians, Germans, Russians and Chinese as they’re already inflicting on themselves.’ Colonel Korn gave Major Danby’s shoulder a friendly squeeze without changing his unfriendly expression. ‘Carry on with the briefing, Danby. And make sure they understand the importance of a tight bomb pattern.’

    ‘Oh, no, Colonel,’ Major Danby blurted out, blinking upward. ‘Not for this target. I’ve told them to space their bombs sixty feet apart so that we’ll have a roadblock the full length of the village instead of in just one spot. It will be a much more effective roadblock with a loose bomb pattern.’

    ‘We don’t care about the roadblock,’ Colonel Korn informed him. ‘Colonel Cathcart wants to come out of this mission with a good clean aerial photograph he won’t be ashamed to send through channels. Don’t forget that General Peckem will be here for the full briefing, and you know how he feels about bomb patterns. Incidentally, Major, you’d better hurry up with these details and clear out before he gets here. General Peckem can’t stand you.’

    ‘Oh, no, Colonel,’ Major Danby corrected obligingly. ‘It’s General Dreedle who can’t stand me.’

    ‘General Peckem can’t stand you either. In fact, no one can stand you. Finish what you’re doing, Danby, and disappear. I’ll conduct the briefing.’

    ‘Where’s Major Danby?’ Colonel Cathcart inquired, after he had driven up for the full briefing with General Peckem and Colonel Scheisskopf.

    ‘He asked permission to leave as soon as he saw you driving up,’ answered Colonel Korn. ‘He’s afraid General Peckem doesn’t like him. I was going to conduct the briefing anyway. I do a much better job.’

    ‘Splendid!’ said Colonel Cathcart. ‘No!’ Colonel Cathcart countermanded himself an instant later when he remembered how good a job Colonel Korn had done before General Dreedle at the first Avignon briefing. ‘I’ll do it myself.’ Colonel Cathcart braced himself with the knowledge that he was one of General Peckem’s favorites and took charge of the meeting, snapping his words out crisply to the attentive audience of subordinate officers with the bluff and dispassionate toughness he had picked up from General Dreedle. He knew he cut a fine figure there on the platform with his open shirt collar, his cigarette holder, and his close-cropped, gray-tipped curly black hair. He breezed along beautifully, even emulating certain characteristic mispronunciations of General Dreedle’s, and he was not the least bit intimidated by General Peckem’s new colonel until he suddenly recalled that General Peckem detested General Dreedle. Then his voice cracked, and all confidence left him. He stumbled ahead through instinct in burning humiliation. He was suddenly in terror of Colonel Scheisskopf. Another colonel in the area meant another rival, another enemy, another person who hated him. And this one was tough! A horrifying thought occurred to Colonel Cathcart: Suppose Colonel Scheisskopf had already bribed all the men in the room to begin moaning, as they had done at the first Avignon mission. How could he silence them? What a terrible black eye that would be! Colonel Cathcart was seized with such fright that he almost beckoned to Colonel Korn. Somehow he held himself together and synchronized the watches. When he had done that, he knew he had won, for he could end now at any time. He had come through in a crisis. He wanted to laugh in Colonel Scheisskopf’s face with triumph and spite. He had proved himself brilliantly under pressure, and he concluded the briefing with an inspiring peroration that every instinct told him was a masterful exhibition of eloquent tact and subtlety.

    ‘Now, men,’ he exhorted. ‘We have with us today a very distinguished guest, General Peckem from Special Services, the man who gives us all our softball bats, comic books and U.S.O. shows. I want to dedicate this mission to him. Go on out there and bomb—for me, for your country, for God, and for that great American, General P. P. Peckem. And let’s see you put all those bombs on a dime!’
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