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Catch-22 | Chapter 29 : Peckem | Summary

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Summary

Unfortunately for the men on Pianosa, Lieutenant Scheisskopf is sent overseas to work under General Peckem at Special Services. Peckem, a pompous and self-important jerk, is delighted; another subordinate for him is one more blow against General Dreedle.

Peckem tells Scheisskopf that he's convinced his men that bombs should be dropped in attractive patterns so as to provide better aerial photographs. Colonel Cathcart, he says, is especially obsessed with this notion. He and Scheisskopf pay a visit to Yossarian's group, which is scheduled to create a roadblock against the Germans by destroying a small Italian mountain village. The airmen vigorously resist a mission that will kill innocent people until Colonel Korn asks if they would rather fly over Bologna again.

Colonel Cathcart conducts a final briefing in which he fawningly dedicates the mission to General Peckem.

Analysis

Dropping bombs in a neat array so that they'll produce prettier aerial photos? It goes without saying that this idea is beyond shallow. The reader doesn't know which is worse: Peckem's suggesting the bomb patterns to Cathcart or Cathcart's obeying the suggestion.

In an interview for the Paris Review in 1974, Heller once confessed that, as he developed General Dreedle's character, he began to feel sorry for Dreedle and found he didn't want to saddle the character with too many unsympathetic qualities so he "invented General Peckem as a sort of substitute scapegoat. Very hard to like him."

Peckem is something of a caricature, but the scene in which Colonel Korn and Major Danby argue with the airmen about bombing the little Italian village rings true. The idea of bombing an entire village to create a temporary roadblock is irrationally cruel, even by the standards of modern warfare. This is the first time we see Yossarian's friends taking an earnest stand against something they know is wrong. The fact that they back down when threatened with another raid on Bologna sounds all too real.

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