Lieutenant Henry's unit moves to the town of Gorizia, which the Italian army has captured from the Austrians as part of a string of victories. The front line of the fighting is a mile away, in the mountains, and Gorizia is a peaceful place with cafés and whorehouses for the soldiers.
Even though the war is still going on nearby, the relative calm of Gorizia allows Henry and the other soldiers to forget about the fighting and enjoy the pleasures of life.
One night in the mess hall, Henry sits with a group of fellow officers who are taunting the unit's priest for being celibate. Henry, meanwhile, is about to go on winter leave from the army. The officers think he should visit big cities like Rome and Naples, while the priest tells him to visit the quiet countryside of Abruzzi. Henry is silent during the conversation, which ends when the officers leave for the local whorehouse.
The officers think that not going to whorehouses, as they do, makes the priest less of a man. They distrust the religious conviction that allows him to remain celibate even in a stressful time of war. Henry's silence indicates that he has not yet decided which side of this argument he is on.