Back in Rome, on rest leave, Nately has managed again to find his prostitute, the woman he loves, and he asks Yossarian and Aarfy to pay to spend time with her friends to appease her. Aarfy jokes about pushing the prostitutes out the window, and Nately objects to this. Aarfy fondly recalls the highly questionable sexual activities he and his fraternity brother used to engage in, in college.
Nately’s relationship with his prostitute is a counterpoint to Yossarian’s relationship with Luciana. The latter two have one night of passion and never meet again. Nately and his prostitute, however, are constantly fighting, and it seems Nately loves her far more than she cares for him.
More and more women are brought into the apartment; they lounge around naked as other officers pass through. Hungry Joe goes crazy with joy and attempts to take pictures of everyone, but his excitement keeps him from getting any good snapshots.
The women of Rome typically behave in this fashion—throwing caution to the wind, feeling free to walk around naked. It is in this sense that Rome feels like a city built for the soldiers’ pleasure.
Nately begins a conversation with the old, lecherous man who lives among the prostitutes in the building. The old man argues that Italy’s cowardice, poverty, and weakness are its greatest strengths, because they allow Italy to adapt to whichever power (the Germans, the Americans) comes through to conquer them.
A catch-22 of sorts, and certainly a paradox. Italy is strong because, in its weakness, it can “play dead” long enough for conquering powers to move through and onward battling it out with other powers until they have tired themselves out.
Nately is aghast at this—he believes it a dishonorable thing to say about one’s country, and he does not believe a nation’s strength can derive from such weaknesses. The old man asks how long America will be the most powerful country in the world. Nately replies that he does not know. The old man counters: will America last as long as the frog, which is, evolutionarily, 500 million years old? Nately says he isn’t sure.
This sort of logic about one’s own country flies in the face of American patriotism during the war. Americans prided themselves on the idea that they were “saving the world from fascism” and “making the world safe for democracy.” It seems the old man wants only to survive the war. Nately considers this cowardice; the old man considers it realistic.
The old man continues: it is not necessary to win wars, only to survive them. The old man recounts how he danced in the streets during the Nazi entrance into Rome, and danced again during the American entrance. It is revealed the old man fired the flower during the parade that wounded Major de Coverley in the eye. Nately curses the old man for this act.
Again, the old man is willing to collaborate with whomever is in power, in order to make sure that he lives long enough to see the end of the conflict. Although Yossarian wants to avoid battle, he still flies his missions; this old man wants nothing other than to wait out the war (of course he is too old to fight, but he does not desire to support Italy in any way, it seems).
Nately also declares that a country worth living for is worth dying for. The old man says this is not true—it is better to live on one’s knees than to die standing up. Nately counters that exactly the opposite is true, but the old man will not budge. He wonders whether Nately will survive the war.
The old man is not willing to sacrifice himself for his country. It appears, however, that Nately’s patriotism here is genuine. Sadly, he will get a chance to offer his life for his country later in the novel.
Nately’s long conversation with the old man causes his prostitute to get bored and leave. Nately’s family history is sketched: Nately comes from a very wealthy family, one that takes great pride in the fact that their wealth is inherited, not earned through work. Nately’s father tells his son, before the war, to train as an officer in the Air Force in order to associate only with “gentlemen.”
As is often the case, the prostitute becomes bored with Nately’s constant talking, and she goes away. The narrator often returns to Nately’s father’s wealth; it is implied that Nately had an incredibly comfortable upbringing, and that his relationship with the prostitute is perhaps the first real romantic relationship of his life.
The next morning, Nately does find the prostitute and sleeps with her, only to be interrupted by her “kid sister,” twelve years old, who also covets Nately. The prostitute and her sister fight, and to pacify them, Nately takes them out to breakfast. They return to the apartment after the meal, and Nately finds the old man, still dressed in the previous night’s clothes. He realizes the old man reminds him of his father—not in appearance, but in some deeper way, perhaps on account of his obstinacy and ignorance.
The prostitute’s kid sister, who is really very young, always manages to arrive at the most inopportune moments, especially for Nately. It appears this young girl is learning “the trade” her older sister practices. Nately is aghast at this, and wants both women to stop working as prostitutes, so that he can support them.