Gene and his classmates graduate, and Devon lets the military use part of the campus for the summer. All of the students have yet to vacate the dorms, so Gene watches as the soldiers and military equipment arrive. Above all, he’s surprised by how unimpressive the soldiers look, thinking that they seem not much older than him. As he watches, he senses that peace hangs over Devon like it did the summer before, and this starkly contrasts the military’s presence.
It's strange that Gene feels as if peace has once more descended on Devon, since his previous conception of peace was so wrapped up in his relationship with Finny. This is perhaps a sign that, although Finny himself has died, his death has helped Gene see that the best parts of his friend have actually become the best parts of himself. In turn, his ability to access a sense of peace and serenity exists within himself, and he can tap into this feeling whenever he wants, despite his circumstances. Simply put, he carries with him the simplistic beauty with which Finny lived his life, and this helps him cope with the ugliness all around him.
Brinker invites Gene to the Butt Room to meet his father. When he meets him, Gene tells Brinker’s father that he enlisted in the Navy because he thinks it’s the safest option, since he’ll likely never have to go to the frontlines. This displeases Brinker’s father, who is already upset that Brinker has joined the Coast Guard for the same reasons. With this in mind, he lectures Gene and Brinker about the honor of military service, telling them that they’ll regret it for the rest of their lives if they don’t have good war stories to tell. When his father leaves, Brinker apologizes to Gene and denounces the old man’s generation for starting a war and making their children fight it. Inwardly, though, Gene disagrees with this assessment, believing that wars begin not because of generational stupidity, but because of “something ignorant in the human heart.”
Gene’s experience with Finny has taught him that the kind of bitter, rivalrous attitude that is inherent to war (the same attitude that caused him to injure his best friend) only leads to sadness and destruction. For this reason, he disapproves of war and recognizes that such animosity only springs from an unfortunate form of contempt that divides people from one another. In keeping with this, he has resigned himself to entering a part of the military that will put him in the least amount of danger, since he doesn’t actually believe in such causes and therefore doesn’t want to risk his life.
Gene goes to the gym to empty his locker. Inside the locker room, he encounters a group of soldiers who will be training at Devon for the summer. Gene watches them and thinks about how skinny they look. He notes that he never talks about Finny anymore but always feels as if he’s somehow in his presence. The time that he spent with Finny, he knows, was so formative that he continues to live in the “atmosphere” that Finny created. In this sense, he thinks about how he’ll never be able to leave behind Finny’s perspective, which was messy and unique and vibrantly alive.
The previous summer, Gene and Finny coveted the idea of joining the military, clearly seeing soldiers as awe-inspiring heroes. Now, though, Gene notices how skinny and fragile these men look, ultimately seeing them as fallible and—in viewing them like this—recognizing how delicate human life truly is. This, in turn, makes him think of Finny, whose death he doesn’t like to talk about. This is partly because he doesn’t feel as if Finny ever really left him, since his influence still seems so present in his everyday life. In turn, readers see just how profoundly his and Finny’s relationship has impacted his entire life and worldview.
Gene’s peers have all begun to understand the reality of the war. Finny, though, was capable of avoiding the crushing misery that war brings, and Gene knows that nothing would have been able to destroy his “harmonious and natural unity”—nothing, that is, except Gene. Looking at the soldiers in the locker room, Gene knows that he will be living like them in just a few short weeks, when he’ll finally become part of the military. However, this doesn’t bother him because he feels ready for the war now that all of his hatred has disappeared. Any angst he may have felt in his past faded away when Finny died, as if Finny himself soaked it up and took it with him.
Gene strives to embody Finny’s “harmonious and natural unity,” or his ability to accept difficult things without letting them overshadow the joyous parts of his life. Although Finny’s conspiracy theory about the war was a form of denial, it ultimately helped him focus on the beautiful parts of his existence, paying attention only to the things that brought him happiness. This, it seems, is exactly what Gene intends to do as he moves forward, accepting the reality of war without destroying his entire life or capacity to experience happiness. This is something that Finny taught him by way of example, and it is something he’ll never forget.
Outside again, Gene hears marching instructions from afar and can’t help but let his feet fall into the militaristic rhythm. Throughout the war, Gene never kills anyone and never cultivates a sense of hatred toward the enemy. This, he knows, is because his war ended long before he joined the military. Indeed, he feels as if he has already killed his enemy. He also recognizes that Finny is the only person he ever met who never hated anyone. Other people develop various enmities and construct barriers between themselves and the world, but this only hurts them in the end. Unlike Phineas, everyone else falls prey to war, developing a sense of self-protection that hardly protects them from their enemies and ultimately obscures them from recognizing whether or not the people they’re fighting are actually their enemies after all.
When Gene considers the fact that he has already killed his enemy, it would be easy to assume that he’s referring to Finny. However, it’s more likely that he is referring to the part of his identity that caused him to be resentful, envious, and violent toward his best friend. Having seen what this kind of behavior leads to, he has banished all forms of rivalry and self-interest from his soul, understanding that building walls between himself and others will do nothing but isolate him from the world and force him into confinement with his only true enemy: himself.