During Berlin’s early days as a soldier, Lieutenant Sidney Martin orders his soldiers through the mountains. There is no rain, and the soldiers are hot and thirsty every day.
We still haven’t learned exactly how Sidney Martin lost control of his troops. As we will see, it’s as if this memory has been repressed even in the narrative.
Lieutenant Sidney Martin tells his troops that there will be a battle very soon. He cautions them to save their strength for the fighting—a difficult task, since walking through the mountains requires enormous energy. Paul Berlin—still an inexperienced soldier—notes that Martin seems not to enjoy battles. He has a handsome, refined face, and seems to avoid violence at all costs—a strange quality for a lieutenant.
Lieutenant Martin’s tendency to avoid battle isn’t as unusual as Berlin thinks it to be. On the contrary, a good military commander should avoid combat when possible, as the goal of a war is to minimize casualties on one’s own side. Berlin, still inexperienced, doesn’t understand this.
Paul Berlin proceeds with climbing through the mountains, unsure of what will be waiting for him on the other side. He lowers his gaze to his feet, avoiding the sights of the mountains. Sidney Martin admires his fortitude, but Paul Berlin does not notice—he’s too focused on climbing forward.
At this point, Berlin’s tendency to “lose himself” in his own head is seen as an admirable quality, at least insofar as it allows him to continue to endure suffering. We also see this quality in Berlin’s invented narrative about the trip to Paris. Overall, O’Brien implies that a kind of disconnection from reality is necessary to survive horrors like the Vietnam War.