It is 4 AM, and Berlin is keeping watch. Less than an hour remains before dawn. He thinks about his experiences in Tehran, and tries to explain how he came to witness a public beheading. He remembers something Doc Peret once told him: the human mind thinks in terms of cycles. For a long time, Berlin has been trapped in a cycle of searching for Cacciato. In order to break out of a cycle, one must be strong and focused. He wonders if there’s any pattern or meaning in the things he’s witnessed in Tehran, Delhi, and Mandalay, or if these events—like the world itself—are random.
The doctrine of cycles is important for understanding this novel. Instead of moving from point A to point B, O’Brien circles back to examine and reexamine the same events in more and more detail. This process mirrors the way the human mind works—when a person is obsessed about something, he or she revisits the topic again and again, in a way that’s never entirely satisfactory. Here, it’s suggested that Berlin is still consumed with thoughts about Cacciato, long after the mission ends.
To help himself make sense of his situation, Berlin decides to think about his early days as a soldier, and how he came to witness “the ultimate war story.”
Once again the “observation post” is the place for Berlin to obsessively reminisce and reimagine.