The chapter begins immediately after the events of Chapter 38. The narrator explains that Berlin and his fellow soldiers “would not have been captured” in Greece. Berlin and his fellow soldiers have fantasized about their freedom and their lives after the army, and being arrested, the narrator insists, simply isn’t a part of their fantasy. Thus, when the soldiers disembark, still carrying their guns, they walk directly past the police officers without being detected. The next day, they climb aboard the ship again and sail to Athens. There, the soldiers make the usual inquiries about Cacciato, searching taverns and other similar places. Again, they find no evidence of Cacciato’s presence. They also find no evidence of Stink, and it’s not clear what happened to him after he jumped off the ship. After a few days in Athens, the soldiers make their way to the Greek-Yugoslavian border. In Yugoslavia, they manage to hitch a ride with a girl who’s from California. The girl drives them across the country.
The title of this chapter is one of O’Brien’s most overt nods to the meta-textual character of his writing. He makes no secret of the fact that his story isn’t realistic. Even the phrasing of his explanation of how the soldiers remained free provides a blatant reminder of how O’Brien lets what “should” happen dictate what “does” happen in his novel. Because he’s writing from the perspective of Berlin, the scenes unfold the way a young soldier might imagine them—thus, the soldiers aren’t arrested for desertion, they aren’t punished for their actions, and they continue on their journey to Paris, meeting another woman along the way.
The girl who drives the soldiers across Yugoslavia tells them that she’s impressed by their courage—they’ve clearly seen evil and “walked away.” The girl explains that she’s a former student at San Diego State, and a strong opponent of the war in Vietnam—as are the soldiers, she assumes. She drives her passengers to a small village, stationed far from any major cities. The village, the girl explains, is made up entirely of people who are sympathetic to deserters. They’ll help Berlin and his friends get airplane tickets, jobs, passports, and anything else they need.
In this section, O’Brien conveys the sometimes depressing gap between the anti-war movement in America and the Vietnam soldiers themselves. Although anti-war protesters claimed to support Vietnamese soldiers, they were often of such different worlds that there could be no real communication or common ground between them. Here, the girl acts as if she knows and understands the soldiers, but completely misinterprets their reason for leaving Vietnam: the squad still remembers its evil actions, especially the murder of Sidney Martin (an event which is heavily implied, but never explicitly shown).
As the girl drives the soldiers past her village, Oscar abruptly raises his rifle and orders the girl to stop. She does, smiling the entire time, and tells Oscar that there’s no need for him to rape her—she’ll gladly have sex with him voluntarily. Oscar orders the girl to get out of the car, and she does, still smiling. Oscar takes the wheel, and he and the other soldiers drive her car away. As the girl recedes into the distance, Doc says, “sometimes I do feel a little guilt.”
Doc’s reaction could be a “punch line” to this brief episode in the novel, except that it’s brutally cruel. Oscar Johnson has stolen from a woman who’s been nothing but generous to him—and none of the other soldiers seem morally perturbed by Johnson’s actions. The soldiers’ experiences in Vietnam have hardened them considerably.
Oscar drives the soldiers and Sarkin into Germany. They pass by the Danube. “It was easy,” the narrator maintains. Berlin is excited to reach Paris. He imagines clean, neat rooms and beautiful buildings. He considers that the war in Vietnam was probably fought in the interest of these precise things—culture and order. While he acknowledges that it’s possible that this intention was misinterpreted or botched somehow, the intention itself was a good one. Early in the morning, the soldiers reach a train station, and the train takes them into Luxembourg.
The chapter ends with this almost gentle passage—it’s “easy,” apparently, for the soldiers to make their way into Germany. With each new country hat they explore, the soldiers have an easier time journeying on to the next one. They’re now only a few hundred miles away from their final destination, Paris. What they’ll find in the idealized, seemingly mystical Paris remains to be seen, however.