The time is 6 AM, and Berlin is sitting at the tower, looking out on the water. He thinks about the “facts.” Buff, Ready Mix, Rudy Chassler, Pederson, Frenchie Tucker, Bernie Lynn, and Sidney Martin are all dead.
At the observation post Berlin can consider the gruesome realities of his time in Vietnam, seemingly without emotion. But in this scene, at least, he’s willing to face the facts rather than repress them or deny them. One such fact is that he’s partly responsible for the murder of one of his fellow soldiers—his commander.
Berlin remembers Cacciato, who left the other soldiers, saying he would go to Paris. Berlin remembers the day that he and his fellow soldiers chased Cacciato into the mountains, shot the sky “full of flares,” and moved in to arrest him. This, Berlin concludes, is “the last known fact—what remained were possibilities.” The chapter ends, “With courage it might have been done.”
This could be the most literal, straightforward passage in the novel. It suggests that most of the novel we’ve been reading has been a fantasy, playing out in the mind of the main character, Paul Berlin. Everything after Cacciato’s capture in the earliest chapters, O’Brien proposes, is a lie that Berlin tells himself. But this idea simply doesn’t do justice to the richness and complexity of the book. While we can say that Berlin is dreaming the book, his dreams and fantasies convey a kind of moral truth to us, and give Berlin a chance to work through his own feelings of guilt and horror.