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In Johnny Got His Gun, the officer class generally has a negative connotation to it. One of the first mentions of officers comes when Joe sees the rat feasting on the Prussian officer in the trench. This horrifying scene described the rat as “sitting on his neck and chewing away at his face” (Trumbo 91). While the scene does not necessarily paint officers in a negative light, it shows a more grotesque death for this officer than the rest of the enlisted men.
This image was so influential to Joe that he eventually has hallucinations of rats feasting on his body. When Joe sees the rat it also reminds him that in the grand context of the war everyone is fighting against the elements of nature. The fact that an officer went through this sort of death sets the precedence for the remainder of Joe’s life. Officers are generally supposed to live more dignified and important lives than their enlisted counterparts.
Due to this Prussian officer having such a brutal death, Joe’s future does not seem to get much brighter than his current position in the hospital. Although the officers may not be shown as role models, they do still stand above the enlisted men in the novel. So while the officer does die a horrifying death, it foreshadows a much darker fate for the enlisted men.
Another case in Johnny where the officers are shown negatively is when the man finally comes to talk to Joe. His first communication comes through as “a finger so enormous that it shattered against his forehead like the crash of a pile driver” (Trumbo 217).
This gigantic finger posed only one question to Joe, which was “WHAT DO YOU WANT” (Trumbo 218). Although it is never definitively revealed that this man is an officer, due to the fact that he is able to ask Joe exactly what he wants and is in the position to tell him what can be provided; he must be a soldier of high standing and is presumably an officer. This man shows officers in a negative light because he is very blunt in his communication with Joe. He officers no budging or negotiation with Joe’s requests at all. With a simple denial of Joe’s request, his mind goes “suddenly blank hollow completely quiet” (Trumbo 235). So although Joe was hopeful of the contributions his experience could have made towards society, the officer steals the opportunity to make his pain and suffering worthwhile. With this subtraction of Joe’s potential contribution towards the population, he essentially shuts down and accepts his fate to be doomed to his hospital bed for the remainder of his life. This unfortunate situation could have been avoided if only the officer would have negotiated terms with Joe, but due to the negative connotation associated with officers in the novel this is not an option.
In Catch-22 there is also a negative view on officers, but the perspective is not quite the same. Initially the officers are looked up to and described much like heroes. The first instance of this come when General Peckem is described as “spry, suave, and very precise” (Heller 26). This description is not indicative of the overall view of officers in the novel, however. The commanding officers General Peckem and General Dreedle continuously squabble and fight over power. Most of General Peckem’s communication is filtered out by ex-PFC Wintergreen who is the mail clerk at the Air Force Headquarters. The petty competition between the two generals reflects on the lower ranking officers as well.
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