“The Commandant's Desk” is one of the short works included in Armageddon in Retrospect, the first posthumous publication of Kurt Vonnegut's work following his death in 2007. The full collection meditates on Vonnegut's ideas about war, influenced by his own experiences in World War II. The collection brings together previously unpublished pieces, both fiction and nonfiction. “The Commandant’s Desk” is a fictional work which speculates on the aftermath of a fictional Russian-American war. In Vonnegut’s usual style, there are symbols woven into the piece which help the reader draw conclusions about Vonnegut’s messaging.
One of the most prominent symbols in the story is that of the commandant’s desk, which the narrator had been tasked to make for the Russian commandant. He describes it as such: “I’d designed it as a private satire on the Russian commandant’s bad taste and hypocrisy about symbols of wealth.” The desk becomes a symbol of the opulence and ego that drive the narrator’s dislike of the Russian commandant and the rule of the nation the commandant represents.
The narrator had been hopefully awaiting the arrival of US troops to liberate him and his small Czechoslovakian town from Russian occupation. However, upon their arrival, he finds himself in conversation with the American commander, Major Evans, who treats him not with respect or even kindness, but with disdain.
Evans takes a liking to the desk, which the narrator considers “a hideous piece of furniture,” owing to the exorbitant showiness of the design. Evans wishes to take the desk for his own office, with one small change: the hammer and sickle is to be replaced by the emblem of the eagle. Here we see literal symbols of the opposing sides used interchangeably to symbolize the lack of difference between the two ruling camps and the effects of their power structures and dogmas.