Chapter 19 Summary

Colonel Cathcart

Thirty-six-year-old Colonel Cathcart is a “slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man” who wants more than anything to be a general. He is “dashing and dejected, poised and chagrined…complacent and insecure.” He is conceited and deviously tries to keep his name before his superiors; he is also miserable because he is only a full colonel. He does not believe in absolutes, measuring himself only against others. He worries constantly about what his colleagues and superiors think of him and is willing to change to gain their approval.

Cathcart spends all his time calculating, not on behalf of his men but for his own advancement. He prides himself on being an insider but is constantly trying to discover what is happening around him. The young general takes great pains to privately interpret every look or facial expression, though most people are aware of his existence. Cathcart constantly feels as if he is being persecuted, and when he hears that another general either smiled or frowned, he cannot rest until he creates his own explanations for these actions.

Cathcart is routinely irritated by Lieutenant Colonel Korn, his “loyal, indispensable ally.” He is both indebted to Korn and despises him. Cathcart is so desperate to advance in his career that he is willing to try religion, so in the week Cathcart raises the required number of missions to sixty, he summons a chaplain. The chaplain is relieved to know that Cathcart has no intention of firing him after the incident in the officers’ club involving Chief White Halfoat.

Cathcart wants the chaplain to say prayers before each mission, hoping this will get Cathcart some publicity in the press. The chaplain agrees and does not know what to say next, but Cathcart explains that he wants “light and snappy” prayers before each mission, starting today. The chaplain is not allowed at the confidential briefing but will be allowed a minute and a half to pray; the chaplain says that is enough time as long as the time it takes to remove the atheists and allow the enlisted men in is not deducted from his allotted time to pray.

The outraged general is shocked to learn that there are atheists among his men (he assumes atheism is either against the law or un-American) and wants to exclude the enlisted men from the proceedings, although Cathcart assures the chaplain that he does not think enlisted men are not “dirty, common and inferior.” Upon reflection, he is afraid the prayers will be less effective if the enlisted men are not allowed to participate; the thought angers Cathcart and he cancels the prayers altogether.

Before he leaves, the chaplain broaches the subject of the continually rising number of missions required before an airman can go home. He is particularly concerned about Yossarian, afraid he will do “something desperate.” Cathcart suggests that the chaplain should tell Yossarian to “trust in God” and thinks about other ways Cathcart might get some publicity.