The major reflects he has killed for the first time. He distinguishes men killed by bombs from men killed with his own hands. Well, this man is an American citizen, whereas the others had all been foreigners. He is killed in times of peace, those others only in war. Now, he kills of his own volition, whereas previously he had killed duty-bound, obeying orders. – Also, this man is defenseless; in war, the major had himself entertained the risks attending pilots.
The war the major threatens to start is planned as far as his considerable knowledge of war allows him to plan. This civilian he kills merely for being annoying. This is his second angry gesture, quickly succeeding the first, when the captain angers him & he starts shooting aimlessly. The captain tells him he has lost his mind & that he is nothing but a bully shooting up a school.
Threatening America with the most terrifying weapons known to man is compared to the cowardly actions of a kid who knows the other kids are unarmed. This is certainly unfair, but is it humiliating? Well, surprise is necessary in war, but necessity is not honor. Further, a bully is a common occurrence, whereas the greatness of the threat to send the American heartland into the Stone Age with nukes is unique.
This is connected to the insult aimed at the mind. The major thinks himself great-souled, whereas the captain’s likeness of him is petty. The captain does in speeches what the military did in deeds: he belittles the proud major. Anger takes over & he gradually loses his mind. This ironically confirms the captain’s accusations.
The fight between major & captain at the end is dead serious. They are no longer friends. Survival now requires victory. But one fights for himself, the other for America. It seems a good cause cannot cause victory. The major had confessed he liked the captain despite their enmity, recognizing his excellence. The captain refuses to return the favor, for unjust greatness should not be encouraged. Morality separates them. Is there greater ambition in destroying the world or in saving it?
The captain can now claim the glory the major so desired. He takes the woman instead. Impersonating America allows for a comic solution: private life. Strikingly, the captain mocked the war games: When the day comes that we go to war against Utah, we’re really gonna kick ass, y’know? & the park ranger: Endangered dirt. That’s a new one. The major endangers both America & the very ground in Utah. Like a tragic hero, the captain cannot understand the literal truth he prophesies jokingly. The plot teaches him what dead serious means.