Finny’s coaching Gene more for his own sake than for his friend’s would not be entirely out of character. As the novel makes clear, Finny has always been self-absorbed, and his injury only cements this aspect of him. This self-absorption manifests itself in his insistence that the war is a hoax created by fat, rich, old men. Finny’s motivations in making this claim are all too apparent: everyone at Devon lives under the shadow of imminent military service, knowing that soon they will be called upon to go off to war—everyone except for the crippled Finny. His injury has placed him in a “separate peace,” one that he doesn’t consider a blessing; rather, he feels that it isolates and alienates him, excluding him from the common experiences of his classmates and the entire world. Finny cannot accept being left out: if the war cannot be a part of his life, then he cannot let it exist for anyone at all. When Mr. Ludsbury challenges this illusion by insisting that everyone must train for war, Finny’s famous charm vanishes and he responds rudely. His curt contradiction of Ludsbury’s statement constitutes one of the few moments in the book when Finny deliberately offends or acts coldly toward another person. His habitual friendliness, it seems, does not extend to those who challenge his self-preserving illusions.
The scene outside Mr. Ludsbury’s residence is also important for the parallel that it sets up between athletics and war. Earlier, Gene compares various athletic events to battlefield combat, describing tennis balls as bullets and football players as foot soldiers. For Finny, however, the conceptual implications of these comparisons make no sense. In his world, athletics are ultimately anticompetitive and embody pure achievement, unconnected to either definitive victory or conclusive defeat. The rules that he devises for blitzball illustrate his notions about what sports are and should be: not one team pitted against another but sheer physical challenge, embarked on together. Knowles’s novel suggests that Finny is singular in his attitude: as becomes apparent by the end, everyone else in the novel is a creature of war, living their lives in constant battle against whatever enemies they have engendered for themselves. These other characters extend their warrior mindsets to sports as well. Finny alone refuses to connect athletics and war because he doesn’t understand the concept of an enemy.