Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
“Catch 22” is a wonderfully written absurd satirical commentary about the insanity of war and power. If one were to believe satirical comedy to be one of the sharpest ways to criticize an institution by its very foundations, then, “Catch 22” is one of the very best reads one could imagine.
At first, the book is seems to be very complicated because even the timeline seems to be fret with circular logic. The book starts in the present, and then goes back in time only to come back to the present to go again back in time. Additionally, the book repeats itself often, but, each time from another point of view thereby creating a richness of depth to each repetition.
While written throughout the 1950’s, the novel is set in World War II in a United States Air Force base on the island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean. The protagonist, Captain John Yossarian, is a bombardier who is obsessed the fear for his life. The valid threat to his life comes not only from the Germans who want to shoot down his airplane during the bombing runs he must make, but also, from his own superiors who raise the amount of bombing runs required in order to be sent back home every time he almost completes the requirement.
The insanity of war in the book is repeatedly illustrated through the use of circular logic and is best exemplified through the title itself – “Catch 22”. Because of his fear, Yossarian wants to be grounded no matter what the cost or method. The clearest and most logical method in his mind is for Doc Daneeka to declare him insane. Yossarian reasons in quite a sane manner he must be insane to keep flying in his bombing missions while the Germans are trying to shoot him down. Doc Daneeka agrees, but advises Yossarian the only way he can declare him insane is through a request by Yossarian. The problem in this method lies in the fact that when Yossarian asks to be grounded he is then deemed to be sane. “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to”.
Moreover, the insanity of power is best described through Yossarian’s superiors, especially, Colonel Cathcart. Colonel Cathcart is self-centered, self-serving and insecure commander of the Air force group in which Yossarian serves. It is Colonel Cathcart who constantly raises the amount of missions his men must fly, but does this only to get into the good favor of his superiors. Colonel Cathcart is not interested in leading his men to victory for his country’s sake, but only for his own well being. He is a “yes man” who will say whatever necessary to remain in the good stead of his superiors. Any statement he makes he almost surely contradicts shortly thereafter.
I would highly recommend “Catch 22” to anyone who believes war is the incarnation of man’s insanity. The book is written with complete irreverence to the belief there must be some common goal in going to war. Going to war is insane and doing so reveals the cracks of a sane society. Most importantly, the best way to criticize insane behavior is to make fun of it and all its idiosyncrasies.