It’s A Catch-22 World


Neither of my kids were willing readers.  They loved it when they did read but ours is such a visually compelling world that it’s hard for mere words to compete.

I get it.

Still – one of the first books my son LOVED was Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE.  If you haven’t – go, read it.  Won’t take you long.  Seriously.  But you will not get it out of your head.  It is a stunningly simple, stunningly effective anti-war novel.  Billy Pilgrim Lives…

The other classic 60’s anti-war novel I finally got my son to read is Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22.

If you haven’t read THAT book – you almost don’t have to – in a sense, we’re all LIVING in the corrupt-to-its-toes, rigged-to-kill-us-all-dead-but-not-without-humiliating-us-first world in which Heller’s intensely satirical novel takes place.  Though most of Catch-22 ‘s action centers around the American Air Force base on the invented Mediterranean island of Pianosa during WWII, it’s as contemporary as can be.

Basically it’s the story of Yossarian – a pilot who, like all the other pilots on his airbase, just wants to complete the required number of missions (alive) and go home… except the military leaders keep raising the number of missions required to go home — so that, in essence, they can NEVER go home.

The pilots try to find other ways out of flying.   Some declare themselves too crazy to fly but — they’re told — NOT wanting to fly is the sanest thing to do — therefore NOT wanting to fly makes them sane — and therefore MUST fly.

That’s the ‘Catch’ in the ‘Catch-22’ — it’s Godot never coming and never intending to.  It’s the helplessness of the Common Man against forces so dark even logic cannot penetrate them.

Among the characters surrounding Yossarian is MILO MINDERBINDER – a soulless wheeler-dealer who uses the base’s supply system as a cash cow for himself (though, to be fair, when he steals flyers’ parachutes, say — to sell them cos Egyptian cotton is a steal — he does leave the now parachute-less fliers share certificates in their place).  Milo is a more likeable version of Trump – and he’s not especially likeable.  But his vision of the world – as a buck waiting to be made at someone else’s expense – is pure Donald.

There’s the Not-Very-Alive, heavily bandaged patient in the bed next to Yossarian as the novel begins.  They put fluids in via one tube and then remove pretty much the exact same fluids via another tube – as if a real human wasn’t actually inside the bandages.

There’s MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR whose parents named him that way in the hopes that he would – as has happened in the book – be made a major in the army simply because of the confusion caused by his name.  Too bad he wasn’t named PRIVATE PRIVATE PRIVATE PRIVATE.  He’d be a lot more qualified…

There’s SNOWDEN – the mortally wounded tail gunner in whose exposed guts Yossarian sees the utter pointlessness of it all…

And there’s ORR – my favorite – a quieter character – who keeps telling Yossarian to fly with him.  But Yossarian refuses.  He thinks Orr’s crazy – because Orr keeps crashing all his planes into the water.  As Yossarian will learn at the very end of the book – Orr wasn’t just crashing his planes randomly – he was ‘rehearsing’ his escape…

I’ve always identified with Orr – the guy with a plan who quietly plugs along, doing his thing, plotting his escape… His name seems deliberate — Orr (or ‘OR’ — the ‘other’ choice)… By the time Yossarian realizes that Orr was the way out, virtually all the other pilots are dead (having died in combat or through other misadventures).  Yossarian just manages to escape.

The feeling of a world completely unhinged & untethered permeates every moment of every page.  While Heller’s original intention was to describe the madness of his own military experience during WWII, he tapped into something Universal and enduring.  The inherent insanity of bureaucracy, yes – but also the helplessness sane people feel in the face of utter insanity – the Catch in Catch-22.

I know exactly how Yossarian feels…

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