Joseph Heller is revered as one of the best post-World War II satirists. The novel by Heller is set in the Second World War and revolves around Yossarian, a squadron bombardier, and his significant contemporaries. The book seeks to censure the glamour of war and the military hierarchy system. Heller wryly declaims military insignia, conquests and its leaders. A streak of mordant wit and satire makes up for its outrageous randomness. The novel encompasses the army paraphernalia, megalomania and insecurity amongst the ranks and insidious corruption.
The protagonist, Yossarian, despises war and equally so, his superiors. His allegiance is often questioned. He once pithily retorts that for him Germans and his own army’s officials were on equal ground, as both of them wanted to claim his life. He grew to abhor Colonel Cathcart altogether. The background to his dislike was that squadron members were required to complete a certain number of missions before they could retire from the service.
Every time Yossarian seemingly approached the end of his mission, Cathcart increased the required number of missions. The Colonel used his squadron as an implicit tool to gain rank and recognition. Yossarian came to realize that giving in to such contemptible orders could claim his life. He had to find a way out of the war, unhurt. As the plot develops Yossarian comes across as being diffidently obnoxious to the Colonel.
As Yosarian grew weary of Cathcart’s blatant campaign, he (Yossarian) considered brandishing himself to insanity. It seemed to be the solution to his problems. Even the military, with all its self-righteousness, would never allow a deranged bombardier on missions. So, he consulted his friend Doc Daneeka, another wretched soul who hated the army for his having been drafted, and his consequent misfortunes including having to give up a medical practise that the doctor had set up. Daneeka advised him against it, considering it a desperate and forlorn attempt, for there was a catch that would prevent his plan from succeeding.
The catch was that the doctor could not help until he was asked to do so by the patient. This would allow the doctor to relieve the patient of his duties, once he was pronounced unstable. However, the doctor couldn’t do so as he (the patient) was sane enough to analyze the eventuality of evading his remaining missions. This was the catch, Catch 22. Catch 22 could be used by any government institution to issue moratoriums and dispense with the civil rights of the men under an argument that should have never existed.
Orr was the only individual amongst Yossarian’s contemporaries that could make his way through the Catch 22 situation. Orr and Yossarian shared the same tent, but the latter maintained his distance. Yossarian felt a modicum of camaraderie for his tent-mate. He maintained Orr was an eccentric who had managed miraculous escapes despite drawing flak from anti-aircraft guns and would often willingly volunteer to lead hostile missions.
He often suppressed his impulse to shake Orr out of his delusional heroism. However, towards the end, Yossarian realizes that Orr’s efforts were attempts to evade the impasse (which is oddly enough the weakest link in Heller’s immaculate plot) that was the Catch 22.
Milo and his syndicate (which he believed included every American) exemplify the Catch. The nimble minded mess officer runs a black markets syndicate, at the behest of his superiors. Milo often reiterates, “what’s good for the syndicate is good for America”. This is is a caustic take on American capitalism and its bigotry. The mess officer goes on to bomb his own army using the same Catch and seeks the approval of his superiors. Milo was an unflagging advancement. His syndicate included an extensive network of Germans, Americans and even much of the European and African states. The mess officer would influence governments assuring the leaders, that the success of his enterprise meant success for their populace.
Catch 22 draws inspiration from contemporary society and the warring factions within it. Heller has dwelled upon the need to ridicule the glamour and pride associated with war. His protagonist is an escapist, not a hero in any sense. It is this contempt for ideals that forces one to ponder upon the hypocrisy that is war. Heller’s genius elaborates on this with passion, typical of a disillusioned war veteran.