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Date Author Title
2013-02-01 Steve Gardiner Book Review: Catch-22

Sometimes, even if you read a lot, a classic slips by you. You know it is a book you should have read years ago and every time you hear an allusion to it, you put it back on your reading list, but it keeps slipping away. Catch-22 was one of those books for me.

I let it get away too many times, even though it is one of my daughter's favorite books. When I saw the Catch-22 poster on the wall in her apartment, I knew I had to finally make sure I read it. I did.


From so many references to Catch-22 in our society, I had a general idea of what the phrase meant, but once inside the world of the book, I realized Heller had so many more meanings behind it. It was more than just the idea that in order to be released from flying more bombing missions, the crews had to request that they be considered insane and be sent home. However, the mere act of requesting insanity showed they were consciously aware of the danger and were trying to avoid it so they could not be insane. Catch-22.


For example, Doc Daneeka, a flight surgeon with an extreme fear of flying, explains to Yossarian that Orr is crazy and could get released by just asking. Daneeka said,

“He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to.”

“That's all he has to go to be grounded?”

“That's all. Let him ask me.”

“And then you can ground him?” Yossarian asked.

“No. Then I can't ground him.

“You mean there's a catch?”

“Sure there's a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy.”


Also, the commanders define how many missions each crew member must fly. Then, when they just about reached the required numbers, the commanders raised the numbers. Again. And again. And again. The men must continue flying because, according to Daneeka, “you've always got to do what your commanding officer tells you to” even if the order is against rules. Catch-22.


Perhaps the funniest scenes take place in the many lengthy dialogues between the soldiers and the officers involving circular logic demonstrating military bureaucracy.


“When did you say we couldn't find you guilty?”

“I didn't say you couldn't find me gulty, sir.”


“When what, sir?”

“When didn't you say we couldn't find you guilty?”

“Late last night in the latrine, sir.”

“Is that the only time you didn't say it?”

“No, sir. I always didn't say you couldn't find me guilty, sir. What I did say to Yossarian was--”

“Nobody asked you what you did say to Yossarian. We asked you what you didn't say to him. We're not at all interested in what you did say to Yossarian. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then we'll go on. What did you say to Yossarian?”

“I said to him, sir, that you couldn't find me guilty of the offense with which I am charged and still be faithful to the cause of...”

“Of what? You're mumbling.”

“Stop mumbling.”
“Yes, sir.”

“And mumble 'sir' when you do.”


I'm glad my daughter inspired me to read Catch-22 and fill in that gap in my reading. It makes me think about other books I should have read along the way but didn't—books that might have provided the answer to life, the universe and everything like that Hitchhiker's Guide thing.

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