Catch-22 by Joseph Heller Useless Wars
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, is the story of Yossarian, a bombardier fighting for the United States in World War II. Heller takes a lighthearted and satirical approach to address the serious topic of war. While doing this, he addresses several themes including the idea that money and power corrupt, and conveys the loss of religious faith and the overall uselessness and destructiveness of war.
Catch-22 takes place on Pianosa, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. The reader witnesses Yossarian and his desperate attempts to get out of the war. He was once a great bombardier, but loses interest after he witnesses the death of a man on his plane. He no longer cares about the assigned missions and instead "had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive" (29). Yossarian finds himself trapped in the war due to his antagonist, Colonel Cathcart, a man so interested in being promoted that he will put other people's lives in danger. The problem is that Cathcart continually raises the number of missions required of the men in order to complete their service in the army. "They were in a race and knew it, because they knew from bitter experience that Colonel Cathcart might raise the number of missions again at any time" (27). Yossarian finds himself closing in on the number of missions he needs to get out of the war, but sees the number rise just before he can get there. He can also be excused from service if he is insane, but Catch-22 makes this option impossible. One part of Catch-22 says that a man is insane if he flies his bombing missions, but if the man says that he is insane and asks to be excused from duty, the fact that he is requesting this proves that he is in fact perfectly sane because "a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind" (46).
Catch-22 features many separate characters, all of which have their own side stories. The book often switches from present to past to allow the reader to learn much about many of the characters. Most of the focus, however, is given to Yossarian, a character who is hard not to like and feel sorry for. The novel shows how Yossarian and the other characters spend their time in the army-both during missions and during their free time. The reader gets to witness how the characters deal with the war and watch as some of them, characters like Colonel Cathcart and the cook, Milo Minderbinder, use the war to their advantage. Catch-22 is a constant struggle by Yossarian to save his life and to stop flying bombing missions.
Catch-22 features several important themes. The first shows how power and money corrupt. Most people would hate being at war, but Colonel Catchart and Milo Minderbinder definitely do not mind. Cathcart is a man who cares about little else than being promoted. His powerful position and hunger for more power drives him to raise the number of missions his men must fly in order to complete their military service in order to impress his superiors and possibly get his promotion. Milo, on the other hand, is totally driven by money. He runs a syndicate where he is constantly buying and selling goods throughout Europe. However, he begins to lose money and is willing to do just about anything to make money back. "One night, after a sumptuous evening meal, all Milo's fighters and bombers took off, joined in formation directly overhead and began dropping bombs on the group. He had landed another contract with the Germans, this time to bomb his own outfit" (257). Both Milo and Cathcart are willing to endanger the other soldiers just to feed their appetites for money and power. Their corruption is only one of the several themes present in Catch-22.
Other ideas that are introduced in the novel are the loss of faith and the uselessness of war. After being involved in the war for so long, Yossarian has abandoned any belief in a higher being. He says, "And don't tell me God works in mysterious ways. There's nothing so mysterious about it. He's not working at all. He's playing. Or else He's forgotten all about us...What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His...Why in the world did He ever create pain?" (179). The war, along with the viciousness and selfishness of the people that Yossarian deals with have led him to lose any religious faith he might have had. He does not agree with the war that he is fighting in and seeing his friends die in. War, in the novel, is overall depicted as useless since there is no real reason why the men are fighting, except for the benefit of people higher up in command.
Overall, Catch-22 is an excellent book. The only complaints that could be made about it is the fact that it is sometimes difficult to follow since the plot jumps from the present to past without warning. Also, there are numerous characters with many names and military positions to get confused. However, after a while, one will get used to this and it will not be hard to finish the novel. Joseph Heller decides to depict war in a comical and satirical manner, styles that are not often used for books in the war genre. It is a very funny book, but is also deeply significant since it addresses the ideas of power, money, corruption, religion, and the uselessness and viciousness of war.