Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Banned Book #1: "Catch-22"

by Pa Rock

Colonel Cathcart kept raising the number of missions that the flight crews in his squadron would have to fly before they could be transferred home.  Every time the pilots, co-pilots, bombardiers, and gunners would begin reaching the magic number of thirty-five, or forty, or fifty - Colonel Cathcart would raise the number needed even higher.  Captain Yossarian (his friends called him "Yo-Yo") was a flight bombardier who felt that people on both sides of the war were trying to kill him, and he wanted no more of it.  Unfortunately for Yossarian, he ran squarely into Catch-22.

One way to get out of combat - and flying combat missions - was to be determined to be crazy.  It was generally agreed that people who willingly flew into the face of death day after day must be crazy, but as soon as anyone tried to leverage their obvious insanity to get out of combat, that was seen as a rational act and proof that they were not crazy.   It was an insurmountable catch:  Catch-22.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is the fictional story of a squadron of soldiers of the U.S. Army Air Corps stationed on a small island, Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II.  They were responsible for conducting bombing raids into Italy and across Europe.  Yossarian was a misfit, an unfortunate and unhappy misfit trying to survive in a war being run at the local level by other misfits, bullies, charlatans, and profiteers.

This novel has been banned over the years due to obscenity, though there is little obscene material in its pages by today's standards.  It could be read by most high school students who are fortunate enough to have educated and open-minded parents.  The real reason that some entities and locales have problems with Catch-22 is the impression that it gives of war.  The novel vacillates between absurdities and horrors to such a degree that readers tend to become overwhelmed with the craziness of war.  It is a very dangerous book, one that could lead to pacifistic tendencies.

This was my second complete reading of Catch-22, with the first time being over thirty years ago.  I'm glad that I came back to it - because it is as relevant today as it was back when it was first published in 1962.  Catch-22 is a difficult read because there is so much going on, and the action shifts forward and backward in time during the course of the novel.   The book takes effort, but the effort is rewarded with the satisfaction and learning that come with absorbing a truly important piece of literature.

Catch-22 reminds us all that the bottom line of war is business.  It is about industry, big business,  and certain people making obscene amounts of money - whether those people are Minderbinders or Cheneys.   And while the rich profit from wars, they seldom fight in them - and it is even rarer that they are victims of war.     The victims of war are and always have been the poor, the elderly, the young, and those without means.

The people at the top understand war and know what it is about.   Books like Catch-22 are dangerous because they reach across the social strata and reveal the true nature of war to the masses.


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