Catch-22 is a novel that tells many stories, but the crux of the novel concerns Joseph Yossarian, a bombardier stationed at the United States Army Air Force base on the fictional Mediterranean island of Pianosa. A war rages between the Allies and the Nazis, but there is another, more important war occurring for Yossarian - a far more personal war. His war is not only against the Germans but also against anyone else who tries to kill him, including the military hierarchy that demands that he continue to fly combat missions. According to Robert M. Young, Yossarian's only goal is to "live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission...[is] to come down alive" (Young). To Yossarian, the war begins to seem quite mad. Leon F. Seltzer states that Yossarian lives in a "nightmarish world in which one's superior...officers constitute a greater threat to one's life and sanity than the enemy" (188). Officers in the military should be models of leadership to their subordinates, setting an example and putting the needs of the men under their command before their own desires. The officers in Catch-22, however, abuse their power in order to achieve some personal goal: public recognition, promotions in rank or position, or some form of individual gratification. The men commanded by these corrupt leaders "no longer serve a cause; they serve the insane whims of their superiors," as indicated by Darren Felty (106). Joseph Heller's goal is not just to criticize the act of war, but also to satire "those who subvert...institutions for their own advantage" (Young 351). In Catch-22, Heller redefines the role of authority from responsibility and accountability that are used to serve and protect one's subordinates to control that allows self-seeking men to fulfill their selfish goals.
The main obstacle to Yossarian in achieving his goal is his wing commander, Colonel Cathcart, who constantly raises the number of missions his men have to fly before they can transfer stateside. Striving to be promoted to general, Col. Cathcart exploits military institutions only to polish his image. Granville Hicks describes Col. Cathcart as "a man who will stop at nothing to get promoted...who does not care how many men are killed if he can get a little favorable publicity" (172). Col. Cathcart increases the number of missions each time someone comes close in order to appear courageous to his superiors. Young states that Col. Cathcart "will gladly go on raising the number [of missions] to 6000, if that is what it takes to impress the generals" (Young). Attempting to gain recognition, Col. Cathcart invites the Chaplain to pray before the missions, but instead of praying for protection, Col. Cathcart has the Chaplain "pray for...a tighter bomb pattern" (192). Col. Cathcart is a dunce, and his superiors are not any more intelligent. Even though Col. Cathcart clearly uses his position to accomplish his personal goals, the catch-22 still applies. In this case, Catch-22 demonstrates that all soldiers have to obey their commanding officer.
Captain Black serves as the intelligence officer for Yossarian's squadron. Like every other authority figure in the novel, Captain Black strives to gain power and status. He thinks that he is the logical choice for squadron commander after Maj. Duluth dies because "he [is] the squadron intelligence officer, which [means] he [is] more intelligent than everyone in the squadron" (112). The High Command chooses Major Major as the new squadron commander, making Capt. Black suspicious that Maj. Major is both a communist and "Henry Fonda" (112). In order to prove his theory and to exact revenge, Capt. Black begins the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade. The "crusade" requires all enlisted men and officers on combat duty to sign a loyalty oath in order to receive maps, pay, and eventually, chow. The "men in the squadron [discover] themselves dominated by the administrators appointed to serve them" and begin to voice their opinions (113)....
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