Monday, June 8, 2015

Examining War's Moral Dilemma with Joseph Heller's "Catch-22"

Joseph Heller, author of “Catch-22,” joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 soon after finishing high school.  It was certainly his experiences as a B-25 Bombardier that inspired this classic anti-war novel.  Since its release in 1961, the novel has sold over 10 million copies and is said to be a satirical look at the immoral and illogical rules of authority.

Yossarian, a WWII bombardier, is the main character caught in the middle of a circular problem.  He wants to stop flying dangerous missions, but to do so he must be medically diagnosed as “crazy.”  If he asks to stop flying missions, he must not be crazy since that would prove he is concerned about his safety, as any sane person flying in a war zone would be.  The situation described here is an Air Force regulation known to be Catch-22, so named by Heller in his creation of the phrase and its meaning.  It is a phenomenon that this term, “Catch-22,” became such a buzz word to describe all sorts of senseless situations, and is often still used today, even by those who confess to never having read Heller’s book.   

When I think about this contradictory type of situation, I am reminded of my days as a philosophy student.  A catch-22 seems to be a problem that may not even exist!  Noted philosophy professor Laurence Goldstein expounded on this paradox by stating that this is an example of “a welter of words that amounts to nothing; it is without content, it conveys no information at all.”  I believe Heller intended to prove the point that war is indeed pointless.  There is of course a popular debate over the necessity of war, but I beg the question of why evil is necessary?  War is a social trap that snags emotions when there is unsettled disagreement.   While reflecting on the many dichotomies found in this book, I keep coming up with the ending analysis of a “lose-lose situation.”  And, as we’ve all heard “history repeats” … war then must be a kink in the circle of life!

The style Heller uses to tell Yossarian’s story is circular in and of itself.  Each scene repeats, from various character perspectives and builds on information received by its readers. If you initially feel confused while reading I encourage you to stick to it, with promises that this literary puzzle will pull you into a vortex of thought, and that this mind spin is worth the trip

Join the Centennial Book Club’s discussion of “Catch-22” at 6:00 p.m. on June 23, in West Jefferson’s Hotel Tavern.  The film based on Heller’s novel will be shown at 2:00 p.m. on June 27 in Ashe County Library.

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