Catch 22 — Joseph Heller

There’s a famous line in Peter Sellers’ classic movie Dr. Strangelove, “You can’t fight in here – this is the War Room!”. If you were to boil this classic novel down to one line then the above would be as representative as any you could take from its pages. As much a treatise on the inherent contradictions in going to war (see also Orwell’s Ministry of Peace doublethink from 1984), the insanities caused and the men affected as it is a deeply amusing, entertaining and noteworthy read.

Centred on the experiences of Yossarian, a Captain in a U.S.A.F. group based off the coast of Italy who considers himself to be the only sane member of a squadron of lunatics. Most of his compadres reckon the much same thing about themselves, however. Yossarian has something of a case though, believing everyone’s out to kill him hardly seems like paranoid delusions given that those German fellas keep shooting flak at him while he’s trying to kill them.

Of course, this isn’t non-fiction, thankfully, otherwise this mess of a group wouldn’t have found its way out of America, given the mess officer Milo’s lucrative yet economically baffling profiteering including selling off the morphine from medical kits, top brass members more concerned with the tightness of bomb patterns when taken from aerial photographs rather than whether they hit the intended targets or not and more top brass who spend their time coming up with innovative ways to avoid talking to anyone.

With most chapters centring themselves, or at least mentioning at one point a catch 22 situation (if you’ve somehow managed to avoid the phrase up to now, essentially two mutually contradictory conditions which must be filled simultaneously for a desired outcome. It’s phrased a little more elegantly in the book), there’s plenty of comic potential in the book that’s adroitly realised by Heller, along with the by this point very familiar theme that War Is Hell™, the main difference here being that War Is Also Dumb.

Obviously, Catch 22 is the sort of celebrated cult classic novel that you can’t possibly have been waiting for a recommendation from ‘some random Internet guy’ (as I like to think of myself) to seek out and read, but if you’re anything like me it has been on your ‘to read’ pile for years without bubbling to the top. All I saying is that it’s definitely worth moving it up the pecking order.