It’s the lose-lose situation. There’s no way around it. Yossarian is stuck in a war he doesn’t want to fight, but he can’t get out of the war because he is sane enough to think he wants to live. His only responsibility is to fly in missions, and the number of missions required to complete his service is continually raised by a crazy Colonel who will do anything to get published in The Saturday Evening Post. People have to be crazy to fly in missions, and showing that you are insane is the only way to get you disqualified from service. However, you cannot make this request of a doctor, because asking to be grounded from missions in order to remove yourself from danger is obviously the process of a sane mind. Therefore, you are sane and must fly interminable missions. Catch-22.
Catch-22 also applies to every other situation in the book. From a dead tent-mate that was never officially recorded, so he can never officially be moved out, to a permanently high fever and a non-existent liver condition that qualify Yossarian for a stay in the hospital whenever he wants to get away from it all, nothing has a simple solution. Throughout the book, we learn about all the friends in his squadron who, by the end of the book, have all been killed in some fashion or another, and about the harebrained Generals and Colonels who are only following their personal obsessions and their orders from higher up. Then there’s also the guy in charge of the mess hall, who serves gourmet meals with products he runs on the black market. The whole operation spans all across Europe and down into northern Africa, and he plans everything at the expense of government money. He runs all the products, and then he sells everything to himself from a different location at a loss, but somehow manages to make a profit for everyone involved because everyone has a share of the syndicate. Catch-22.
Nothing makes sense, but there is nothing anybody can do about it because every argument is made with such infallible illogic that there is no reasonable comeback. The most compelling argument of all? Why not? This is the second time I’ve read Catch-22 and it only got better. Heller’s word play isn’t quite as lyrical as Nabokov, and his satire isn’t quite as sharp as Vonnegut, but when you combine those two with the inevitable “why not?” you come out with one of the best books since…sliced bread. The world of Catch-22 is a little difficult to keep track of, which is kind of the point. Each new chapter tells the reader about a different character, and overall we learn a little more about what has happened to Yossarian each time we meet someone new. The story circles around on itself, so it is hard to remember what happened in what order and which characters you should keep track of, but eventually it mostly makes sense. It is also an excellent lesson in SAT and GRE words. You must read this book. If I had to rank my favorite books ever (Harry Potter aside to give others a fair chance), Catch-22 would probably come in first. I love it, so you must as well.