Joseph Heller

One of numerous ruinous effects of human conflicts, war is one such consequence which not only has a detrimental impact on the lives of the victim but also a negative effect on the lives of the soldiers who are fighting this war. Numerous conflicts arise in the mind of the soldiers, as they start to realize that they are risking their own lives for the fulfillment of the other peoples wish. The novel Catch 22 by Joseph Heller depicts the conflicts experienced by the soldiers in course of the war through the depiction of Yossarians life as a soldier. Yossarian, a bombardier fighting in the World War II, feels that his life is put at risk by his Commanders to secure fame and recognition for themselves. Even though Yossarian realizes that his life is put in danger by his superiors for the sake of attainment of their aims of success, he is unable to rebel against the superiors, for if he rebelled against the superiors, he would be court-martialed. At same time, if he stayed in the army, he will have a small chance of survival owing to the rising number of bombing missions on which he is send by his superiors. In such circumstances, Yossarians only hope of surviving in his military career was to conform to the life of an average pilot whose fate is decided by strangers. Yossarians only chance of retaining his position in the military was to accept the orders of his superiors but at the same time his only chance was an escalating threat to his life.

    Yossarian finds himself in a Catch 22 situation owing to the power of bureaucracy and the superiors in the armed forces. Yossarian had two choices before him one was to rebel against his superiors and face court-martial whereas the other was to accept the orders of his superiors and fly on an ever-increasing missions. In both the choices, it would be Yossarian who have to bear the losses. One choice would result in humiliation for him, as he would lose his position in the military while the other choice would lead to a situation where his chances of survival will go on reducing as the numbers of missions go on increasing. The hold of bureaucracy on the armed forces had created a situation where the fate of the soldiers rested in the hands of their superiors. These superiors ignored the safety of their pilots and strove to gain fame and success for them. The increasing number of missions point towards the indifferent attitude of the superiors towards the safety of their pilots. The superiors are so consumed with the fulfillment of their aims and desires that they ignore the detrimental effects the rising number of missions is having on the thinking and behavior of the pilots. 

    One of the rules imposed by the bureaucracy on the pilots brings forth the absolute power of   bureaucracy in the armed forces. The rule is known as the Catch-22 rule. It mentions about the conditions in which a pilot can avoid flying on combat missions. The conditions are discussed by Doc Daneeka and Yossarian in context to the mental state of Orr, a pilot. There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that .would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didnt, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didnt have to but if he didnt want to he was sane and had to.  (Heller 46). But as both the conditions were impossible to be fulfilled by the pilots, it was necessary for every pilot to fly on combat missions. Yossarian realizes that the Catch-22 rule puts the pilots in such a situation where he is left with no other choice but to continue flying on missions. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. Thats some catch, that Catch-22, Yossarian observed. (Heller 46). Even insanity cannot aid a pilot in evading the combat missions, for the rule specified that if a pilot comprehended the risk for his life in course of the missions and asked to be grounded on the basis of his insanity, it implies that the pilot is sane and is fit to participate in the combat missions.

    The power of bureaucracy compels Yossarian to obey the orders of his superiors even if it meant that he was being pushed on the verge of death during his each mission. As the number of missions rose, the chances of his being alive after the war were becoming less. The number of missions was also decided by the superiors. The stipulated number of missions the pilots are required to fly is lesser than the actual number of missions ordered by the superiors, and this is pointed out by Wintergreen in his conversation with Yossarian. Even though, explains ex-PFC Wintergreen to him, the 27th  Air Force says he only has to fly forty missions, this doesnt mean he can go home..because the commander had ordered everyone to do so, and he will be shot if he disobeys the order thus says  Catch 22. (Combs  Nimmo151). Even if Yossarian harbored intense desire to defy the orders of his superiors, he could not to do so owing to the fear of being court-martialed. Even when Yossarian claims that he is insane and asks to be grounded, his request is refused, for Catch 22 specifies that if a pilot asks to be grounded in face of danger then he is sane enough to be send on flying missions. The Doc agrees, only to say, however, that, since he has asked, he cannot be excused, since to ask such a thing on the grounds that one is crazy is to reveal a rational concern for ones own welfare. (Beidler 100). Through Catch 22, the superiors are given powers which they can utilize to do anything. One of the characters in the novel points out at these powers of the superiors, Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we cant stop them from doing. (Heller 398). Yossarian has to yield in to the orders of his superiors to ensure his survival in the military. The rising number of missions shows how the bureaucracy enforced its own system on the pilots and held them under its control.   

    The fate of Yossarian is decided by his superiors, for they are ones who decide the number of missions he is required to fly. Although he is determined to be alive and tries to avoid flying on missions, his efforts are thwarted by his superiors. Even his attempts to prove that he is insane and therefore needed to be grounded are futile, as the superiors are firm in their decision to send him on combat missions. On the contrary, his request to be grounded for being insane is taken by his superiors as a sign that proves his sanity. Yossarian is aware of the fact that his fate is being decided by his superiors. He also realizes that he is not only fighting the enemies but also his superior officers who are risking his life for achieving their aims. He considers that even his superior officers are one of his enemies The enemy, retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, is anybody whos going to get you killed, no matter which side hes on. (Heller 122).  But he is unable to fight against the powerful superiors, who can bring an end to his career in the military if he failed to obey them. The only choice he had was to conform to the lifestyle which was enforced upon him by his superiors.

    Yossarian faced the risk of being killed every time he went on a combat mission but obeying the orders of his superiors and flying in the combat missions was the only hope of his survival. In circumstances where his fate was being decided by his superiors, acting in accordance to the orders of his superiors is the only alternative that gives Yossarian any chance

at determining and controlling his own fate.  He allowed himself to be treated like a puppet by his government, for this gave him a chance to maintain his position in military. Although he
disliked the kind of life he was made to lead in the military, he continued living his life according to the wishes of his superiors so that he can find a way to avoid the combat missions and strengthen his chances of survival. He wanted to be in the army and at the same he was not prepared to put his life in danger for the fulfillment of the aims of his superiors. To achieve both his aims, Yossarian had to conform to the system imposed by his superiors and the bureaucracy.

    Although Yossarian conforms to the life of an average pilot like all other pilots in his group, he views his horrible situation from a satirical perspective. This satirical view adds color to his otherwise dull life and aids him in surviving the hardships of his life as a pilot flying on combat missions. His claim of insanity fails to aid him in achieving his aim of escaping the combat missions. Catch 22 shows its protagonist, Yossarian, as the victim of a mad, conspiratorial military and political complex caught in a closed system from which his simple desire to escape proves his sanity and so his fitness to go on serving for it. (Gray 602). But instead of being disappointed by this failure, Yossarian views his situation from a humorous point of view and refers to it as the Catch 22 situation. He continues behaving in a manner which will show to his superiors that he is insane. When his superiors are talking about winning the war, Yossarian replies that he is not just interested in winning the war but also being alive. Youre talking about winning the war, and I am talking about winning the war and keeping alive. (Heller 122). Yossarian satirizes the view of his superiors and makes them to look behind war and wining. While all the other pilots in his group have turned into cold and unemotional

flying on combat missions, he presents himself as an ill man and gets admitted to a hospital. During his stay in the hospital also, he maintains his satiric view while looking at his horrible situation.  In times of distress and hardship, Yossarians satiric view provides him with the strength to bear with his hopeless situation. In a world where human beings were turned into robots by the ruthless power of the bureaucracy and the superiors, Yossarian succeeds in remaining a human who is saddened by the fact that the lives of the pilots is being put into danger for fulfilling the selfish desires of the superiors. He dares to think differently when all the men in the military strive to kill as much as people in the name of patriotism. Although he projects himself as an insane person, he is the sanest person in the crazy world of military. His satirical view is the reason which enables him to stay in sane in circumstances which can drive any person on the verge of insanity.

    The novel Catch 22 by Joseph Heller depicts the theme of absolute power of bureaucracy and superiors in the armed forces through the depiction of life of a pilot, Yossarian, fighting in the World War II. The power of bureaucracy and superiors in the military is evident from the situation of Yossarian. Although Yossarian realizes the fact that his fate is being decided by his superiors, he is forced to obey their orders owing to the fear of court-martial. He is made to conform to the average life of a pilot who is forced to fly on a rising number of combat missions, in order to ensure his survival in the military. But at the same time, his decision to obey the orders of his superiors reduces his chances of surviving the war.  The rising number
human beings, Yossarian strives to maintain his sanity amidst the horrors of war. To escape of missions point towards the hold of bureaucracy and superiors on the lives of the pilots. The satiric view of Yossarian aids him in surviving in the crazy world of the military.