'I saw authority as corrupt & self-serving': Thornton
This article is from the July 2013 issue of Total Politics
I first read Catch-22 in 1969, at the age of 17. I was on a beach on the island of Limnos. The sun blazed and the alcohol was cheap.
The Vietnam War was claiming more lives every day, Harold Wilson was prime minister and I was part of a generation that saw authority in any form as, at best, incompetent, and, at its worst, corrupt and self-serving. Catch-22, published in 1961, seemed to be the perfect expression of all of those views.
The book describes the desperate and seemingly impossible attempt by bomber pilot Captain Yossarian to stay alive in WW2.
Its anti-authority tone is summed up by Heller’s ‘Catch-22’, a bureaucratic method of blocking all attempts at justice. Its first use is when it is clear to Yossarian that his fellow pilot Orr should no longer be flying:
“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.
“Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.”
It is an anti-establishment, anti-bureaucratic, anti-war novel that is a classic of its day.