This article is from the January issue of Total Politics
Catch-22 remains my favourite book of all time. It brilliantly captures the daily horrors of war through the tragicomic adventures of a group of airmen flying missions in World War II.
Heller mercilessly sends up the bureaucracy that hampers so much of the American armed forces and undermines morale, whether it be refusing to acknowledge the dead man in Yossarian’s tent, or the promotion of Major Major by an IBM machine with a sense of humour.
There is Milo Minderbinder, the capitalist who uses his position to profit from the war, who even accepts a contract to bomb his own airbase.
And then there is Catch-22 itself, the doctrine that specifies that a concern for one’s safety in the face of real and immediate danger is the process of a rational mind. You cannot fly if you’re crazy, but the moment you point this out to the authorities you are rated as sane and fit to fly.
I first read this book for relaxation during my degree exams. My then-roommate and I used to read out extracts to avoid facing up to the challenges of the day.
I may have learnt more from this book than my whole course.
Peter Black is the Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West