Monday, October 17, 2011

Catch 22 Joseph Heller

' I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.’ ... Yossarian, pg. 442 in Catch 22. As I was getting to the end of the book, this phrase got stuck in my mind. And it basically sums up the comedy in every chapter of the book. The tragedies and human decencies in every chapter see someone else cashing in on them.

I started reading this book almost 2 months ago. When I first picked it up, I found it to be a rambling sort of book. But like many books which I persevered, it got better as I went on. Ideals are good but not all people are good is another phrase which caught my eye. Instead of the usual novel on bravery, sacrifice and everything noble that I usually read in novels about war, this one highlights the greed that turns people in opportunists in every situation and it felt like reading a comedy of errors.

One can't help but laugh at how Milo transformed his war into a business enterprise, how he profited by snitching the emergency kits and supplies on the planes for his own profit. Or how he bombed his own side just so that there is more profit for him. And how he as the mess officer 'abused' government facilities and properties for his personal gain and justifying it as a good for all - using the air force planes to source eggs, cotton, tomatoes, potatoes and everything else to prosper his enterprise. Or how Colonel Korn or Colonel Cathcart tried to advance their own careers at the price of their men's lives; by increasing the number of missions for the men each time the target is achieved. They profited greatly by working in cohort with Milo. It resulted in almost none of the original squadron members getting out alive. People cashing in on every decent impulse, every human tragedy.

I did some reading up while I was mid way through the book and discovered that the phrase Catch 22 was coined from this book. It means a no win situation. The men in the stories were in a no win situation. Survive a bomb run, only to live through another nightmarish run. And so it goes on and on because their superiors wanted more for themselves. There was no way out for these men who kept seeing their goal posts moved after getting there.

War makes us to lose ourselves. You lose either your life or ideals. Either way, a part of you dies. You can feel the characters losing themselves as you follow their brief lives in the book. War is a farce that profits those on top.... to the ones who did the actual fighting and dying, they are pumped up with huge doses of noble aims - to sum it up, freedom from the yoke of oppression. Yet those at the top live to enjoy that freedom, while those who fight for that freedom die in the process. Now, how not to become a cynic on that?

I started reading this book on my iPod Touch but ended up reading on my iPad because upon updating my iOS, i discovered that the app that I had been using all this while, Stanza would not work with the the new iOS. And that set me on another little journey to find out why. And the reason was this. About 2 years ago, Amazon had bought up Stanza. Stanza had been rated as one of the best ebook readers around and I agree. You can download books wirelessly to your iPod Touch or iPad if you had it installed on your desktop. Turns out, Amazon bought it and let Stanza die. Good small product giving big company a run for their money. Big company buys small company. Left it there to rot. And with the new iOS, Stanza is as good as dead. But I am sure the guy who wrote Stanza got a good deal.... too bad little people like me won't get to enjoy using Stanza any more.

On a note of cynicism myself, this is book 27.

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