Catch-22 at 50

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Read Morris Dickstein’s perceptive analysis of how Joseph Heller’s iconic novel, Catch-22, continues to impact America’s troubled psyche. Like a bracing speech by Ron Paul, it spoke truth to power, especially to those who were soon to face the dire prospects of war in Vietnam:

What made Catch-22 so appealing to the young, no doubt, was its bracing cynicism, which rapidly became the default mindset of undergraduates everywhere. Flying in the face of what everyone imagined about the “greatest generation,” it mocked heroic ideals as little more than manipulative rhetoric, eviscerated mass organizations as totalitarian institutions that chewed up individual lives, treated the army as a system for killing its own men more than the enemy, and sent up its vaunted officers, for all their medals, as pompous, dull-witted, vainglorious fools. For the soldier caught up in this operational nightmare, the only escape was to look out for number one, to save one’s own skin. Yossarian is rightly accused of having “no respect for excessive authority or obsolete traditions.” One of the book’s sharpest reviewers, Robert Brustein, called this “a new morality based on an old ideal, the morality of refusal.”

6:28 pm on September 20, 2011