Summary and Analysis
Captain Black is delighted when he hears that Colonel Cathcart has volunteered the squadron for an apparently treacherous raid on Bologna, which terrifies most of the airmen. The whole affair reminds Black of the fun he had scaring people with the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade. The airmen who must go on the run to Bologna are desperate to find a way to avoid the mission. Yossarian temporarily succeeds by exploiting the military's propensity for confusing cause and effect. Ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen, now a mail clerk at Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters, attempts to compete with Milo on the black market, selling Zippo lighters stolen from the quartermaster.
Captain Black is one of the more despicable characters in the novel. He is vengeful, mean-spirited, envious, and sadistic. Black's joy overflows when Colonel Cathcart volunteers the men for the dangerous Bologna assignment: "Oh, boy! I can't wait to see those bastards' faces when they find out they're going to Bologna. Ha, ha ha! . . . Eat your livers, you bastards. This time you're really in for it." The Captain hasn't been this happy since Major Duluth was killed, briefly leaving open the position of squadron commander, which Black felt should be his despite the fact that he is not even on combat status. Instead, the job went to Major Major — primarily because Colonel Cathcart had one too many Majors in his outfit. Vengeance against Major Major precipitated Captain Black's Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade; he accused Major of being a Communist and then insisted that everyone sign numerous loyalty oaths — except for Major, who was not allowed to sign any, thus putting his loyalty in question.
Although the setting of the novel is World War II, it was written during the 1950s, a decade of political repression and Cold War paranoia regarding Communism. U.S. Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy, from Wisconsin, became a national figure as the infamous leader of an anti-Communist witch-hunt. (See "Historical Background" in the "Introduction to the Novel" for more on this topic.) The satirical treatment of the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade reflects Heller's contempt for McCarthy and his influence. McCarthy's investigations implied that people must be guilty if they were accused. In the novel, investigators maintain the same reasoning in Clevinger's trial and in the application of loyalty oaths. As Captain Black says, people who are loyal "would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to." They need to sign more and more as the fervor mounts. Initially, Black orders that all combat personnel sign one loyalty oath to receive maps from the intelligence tent, another to get parachutes, and a third to qualify for a ride from the squadron to the airfield. Soon the men must sign oaths just to get their food at the mess hall. They must sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" to use the salt or pepper. They are so busy showing their patriotism that they hardly have time to fight the war. Heller seems to conclude that the best way to stop such a tide of venom is for each individual to take a stand against it. Major _______ de Coverley, recently returned from Rome, ends the crusade by simply refusing to sign a loyalty oath before being allowed to eat at the mess hall. "Gimme eat," he orders. Despite de Coverley's apparent absence of articulation, he is an impressive and respected figure with his majestic white hair and celluloid eye patch. The Great Big Siege of Bologna reminds Captain Black of the Loyalty Oath Crusade; he hasn't seen such fear in the squadron since those glory days (in the spring of 1944).
Death, which has served as a backdrop to the whimsy and mayhem of most of the novel to this point, now becomes a central theme. Clevinger, who is declared dead at the beginning of Chapter 10 (August 1944), is still alive during the flashback to the Bologna raid (late June 1944). Despite his trial the previous year, Clevinger still believes in the military system. Yossarian does not. "Open your eyes, Clevinger," Yossarian snaps. "It doesn't make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who's dead. . . . The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on."
Bologna has the reputation of being heavily guarded by intense flak. Yossarian has no desire to fly that mission. While others pray for a reprieve, Yossarian sees a possibility. The intelligence tent displays an easel map of Italy. On it, a scarlet strand of satin ribbon indicates the farthest advance of Allied troops. Bombs are to be dropped only on targets beyond that line, which runs forty-two miles south of Bologna. In a brilliant reversal of cause and effect, Yossarian sneaks to the easel map one night and moves the red satin ribbon to a point north of Bologna, indicating that the city has been taken. The mission must be canceled because the Allies have "captured" Bologna! Initially, no one bothers to check the reality of the situation; for the commanders, if the map says Bologna is captured, then it is captured. The only problem is to decide who will receive a medal for the victory. It goes to General Peckem, the commanding officer of the Special Services Corps, because he is the only one who asks for it.
As death looms, there is still room for satire based on exaggeration of military realities. Too often, the men acquiesce and display a herd mentality. When loyalty oaths are in vogue, far too many comply. When one airman panics and seeks two extra flak suits for the possible raid on Bologna, the others stampede to follow his example. The commanders also tend to believe whatever they are told. First, it is that Bologna has been captured because a ribbon is moved. Next, it is that the Germans have a new weapon. Yossarian convinces Colonel Korn that the enemy has developed a 344-millimeter "Lepage glue gun [that] glues a whole formation of planes in mid-air." In the bizarre satirical world of Catch-22, Colonel Korn passes on the information without hesitation or challenge.
torpid sluggish; slow and dull; lethargic; apathetic.
macabre literally, dance of death; grim; horrible; gruesome.
invidiously inciting ill will, odium, or envy.
laconic brief or terse in speech or expression.
furtive stealthy; sneaky; surreptitious.
wraith ghost; the spectral figure of a person seen as a premonition of death.