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Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 published in 1961 is about a bombardier in World War II named John Yossarian and his quest to evade the ludicrous amount of missions he is being forced to fly. In Catch-22 there are over forty characters that have significant roles excluding Yossarian. Out of all of these characters Milo Minderbinder plays the most significant role in this classic novel. Milo is Yossarian’s mess officer who his obsessed with buying and selling for a profit, he also seems to have no allegiance to anyone or anything.
In the novel Milo creates a syndicate which spirals out of control leading to several important events critical to the novel. If Milo was eradicated from the text it would considerably take away from the book as a whole. Yossarian first meets Milo when Yossarian receives a letter from Doc Daneeka that entitled him to all the fruits and fruit juices he wants because of his liver condition. Milo becomes fascinated with the letter and he tries to persuade Yossarian to become partners with him so they could sell fruit for profit.
Milo tells Yossarian about the organization that he is trying to form “The syndicate I’d like to form someday so that I can give you men the good food you deserve” (Heller 66). Initially Milo does just that with his syndicate he gets permission from Major __ De Coverley to use planes to get fresh eggs from Malta and retrieve other goods for the squadron while making a profit at the same time. In time Milo’s small syndicate becomes a major company in the world M & M enterprises. The M & M in M & M enterprises stands for Milo & Minderbinder the & is used to dispel any thought that M & M enterprises is an owned or run by one man.
As a result of M & M enterprises Milo becomes a prominent world figure and he claims to be mayor of Palermo, the assistant governor-general of Malta, the vice-shah of Oran, and the caliph of Baghdad. For the good of M & M enterprises Milo starts taking essential items like the CO2 cartridges in the emergency life vests and the morphine in first aid kits. Milo then replaces the missing items with letters that contain M & M enterprises motto “What’s good for M & M enterprises is good for the country. Milo Minderbinder” (Heller 436).
This refers to Milo’s original theory of the syndicate that everyone has a share and what is good for the syndicate is god for everybody. Milo and M & M enterprises dealt with all countries including the Germans and it was not long before he was contracted by the Germans to defend a highway bridge at Orvieto although the Americans also contracted to bomb that same bridge. Milo was able to make a huge profit however the dead man in Yossarian’s tent Mudd happened to be killed on that mission. Yossarian accuses Milo of killing Mudd and Milo defends himself by stating “But I didn’t kill him.
I wasn’t even there, I tell you. I was in Barcelona buying olive and skinless and boneless sardines, and I’ve got the purchase orders to prove it. And I didn’t get the thousand dollars. That thousand dollars went to the syndicate, and everybody got a share even you” (Heller255-256). Milo uses the fact that he wasn’t actually at the Orvieto at the time of Mudd’s death and that the thousand dollar profit he made went to the syndicate and not him to defend his innocence. M & M enterprises begins to falter when Milo makes a foolish decision to buy the whole Egyptian cotton market.
Milo admits to Yossarian his regrets about buying the cotton “Yossarian, what am I going to do with so much cotton? It’s all your fault for letting me by it. “(Heller 257). Milo could no longer afford to store all his cotton and when ever he sold some for a loss Egyptian Brokers bought it and sold it back to him for the original contract price. Milo then turned to desperate measures like trying to feed the men in his squadron chocolate covered cotton. Until Yossarian suggests selling the cotton to the government Milo dose not get rid of the cotton.
Before Milo gets rid of the he makes one more contract with the Germans to pay some of his cotton expenses. Milo contracted with the Germans to bomb all four of his squadrons wounding and killing many of his own men. “This time Milo had gone too far. Bombing his own men and planes was more than even the most phlegmatic observer could stomach and it looked like the end for him. ” (Heller 259). Every one was completely disgusted with Milo’s actions until he showed every one the profit that he had made. He had made enough to reimburse the government and he made an argument that since the government is the people nd the people owned the syndicate there was no need to reimburse the government. After this explanation almost everybody agreed with Milo and with the profit he made he could spend on Egyptian cotton. While performing his duties as a mess officer and managing M & M enterprises Milo had not flown many combat mission. Milo had been overseas eleven months and only flown six missions including the Orvieto mission and when he bombed his own squadrons. Milo asks Colonel Cathcart for permission to fly his missions although he is forbidden to fly even one more mission because M & M enterprises will fall apart without Milo.
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Colonel Cathcart and Milo come up with the plan to have the other men in the squadron fly missions for him “They might even take turns flying your missions for you, Milo. “(Heller 374). This raises the number of missions from seventy to eighty for all the men. Without Milo Minderbinder Catch-22 the classic novel by Joseph Heller would be significantly damaged. Milo’s actions affect everyone in the novel and without his presence in the so many things could not have happened. It can even be argued that Milo is just as significant as Yossarian is in the novel.
Author: Irvin Norwood
Catch 22 Milo Minderbinder
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The classic novel that coined the term describing impossible situations is celebrating its 50th birthday. So how close does Catch-22 come to accurately portraying today's military?
Most people will have uttered a remark about being caught between a rock and a hard place, in a Catch-22 situation. A no-win dilemma where you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
But fewer people will have read the 1961 novel of the same name that propelled the phrase into the English language.
Catch-22 was published 50 years ago. Written by Joseph Heller, it describes the wartime experiences of B-25 bombardier, Captain John Yossarian. Heller himself had served as a US Air Force bombardier in World War II.
He drags us through the muck and absurdity of a droll group of WWII airmen stationed on a small island off the coast of Tuscany - taking in the dark and brutal nature of war. In it hero Yossarian takes drastic measures to avoid flying an ever-increasingly required number of dangerous missions.
- Captain John Yossarian is the protagonist and hero. He is a bombardier in the 256th Squadron of the Army Air Corps during World War II, responsible for sighting and releasing bombs. All he really wants to do is go home.
- Milo Minderbinder is the mess officer who runs a global black-market syndicate. He pursues profit unscrupulously, going so far as to bomb his own men as part of a contract.
- Major Major Major Major was born Major Major Major and is unjustly promoted to major. He is uncomfortable with his new role and lonely because it keeps him at a distance from the other men.
- Colonel Cathcart, who keeps increasing the number of missions the men have to fly to complete a tour of duty, is the bane of Yossarian's life. He's obsessed with promotion and will do anything to please his superiors.
- General Dreedle is the typical no-nonsense military man, who is exceedingly demanding of his soldiers. His arch-rival General Peckem wants to take his place in Pianosa.
- Doc Daneeka is disgruntled that he was drafted and is missing out on a lucrative medical career. "Why me?" is his attitude towards war.
The only way to avoid such deadly assignments was to plead insanity, but to do so exposed a desire to live - a core aspect of the sane.
Paul Bates, 42, understands Yossarian's plight. A lieutenant colonel with the British army's Royal Artillery regiment, he is currently working as the operations officer with the US Marine Corps in Afghanistan, he says Heller is spot-on in his depiction of this internal conflict.
"Many observers say that the character of conflict changes because of such things as technological advances. But the nature of conflict, the brutal, chaotic nature of it and the associated emotions - fear, exhilaration, anxiety, courage - remain the same.
"I see that in the book and have experienced it throughout my time in the Army. Yossarian was afraid of dying, so were many of his colleagues, and he was going to do everything in his power to try to prevent it from happening."
Yossarian, who of course was drafted into the war, takes drastic measures to avoid flying dangerous missions. These include poisoning the squadron, making up fictitious ailments to stay in hospital and moving the bomb line on the map during the "Great Big Siege of Bologna".
Lt Col Bates says other Catch-22 characters are just as recognisable.
"Others were fatalists. They say things like: 'If you're destined to be killed over Bologna, then you're going to be killed, so you might just as well go out and die like a man.' Both of these approaches are ways to deal with fear of existing in a profession where you are trained to kill and might be killed yourself.
"I've seen them both on operations along with others, like the blase demeanour of Aarfy or Havermeyer's invincibility complex. I myself am a fatalist. If it's your time, it's your time."
Lt Col Bates also sees similarities in frustrations surrounding the military's hierarchical organisation, which gives rise to comic, inept characters in command positions such as Cathcart, Dreedle and Peckem.
Bless Joseph Heller for a guidebook for the past 50 yearsDr Roy Heidicker
There is a quote in the book: "Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three." It sums up a character who was unjustly promoted to the rank of major, on account of his birth name.
"By virtue of their appointment alone and their position in the chain of command, they are allowed to get away with enforcing outrageous self-serving orders that those below are powerless to resist for fear of extreme military punishment," says Col Bates.
Heller wrote of the combat men in the squadron being "bullied, insulted, harassed and shoved about all day long by one after the other", unable to object to orders.
In Catch-22, for those lower down the food chain, there is nowhere to go to question methods. The same can be true today mainly because the army employs the same top-down reporting system that was in place 70 years ago, says Lt Col Bates.
"This is where the military finds itself in a Catch-22. It needs to adopt a strict hierarchical system in order to fulfil its mission. There is little time for debate in a conflict situation. And yet this system can give birth to both brilliance and toxicity."
When the book was published in 1961, reviews were polarised, ranging from "the best novel in years" to "disorganised, unreadable, and crass". Views still are.
Rex Temple, a retired US Air Force senior master sergeant, says he a hard time reading Heller's comical depiction of life in the armed forces. He found it hard relating to the characters, their actions and their relationships.
"Perhaps I am a bit biased because I served 28 years in a more mature and reformed service. Even past discussions with World War II veterans did not reveal anything like that portrayed in Catch-22.
"Our current military is much more disciplined and respectful than the characters portrayed by Heller. There really is no comparison to the current tours in Afghanistan or Iraq."
Although he did find one similarity - field mice in the tents.
Insanity and absurdity
"Except [now] an individual would be court-martialled if they used their government-issued weapons to kill rodents inside. Generally, it is forbidden to eat food inside because the falling crumbs attract insects, which attract lizards or mice," he says.
Dr Roy Heidicker, 4th Fighter wing historian based at the US Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, says those who serve are too busy with their duties to appreciate the irony of their circumstances.
- More than 10 million copies sold in 21 languages
- Time magazine puts Catch-22 in the top 100 English language modern novels
- Heller started the novel in 1953 and it took him eight years to finish
- Catch-22 was adapted into a feature film in 1970, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Alan Arkin, Art Garfunkel and Martin Sheen
During his time serving in the US Marine Corps, Dr Heidicker acted as battery supply officer, just like the outrageous Milo Minderbinder - Heller's mess officer who runs an international black-market syndicate.
He pursues profit unscrupulously, but insists that "everyone has a share" in the syndicate. A classic interaction has Minderbinder looking to trick Yossarian into eating, and enjoying, chocolate-covered cotton, as he desperately tries to find a way to feed the men his latest acquisition, seeds and all.
"Milo would have been proud of me as I developed my own 'everybody wins' method of doing business," says Heidicker.
"If battalion supply didn't have it, chances were I did. I brought my system with me when I ran Regimental Special Services and had a flair for trading excess equipment for short equipment resulting in perfect inventories."
When someone writes the next great military novel, Dr Heidicker says, all insanity and absurdity will be documented through politicians, pundits and the man on the street.
"Bless Joseph Heller for a guidebook for the past 50 years. We search, hopefully not in vain, for a guidebook to help us through the next 50."