Elizabeth J. Shafer

"You mean there's a catch?"
"Sure there's a catch, " Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.
Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and had to fly more missions.
Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

                                                                                               - Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

Joseph Heller, who died last December, held the admiration of many for the past four decades for his depiction of the stark irrationality of war and his exploration, in absurdly circular words, of the paradoxical power of language to misstate and obscure meaning.

Both aspects unfortunately remain relevant to the justifications offered for the retention of nuclear weapons and the promotion of nuclear power. The policy of deterrence absurdly asserts that the world is made safer by the threat of nuclear war. Article IV of the NPT provides for assistance to non-nuclear weapon states in the development of nuclear energy for "peaceful" purposes, thus perpetuating the myth of a distinction between the dangers of nuclear weapons and the "benefits" of nuclear power.

While Catch-22 was ostensibly about World War II, as the critic Alfred Kazin wrote, it "is really about the Next War, and thus about a war which will be without limits and without meaning, a war that will end when no one is alive to fight it". This is a precise description of nuclear war, with the unparalleled global ecocide that would result.

We shall miss hearing more of Heller's complex, ironic voice, but we need to heed his dark comic genius to overcome the impasse of Catch-2000.

- Elizabeth J. Shafer (New York lawyer and member of the LCNP Board)

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