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Catch-22 and Dr. Strangelove Essay

\In Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch-22, and Stanley Kubrick’s film, Dr. Strangelove, the bureaucrats are illustrated as illogical and untrustworthy. Heller’s attention to administrations such as the hospital and the military-establishment are recognized for their unreliable rationality and logic. Similarly, in Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick mocks the absurdities of the nuclear arms race and of the officials of the United States and The Soviet Union as he conveys the malfunction of highly placed government bureaucrats. Catch-22 and Dr. Strangelove, are two satirical and somewhat historical works that effectively comment on the corrupt and perhaps insane bureaucrats.

The lives of Yossarian and the men in his squadron in Catch-22 are not determined by their own decisions but instead, by the decisions of the impersonal bureaucracy. The bureaucrats are absolutely oblivious to any attempt the men make to reason with them logically. Major Major, for example, will only see people in his office if he is not there and sends them away when he returns. Doc Daneeka refuses to ground Yossarian for his “insanity” because Yossarian’s desire to be grounded reveals that he is sane.

Doc Daneeka elaborates in his discussion of Orr, Yossarian’s tent-mate. “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 would have 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.” (46)

Yossarian and the others in his squadron find that what they say and do has little effect on their fate when the bureaucracy controls them. Their only option is to follow the illogical rules and use what is expected of them to their own advantage. Yossarian’s superiors are more concerned with getting a promotion than they are about winning the war. Colonel Cathcart, the colonel in command of Yossarian’s squadron, tries to impress his superiors by “bravely” volunteering his men for dangerous combat. Cathcart’s only concern is being promoted to general. Cathcart continually raises the number of combat missions required of the men before they can be sent home. Yossarian argues with Doc Daneeka who explains, “…regulations do say you have to obey every order. That’s the catch. Even if the colonel were disobeying a Twenty-seventh Air Force order by making you fly more missions, you’d still have to fly them, or you’d be guilty of disobeying an order of his.” (58)

Similarly, Dr. Strangelove also criticizes the malfunctions of bureaucracy and the inadequacy of officials. General Jack Ripper gives the command to attack the Soviet Union without permission from his superiors or the president. Instead of discussing the idea of an attack with is supervisors, Ripper orders the attack because, according to him; Clemenceau… said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. -Criticizes the malfunction of bureaucracy. (Dr. Strangelove)

Mr. President’s embarrassment about the issue demonstrates bureaucracy does not function appropriately because those lower in command should not determine the launch of nuclear powers. Further exemplifying the inadequacy of the bureaucrats, the Joint Chiefs in the war room show their unprofessional and blatant prejudice, especially toward the Russians. General Buck Turgidson clearly states, “I’m beginning to smell a big fat Commie rat,” and later refers to them as “a bunch of ignorant peons.” The Germans are also referred to when Turgidson, upon learning Dr. Strangelove’s original German name, passes it off as “…a Kraut by any other name.”

Dr. Strangelove, the character, also calls into question the reliability of people in power. Strangelove is clearly the Presidents scientific adviser in the war room whose appearance copies the mad scientist stereotype with his wild hair, black gloved hand, and his clearly brilliant yet insane mind. Through their presentation of bureaucracy, Heller and Kubrick display why officials and politicians are unfit to make important decisions concerning the safety of the country. Catch-22 conveys this notion through the bureaucracy’s enforcement of impractical rules and Catch-22’s on the eccentric men in Yossarian’s squadron. Kubrick suggests the same concept in Dr. Strangelove by frequently demonstrating the disorder, madness and prejudice of the officials. In either piece, the reader carries away the certainty of the instability of the men in control of important military and national decisions.


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