A parable for our times, courtesy of Joseph Heller, and Catch-22.
To Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren, the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a glorious pain in the ass, since it complicated their task of organizing the crews for each combat mission. Men were tied up all over the squadron signing, pledging and singing, and the missions took hours longer to get under way. Effective emergency action became impossible, but Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren were both too timid to raise any outcry against Captain Black, who scrupulously enforced each day the doctrine of ‘Continual Reaffirmation’ that he had originated, a doctrine designed to trap all those men who had become disloyal since the last time they had signed a loyalty oath the day before. It was Captain Black who came with advice to Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren as they pitched about in their bewildering predicament. He came with a delegation and advised them bluntly to make each man sign a loyalty oath before allowing him to fly on a combat mission.
‘Of course, it’s up to you,’ Captain Black pointed out. ‘Nobody’s trying to pressure you. But everyone else is making them sign loyalty oaths, and it’s going to look mighty funny to the F.B.I. if you two are the only ones who don’t care enough about your country to make them sign loyalty oaths, too. If you want to get a bad reputation, that’s nobody’s business but your own. All we’re trying to do is help.’
Milo was not convinced and absolutely refused to deprive Major Major of food, even if Major Major was a Communist, which Milo secretly doubted. Milo was by nature opposed to any innovation that threatened to disrupt the normal course of affairs. Milo took a firm moral stand and absolutely refused to participate in the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade until Captain Black called upon him with his delegation and requested him to.
‘National defense is everybody’s job,’ Captain Black replied to Milo’s objection. ‘And this whole program is voluntary, Milo – don’t forget that. The men don’t have to sign Piltchard and Wren’s loyalty oath if they don’t want to. But we need you to starve them to death if they don’t. It’s just like Catch-22. Don’t you get it? You’re not against Catch-22, are you?’
Doc Daneeka was adamant.
‘What makes you so sure Major Major is a Communist?’
‘You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you?
And you don’t see him signing any of our loyalty oaths.’
‘You aren’t letting him sign any.’
‘Of course not,’ Captain Black explained. ‘That would defeat the whole purpose of our crusade. Look, you don’t have to play ball with us if you don’t want to. But what’s the point of the rest of us working so hard if you’re going to give Major Major medical attention the minute Milo begins starving him to death? I just wonder what they’re going to think up at Group about the man who’s undermining our whole security program. They’ll probably transfer you to the Pacific.’
Doc Daneeka surrendered swiftly.
‘I’ll go tell Gus and Wes to do whatever you want them to.’
Up at Group, Colonel Cathcart had already begun wondering what was going on. ‘It’s that idiot Black off on a patriotism binge,’ Colonel Korn reported with a smile. ‘I think you’d better play ball with him for a while, since you’re the one who promoted Major Major to squadron commander.’
‘That was your idea,’ Colonel Cathcart accused him petulantly.
‘I never should have let you talk me into it.’
‘And a very good idea it was, too,’ retorted Colonel Korn, ‘since it eliminated that superfluous major that’s been giving you such an awful black eye as an administrator. Don’t worry, this will probably run its course soon. The best thing to do now is send Captain Black a letter of total support and hope he drops dead before he does too much damage.’ Colonel Korn was struck with a whimsical thought. ‘I wonder! You don’t suppose that imbecile will try to turn Major Major out of his trailer, do you?’ ‘The next thing we’ve got to do is turn that bastard Major Major out of his trailer,’ Captain Black decided. ‘I’d like to turn his wife and kids out into the woods, too. But we can’t. He has no wife and kids. So we’ll just have to make do with what we have and turn him out. Who’s in charge of the tents?’
‘You see?’ cried Captain Black. ‘They’re taking over everything! Well, I’m not going to stand for it. I’ll take this matter right to Major – de Coverley himself if I have to. I’ll have Milo speak to him about it the minute he gets back from Rome.’ Captain Black had boundless faith in the wisdom, power and justice of Major – de Coverley, even though he had never spoken to him before and still found himself without the courage to do so. He deputized Milo to speak to Major – de Coverley for him and stormed about impatiently as he waited for the tall executive officer to return. Along with everyone else in the squadron, he lived in profound awe and reverence of the majestic, white-haired major with craggy face and Jehovean bearing, who came back from Rome finally with an injured eye inside a new celluloid eye patch and smashed his whole Glorious Crusade to bits with a single stroke. Milo carefully said nothing when Major – de Coverley stepped into the mess hall with his fierce and austere dignity the day he returned and found his way blocked by a wall of officers waiting in line to sign loyalty oaths. At the far end of the food counter, a group of men who had arrived earlier were pledging allegiance to the flag, with trays of food balanced in one hand, in order to be allowed to take seats at the table. Already at the tables, a group that had arrived still earlier was singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in order that they might use the salt and pepper and ketchup there. The hubbub began to subside slowly as Major – de Coverley paused in the doorway with a frown of puzzled disapproval, as though viewing something bizarre. He started forward in a straight line, and the wall of officers before him parted like the Red Sea. Glancing neither left nor right, he strode indomitably up to the steam counter and, in a clear, full-bodied voice that was gruff with age and resonant with ancient eminence and authority, said:
Instead of eat, Corporal Snark gave Major – de Coverley a loyalty oath to sign. Major – de Coverley swept it away with mighty displeasure the moment he recognized what it was, his good eye flaring up blindingly with fiery disdain and his enormous old corrugated face darkening in mountainous wrath.
‘Gimme eat, I said,’ he ordered loudly in harsh tones that rumbled ominously through the silent tent like claps of distant thunder.
Corporal Snark turned pale and began to tremble. He glanced toward Milo pleadingly for guidance. For several terrible seconds there was not a sound. Then Milo nodded. ‘Give him eat,’ he said.
Corporal Snark began giving Major – de Coverley eat. Major – de Coverley turned from the counter with his tray full and came to a stop. His eyes fell on the groups of other officers gazing at him in mute appeal, and, with righteous belligerence, he roared:
‘Give everybody eat!’
‘Give everybody eat!’ Milo echoed with joyful relief, and the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade came to an end.