Catch-22 was a novel that took seven years to write. From a critical perspective, it was a book that was very much the product of Joseph Heller's times, depicting a military machine that treated its personnel as little other than cogs and gears was a parallel of the American Dream realized in the 1950s, where men and women were raised and bred to be consumers in a society that valued getting ahead of the Joneses as an art form, and buying useless products to be the highest form of self-gratification.

Although Catch-22 was written after the more timely works of Jack Kerouac and other beatnik writers, it still held their ideas at its core. Yossarian, the protagonist, is a captain in the army air force, but his promotion from lieutenant could have easily been a court-martial- his superiors wanted to take some of the credit for the very risky move Yossarian had pulled on a mission (that had gotten one of his friends killed by Germain antiaircraft fire), and so they gave him a medal and promoted him.

Corporate structure and consumerism ideology is displayed in many scenes involving the officers. The unfortunate individual named Major Major Major was promoted quickly to his rank, becoming Major Major Major Major, although he very little combat experience. The other officers all assumed he had some sort of "in," and he was universally despised by his fellow officers. Lieutenant Scheisskopf, another example of incompetance, worked as a marching instructor for years, ignoring the pleas of chocolate and his lonely wife in favor of setting a bunch of wooden figures in row and moving them in pretty circles. He also has a unique way of looking at the soldiers- having considered joining each individual rank and file by threading a length of copper wire through their hands, only discounting the idea when he realizes that good, quality copper wire would be hard to find in wartime.

The higher levels of command are just as bad. The two generals in charge of their theater in Europe are General Dreedle, a cynical individual knowing others desire his position and being unable to do anything about it, meanwhile wishing nothing more than to cause trouble for their incompetant son-in-law (who happens to be working directly under you as a receptionist), and General Peckem, who is intent on gaining control of all the forces in the western hemisphere by sending out prolix memos that might well have been the predecessors of the current business buzzwords. Of course, in the end, Lieutanant Scheisskopf is promoted to general status and all of Peckem's plans fall through in the end, but the military is crazy like that.

Yossarian knows that these people are out to kill him simply by being indifferent to the fact that he risks his life every time he flys a mission. The fact that Colonel Cathcart, his mission controller, continues to raise the number of missions that his pilots must fly in order to transfer back home to look good in the eyes of his superiors, is proof of this. He tries to hide out in the hospital, complaining of a pain in his liver, an illness in his jaw, and a number of other illnesses, but in the end it doesn't change anything- he is still under their control, and is dancing at the end of their strings, nothing more than a part of their machine.

When he is caught going AWOL in Italy, Yossarian is faced with a decision proposed by his superiors. They offer him a choice- he can either accept a court martial for leaving his post, or he can accept another promotion and go home in exchange for praising his superiors among the popular elite; in essence, he can either embrace the system and become part of it, or he can rot away as punishment for resisting their efforts. The beakniks that would arise in the 1950s would face this decision later, and they would eventually come to the same conclusion that Yossarian would find- the third choice of simply refusing to take part in the system, the choice of not accepting the roles handed down from up high and living as one wants to. While Yossarian simply leaves the army hospital (after having getting stabbed after his meeting with Colonel Cathcart) and heads for Sweden, the beatniks, for whom travelling to Europe was a bit more of a stretch quit their jobs and looked for the meaning of life outside the Way of the 9-to-5 Employment.

While not a work that glorified the beatnik lifestyle, Catch-22 does explain the reasons why someone in the 1950s would quit their job and take up a life that alternated between reciting bad poetry, drinking profusely, and smoking hashish. The novel quickly became popular in the early 1960s, as while the beatnik undercurrent was beginning to wane by that time, its ideas were quickly being adopted by the proponents of the social revolution that would forever mark the decade. And besides that, it's a damn good read even if you aren't a fan of WWII or of critical reading- more attention goes to the pilot's off-time and the people that work behind the scenes than goes to the planes themselves.