Colonel Cathcart, the man in charge of Yossarian’s squadron, spends all of his time trying to find ways to win the favor of his superior officers, mainly Gen. Dreedle, in order to achieve his one true goal of becoming a general. As a result, Cathcart habitually raises the number of missions required to be relieved of duty and willingly volunteers his men for the most dangerous missions. Colonel Cathcart’s constant raising of the number of missions becomes the central source of Yossarian’s struggle against the corruption within the military bureaucracy. Yossarian and the rest of the men find themselves in a continual futile race against time knowing “from bitter experience” that Cathcart could extend the number higher at any time (Heller 27). Cathcart’s corruption extends past the heartlessness of this task to the celebratory sense of pride and satisfaction that he apparently gets from performing it (Heller 53). Cathcart’s reckless and arbitrary decisions demonstrate his inability to handle the responsibility of possessing the power over another man’s mortality resulting in his complete lack of care for the men’s lives with which he has been entrusted. Following arguably the most horrific scene in the entire story, in which Kid Sampson and McWatt both die, Cathcart is “so upset” by their deaths that he “raise(s) the number of missions to sixty-five” (Heller 337). Cathcart’s priorities are absurd in the sense that they are completely skewed from what a colonel’s should be: he has absolutely no concern for the fate of his men, or even his own army, and is instead focused solely on inter-organizational politics. By the end of the novel, Colonel Cathcart’s blind ambition acts a bigger threat to Yossarian’s mortality than any German soldier or the distant unseen targets of his bombing raids. Heller’s representation of the relationship between the individual soldier and the military system he belongs to is that of a powerless individual fighting to survive against, or in spite of, the absurd regulations that support a corrupt institution. Thus, Yossarian represents any post-modern individual struggling to escape the dehumanization of the system that imprisons them. This gives Catch-22 canonical significance that rivals not only any other war novel, but any other novel that gained traction during the rise of the counterculture.
Ultimately, Yossarian has no choice but to escape….