Please read Catch-22 on your vacation, Mr President

As the Obama family heads to their annual summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, perhaps the president should take along a copy of Catch-22 for some beach reading. Joseph Heller’s classic, satirical anti-war novel, published in 1961 and based on his experiences as a bombardier in the second world war, is sadly relevant today, as Obama’s wars, in Afghanistan and beyond, drag on.

Heller’s title refers to a fictional military rule that said you could get out of military duty if you were crazy, but if you requested relief from military duty, you were clearly sane, so must serve. He wrote:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr [a pilot in the novel] 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.

Barack Obama ran as the anti-war alternative when he was a primary challenger to Hillary Clinton, whose nomination as Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 was widely held to be inevitable…

As a US senator, he pledged to filibuster any bill that granted retroactive immunity to large telecommunication corporations that co-operated with the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping of US citizens. And on his first day in office, you might recall, he vowed to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

Has Obama ended the war in Iraq? Certainly not for the Iraqis. July was one of the bloodiest months there since the height of the insurgency against the US-imposed Iraqi government…

Obama’s embrace of the surveillance state is now well-known, following revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden…Now, President Obama is refusing to meet with President Vladimir Putin in Russia next month, since Putin granted Snowden temporary asylum…

Then there’s Guantánamo. The hunger strike among up to 100 prisoners there, out of the total of 166, has just passed the six-month mark. The Pentagon is force-feeding many of them. Eighty-six have been cleared for release. A majority of the 166 have never been charged, with some held that way for more than 11 years…

Heller’s protagonist in Catch-22, Captain Yossarian, holds a wounded comrade – named Snowden, coincidentally – who dies in his arms. The experience cements Yossarian’s opposition to war…

Heller’s depiction of war – grim and stark – was fiction, though based on his own experience. Obama’s wars, his drone strikes, his war on whistleblowers, are all too real.

American foreign policy like most failed politics in history is imperial war or the threat of war to impose obedience to the requirements of the ruling class of an imperial nation. The Romans, the rule of the British Empire, the short-lived 3rd Reich followed by our own Cold Warriors all relied on military might to supplant any other political means.

Like his predecessors, Obama follows the essential guidance of Imperial America. It doesn’t matter if you are Republican or Democrat, the Pentagon and Congress are there to line up our version of the colonial armies and treat the citizens of every other nation as potential fodder for red-white-and-blue cannons.

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One comment

  1. Jeff Nguyen

    “…Snowden was lying on his back on the floor with his legs stretched out, still burdened cumbersomely by his flak suit, his flak helmet, his parachute harness and his Mae West. Not far away on the floor lay the small tail gunner in a dead faint. The wound Yossarian saw was in the outside of Snowden’s thigh, as large as a football, it seemed. It was impossible to tell where the shreds of his saturated coverall ended and the ragged flesh began.” (http://www.deathdyinggriefandmourning.com/Death-Dying-Grief-Mourning/100-Joseph-Heller-Catch-22-Death-of-Snowden.htm)

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