As happens most times when I talk with my brother and one of his fellow officers, the conversation turns to the army. More specifically, it turns to war. Recently, the spark of the conversation was the first line by Yossarian from perhaps the second most popular passage of Catch 22:
“They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
"What difference does that make?"
Yossarian’s argument is both rational, and insane; it reads like something Lewis Carroll would have written, had he written poetry about modern warfare. The situation, and modern war, is contradictory, both impersonal and personal. The soldiers are mechanically and spatially separated from the battlefield and yet affected in the most personal and intensely psychological ways possible. No one is trying to kill Yossarian in particular, yet the anti-aircraft gunners firing at yossarian as he flies bombing runs over Germany certainly are.
War, as the passage relates, is absurd.
What affected me were the responses of my brother and his friend. Each related a tale of paranoia in Afghanistan, someone they had seen lose it. One told of a Sergeant who stayed up for watch every night, meticulously, obsessively, double checking the work of others, despite having a non-combat job. The other told of a Private who never took off his body armor, even inside protective bunkers. And I thought of a Vietnam war veteran who told me that a symptom of PTSD is running a perimeter check at night; double checking every lock on every door in the house at two or three in the morning.
How deep does this paranoia penetrate? It is impossible to hear these stories and not both pity and understand these reactions. The essence of this clip of dialogue and these simple stories is that Yossarian and these soldiers are essentially right. They (be they insurgents or Germans) were trying to kill them. And this, if you are human, is a terrifying thought.
We can’t help bringing up the cliche of paranoia: it’s not paranoia if they ARE out to get you. It’s not paranoia; it’s fear.