Insights from the Counterculture, Part 5: Joseph Heller

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We continue our series of quotes by leading writers of the Counterculture. Be sure to read our earlier collections from Abbie Hoffman, Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey and William S. Burroughs.

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.

Peace on earth would mean the end of civilization as we know it.

I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the
whole field to private industry.

The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.

“The important thing is to keep them pledging,” he explained to his cohorts. “It doesn’t matter whether they mean it or not. That’s why they make little kids pledge allegiance even before they know what ‘pledge’ and ‘allegiance’ mean.”

Rise above principle and do what’s right.

[M]ankind is resilient: the atrocities that horrified us a week ago become acceptable tomorrow.

Someone had to do something sometime. Every victim was a culprit, every culprit a victim, and somebody had to stand up sometime to try to break the lousy chain of inherited habit that was imperiling them all.

It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.

Victory gave us such insane delusions of grandeur that we helped start a world war we hadn’t a chance of winning. But now that we are losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better, and we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.

To pray for their safety was to pray for the death of other young men he did not even know.

“I suppose you just don’t care if you lose your leg, do you?”

“It’s my leg.”

“It certainly is not your leg!” Nurse Cramer retorted. “That leg belongs to the U.S. government. It’s no different than a gear or a bedpan. The Army has invested a lot of money to make you an airplane pilot…”

Kraft was a skinny, harmless kid from Pennsylvania who wanted only to be liked, and was destined to be disappointed in even so humble and degrading an ambition. Instead of being liked, he was dead, a bleeding cinder on the barbarous pile whom nobody had heard in those last precious moments while the plane with one wing plummeted.

Dear Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. And Mrs. Daneeka: Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father, or brother was killed, wounded, or reported missing in action.

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Joseph Heller is the author of Catch-22, Something Happened, Good as GoldGod Knows, Picture This, Closing Time, Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man.Please see his page at Amazon.

IMAGE: Joseph Heller

IMAGE: Joseph Heller standing
 

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