Catch-22 follows Captain John Yossarian in his exploits as a bombardier (that is, a member of a fighter plane crew that is in charge of aiming and releasing bombs) in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Yossarian has one wish: to survive the madness of wartime culture. He's convinced that everyone is trying to kill him, a notion that sometimes arises in a war where…everyone is trying to kill one another. Yossarian has to survive the dangerous combat missions he flies, while Colonel Cathcart continues to increase the number of missions his men must complete.
The novel does not flow in chronological order, but instead involves frequent flashbacks. Sound confusing? That's the idea – so is war. The first part concentrates on the narrative present, the second part on the scene of the Great Big Siege of Bologna, the third part returns to the present, the fourth part centers on the actions of Milo, and finally on Yossarian's escape from the military. Many of Yossarian's actions are in response to the death of a fellow soldier, or as a tactic to avoid flying dangerous missions. The Air Force administration's actions, on the contrary, are based on improving the ranks of the individual officers or making America look good in the war.