Study Guide

Catch-22 Greed

By Joseph Heller

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Nately had spent the last thirty-two hours at twenty dollars an hour with the apathetic whore he adored, and he had nothing left of his pay or of the lucrative allowance he received every month from his wealthy and generous father. That meant he could not spend time with her any more. She would not allow him to walk beside her as she strolled the pavements soliciting other servicemen, and she was infuriated when she spied him trailing her from a distance. He was free to hang around her apartment if he cared to, but there was no certainty that she would be there. And she would give him nothing unless he could pay. (16.103)

Nately's prostitute prefers money over Nately's love. In fact, love counts for so little that she leaves Nately when he can no longer pay her, and breaks his heart by finding other men who are capable of paying her fees.

The planes were decorated with flamboyant squadron emblems illustrating such laudable ideals as Courage, Might, Justice, Truth, Liberty, Love, Honor and Patriotism that were painted out at once by Milo's mechanics with a double coat of flat white and replaced in garish purple with the stenciled name M & M ENTERPRISES, FINE FRUITS AND PRODUCE. (24.37)

This shows Milo's greed – manifest in the form of his syndicate – blotting out America's ideals solely for the sake of making money.

One day Milo flew away to England to pick up a load of Turkish halvah and came flying back from Madagascar leading four German bombers filled with yams, collards, mustard greens and black-eyed Georgia peas. Milo was dumbfounded when he stepped down to the ground and found a contingent of armed M.P.s waiting to imprison the German pilots and confiscate their planes. Confiscate! The mere word was anathema to him, and he stormed back and forth in excoriating condemnation, shaking a piercing finger of rebuke in the guilt-ridden faces of Colonel Cathcart, Colonel Korn and the poor battle-scarred captain with the submachine gun who commanded the M.P.s.

"Is this Russia?" Milo assailed them incredulously at the top of his voice. "Confiscate?" he shrieked, as though he could not believe his own ears. "Since when is it the policy of the American government to confiscate the private property of its citizens? Shame on you! Shame on all of you for even thinking such a horrible thought."

"But Milo," Major Danby interrupted timidly, "we're at war with Germany and those are German planes."

"They are no such thing!" Milo retorted furiously. "Those planes belong to the syndicate, and everybody has a share. Confiscate? How can you possibly confiscate your own private property? Confiscate, indeed! I've never heard anything so depraved in my whole life." (24.38-42)

As a typical capitalist, Milo is scared of losing his property and his means of making a profit. But he also fights this battle with honest conviction. He can only see the world in terms of the syndicate. The Germans are business partners, and in Milo's book, this overrides any official wartime enemy status they have with the U.S.

[…] one day Milo contracted with the American military authorities to bomb the German-held highway bridge at Orvieto and with the German military authorities to defend the highway bridge at Orvieto with antiaircraft fire against his own attack. His fee for attacking the bridge for America was the total cost of the operation plus six percent, and his fee from Germany for defending the bridge was the same cost-plus-six agreement augmented by a merit bonus of a thousand dollars for every American plane he shot down. The consummation of these deals represented an important victory for private enterprise, he pointed out, since the armies of both countries were socialized institutions. (24.44)

To make a profit, Milo not only conspires against his own country, but he manages to get paid by both sides. His only loyalty lies with his syndicate.

This time Milo had gone too far. Bombing his own men and planes was more than even the most phlegmatic observer could stomach, and it looked like the end for him […]. Decent people everywhere were affronted, and Milo was all washed up until he opened his books to the public and disclosed the tremendous profit he had made. He could reimburse the government for all the people and property he had destroyed and still have enough money left over to continue buying Egyptian cotton. Everybody, of course, owned a share. And the sweetest part of the whole deal was that there really was no need to reimburse the government at all. (24.69)

America condemns Milo for turning on his own country until he shows that he has turned an enormous profit that will benefit the government. This time, it is not Milo who is the greedy one. The American people must also bear the blame for their greed in stopping their persecution of Milo once they realize that they all profited from the deaths at Pianosa.

The four men in fatigues lifted the coffin on slings and lowered it into the grave. Milo shuddered violently.

"I can't watch it," he cried turning away in anguish. "I just can't sit here and watch while those mess halls let my syndicate die." (24.114-115)

Milo's greed – his desire to get the liability of the cotton off his hands – replaces any compassion he has for Snowden even as he watches the poor man's funeral. His pity is re-channeled from Snowden to his syndicate.

Her [Mrs. Daneeka's] fantastic wealth just kept piling up, and she had to remind herself daily that all the hundreds of thousands of dollars she was acquiring were not worth a single penny without her husband to share this good fortune with her. (30.19)

Mrs. Daneeka shows greed by accepting money for her husband's death without directly questioning its validity. She becomes so greedy that she refuses to believe he might be alive, even when given evidence that suggests he is. Her desire for money replaces any desire to determine whether or not her husband is alive.

Milo had been earning many distinctions for himself. He had flown fearlessly into danger and criticism by selling petroleum and ball bearings to Germany at good prices in order to make a good profit and help maintain a balance of power between the contending forces. His nerve under fire was graceful and infinite. With a devotion to purpose above and beyond the line of duty, he had then raised the prices of food in his mess halls so high that all the officers and enlisted men had to turn over all their pay to him in order to eat. Their alternative – there was an alternative, of course, since Milo detested coercion and was a vocal champion of freedom of choice – was to starve. When he encountered a wave of enemy resistance to this attack, he stuck to his position without regard for his safety or reputation and gallantly invoked the law of supply and demand. And when someone somewhere said no, Milo gave ground grudgingly, valiantly defending, even in retreat, the historic right of free men to pay as much as they had to for the things they needed in order to survive. (35.12)

Milo's greed is so extensive that he has no compunction about driving up prices. His greed, it is implied, drives some men to starvation and death.

[Yossarian:] "When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don't see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy." (42.65)

Yossarian witnesses extreme greed, and is disgusted by people who take advantage of human death to make a profit.

[Milo:] "But how will I get the government to do it?"

"Bribe it," Yossarian said.

"Bribe it!" Milo was outraged and almost lost his balance and broke his neck again. "Shame on you!" he scolded severely, breathing virtuous fire down and upward into his rusty mustache through his billowing nostrils and prim lips. "Bribery is against the law, and you know it. But it's not against the law to make a profit, is it? So it can't be against the law for me to bribe someone in order to make a fair profit, can it? No, of course not!" (24.128-130)

Milo's ethics do not allow him to bribe the government because it's against the law, and Milo believes that his loyalties lie with the American government. However, his loyalty to the syndicate is stronger and he reasons that making a profit is not illegal, so any means of making a profit could not possibly be against the law of the American government. His reasoning shows that he's maintaining his own integrity by bribing the government to buy his unwanted Egyptian cotton.

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