There was only one catch and that was catch 22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr 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. 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.
Joseph Heller: Catch-22
'CATCH-22': CADETS HAIL A CHRONICLER OF THE ABSURD
Date: October 6, 1986, Monday, Late City Final Edition Section B; Page 10, Column 3; National Desk
Byline: By ANDREW H. MALCOLM, Special to the New York Times COLORADO SPRINGS, Oct. 4
It was love at first sight.
The first time the cadets at the Air Force Academy saw Joseph Heller walk into the cavernous auditorium. they fell madly in love with him. Nearly 900 future officers stood as one to applaud the white-haired author as he arrived to begin a weekend-long celebration.
The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the publication of ''Catch-22,'' the novel that captured the insanity of war and the human condition while adding a phrase to the English language.
The audience in blue uniforms rose again to applaud and cheer when the author introduced the movie based on his book. The cadets applauded during the movie credits, after the movie and after he thought he was finished answering questions.
Then they mobbed him down front with more questions, asked for autographs and followed him out to a waiting car for more talk about the evil Colonel Cathcart, who kept raising the number of bombing missions necessary for rotation home, Major Major, who would only see people in his office when he wasn't in, and Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer who could see a profit in almost anything. 'An Intoxicating Experience'
''For me,' said the 63-year-old author, ''this is an intoxicating experience unlike any other I've ever had. I don't want to take it in stride. I want to revel in it.''
As part of the celebration, there was a 25th birthday cake for Yossarian, the book's puzzled protagonist. There were academic papers presented on the theological, cultural and social significance of ''Catch-22.'' And there were big smiles on the faces of the Air Force Academy's English department, which sought to introduce the man who made fun of an insane military bureaucracy to future members of a military bureaucracy.
''We want these men and women to be a thinking part of a large military bureaucracy,'' said Col. Jack Shuttleworth, head of the English department, ''We don't want them to be victims of the Colonel Cathcarts of the world. To put it bluntly, you don't want dumb officers out there protecting your country.''
Since its publication, ''Catch-22'' has been an informal part of the military education of many soldiers. And it was occasionally used in some senior classes here. But in recent years it has become a staple taught by a self-confident staff of teachers whose military experiences included tours in Vietnam, where the historical distinctions between good guy and bad guy were fuzzed and, as Colonel Shuttleworth put it, ''The enemy was everywhere and nowhere.'' Mutual Admiration Builds
''We oversimplify our military,'' said Mr. Heller, who as a World War II bombardier lieutenant flew 60 missions in the Army Air Corps. ''We think they have one mind. But they are very educated today and they want their families and students to be well educated. The degree of acceptance here, maybe even love, for the book is very surprising, and gratifying.''
Likewise, the cadets learned that an Olympian author can also be accessible. ''He seems like a nice guy,'' said Corey Keppler, a sophomore from Smithtown, L.I., ''I read parts of the book in high school. Now I'm going to finish it.''
Mr. Heller also shared several confidences with his young admirers, none of whom was born when he wrote the book. They learned that the book was originally titled ''Catch-18,'' but the imminent publication of Leon Uris's ''Mila 18'' and the repetition of the number two in Mr. Heller's book sested the change.
The cadets also discovered that Milo's car in the movie really did belong to Mussolini. They laughed when the author told why he sold the movie rights: ''I wanted the money.'' A Catch That Defies Explanation
And the author tried once again to explain why he can never define catch-22. ''It doesn't exist,'' he said, ''That's the catch. If it existed in writing or something, we could change it.''
Then he sought to give an example. ''I understand the Air Force Academy has a catch-22,'' he said, ''To repair a uniform it must be freshly cleaned. But the cleaning staff has orders not to clean any uniform needing repairs.''
''That's some catch,'' says Yossarian in the movie.
''It's the best there is,'' replies the doctor.
There were, of course, serious moments in the celebration, which the academy advertised with a sketch of a naked Yossarian in a tree looking out over the Air Force school. In one paper presented, Stuart James of Denver University praised the book's ''narrative knots and sheer fantasy'' as ''a mirror image of the madhouse world of lonely psyches that we all inhabit.'' Joan Robertson of the academy's faculty analyzed the author's depiction of women in ''Catch-22'' as undemanding, compliant, often not even worthy of a proper name, and thus adding a needed gritty edge to his portrayal of men.
Frederick Kiley of the National Defense University even wrote another chapter to ''Catch-22'' in Mr. Heller's style about the brave young men who went off on the dangerous missions they did not have to fly but could not get out of. 'I'm Sure Milo Would'
The author himself said he was surprised by the lasting impact of Milo Minderbinder, a product of the capitalist system. ''I don't understand the merger mania sweeping American business,'' said Mr. Heller. ''But I'm sure Milo would.''
The author said he was not surprised, however, when catch-22's kept popping up in real life. In a speech tonight he quoted one United States Army briefing officer in Vietnam telling reporters, ''I'm happy to announce our casualties have increased greatly and are now on a level with those of our Marines.''
Mr. Heller said he was stunned with the strength of continuing interest in his book. He confided plans to cancel the Friday evening showing of the movie if only a few teachers attended. Instead, it was the largest crowd he has ever addressed.
All of which put the author in his own catch-22 - the more he enjoyed the weekend, the faster it went, and the less he could enjoy it.
''I'm as happy as a lark,'' said Mr. Heller, who expects to complete his next novel, ''Poetics,'' this winter. ''All my fantasies have been fulfilled. The sad part to me is that now I'll have to wait another 25 years to come back.''