Page 26. " ignorant armies clashed by night on a collapsible screen "

Matthew Arnold
Public DomainMatthew Arnold
This is a sly reference to the concluding line of a short lyric poem by English poet Matthew Arnold called “Dover Beach.” Published in 1867, its composition may have occurred as early as 1849. The speaker seems to be speaking to his beloved as they look at the white cliffs and beach at Dover (where Arnold honeymooned in 1851), but he likens the roar of the tide going out to the retreat of religious faith (and the protection of the gods).

The speaker asks his companion to swear with him that they will love each other, but the poem concludes: “And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night.” Those final lines are themselves a reference to an ancient Greek literary account: The historian Thucydides wrote of a similar beach during the invasion of Sicily by Athens. The battle occurred at night, and the attacking army became so disoriented that many of its soldiers killed one another. It would seem that Arnold’s speaker doubts the strength of love to sustain him after the loss of faith.

The narrator of Catch-22 sardonically undercuts the bitter sentiment of Arnold’s poem by using its most famous line to refer to armies clashing in war films screened “for the daily amusement of the dying” wounded at the base hospital.

Page 26. " another U.S.O. troupe came that same afternoon "

Bob Hope entertaining soldiers in World War II, 1944
Public DomainBob Hope entertaining soldiers in World War II, 1944
U.S.O. stands for “United Service Organizations Inc.” a private nonprofit outfit that furnishes the U.S. military with entertainment and recreation services. It was founded in 1941 at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt who served as its first honorary chairman.

Six civilian organizations -- the Salvation Army, the Young Men’s Christian Assocation (YMCA), the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the National Catholic Community Service, the National Travelers Aid Association, and the National Jewish Welfare Board -- came together to support the troops. They opened USO centers and clubs around the world to serve as a “Home Away From Home” for the soldiers, and brought celebrities such as Bing Crosby, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, and most famously, Bob Hope, renowned for his USO work from the Second World War through the First Persian Gulf War.

Today there are 160 USO centers in operation around the world. The organization’s nearly $150 million annual budget (as of 2006) comes mostly from in-kind contributions, public donations, and corporate giving.

Page 26. " decided in General Dreedle's favor by ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen "

This is another example of power (in the form of military command hierarchy) being overturned by sheer whim and arbitrariness. Former Private First Class Wintergreen, a mere mail clerk, “settles” a power struggle between General Dreedle and General Peckem by tossing the latter’s mail in the trash.

The action is not entirely arbitrary -- Wintergreen chooses his action because he finds General Peckem’s communications “too prolix” while General Dreedle’s views were expressed in a “less pretentious literary style” and “pleased” the private -- but it is utterly contrary to the way official decisions are supposed to be made in the Army.

A similar relationship -- though more open, ongoing, and intimate -- exists between Corporal Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly and his commanding officers during the Korean War, Lt. Col. Blake and then Colonel Potter, as depicted in the movie “M*A*S*H” and its long-running television spinoff.

Page 27. " Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters in Italy "

This is the next command level, the “parent corporation” as it were, above Yossarian’s oufit, the 256th Squadron. His squadron’s orders ultimately originate there, on the Italian mainland.

Page 27. " from Battery Park to Fulton Street "

Aerial view of Battery Park and Manhattan's Financial District, 2010
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAerial view of Battery Park and Manhattan's Financial District, 2010 - Credit: Gryffindor
This represents “the civilized world” for Colonel Cargill, a very bad marketing manager in civilian life who has become General Peckem’s troubleshooter. In other words, Colonel Cargill believes the civilized world consists of only a handful of square miles at the southern tip of Manhattan Island.

Battery Park is the very southern tip of Manhattan, so called because a fort with an artillery battery was manned there at various times by the Dutch and the British to guard the entrances to New York Harbor. Fulton Street is only 12 or 15 parks north of Battery Park, however; it runs east (or to be more accurate, southeast) from the site of the World Trade Center whose twin towers were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Page 29. " all the way from the I.P. to the target "

I.P. stands for “initial point,” also known as the “target approach point.” In the case of a bombing run, it refers to a well-defined location, identifiable by an obvious geographical landmark or electronic controls, where the planes congregate to begin their run.

Page 29. " he followed the bombs all the way down through the Plexiglas nose "

Bombardier's nose compartment on a Boeing B-17G, made of Plexiglas, 1944
Public DomainBombardier's nose compartment on a Boeing B-17G, made of Plexiglas, 1944
Plexiglas is a trademark name for a light, transparent, weather-resistant thermoplastic, Poly (methyl methacrylate), commonly used for combs, plastic sheeting, and other applications. It offers a shatter-resistant alternative to glass, and is often spelled lower-case with a second “s,” as plexiglass.

Developed in 1928, it was first marketed under this name in 1933 by Rohm and Haas Company. To say lead bombardier Havermeyer “followed the bombs all the way down through the Plexiglas nose” means he watched with interest as they fell and hit their targets without ordering any evasive action by his plane, flying straight and true and terrifying the rest of the crew because they felt like sitting ducks for German antiaircraft fire.

Page 29. " he wove his way through the filthy barrages of flak "
German flak gun
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGerman flak gun - Credit: Deutches Bundesarchiv

“Flak” was World War II airmens’ lingo for anti-aircraft gunfire. The term was a telescoping of the German word “Flugabwehrkanone,” which means “aircraft defense cannon.” Rather than the cannon, airmen used “flak” to refer to the puffs of black or white smoke from the exploding ammunition that filled the skies and posed the greatest threat to their lives.

The photo at right shows a German 88mm anti-aircraft gun of the type that would have been used against Allied aircraft such as Yossarian's B-25. The photo comes from the Deutches Bundesarchiv, or German Federal Archive, and dates from 1943.

Below, a U.S. consolidated B-24 escapes from an area of the sky spotted with flak, but with its no. 2 engine smoking.

Public DomainFlak

Page 29. " Only when all the Sturm und Drang had been left far behind "

Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, circa 1807
Public DomainFriedrich Maximilian Klinger, circa 1807
“Sturm und Drang,” the German phrase that literally means “storm and urge” but is more loosely translated as “storm and stress,” was used to refer to the extremes of emotion given relatively free rein in German literature and music during the early Romantic period of the 1760s to 1780s.

The name comes from the title of a 1776 play by the German poet and playwright, Friedrich Maximilian Klinger (1752-1831), about the unfolding American Revolution. Notable proponents of the form were Goethe, Schiller, and Haydn.

The narrator of Catch-22 uses the phrase more loosely to refer to the rough and dangerous skies created by anti-aircraft fire.

Page 32. " had their gums and toes painted with gentian violet solution "

Gentian violet, technical name hexamethyl pararosanaline chloride, is a blue-violet medical dye that has antibacterial and antifungal properties, as well as some effectiveness in driving parasitic worms from the body. It is commonly used to mark the skin for surgery preparation and allergy testing, and to treat Athlete’s foot, ringworm, mouth ulcers, impetigo, and abrasions.

It was first synthesized in 1861. The name refers strictly to its color; it is not made from either the large genus of gentian flowers or from violets. Although still listed by the World Health Organization, its applications have mostly been superseded by more recent drugs.

Page 33. " surrounded on all sides by elephantiasis and other dread diseases "

A case of elephantiasis of the leg; Luzon, the Philippines, 1962
Public DomainA case of elephantiasis of the leg; Luzon, the Philippines, 1962 - Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Elephantiasis is a disease that causes thickening of the skin and underlying tissues, especially in the legs and male genitals. Sufferers may see their scrotum swell up to the size of a softball or even a basketball.

It is caused by several different parasitic worms carried by mosquitoes, so it is particularly prevalent in the tropical regions of Africa and portions of the Pacific Ocean where Doc Daneeka does not want to end up.

Treatment with antibiotics and preventive programs have been highly successful, leading to the cautious forecast that such diseases may be eliminated by 2020.

Page 34. " when the merry-go-round broke down? "
Porky Pig and Daffy Duck, 1943 Looney Tunes cartoon
Public DomainPorky Pig and Daffy Duck, 1943 Looney Tunes cartoon

Porky Pig bursting out of the drum
Public DomainPorky Pig bursting out of the drum
This is a reference to a popular song, “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” written in 1937 by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin. The plot of the song involves a young man and his date who get an opportunity to make out when the carnival ride they are on malfunctions and leaves them stuck together in a compartment.

The tune will be very familiar from Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Daffy Duck cartoons, because Warner Brothers adopted a speeded-up, jumpy version of it as the theme song for “Looney Tunes” cartoons between 1937 and 1969. You’ll hear a snatch of it during the opening titles and the “That’s all folks” end credits. The color image on the right, of Porky bursting out of a drum, closed nearly every Looney Tunes cartoon made between 1937 and 1946.

Page 35. " Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear? "

Yossarian is of course needling his superior officers about the traumatic death of a fellow airman on his bomber -- the one whose death keeps flashing back to Yossarian throughout the book in at first vague and then increasing detail. The question expresses his fear of death and the unfair way his commanding officers keep raising the number of missions he has to fly before he can go home, thus increasing his likelihood of dying over the skies of Italy, France, or Germany.

But the question is framed as a punning quote of a famous line of poetry, “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!” from a poem by the 15th century French poet, vagabond, and thief François Villon. The poem, “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” (“Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past”), celebrates famous women from history and mythology such as Heloise, Blanche of Castille, and Joan of Arc.

“Where are the snows of yesteryear?” is how the English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti translated that repeating interrogative line in the 19th century. Rossetti coined the English word "yesteryear" for "antan," which originally meant only "last year" but has since taken on the more lyrical, less precise sense of "years gone by."

The original tone of regret has often turned bitter and ironic when the line has turned up in such places as a Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill lyric (“Nannas Lied”), the Tennessee Williams play “The Glass Menagerie,” chapter five of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and more recently, Quentin Tarantino’s film “Inglourious Basterds” and episode three of the second season of the television series “Mad Men.”

Page 35. " Snowden had been killed over Avignon "

Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAvignon - Credit: Jean-Marc Rosier
Avignon is a city in southern France, on the Rhône river, about 53 miles north of Marseilles and the Mediterranean coast. Population in 2006 was about 95,000.

Avignon has a place in history as the alternate home of Catholic Popes: Pope Clement V chose it as his residence in 1309 and it became the seat of the Papacy (instead of Rome) and home of seven popes over the next 68 years. This caused a schism in the church until the Papacy returned to Rome. The fortunes of Avignon, in the mean time, as a university town, home of banking-houses, and trading center, understandably rose. The Palace of the Popes, shown at left, was a fortress on a rock, later used as a barracks and a prison, and today is a museum.

It is only at the climax of the next chapter -- Chapter 7, Chief White Halfoat (page 50 in this edition) -- that we get our first exposure to the traumatic circumstances of Snowden’s death on a mission over Avignon, when Dobbs repeatedly sobs, “Help him … help the bombardier” while “Snowden lay dying in the back.”

Page 36. " T.S. Eliot "

T.S. Eliot
Public DomainT.S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was an English poet and literary critic who was born in St. Louis, Missouri and educated at Harvard. He moved to England in 1914 and remained there for the rest of his life. He took British citizenship in 1927 and renounced his U.S. citizenship.

His most famous poems are “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the hugely influential “The Waste Land,” “The Hollow Men” (which concludes with “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper”), “Ash Wednesday,” and “Four Quartets.” His book of light verse entitled “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” provided the inspiration for the 1981 smash Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “Cats.”

Although Eliot’s early poems might be said to anticipate the confusion and fragmentation of the 20th century to follow them, they would not likely have been known or understood by the airman of the 256th Squadron. Ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen plucks the name out of the air to confuse Colonel Cargill when the latter calls the squadron headquarters from Rome.

Page 36. " General Dreedle, in Corsica "

Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCorsica
Corsica is one of the larger islands in the Mediterranean, to the west and north of Pianosa and under the governance of France. It has a total area of 3,351 square miles, a population estimated in 2008 of 302,000, and is known as the birthplace of Napoleon.

Formed from a series of volcanic explosions and inhabited since at least the Mesolithic era (10,000 to 14,000 years ago), Corsica boasts a warm and balmy climate, which probably explains why General Dreedle prefers to hang out there.

Page 37. " a new code or something, like the colors of the day "

Although Thai astrology assigns a color to each day of the week, in the military the phrase “colors of the day” refers to color coding to communicate the level of danger anticipated on a particular day, starting with code white (fairly secure) and ascending through code yellow and orange to code red (in conflict and under immediate threat).

Similarly, in law enforcement, the phrase refers to a color code used to identify comrades in order to minimize fatal accidents by “friendly fire.” In the New York City Police Department, for example, a color of the day, assigned each morning, enables uniformed officers to recognize plainclothes and undercover cops. The latter wear a headband, wristband, or other article of clothing in that color for that day.

Page 40. " His office was in Staten Island "

Staten Island
GNU Free Documentation LicenseStaten Island - Credit: Matthew Trump
Staten Island is a borough of New York City that is actually closer to New Jersey as the crow flies than it is to the rest of the city. Only the tidal straits known as Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull divide it from New Jersey, but drivers have to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge -- 6,690 feet or 1.267 miles -- to get to Brooklyn.

The neighborhoods of Staten Island are the most suburban in character of the five New York boroughs. Residents of Staten Island sometimes refer to themselves as “the forgotten borough” because of the way they often feel neglected by New York City government.

Page 41. " I was Four-F "

The first time the United States instituted a military draft was between 1917 and 1920. With another world war looming, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 to launch another draft. Young males were classified as to their suitability for military service from 1-A (available for unrestricted military service) down to 4-F (not acceptable for military service).

A 4-F rating resulted from unfitness for physical, mental, or moral reasons. Thirty percent of American men who registered for military service during the Second World War received a 4-F classification, usually for muscle or bone irregularities, hearing or circulatory ailments, mental problems, hernias, or syphilis. While some men (such as Doc Daneeka, who tried to classify himself 4-F) craved the rating to avoid having to fight, young women often avoided dating such men for patriotic or imagined health deficiency reasons.

Page 41. " with my local Better Business Bureau "

The Better Business Bureau, a series of private business franchises, rates the ethical and financial reliability of private companies. Founded in 1912, it collects from consumers and other businesses, keeps track of formal complaints lodged against a business, and ranks them on a school report card-style A-to-F scale.

In recent years, news investigations and client complaints have alleged that BBB ratings, high and low, may possibly be swayed by a subject company’s willingness to pay membership fees to the organization.

Page 41. " a medal of St. Anthony hanging down "

Devotional St. Anthony medal dating from about 1930
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeDevotional St. Anthony medal dating from about 1930 - Credit: Albertomos
One of the most popular of the Catholic patron saints, Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in Lisbon, Portugal, so he is sometimes called Anthony of Lisbon. A member of the Franciscan order, he preached knowledgeably and forcefully in France and Italy. Pope Gregory XI, who had known Anthony personally, had him canonized less than a year after his death, one of the fastest sainthoods in history.

Perhaps best known as the patron saint of lost items, Anthony also patronizes mariners, travelers, domestic animals, poor people, and expectant mothers. A St. Anthony medal would be expected to offer the wearer protection against shipwrecks, starvation, and sterility.

Doc Daneeka’s joke about the temptation of St. Anthony recalls the popular subject of religious paintings that refer to a different man, Saint Anthony the Great (251-356), a Christian saint from Egypt who pursued the course of an ascetic in the desert. Bosch, Grünewald, and Dali featured St. Anthony tormented by desert visions in their paintings, and Flaubert wrote a novel on the subject.

Page 43. " a half-blooded Creek from Enid "

Creek is a name applied to the Native American people who once lived in present-day Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. They were more formally known as the Muscogee. The name “Creek” probably came from the Ocmulgee River in central Georgia, known by the natives as “Ochese-hatchee” (creek), where English explorers built a trading post in 1690.

Enid, the county seat of Garfield County, is the ninth largest city in Oklahoma. One of the land offices for the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893 was located in Enid. Its 2010 population was 49,379.

Chief White Halfoat understandably refers to oil because its discovery in the Enid area in the 1910s drove a boom in the city until World War II.

Page 44. " put me down safely in Lowery Field, Colorado "

Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado, 1945
Public DomainLowry Field, Denver, Colorado, 1945
Lowry Air Force Base, which the U.S. Air Force closed in 1994, was used for technical training and, in particular, the training of bomber crews during World War II. Located in the Colorado cities of Aurora and Denver, it opened in 1938 as Lowry Field.

Its name came from a Denver native, Second Lieutenant Francis Lowry, who had been shot down by German antiaircraft fire while he was performing the duties of forward artillery observer during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in World War I.

Page 47. " the weekly milk run to Parma "

In engineering and aeronautics, a “milk run” referred to a routine and uneventful flight, especially if it happened to occur on what would otherwise be a dangerous mission. The phrase evoked the regular and safe delivery rounds of a milkman, back in the days when dairies delivered customers’ fresh milk to their door.

The city of Parma lies in the north-central Italian region of Emilia-Romagna and is known for its ham and cheese. A fictionalized version of the city turns up in the title and plot of Stendhal’s novel The Charterhouse of Parma. (Note also the “Parmesan” reference on page 21.)