Page 76. " shipped to the Solomon Islands "
Location of the Solomons
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeLocation of the Solomons - Credit: TUBS

Now an independent nation east of Papua New Guinea, the Solomons consist of more than 100,000 islands in the South Pacific. They were the site of brutal fighting between the U.S. and Japan during the Second World War between 1942 and 1945, most notably at Guadalcanal, where nearly 40,000 soldiers died between August 1942 and February 1943. Another significant battle in the Solomons was the campaign to take Bougainville, which lasted the rest of the war.

Aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, under air attack
Public DomainAircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, under air attack

In the photograph at right, the aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, is shown under aerial attack from Japanese planes during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, on Aug. 24, 1942.

A year later, PT-109, the boat commanded by Lieutenant junior grade John F. Kennedy, was run down by a Japanese destroyer on Aug. 2, 1943 in the Blackett Strait between Kolombangara and Arundel in the New Georgia Islands group of the Solomons.

Page 79. " Popinjay "

A pair of Scarlet Macaws in Peru
Creative Commons AttributionA pair of Scarlet Macaws in Peru - Credit: Martin St-Amant
Like Scheisskopf, “Popinjay” is a descriptive, Dickensian name. An old-fashioned term for parrot, from the German “papagei,” it has come to be applied to a person who carries himself like a parrot; that is, a strutting dandy or supercilious person.

The photo at right of two Scarlet Macaws was shot by Martin St-Amant, CC-BY-SA-3.0, in the village of Itahuania, Peru.

Page 80. " that's what Karl Marx is "

Portrait of Karl Marx, 1875
Public DomainPortrait of Karl Marx, 1875
Regarded as the father of modern socialism, Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-1883) was a German philosopher and economic historian who wrote The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. His ideas, known as Marxist, directly influenced the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the communist state that resulted for the following 64 years, as well as the Communist Revolution in China in 1947 and the government that remains in place there to this day, affecting the lives of millions.

Page 81. " grisly connivers in all the beer halls in Munich "

Marienplatz during the Beer Hall Putsch, Munich
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMarienplatz during the Beer Hall Putsch, Munich - Credit: Deutsches Bundesarchiv
This is a reference to the Beer Hall Putsch, the German word for a coup d’état, during which a 34-year-old veteran of the First World War named Adolf Hitler attempted to start a revolution to take over Germany. With 600 men, he broke into the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich on the evening of Nov. 8, 1923, while a political rival was speaking to a crowd of 3,000, whom Hitler’s men kept as prisoners while he tried to inflame them to his cause.

Inspired by Benito Mussolini’s successful March on Rome the year before, the Putsch failed and Hitler was tried and convicted of high treason. The incident brought considerable attention to the Nazis and their ideas, however. Sentenced to five years, Hitler served only eight months in Landsberg Prison, where he wrote Mein Kampf.

Page 83. " Some men are born mediocre.... "

Malvolio courts a bemused Olivia
Public DomainMalvolio courts a bemused Olivia
These words and those that follow are a paraphrase of a famous passage from Act II, scene 5 of William Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night. The original speech, written by Maria and read by Malvolio in a letter that he thinks has been written to him by his employer, the beautiful but cold Olivia, goes: “… some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

Maria and her confederates, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, want to play a joke on Malvolio by making him think Olivia loves him and hopes he will declare his love for her, which is as far from the truth as possible. This illustration of Malvolio courting his boss after having read the bogus letter is an engraving by Victorian R. Staines, inspired by an 1859 painting by Daniel Maclise (1811-1879).

By substituting “mediocre” in all the places where “great” appears in the original passage, Heller turns it on its head.

Page 83. " The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow "
Purple alfalfa flowers
Public DomainPurple alfalfa flowers

The farm owned by Major Major’s father prospers due to agricultural subsidies from the federal government. The concept of “paying farmers not to grow crops” grew out of the Great Depression, when President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act in 1933. The U.S. had already provided price and income supports to livestock farmers starting in 1921 during the economic collapse in Europe due to the devastating effects of World War I.

The idea was to help farmers who were losing money by destroying excess crops, with the ultimate goal of artificially reducing supplies and thereby stabilizing prices. If farmers were willing to limit how much they planted and cultivated, the government would pay them subsidies to keep their business afloat. The Supreme Court struck down the 1933 act as unconstitutional, so Congress responded by passing the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act in 1938 to achieve the same goals.

Bales of alfalfa hay in Montana
GNU Free Documentation LicenseBales of alfalfa hay in Montana - Credit: Gary D. Robson
Alfalfa particularly lends itself to this kind of government regulation because the plant is somewhat autotoxic (poisonous to itself), which means that alfalfa seeds have a difficult time growing among existing stands of alfalfa. So it should be rotated with other crops such as wheat or corn (therefore, “not grown”) before the field is reseeded for alfalfa. Humans eat alfalfa sprouts in sandwiches and salads, but its primary use is as feed for high producing dairy cows.

Heller highlights the irony that Major Major’s father depends on an inherently socialistic program -- on a broad scale, farm subsidies transfer income from general taxpayers to farm owners -- yet opposes federal aid to anyone else because it’s “creeping socialism.” This sort of tunnel vision survives alive and well to this day among military personnel and veterans who draw their incomes and retirement benefits from the federal government, and retirees who depend on Social Security checks and Medicare to survive, yet take the “freedom-loving … rugged individualist” stance of Major Major’s father that “government is the problem, not the solution” and what the American people need is “less government.”

Page 83. " As ye sow, so shall ye reap "

Widely regarded as a homily from the Bible, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this phrase basically states the flip side of the Golden Rule: a more modern version might be “what goes around, comes around.” Though it never appears in the Bible in precisely this form, the concept turns up several times using the key agricultural metaphor of sowing and reaping, from Job 4:8 (“…they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same”) in the Old Testament, to Galations 6:7 (“…whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”) in the New.

The notion was not confined to ancient Christian texts or lands, however. The great Roman orator and senator Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) also wrote “As you have sown so shall you reap.” Nevertheless, people in recent times have typically regarded it as a Biblical homily, and it turns up in the writings or public statements of theologians and activists as varied as early 20th-century psychic Edgar Cayce and anti-Iraq War protestor Malachi Ritscher, a musician who committed suicide by self-immolation in 2006 as a protest against the war.

In 1935, mixed race Harlem bookmaker Stephanie St. Clair, who had been pressured by mob boss Dutch Schultz to pay him protection money and resisted, made national headlines when she sent a telegram to him at his hospital deathbed that read “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” even though she had had nothing to do with his assassination by the Mafia.

References to the phrase have turned up in many other contexts, typically with a connotation of Biblical vengeance, from the 1914 silent film “As Ye Sow,” starring Douglas MacLean and Alice Brady, to a 1983 episode of the Home Box Office series “Tales From the Crypt” starring Kyle McLachlan, Patsy Kensit, and Sam Waterston.

Page 84. " in front of the A & P "

A&P is a chain of supermarket and liquor stores that still exists in the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. Founded in 1859 as The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company and based in New York, A&P was a tea company only until its first grocery store opened in 1912. By the 1940s and 1950s it was sufficiently big and powerful to be slapped with anti-trust suits and subject to anti-predatory pricing laws.

A&P became an American icon, “a Wal-Mart before there was Wal-Mart,” and as of 2009 was still the 34th largest retailer in the U.S., according to A short story by John Updike, “A&P,” is about a cashier who works in an A&P store, and in the movie “Born on the Fourth of July,” the character of Ron Kovic, played by Tom Cruise, works in an A&P before shipping out to Vietnam.

Page 84. " Major Major's father had a Calvinist's faith "

A Calvinist is a follower of Calvinism, a Protestant religious tradition that originated with the influential French theologian John Calvin (or Cauvin, 1509-1564), one of the principal figures of the Protestant Reformation. A stricter form of Protestantism than the various forms that evolved from the teachings of Martin Luther, Calvinism stressed the total depravity of man, and thus humans’ utter dependence upon the sovereign grace of God for salvation.

Another tenet of Calvinism was the doctrine of predestination, which stated that God decides, inalterably, who will be saved and who will be damned, and human acts cannot necessarily affect His will. The tradition also goes by the name Reformed faith or Reformed theology.

Page 86. " brooded for hours in his tent like Saul "

This is a reference to the Old Testament story of David and Goliath, from the First Book of Samuel. Saul, the king of Israel, should have battled the giant, but he was afraid and offered a reward to any man who defeats Goliath. Young David volunteers, and Saul offers him his armor, but the boy goes off to battle with just his sling and five stones. The Bible story is intended to show how Saul is not a fit leader for his people, while David might be.

Since Major Major has been suddenly promoted by an IBM machine, the sergeant can no longer “beat hell out of any man in his outfit,” because he would be assaulting a superior officer, so he broods like Saul.

Page 89. " The food was ashes in his mouth "

This is another Biblical reference. It comes from Isaiah 44:20, which reads: “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

The phrase refers to food that tastes awful, obviously; it tends to be used in a context where someone has triumphed, but the victory is hollow. Major Major is of course not pleased at all by all the finery that Milo has placed at his disposal, because he hates to stand out from everyone else.

Interestingly, President Kennedy would employ the phrase in a radio speech during the Cuban missile crisis, less than a year after Catch-22 was published: “We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of a worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth — but neither shall we shrink from that risk any time it must be faced.”

Page 97. " he made a happy switch from Washington Irving to John Milton "

The English poet and essayist John Milton
Public DomainThe English poet and essayist John Milton
Renaissance English poet and essayist John Milton (1608-1674) is remembered most for his epic poem about the fall of Man, “Paradise Lost.” Like Washington Irving, Major Major’s decision to forge Milton’s name on correspondence as a change of pace is entirely arbitrary as far as context and meaning. However, as the narrator explains, the usual criteria that underlie so many other military decisions in the book -- expediency, simplicity, flexibility -- apply here, at least in Major Major’s thinking.

Page 100. " served him broiled Maine lobster "

Boiled (not broiled) lobster dish in Portland, Maine
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBoiled (not broiled) lobster dish in Portland, Maine - Credit: Claude Covo-Farchi

The American lobster, known familiarly as Maine lobster, can grow to be the largest crustacean in the world and is therefore a popular delicacy of U.S. cuisine. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest ever recorded weighed in at 44.4 pounds and was just over three and a half feet long. Dark bluish green to greenish brown in color, with red spines, rare mutations are fully blue, yellow, or red, but broiling turns lobsters a bright red.

Page 100. " with excellent Roquefort salad "

Roquefort Salad consists mainly of lettuce and crumbled Roquefort cheese. Sometimes known as Rochefort in England, Roquefort is a blue cheese from the south central Aveyron department of France made from ewe’s milk. Culinary laws in Europe dictate that only cheeses aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, in the mountains between Marseilles and Toulouse, where the mold that gives it its distinctive taste grows, may be labeled “Roquefort.” Proper Roquefort should be white, crumbly, and slightly moist in the center so that it’s easily spreadable.



Its strong, salty taste complements a simple lettuce salad when sprinkled lightly over it. Other ingredients of a simple Roquefort Salad might include walnut halves, sunflower oil, wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Sometimes referred to as “the King of Cheeses,” Roquefort cheese also turns up as an ingredient in recipes for Cobb salad, Roquefort Pear Salad, and other salad options such as watercress, spinach, endives, butternut squash, pomegranate, apples, or mixed greens.

Page 100. " with an important member of the French underground "

“French underground” is an informal term for La Résistance française (the French Resistance), the collective term for an array of secret armed movements that pursued guerilla activities against the Nazi occupation and the Vichy government that collaborated with the Germans during World War II.

In addition to sabotaging occupation installations and activities, the Resistance collected intelligence information for the Allies, published underground newspapers, and maintained hiding places and escape networks for Allied soldiers and airmen trapped behind enemy lines. The initially clandestine Resistance newspaper “Combat” had such famous contributors as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and André Malraux.

The idea that a member of the French underground would be smuggling frozen eclairs is of course absurd.

Page 100. " terrapin Maryland "

Better known as Terrapin à la Maryland, this vintage soup dish used as its primary ingredient the Diamondback Terrapin, a reptile that prefers unpolluted salt water such as the marsh and river systems of Chesapeake Bay. Colonists followed the Native American approach of roasting a terrapin whole on live coals. Later, it became a gourmet meal in soups primarily made from cream or butter and sherry.

Heavy harvesting depleted the numbers of wild terrapins. Whereas in 1891, some 89,000 pounds of Diamondback Terrapins were taken from Maryland waters, the annual harvest fell below 11,000 pounds after the mid 1950s. Maryland made the terrapin its State Reptile in 1994 and then passed a law to declare commercial harvesting of terrapins unlawful in 2007.

A typical old recipe might call for boiling a whole terrapin; cutting the meat into small, one-inch pieces; sauté-ing in butter, salt, pepper, celery salt, and paprika; and then adding sherry, cream, and egg yolks and bringing to a boil with a half glass of dry sherry before serving. To thicken the soup, corn starch might be added.

Page 100. " whole quart of Dom Pérignon 1937 "

A bottle of vintage 1999 Dom Perignon champagne
Public DomainA bottle of vintage 1999 Dom Perignon champagne - Credit: PlatinumSunlight

A brand manufactured by the winery based in the north-central region of France known as Moët & Chandon, Dom Pérignon is a prestige Champagne wine. Named after a Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon (c. 1638-1715) who made important contributions to the development of Champagne wine (including the use of corks) at the Abbey of Hautvillers, Dom Pérignon is made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

In 1981, Dom Pérignon Vintage 1961 featured as the wine served at the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles of England.

As a vintage Champagne wine, Dom Pérignon is only produced in strong grape years. Production over three consecutive years, for example, is very rare. The first vintage in 1921 was only released for sale in 1936. Dom Pérignon often stars at wine auctions: three bottles of 1921 sold at Christie’s in New York for $24,675 in 2004, and three bottles of the extremely rare 1959 Rosé Vintage went for $84,700.

Fittingly for Catch-22, there was no 1937 vintage -- in fact, Dom Pérignon produced no Champagne wine between 1934 and 1943 -- so the “Dom Pérignon 1937” gulped down by Major Major is likely bogus.

Page 100. " patch of dewberry bushes "

Dewberry fruits
Public DomainDewberry fruits - Credit: George Chernilevsky

Dewberries, which grow on trailing brambles throughout the Northern Hemisphere, are closely related to blackberries, physically resemble raspberries but are purple to black instead of red, and provide a sweet basis for jams, pies, or cobblers. The European dewberry favors coastal areas, especially sand dunes, which explains its presence near Major Major’s office on Pianosa.