The term ‘Catch 22’ was immortalised in a book of the same title by Joseph Heller. It arose out of the experiences of an American bomber pilot during the Second World War (1939-45), but it is equally applicable to the ongoing situation in the middle east. In the novel, the lead character, is constantly facing problematic circumstances, for which the solution is prohibited by the nature of the circumstances themselves. An example the author gave, of a ‘catch 22’ is with regard to flying dangerous missions over enemy territory.
According to the bureaucratic military regulations at the time it was possible to be removed from such life-risking duties if you were crazy. However, you had to apply to your superiors in order to be discharged on such grounds. Yet the very act of applying was considered a rational one and so demonstrated that you were not crazy. Hence – Catch 22! In other words, within the system, whatever you did there was no escape. However, the concept goes wider than this one particular example and under the hierarchy of military bureaucracy (and also) capitalist society it also boils down to the following; “they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.” Which was the case with the original Iraq War and now faces the elite – and us – with a modern catch 22.
The Neo-Liberal Catch 22.
Despite unprecedented public anti-war demonstrations and dodgy dossiers (dishonestly alleging ‘weapons of mass destruction’) the elite claimed the right to bomb and invade Iraq and we couldn’t stop them. This illegal act to rid themselves of a regime which irritated them, has created the conditions for a modern version of a ‘Catch 22’. The very act of military invasion, occupation, resource destruction and exploitation by the west in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, has created even more dangerous regimes in the form of al Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram and now the Islamic State of Iraq. The weapons and methods exported and used by the USA and Europe, to fight regimes they dislike in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, have been turned upon them. Every act of aggression and oppression, to suppress resistance, results in more resistance and opposition to Europe and the west – not less! Hence Catch 22!.
Aggressively spreading the ideology of neo-liberalism across the globe and accommodating to patriarchal religions in their own countries has resulted not only opposition to the west but a patriarchal and militant religious movement par excellence! If the western elite do nothing now, fundamentalist Islam will spread across the middle east, Asia and Africa, because the hatred of the western elite is by now almost universal. Of course, without further interference, Isis will continue to attract recruits and funding, because they are actively opposed to the corruption, oppression, exploitation and immorality of the western neo-liberal elite and their puppet regimes.
However, if the west tries to bomb and blast Isis into oblivion, situated as they are among civilian populations, they will only create more opposition and even more hatred. It is a hatred that is increasing within and without the countries of practically the whole world. Consequently, in the wake of further bombing and economic crisis, Islamic fundamentalism will still undoubtedly spread, for at present there is no other large-scale ‘value’ system which is opposed to the corruption, immorality and exploitation at the heart of the capitalist mode of production.
In short, after all the 19th and 20th century interference and manipulation, the more the west intervenes in the middle east, (as elsewhere) the more reaction it will create. Whatever the western elites do now, the problem will escalate. Hence – the western pro-capitalist elite have placed themselves – and us – in a ‘Catch 22’! The consequences of this elite-led, military phase of neo-liberal capitalist expansion have created a dangerous and dystopian economic, social and political world for everyone. And from the position of the working class lower ranks – military or civilian – it adds the following twist to this increasingly existential problem; “The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on.”
The catch 22 repercussions for working people.
Getting killed by your own side of course does not only apply to military deaths by so-called ‘friendly fire‘, nor only to death and injury from gung-ho politicians and generals sending ill-equipped troops into ill-conceived battles and countries they wish to ultimately exploit. It applies to the civilian population as well. For the ‘war on terror’ (which is actually a ‘war of state terror’) has produced in abundance what it sought to eliminate. The ‘war on terror’ initiated by the western political elite has created more global terror not less. Now humanity is faced with more than just isolated groups who seek a vicious form of revenge and control. Terror has morphed into large-scale territorial ambitions to form a state on the basis of Islamic law and to physically eliminate those who refuse to conform to its antiquated dictates.
The directly related catch 22 for working people in the west is that when terrorist revenge is dished out it will be our ranks that get beheaded, tortured and bombed, not the political and military elite who kick-started the whole sorry mess. Already, wage or salary earning news reporters, working class civilians and soldiers from the working class ranks are the direct revenge targets for the crimes perpetrated under the command of the western elites. No individuals from the senior elite – political or military – have suffered more than a momentary frustration at an unexpected outcome of an action. And even this frustration has been ‘endured’ from the safety of their well-protected bunkers and official headquarters.
So here’s the double ‘catch 22’ for the majority of us below the levels of the elite. First of all, our working class ranks, white-collar and blue, military or civilian will be the ones to suffer from any coming terror motivated by extreme hatred of our elite. And second whilst many of us continue to vote for the political elite in the forlorn hope of worthwhile benefits from a system in collapse or shrug our shoulders without mass protests, we are putting in power those who will continue to put us in danger and get us killed. It is worth repeating from above what the author of ‘Catch 22’ wrote: “The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on.” In other words, from a working class standpoint, our enemy is not only the Isis and all patriarchal fundamentalists, but our own economic, political and military elite, who continue to ‘fiddle’ and ‘meddle’ while the conflagration and devastation grows.
R. Ratcliffe (September 2014)