Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 8 : Lieutenant Scheisskopf | Summary



Not even Clevinger understands how Milo can make the profits he does, "and Clevinger knew everything." Clevinger is a genius, a humanitarian, and a Harvard grad, but he's "one of those people with lots of intelligence and no brains."

The scene flashes back to cadet school, where Lieutenant Scheisskopf (whose last name means "shithead" in German) runs Yossarian's and Clevinger's squadron. All Schiesskopf cares about is the camp's weekly parade competition. He ignores his wife, who takes her revenge by sleeping with any cadet who's interested. Scheisskopf doesn't even notice.

Clevinger suggests that Scheisskopf allow the squadron to elect its own officers. Scheisskopf agrees, and the squadron immediately begins winning pennants in the weekly parade competition. Nevertheless, Scheisskopf—who fears Clevinger because of his intelligence—charges him with conspiring to overthrow the cadet officers whom he, Scheisskopf, had appointed. Clevinger is brought up before the Action Board, whose three members berate him mercilessly. After a ludicrous trial, he's found guilty. "Of course, or he would not have been accused."


Clevinger is stunned by the brutal hostility directed toward him by the Action Board, whose members "would have lynched him if they could." He realizes that among all his enemies in the entire war, no one hates him more than these three American officers who are supposed to be on his side.

The members of the Action Board are both infuriating and pathetic. The stakes are so small, and their hatred is so large. They'll seize the smallest excuse to wield power. Perhaps they're driven by the fact that their wartime status is relatively low. They're not fighting overseas; all they're doing is administering the day-to-day operations of a flight school.

Scheisskopf, too, is caught up in exercising meaningless power over the cadets. He's an ROTC officer—a reserve soldier rather than a full-time one. The men he's training will one day be air force officers with a higher status than his; he wants to punish them now, while he can.

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