What is the main point of the argument between Clevinger and Yossarian in Joseph Heller's Catch-22?

Clevinger and Yossarian are arguing over the enemy's intent when they "disagree" over what's happening. Yossarian is specifically plagued with the fact that the enemy is "trying to kill [him]", while Clevinger responds that they're simply trying to kill everyone.

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Clevinger and Yossarian are arguing over the enemy's intent when they "disagree" over what's happening. Yossarian is specifically plagued with the fact that the enemy is "trying to kill [him]", while Clevinger responds that they're simply trying to kill everyone. To Yossarian, this makes no difference, because he is the...

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Clevinger and Yossarian are arguing over the enemy's intent when they "disagree" over what's happening. Yossarian is specifically plagued with the fact that the enemy is "trying to kill [him]", while Clevinger responds that they're simply trying to kill everyone. To Yossarian, this makes no difference, because he is the one currently in their sights.

The main point of this argument is an overall commentary on the state of war. The only way to truly survive the effects of war are to dehumanize the enemy, which is what Clevinger does. Clevinger just says "they're trying to kill everyone" so that it's almost an impersonal matter, and by killing them in response, he is doing a humanitarian act. Yossarian, however, feels personally targeted by the attacks and can't separate himself from the fact that there are individual humans (like himself) out there that are specifically seeking to kill him.

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In chapter 2, Yossarian tells Clevinger, "They're trying to kill me." He is referring to the enemy planes that are trying to shoot him out of the sky. This seems like an obvious point to make in the context of a war. In war, after all, one side tries to kill the other. Clevinger responds by telling Yossarian that he's crazy, and that, "No one's trying to kill you . . . They're trying to kill everyone."

This is the central point about which Yossarian and Clevinger seem to disagree. Yossarian insists that the enemy combatants are trying to kill him specifically, whereas Clevinger insists that the enemy doesn't care about the individuals, and isn't targeting Yossarian or anyone else personally, or specifically, but is rather simply trying to kill as many of them as possible.

Yossarian responds that it makes no difference whether the enemy is trying to kill him or everyone, since they are still, nonetheless, shooting at him. Indeed, "strangers he didn't know shot at him with canons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them."

Yossarian and Clevinger, later in chapter 2, also disagree as to whether Yossarian is crazy. Clevinger argues that Yossarian certainly is crazy because he demonstrates a number of telling symptoms, including "an unreasonable belief that everybody around him was crazy, a homicidal impulse to machine-gun strangers . . . [and] an unfounded suspicion that people hated him and were conspiring to kill him." Yossarian responds that he knows he isn't crazy because "to the best of his knowledge he had never been wrong." In other words, Yossarian doesn't doubt that he is right about people wanting to kill him and about everyone around him being crazy. And if he is right about these things, he can't possibly be crazy himself.

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Joseph Heller's satirical novel, Catch-22, paints a picture of three kinds of soldiers: those who use the war for their own benefit, those who unquestioningly obey every order, and those who question their authorities and the purpose of war. The officers in this novel represent the first group; Clevinger and Yossarian represent the other two groups.

In chapter two of the novel, Yossarian and Clevinger have a heated argument about the war. It is Yossarian's belief that everyone with whom they are at war is trying to kill him; Clevinger insists that no one is trying to kill Yossarian specifically. Yossarian's logic runs Clevinger in circles until finally Clevinger just asserts angrily that Yossarian is crazy. (Of course, Yossarian wishes this were a true diagnosis so he would be discharged, but the doctor is not impressed with Clevinger's claim of Yossarian's mental state.)

This is an ongoing point of contention between the men until Clevinger eventually disappears during a battle. Later in the novel, Yossarian reaches the startling conclusion that Clevinger had a change of heart and deserted. 

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