In Joseph Heller’s seminal novel “Catch 22”, the reluctant WWII bombardier Yossarian is concerned that people are trying to kill him. Given the fact that he is continually being ordered to go up in an airplane to be shot at by the enemy, he has a point.
Yossarian’s alienation truly begins after Snowden, a member of his flight crew, dies in his arms, mortally wounded by antiaircraft fire. From that point on, whenever Yossarian is asked whether he has any questions, he merely replies “Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?”
Here Heller is paraphrasing “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” by the great fifteenth century french poet François Villon, whose haunting refrain “Où sont les neiges d’antan?” was later translated by Rosetti as “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”
Interestingly, Villon spent much of his short and colorful life speaking out for the rights of the people — the great unwashed citizenry — in defiance of his government.
This theme ties in curiously to another battle of perception being fought today, with the rights of citizens on one side, and the powers of government on the other.
This new battle centers on an outspoken rebel named Snowden. Mere coincidence?