Dead or Alive? Bureaucracy Decides

Doc Daneeka (Gilford) tries to convince a fellow officer he’s still alive


Sometimes truth is, if not stranger than fiction, then at least anticipated by fiction. Take, for instance, this recent Associated Press story that which repeats an episode from Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. It was entitled “Romanian Court Rejects Man’s Claim That He’s Alive”:

A Romanian court has rejected a man’s claim that he is alive after his wife officially registered him as dead, saying that the decision cannot be reversed.

A spokeswoman for the court told local news outlets on Friday that the man, Constantin Reliu, 63, lost his case in the northeast city of Vasului because he had appealed too late.

The ruling is final.

Local news reports on the case said that Mr. Reliu had lost contact with his wife and family when he traveled to Turkey in 1992 for work.

Hearing no news from her husband for years, his wife got a death certificate for him in 2016.

The authorities in Turkey found Mr. Reliu this year with expired papers and deported him. But when he arrived in Romania, he discovered he had been declared dead.

Dr. Daneeka in Catch 22 is a flight squadron surgeon who is afraid of flying and so gets friends to sign him into flight logs. Unfortunately, this means that, when his plane crashes, he is assumed dead. Given the military’s bureaucratic mindset that Heller mocks ceaselessly, Daneeka can’t convince anyone that he’s still alive:

The first person in the squadron to find out that Doc Daneeka was dead was Sergeant Towser, who had been informed earlier by the man in the control tower that Doc Daneeka’s name was down as a passenger on the pilot’s manifest McWatt had filed before taking off. Sergeant Towser brushed away a tear and struck Doc Daneeka’s name from the roster of squadron personnel. With lips still quivering, he rose and trudged outside reluctantly to break the bad news to Gus and Wes, discreetly avoiding any conversation with Doc Daneeka himself as he moved by the flight surgeon’s slight sepulchral figure…

Daneeka’s orderlies also refuse to believe he’s alive:

“You’re dead sir,” of of his two enlisted men explained. Doc Daneeka jerked his head up quickly with resentful distrust.
“What’s that?”
“You’re dead, sir,” repreated the other. “That probably the reason you always feel so cold.”
“That’s right, sir. You’ve probably been dead all this time and we just didn’t detect it.”
“What the hell are you both talking about?” Doc Daneeka cried shrilly with a surging, petrifying sensation of some onrushing unavoidable disaster.
“It’s true, sir,” said one of the enlisted men. “The records do show that you went up in McWatt’s plane to collect some flight time. You didn’t come down in a parachute, so you must have been killed in the crash.”
“That’s right, sir,” said the other. “You ought to be glad you’ve got any temperature at all.”

Daneeka’s wife, officially believing a widow, receives financial compensation. When her husband writes to her, she assumes it’s a crank letter and moves away, leaving no forwarding address. The doctor becomes a virtual shadow:

Alarm changed to resignation, and more and more Doc Daneeka acquired the look of an ailing rodent. The sacks under his eyes turned hollow and black, and he padded through the shadows fruitlessly like a ubiquitous sppk.

The same appears to be the case with the Romanian man:

“I am officially dead, although I’m alive,” Mr. Reliu was quoted as saying in local news reports. “I have no income and because I am listed dead, I can’t do anything.”

And so the world turns.

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