Brave New Bureaucracy
Have you read 1984? Written in the aftermath of the Second World War and set in a grim "future," this novel by George Orwell portrays a society completely at the mercy of its bureaucracy. Microphones, video cameras and neighbors all become tools of the state in enforcing not only obedience in action, but obedience in thought as well. The main character of the novel, for example, is responsible for changing the journalistic archives of the past to ensure that the historical record only contains what the government wants it to contain. The leader of his society, Big Brother, never appears except in posters. The true source of authority comes from thousands of agents sitting at thousands of desks, pursuing thousands of "dissidents" in maintaining enough fear to keep the "proles" (commoners) content and quiet.
One of the primary themes from Catch-22 appears in the fact that the men in Yossarian's squadron do not have the freedom to choose whether or not to die; in fact, most of the decisions do not come from one individual. Instead, they come from an invisible bureaucracy that operates with no discernible sense of purpose. Even though the Allies have already come close to vanquishing Germany, the men at Pianosa must still fly more and more combat missions -- even though their necessity is unclear.
The menace of the bureaucracy appears in several interrogation scenes -- that of Clevinger and that of the chaplain. The chaplain's interrogators do not even know what he did wrong: they are hoping that he will slip up and tell them. Clevinger does not get to establish his innocence, because Scheisskopf keeps reprimanding him for his syntax. When Yossarian is menaced by a mysterious man who says he has taken Yossarian's "pal," the insidious ways in which this organization can menace the individual take a monstrous turn.
The bureaucracy also has a comic side, though, as Yossarian's adventures as a letter censor show. His forged signatures as "Washington Irving" and "Irving Washington" tie the organization up in knots.