Symbols in Catch-22
Colonel Cathcart's Tomatoes
When the chaplain goes in to talk to the colonel about his concerns for Yossarian's well-being, he sees crates of tomatoes and admires them. They have come from Milo Minderbinder's syndicate, and the colonel offers one to the chaplain. However, later, when others see the chaplain carrying his gift, they accuse him of stealing the tomatoes.
These tomatoes show the various convolutions that can take place throughout a bureaucratic system, and the way that innocent intentions can be taken and twisted without documentation or other support. The offer from the colonel, once forgotten, gives the chaplain no protection from the subsequent threats for "stealing."
While the tomatoes may seem like a small matter, when you extend the idea to consider the bureaucratic "death" of Doc Daneeka, one sees how fragile a commodity "truth" can be.
Milo Minderbinder's Chocolate-Covered Cotton
Milo cornered the market on Egyptian cotton with his syndicate; however, he has now found himself with an inexhaustible supply of cotton that he cannot sell, so he starts to find other uses for it. While Yossarian is sitting naked in the tree at Snowden's funeral, Milo finds him and tries to get him to eat chocolate-covered cotton.
There are several ways to interpret the significance of this symbol. Clearly, one way is mirrored by Milo's use of sweet potatoes to hide the taste of soap -- product safety and client satisfaction are much less important than the profit motive. Also, the idea that a syndicate benefits all of its members equally becomes a sham, as Milo is willing to try to get others to eat what he has found disgusting and inedible.
The Soldier in White
During several of Yossarian's stints in the hospital, we see this body without a name or face -- and interchangeable containers of fluid that are simply switched with one another when one has drained into the other. The soldier represents the anonymous fate of all that the military would send to war -- names are much less important than duties fulfilled, but every soldier is replaceable.