Thursday, June 25, 2015

Life at the 4077th

The 4077th is a M.A.S.H. (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) Unit during the Korean War, which lasted from 1950-1953. Of course, if you think about it, is the war entirely over, or just on hold? There is undeniable tension between North and South Korea that was not finished, and was probably aggravated by the war. But that is not what this post is about.


Specifically, the 4077th is an imaginary M.A.S.H. unit that is the setting for the movie and popular television series called "M*A*S*H." I have not seen it in order, so I cannot tell you how the show begins. I have not seen the last show, so I cannot tell you how it ends. I have seen a disjointed middle so I cannot review the chronological progression of the series. Well.... what can I do?! Good question. I can tell you the enjoyment, critical thinking, and historical history this show has provided me thus far.

According to a news article I read online (I cannot link the exact one, as I did not bookmark it), M*A*S*H was the first show to be produced as a drama/comedy. One minute you will be laughing at Dr.'s Hawkeye and Trapper/Hunnicutt, the next you will be practically crying over the physical and mental shape of an 18 year old soldier. It is a roller coaster ride of emotions, but I promise you'll like it. (Or, at least I do.) Because, see, the deep sad stuff has to be in a show based off an army hospital on the front lines, or it would be completely unrealistic. And, at least for me, if the show was only drama and sadness, I am not sure I would like it half as  much as I do.

Dr. Hawkeye Pierce is one of the main characters. He is a wonderful surgeon who does not want to be in Korea. How does he cope with all he sees? He makes jokes and takes the war lightly. There are times however when Pierce gets serious and you see the hurt and gravity of Pierce and his true view on his times in Korea.

I love Hawkeye. Sure, sometimes I get annoyed with his careless attitude, his cocky way of talking about women, his disregard for authority can hurt the unit. But he means well, he is a good surgeon, and when push comes to shove, he is kind and helpful. He certainly has his flaws, but Hawkeye makes for a wonderful and complex main character.

As much as he and Dr. Trapper had good repartee, I liked when he and Hunnicut where the main surgeons in the later seasons. Hunnicut is refreshing in a M*A*S*H unit where sexual morality is now the norm. Before that, every character has a loose and careless view on matrimony, Those who are married cheat on their wives, and I know this is an accurate depiction for war time. SOMETIMES. But Hunnicut loves his wife and child, and from the minute he steps into the camp until the end (or at least in all the episodes I have seen) B.J. Hunnicut is faithful to and vocal about his love for his wife and child.

Hawkeye seems to be more of a pacifist. He always talks of ending the war, speaks of peace negotiations (though cynically, because they hardly ever come to anything, as negotiations had been talked of since the start of the war), and bemoans the loss of lives on both sides. Yes, both. Hawkeye will not bat an eyelash if you bring him a wounded enemy soldier. He will just slip on his gloves, order a nurse to get some anesthesia, and get to work on his new patient. And I love that about him. Seeing the horrendous-ness of war, seeing "the enemy" as real human beings with good and bad qualities, who are equally as likely to grab a knife from the surgical tray or thank you for operating on them. One Korean spy even ends up helping the M*A*S*H unit when they show him kindness and he sees the great need of the patients.

Watching these shows has me thinking on my own beliefs about war and pacifism, the "us" vs. "them" mentality. Because it is never that simple. People are messy, beautiful, kind, awful, strong, brave, weak, and fragile. Often all at the same time. War is not as-was it Hemingway that Hawkeye had read and admired before the war?-well, anyway, war is not as honorable and clean cut as Hemingway made it out to be in his literature.

There is Sydney, a returning guest star, who is a psychiatrist for the Korean War. Seeing patients, doctors, and soldiers mental and emotional state is heartbreaking. The problems and PTSD that sets in before the war is even over is traumatic. And though it is just a show, such things are not just part of the show, They happened and are happening and will happen in the foreseeable future. This is messy stuff that cannot just be swept under the rug.

And I had never really been forced to confront my thoughts on war, trauma, and the like until I had watched this show. Not that I have it all figured out now that I have been pondering it, but I have views now, however fragile, and I have logical reasons for holding them.

I also love the way that the writers treat Father Mulcahy. The Father is the only religious figure at the 4077th. There is no residential rabbi or Buddhist teacher. (Although the Fr. has performed other religious ceremonies for people throughout the show.) All religions are treated with respect and honor. Father Mulcahy lives out what he teaches, cares for others, acts as a priest on Sundays, nurse when needed, and psychologist/spiritual guide when the time is right. Everyone, from the agnostic Hawkeye to the Jewish Sydney respect and admire the Father. I don't know, I really can't explain everything clearly, so just watch for it in the show. :)

While Henry Blake was funny as an inept M.A.S.H leader, I really liked the fatherly and war seasoned Col. Potter. Love love love Col. Potter. That is all (and yet not all, because I could list so many reasons... see the show though, and you'll find plenty of reasons to love Colonel Potter) Okay, one reason is the quote shown in this picture. <3

At first I did not like Major Margaret Houlihan. She is the head nurse at 4077 and she is bossy and unkind. She dismisses Hawkeye and has a relationship with the married and bigoted Major Frank Burns. However Margaret grows as well, especially after Frank leaves. She is a strong female character, with a big job at the M.A.S.H. unit. Without her the doctors could not perform successful surgeries. She and the nurses are truly the unsung heroes of the 4077. I really appreciate that the men, while occasionally making sexist and degrading comments, recognize that Margaret does a hard job, and works as hard and can do as well or better what any of the men at the unit do. They are a team, and when men and women get together to accomplish a larger goal, it is really inspiring to see the process and its results.

Okay, so we have covered war, pacifism, trauma, PTSD, "enemies," feminism/femininity, religion/God, and humor, And I think it is safe to say that most or all of these subjects can be found in practically every episode of M*A*S*H.

Please go watch this show. It is so much more than an interesting "dramedy" and I cannot wait to see more. This show covers so much about the human condition, life, and war specifically. There is the good and the bad, the saints and the sinners, and everything in between. I'm not sure how many shows can rival M*A*S*H in these aspects, however good they may be.


Everyone needs a show that can make them laugh, cry, learn, and think over the "deep" questions. M*A*S*H is certainly mine. What is yours?