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  • In the Field

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on September 8th, 2020 (All posts by )

    Sometimes, long after first reading a book or watching a movie and enjoying it very much, I have come back to re-reading or watching, and then wondering what I had ever seen in that in the first place. So it was with the original M*A*S*H book and especially with the movie. I originally read the book in college and thought, “Eww, funny but gross and obscene, with their awful practical jokes and nonexistent sexual morals.” Then I re-read after having been in the military myself for a couple of years, and thought, “Yep, my people!”

    The movie went through pretty much the same evolution with me, all but one element – and that was when I began honestly wondering why the ostensible heroes had such a hate on for Major Burns and the nurse Major Houlihan. Why did those two deserve such awful, disrespectful treatment? In the movie they seemed competent and agreeable enough initially. In the book it was clear that Major Burns was an incompetent surgeon with delusions of adequacy, and that Major Houlihan was Regular Army; that being the sole reason for the animus. But upon second viewing of the movie, it seemed like Duke Forrest, Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre were just bullying assholes selecting a random target for abuse for the amusement of the audience.

    Some of that scathing contempt for the Regular Army, (as opposed to Duke, Trapper John and Hawkeye, who were draftees serving one year tours) also seemed to land on the nurses at the 4077th generally – for they would have been volunteers in the Army Nurse Corps. An episode in the book does not do the three surgeons any credit, when they drunkenly troll the nurses heading to their shower of an evening by comparing them to elephants and saying that they have the clap. That’s an episode – which if it really did happen during Richard Hooker’s tour of duty which inspired the whole cycle of MASH stories – is bound to leave a sour taste in the mouth of any woman who ever served in the military, as a nurse or anything else.

    Just this week, in working through a history of the frontline nurses in WWII, I read the chapter on the nurses who landed after the first wave in the Torch landings, in North Africa. All volunteers, some more experienced and well-traveled then others, all were volunteers, just as they would be ten years later, serving in Korea. It’s a fascinating account, of how the first handful of surgeons, corpsmen and nurses got so far in advance of their equipment that they had to set about doing frontline surgery with what they had on them – a couple of surgical scissors, a scalpel, some clamps and a great many bottles of disinfectant alcohol. At one point in that first day, they ran through all available surgical silk, and had to ask the nurses to provide locks of hair, which when rinsed with alcohol, could be used to suture up wounds.

    Six weeks later, with supplies having caught up to them, and a well-functioning military hospital established in the town of Arzew (about twenty miles east of Oran) the nurses decided that they must make Christmas a memorable and meaningful one for their patients and other staff. They began making small Christmas stockings out of red cloth and extra white cotton sheets, and the hospital supply officer located enough sugar, milk, chocolate and peanuts to make nearly four hundred pounds of taffy, peanut brittle and fudge. Whenever the nurses were not on duty, they were sewing or making candy. The Red Cross in Oran came up with more candy, cigarettes and small gifts to fill the stockings. The nurses and other staff cut ornaments out of the foil that x-ray plates had been wrapped in and tin from plasma containers to decorate for a tree set up in the entrance lobby of the building serving as their hospital. A patient who had been an art teacher in civilian life folded, cut and painted realistic-looking candles, branches of holly and garlands to decorate the lobby. They brought in pots of plants, and made up a table on the stair landing at the back of the lobby to look like an altar, and stitched purple bougainvillea blossoms to a cardboard cross hung over it – and at midnight on Christmas Eve, the Catholic chaplain held a midnight mass there. On Christmas morning, a surgeon dressed as Santa (again, in a costume that the nurses had sewn from the same materiel as the Christmas stockings) distributed the stockings of gifts to every patient. The men were thrilled – as one of the nurses later wrote, “You would have thought that Santa had brought them the bikes they always wanted – just the right brand and just the right color!”

    So – reading and watching M*A*S*H, and see women of that quality (perhaps the same women, or maybe just their close successors in military nursing) being dunked on for cheap laughs – it does rather put a bad taste in my mouth. Your mileage may vary – comment?

     

     

    30 Responses to “In the Field”

    1. Brian Says:

      Hollywood is an industry that loathes and hates women. The dirty secret about Harvey Weinstein isn’t his behavior, it’s that he was completely representative.

    2. pouncer Says:

      SgtM:

      There’s an elephant’s worth of stuff in your essay to think about. But you touch one part of that beast’s anatomy without, I believe, sufficient analysis. The nurses were all volunteers. The surgeons were all draftees.

      For a Hollywood production made during the Vietnam war era, that’s as big a difference as men vs women, or Ivy League versus Midwestern State U. (Which divides also distributed themselves into the mix.)

      I’ve wondered about the age differences among the doctors.

      Blake and Burns were portrayed to be about a decade or more older than Pierce and McIntyre. Also, the senior officer medical guys seemed to be G.P.’s pressed into surgery, over their heads, while the captains were surgeons by inclination and training. A ten year difference in 1950 is the difference between Korea and Germany, Inchon and Iwo Jima.

      Pierce and McIntyre were of the cohort of young men — starting as high school boys — greatly over-indulged by slightly older women from 1942 on-wards who’d been left behind. So many young men — college aged young men, young men starting careers — gone to fight WWII, while their young women danced and smoked and flirted with nervous 17 year-old-boys. Say Pierce is HS class of ’43 and so spoiled. He swings a draft deferment. Then he gets to college, and within a couple years the girls turn their attention to the returning, conquering, GI Bill heroes. Pierce thinks the girls are shallow and fickle. He thinks soldiers are phonies and glory-hogs. He makes his way through the Ivy League playing football and getting his MD, looking forward to a lucrative surgical career — and THEN he gets drafted. Very resentful of the military and the government and war-in-general.

      Blake and Burns were, I suppose, Reservists and G.P.s who conducted state-side induction physicals, inspections on rations, and supervised therapy on returning wounded vets all through WWII, accumulating a little rank … and who were greatly surprised to be pressed into active service at all, let alone sent overseas. (Unlike Potter-come-lately). They know the system, deal with paperwork and supply chains and chains-of-command and hierarchy … Ranks isn’t much compensation for being yanked out of home and family and an established career, but it’s all that’s been offered. Of COURSE Burns demands his due. Blake, on the other hand, was lucky enough to latch onto Radar and dump much of the military headache on “staff” — so to focus on medicine. Such focus leads him to be more tolerant of young Pierce and McI — and Spearchukker and Painless Pole and all — than mid-rank, mid-wit, middle-aged Burns. Burns grabs hard onto what he believes he’s been promised, starting with respect. He reacts to the breach … very badly.

      TV’s Winchester doesn’t fit into real world history AT ALL! A great comic character, but I see no way a person of his portrayed age and background doesn’t have more perspective on WWII than shown. C’mon — it was, in story, just half a decade ago! Pierce possibly be forgiven; immaturity and ignorance. Winchester — no. This is particularly egregious in comparison with Potter. The Colonel slides into the fictional storyline from completely outside the original book — just like Winchester — but with deep character roots in real world history.
      Major Doctor specialist Winchester is in the ensemble as a foil for Klinger, and does a great job at it. Otherwise, he’s just annoying.

      Your (coming back at you, Sarge) experience with the military chaplain at Christmas seems to parallel the M*A*S*H portrayal of Mulcahy quite well. In a more creative world Hollywood would do a mini-series about the problems brought to the desk, confessional, and altar of a young chaplain of any US branch of service in any era. If I’m not completely mistaken, chaplains — like your nurses — were and are all volunteers.

      The TV show ran more years than WWII and Korean War together. The characters, particularly Pierce, got emotionally frozen. It’s a TV problem. Real people and good fictional characters have flaws and grow either into those flaws or out of them. Seeing a 35 year old still making the jokes and mistakes of a 25 year old does make that character seem a complete jerk at BOTH ages portrayed. So, to preserve any affection for the character of Hawkeye, try to stay with the movie.

      Or, the book sequels. In particular _M*A*S*H goes to Maine_ is surprisingly worthwhile and shows a (slowly) maturing Hawkeye growing into his career, the community, marriage, and the science of medicine.

    3. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Nice analysis, Pouncer – and yes, ten years in age made all the difference for males in that cohort at the time. IIRC, Blake was Regular Army, and if so, Korea would have been his second war, even if he had spent WWII stateside. Colonel Potter was a character who came out of real life, and brought the right perspective to the series. But honestly, Pierce just got harder and harder to take. You’re right about in the TV show, frozen into mid-twenties stupidity.

    4. MCS Says:

      I never read the book and it’s been a long time since I watched the movie. At one point, I more or less planed my week in order to watch the TV show and probably watched most of the episodes as reruns at least once.

      A few years ago, I saw it listed on one of the local channels and watched one episode and not again. It hadn’t aged well or I had moved on.

      I’m going to assume that the raunch in the book was tamed somewhat for the movie and I know it was dialed down even further for the series. As the series progressed, I think it declined more and more.

      Hawkeye wasn’t ever going to show respect for anyone because he was soooo good. In the real world and especially the real army, he’d either have to grow up fast or find himself in a world of hurt and Trapper too.

      The show lasted more than three times as long as the war, not too many people could have been offended. I suspect most nurses didn’t like what they saw any more than cops and everyone else portrayed on television and movies. Everyone else just laughed at the jokes.

      I don’t think most comedies would stand too much close examination. How funny would any of them be if we allowed ourselves to really think about how dysfunctional the funniest characters are. I suppose that is the difference between success and a bomb and why those that can pull it off generally have a lot more money than I do.

    5. Foxfier Says:

      Didn’t read the book, remember watching the show in high school and once I actually paid more attention than occasionally chuckling at the jokes, the protagonists were mostly the same borderline sociopaths that made school unpleasant. Nobody matters but them and theirs, and it’s a crowning moment of heartwarming when an outsider is treated like a genuinely human person.

      The kind of people you never let know you have something that you value, because they will steal it and set it on fire– and if you show weakness by mourning, you might get lucky and they’ll say they’re sorry. Which does nothing to replace the thing they destroyed because it was “funny,” but gosh heaven forbid you not forgive them, or remember it next time they ask you to trust them. Like Warhammer, but not so obvious.

      The Very Special Episode things where (I have been told) Alda threw his weight around to get his preferred message in did a rather good job of making me question things I’d previously accepted, so did some good.

      Some of the jokes were quite good, I still love the priest and Radar, and Potter.

      ((Hm. Seem to have vanished the first comment…seeing if I can avoid usual triggers….))

    6. Jonathan Says:

      The TV show always struck me as a subversive Vietnam allegory. The writers avoided focusing on the existence of an enemy, kept enemy soldiers mostly out of view (except occasionally to present them as just like us), and made it seem that the war itself was the enemy. It was possible to do this by basing the plots on doctors and a military hospital, where the hard decisions were about medical triage rather than kill-or-be-killed operations against hostile enemy troops. The facile “anti war” theme made it seem that the war was pointless, only fools could support our involvement in it, and that our country and allies would pay no price for avoiding conflict with totalitarian enemies. The protagonists’ smug wisecracking presaged today’s PC snark.

    7. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Oh, yes – so it was that: the Vietnam thing, cloaked in Korea. The smug wisecracks about it all …
      Ugh.
      I served in Korea. I looked about the place, contemplated the horrific conditions north of the DMZ … and I want to about vomit, whenever Alda or any other of the cast goes on about how how awful and pointless the Korean War was.

    8. Elaine T Says:

      sgt Mom, did you ever run across Frank G. Slaughter’s books? He wrote quite a few about doctors, some at war, some in civilian life, at least one a surgeon in the Korean War. I liked it lo, those many years ago when I read it. Title.. um… Sword and Scalpel.

    9. Mike K Says:

      I have shocked a lot of people by saying that the movie MASH was as close to surgical residency as I have seen in movies. There was a lot of joking and fun, not so much abusing the regular Army guys. Somewhat similar serious OR scenes. I have a lot of stories in my book, the “50 years” one. I never saw the TV series.

      As for Korea, a surgeon I knew had a few stories about Korea. It was so hot in summer, obviously no A/C. that they sometimes operated naked. Everybody scrubbed in wore only the sterile gown, nothing underneath. Once more the surgeon I knew, who was Navy but treating Army, woke up to discover the Army they were supporting had pulled out during the night leaving the MASH as the front line. The MASH sang a little song that day about “The pitter patter of little feet, I’s the old First Cav in full retreat.” I don’t recall which unit it was that left them.

      The only other realistic depiction of an OR and ICU in movies was in Bullet.”

    10. Foxfier Says:

      Didn’t read the book, remember watching the show in high school and once I actually paid more attention than occasionally chuckling at the jokes, the protagonists were mostly the same borderline sociopaths that made school unpleasant. Nobody matters but them and theirs, and it’s a crowning moment of heartwarming when an outsider is treated like a genuinely human person.

      The kind of people you never let know you have something that you value, because they will steal it and set it on fire– and if you show weakness by mourning, you might get lucky and they’ll say they’re sorry. Which does nothing to replace the thing they destroyed because it was “funny,” but gosh heaven forbid you not forgive them, or remember it next time they ask you to trust them. Like Warhammer, but not so obvious.

      The Very Special Episode things where (I have been told) Alda threw his weight around to get his preferred message in did a rather good job of making me question things I’d previously accepted, so did some good.

      Some of the jokes were quite good, I still love the priest and Radar, and Potter.

    11. Ginny Says:

      It did seem anti-Vietnam to me; I’ll watch almost anything but was irritated and now I see why I only watched it when it was a social thing at someone’s house. I really dislike Altman – indeed, I think everything he ever did (except he did see potential in Lyle Lovett, I guess). And Alda of course. Cynicism, superficial, critic pleasing. Appreciate the nurse’s tale – that is wonderful. Love your telling of it: the kind of story that would have fit in many WWII movies about the homefront, which I still prefer to as a group.

    12. Bill Brandt Says:

      When I watched the series originally I had the same conclusion as Jonathan. That it was a Vietnam protest wrapped around the Korean War.

      Growing up I never understood why my dad would never take me camping. It was only after he died and talking to my mother that I understood him a little bit better. He lived in a tent in Korea for two years.

      He said that portrayel was pretty accurate.

      You can’t really expect portrayal of the characters in the TV series to mirror the real army. Could almost say that about anything. Though I did like the Amazon series Bosch which I thought portrayed Detective life pretty accurately. Then I’ve never been a detective so what do I know? Particularly where the military is concerned, how many movies or series do you think accurately represented it?

      Saving Private Ryan comes to mind I’m sure there are others but for the most part wildly inaccurate and political.

      Although I certainly understand the hostility towards major burns.

      From my perspective as a lowly corporal, we used to distinguish two types of regular army. At the bottom tier were the lifers. Just people doing their best to get through with as little effort as possible. We had nothing but distain for them.

      Then there were the career army. Nothing but respect for them

      Certainly you could see that major burns was a pompous ass

      And I suspect the hostility towards major Houlihan was because of her association with burns and her “by the book“ approach to everything.

      I would think in the real army to have a character like Hawkeye Pierce he would be in the stockade Sooner or later.

      I think everybody in the army has at least known of a major burns. I knew a guy like that who was a real brown Noser. I think just about every organization has at least one.

      You dare not say anything to him you didn’t want repeated to the CO. Naturally he was the CO’s secretary. Got promoted before the rest of us too.

      As far as the books treatment of the nurses maybe that did happen in that MASH unit but I would think that would be an aberration more than the norm

      Please excuse all the lower caps but my Internet is out and I’ve been trying to transcribe this thing on my iPhone and there’s only so much my fingers will do on this tiny keyboard

    13. MCS Says:

      “China Beach” was explicitly about Vietnam and nurses. Not a comedy, a lot more respectful of nurses and 16 years later. It was about the only show I remember about Vietnam that lasted more that a few episodes. “Mash” started in 1972, after the American involvement was about over. Vietnam was still too raw too laugh at and probably still is. I don’t think there was anybody that didn’t figure it was about Vietnam but at a distance.

      I wonder how many treatments are circulating set in Kabul or Baghdad? I’d expect to get a headache from being beaten over the head. You can get away with putting a lot of things in a movie that would kill a series just because it’s over in a couple of hours.

      I notice that Amazon is pushing “Nurse Ratchet” on IMDB when I go to look things up. I’m sure that will be an uplifting take on the profession.

    14. bob sykes Says:

      I started to rewatch China Beach. It had been a favorite back when, like MASH in its day. But I had to stop. The episodes are so cliched and the characters so cartoonish that watching is literally impossible. I had thought I might rewatch MASH, too, but China Beach put the kibosh on that.

    15. JH Says:

      There is a streaming service for Veterans by Veterans called VetTV. The actors, producers, writers and crew are all veterans. They are striving for accuracy, having watched hollyweird cock it up for decades when it comes to depictions of the military and our way of life. The humor is NSFW or for the sensitive. There is overlap with VetTV, Black Rifle Coffee, and Grunt Style Apparel.

    16. pouncer Says:

      Going back to how the TV show ignored the book …

      In the book there was a rivalry between two hospital companies. The tension was to be resolved by a football game. It came to be revealed that most of the surgeons were Ivy League college football players who had played against each other and knew each other by name and skill set. Hawkeye prevailed upon Henry to obtain the assignment of a new neuro-surgeon — Dr Jones. Dr Jones was a famous Ivy U quarterback — also a track star in javelin-throwing, hence the nickname “SpearChukker”.

      This is a pearl of great price buried in a very large (and well-manured) field.

      Spearchukker is presented as a BLACK student who had won a sports scholarship to any Ivy. (This, by the required timeline, in the middle of WWII) He then went to med school where he distinguished himself in a very difficult specialization, not just surgery but NEURO-surgery — spinal column and brain stuff. He apparently got tagged with typical 1950’s racial slurs: spear chucking being the most reportable term. He endured and excelled and then agreed to serve (unlike, say, Cassius Clay) in the Army. During active hosilities. And he apparently was pulled forward, like “Winchester” later, from a rear hospital to the front lines to attempt his craft under the most challenging of circumstance. Again, in 1950. He was thrown into cramped quarters with, among others, a favored pampered Dixie-crat nicknamed “Duke”. Strangely he got along with “Duke” better than with more mature, midwestern, and nominally leadership trained Burns. He and Duke managed (strove hard) to keep their heads down and avoid the shenanigans between Burns vs Hawkeye and Trapper. Spearchukker may have grinned and even applauded at all the trouble arranged for Burns — but carefully never got caught arranging his own prank. Maybe a black man didn’t dare. Maybe Spearchukker always instigated a catspaw into pranking on his behalf…

      All that would make a great “spin off” series, IMHO.

    17. Mike K Says:

      The movie was an obvious Vietnam parody. I knew a bunch of guys who served as surgeons in Vietnam. One of them was interested in thyroid surgery and sought out all then thyroid cases in villages and treated them. Another, a cardiac surgeon on a hospital ship, got 100 bubble oxygenators (new them) and used them to repair all the cardiac anomalies he could find in the villages.

      This might be the guy.

    18. Sgt. Mom Says:

      There was one rather nice little military-based sitcom which had a brief run. The Daughter Unit and I rather liked it, but the audience for it was too small to keep it going, although military and veterans loved it.
      Enlisted, which barely lasted for more than a dozen episodes.

      The Daughter Unit is wondering now, how Major Dad would seem, upon watching again.

    19. Kirk Says:

      The media always gets it wrong. Mostly because the journalists, script writers, and all the rest perpetually see the people in the military voluntarily as “other”, with an automatic ease and grace that none of them ever bother to question.

      Our culture and society draw far too deep a line between the military and the rest of civil society. Socrates was a serving soldier who’d taken part in several significant battles, and if you go back and look at things throughout history, what you’ll find is a situation where the military and the society is far more tightly bound together than anything we would recognize, today. You weren’t going anywhere in Roman politics without at least a token run through the Legion’s grinder. Up until the 1960s, that was at least partially true for us, as well. You can outline where our decline into social decadence really began–It runs right through where Elvis “had” to submit to the draft, and the pop stars of the 1960s had to start hiding what military experience they had.

      The separation ain’t healthy, and it is starting to show the effects. Where it ends is the place late Imperial Rome was, when the aristos fashionably “thumbed” their kids so they couldn’t serve, and did so without shame. Not a period I want to revisit, but I can see it coming around again.

      Personally, I never liked MASH. The entire time it was on the air, it seemed to me to be something self-indulgently contemptuous of those who’d served in Korea and Vietnam, the majority of the innocent draftees portrayed as patriotic saps who’d been swindled into their participation. The script writers seemed to think that the heroes of the Korean war were the North Koreans, and not even lip service was paid to the heinously barbaric way they’d conducted the war, or that they were the aggressors. It was as if they’d templated the typical period college view of the North Vietnamese onto the war, and gone from there. I don’t think there was a single solitary example of the series portraying the North Koreans as the barbaric thugs that they were, or showing them killing prisoners and civilians. If anything, they were shown as the Good Guys(tm) to our Imperial Bastards.

      I don’t watch TV much, these days. Part of it is due to the general sense of falsity I get watching everything–It’s all rote-work, standard trope after standard trope. There’s no hint of reality allowed to intrude. You can see all the little “Hollywood” things applied, and they never color outside the lines. It’s not entertainment so much as it is self-referential and self-satisfied indoctrination. What’s really problematic with it, too? It is forced, top-down driven. The “acceptance” we have today for the perverse and the deviant stems from popular culture–You will hardly ever see a negative portrayal of anyone LGBT, and you’ll see more of them on TV than you ever will in real life. Same with ethnic minorities–Look for any honest portrayal of urban gang “culture” or the things you see going on in black-majority communities across this country, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything outside of the old “COPS” show, where even they pulled many of their punches.

      It’s all bullshit, all the way down.

    20. Brian Says:

      LOL. We thought Major Dad was totally hilarious, that a major in the marines would have such a huge house.
      No more representative of life on a military base than Friends is of life in NYC….

    21. Brian Says:

      The problem with Hollywood today isn’t that it’s not “realistic”, it’s that it’s not aspirational. Until roughly ~1990, “prime time” was full of sitcoms with healthy functioning families, where loving parents taught their kids productive life lessons, on a nightly and weekly basis. That’s all been destroyed now. Watching a collection of TV shows from that era would be like a time warp to another world.

    22. pouncer Says:

      No consideration of US TV’s military situation comedies would be complete without mention of five seasons’ worth of “Gomer Pyle, USMC”.

      Mention. Not recommendation. It’s mostly useful as a confirmation case where a primary TV character is not allowed to learn and grow and mature and develop. Can’t get promoted, can’t take on new responsibilities, can even escape the original “set”. Gilligan, in boot camp.

      However much we despise Hawkeye, Gomer was worse.

    23. Kirk Says:

      It was, however, basically respectful of the military and the military culture. Big, big difference–In the case of MASH, all you saw was the contempt they held the military and its purpose in. Gomer Pyle, USMC? There was nothing of that. It poked fun at the institution and its foibles, but it did not disrespect them.

      I found nothing really disagreeable about any of the Gomer Pyle episodes. Nearly every MASH episode had some little detail that either sickened me or enraged me.

      I think that was deliberate.

    24. JaimeRoberto Says:

      My Dad wouldn’t allow us to watch MASH. He was a Korea vet, though in the Navy away from the serious fighting, but he had friends who were on the ground in Korea. He said that war isn’t something to make jokes about. And because Alan Alda is an asshole. He wouldn’t let us watch Hogan’s Heroes either for the same reason (minus Alan Alda).

    25. pouncer Says:

      “He said that war isn’t something to make jokes about.”

      Yeeeaah… I get that. But even in the middle of WWII soldier-cartoonist Bill Mauldin gave us some of the FUNNINEST jokes, lines, images and situations of the human condition. The famous scene of the old cavalry soldier dealing with a broken down … Jeep, for instance. My favorite is Willie and Joe dug in and concealed at a GREAT site for an observation post, as spotters for artillery. We know it’s a GREAT site because a German tank rolled up and parked right on top of it, and a young German officer popped out to take his own sightings … Joe is on the radio dutifully calling it in: “I got a target for ‘ya, but ya gotta be patient! The comic wasn’t all jokes, but humor is as much as part of life as tragedy or despair.

      And we are, after all, talking about US television. Sgt Bilko?

      Between Bilko and Gomer there existed McHale’s Navy. An odd situation comedy set, like Mister Roberts, Father Goose, Operation Petticoat, and the R&H musical “South Pacific” in — of all places — the South Pacific A of O in WWII. In the book and movie of Mister Roberts the duty was described as sailing from islands nicknamed Tedium to Boredom with stops at Ennui. A bunch of military men scattered across the most isolated and desolate part of the planet, waiting for either the order to go to war, or waiting for War to come find them. The pilot episode of McHale’s Navy explained that his little crew and PT Boat were the only survivors of a Pearl Harbor style surprise attack that wiped out all the other vessels and several hundred men. McHale and his dozen had “gone native”, mooching off the Polynesian islanders and moonshining. But when orders arrived, or the opportunity came up, the little ship that could, did. Carry the fight to the enemy. Guile and trickery against superior forces — and often, against their own US Navy superior officers.

      Against the competition of McHale, Gomer Pyle, and Sgt Bilko, I’d say M*A*S*H holds up pretty well. But what that REALLY says is that US Televison is a vast wasteland that can’t hold up a candle to true brilliance — like Bill Mauldin’s single panel black and white comics. TV is mostly a tragic waste of technology, talent, and time.

    26. Mike K Says:

      No consideration of US TV’s military situation comedies would be complete without mention of five seasons’ worth of “Gomer Pyle, USMC”.

      I had a drill instructor in Air Force basic training. He was almost a double in appearance and behavior. Although he was a real jerk, unlike the TV Gomer.

    27. MCS Says:

      I hadn’t thought of “South Pacific” or more precisely the Michener book it was based on. It’s always been my favorite Michener and I believe it was his first. Michener served in the South Pacific during the war. Wikipedia says he was a Quaker so could have claimed Conscientious Objector status instead of enlisting in the Navy.

      More to the point, there’s a long passage about the social disparity between the nurses and the doctors that I’ve always considered snobbish at least. It hinged on the supposed difference between nursing education that was primarily hospital based and the professional status of doctors. Since my Mother was a nurse, trained at Methodist Hospital in Madison, I tended to take exception.

      I’m pretty sure that however unpleasant I found it, that attitude was common then. I think a lot of it has dissipated, with time and possibly nursing becoming more academic. Of course more than a few doctors have married nurses or vice-versa if you prefer. There are a lot more male nurses too.

    28. Mike K Says:

      More to the point, there’s a long passage about the social disparity between the nurses and the doctors that I’ve always considered snobbish at least.

      I didn’t see it in the 60s and 70s. Maybe the 40s but a close family friend was an orthopedic surgeon, spent WWII in N Africa and his wife, married before he went into specialty training, was a nurse. He was a GP and a grateful patient helped him do a residency.

    29. suburbanbanshee Says:

      A lot of UK people think highly of The Navy Lark, a radio show that lasted for like a zillion seasons. Jon Pertwee, who later played the Third Doctor, played the same kind of guy as Sgt. Bilko or McHale — a fixer and scrounger for his peacetime Navy vessel. There’s also a lieutenant who thinks he’s all that but has trouble steering, and various other Navy characters.

    30. OBloodyHell Says:

      }}} Major Doctor specialist Winchester is in the ensemble as a foil for Klinger, and does a great job at it. Otherwise, he’s just annoying.

      Well, the other part of this is that Burns had been reduced to a cheap target for Hawkeye and Pierce by this point, and Linville wanted more (he failed, when he got it, but he wanted more).

      They wanted/needed to create a character who could hold his own vs. the duo, and that was what they created, even if it did not fit the situation that well. They also steadily improved Houlihan, turning her into a much more respectable, and respected, character, who could, again, hold her own against the duo (even when they replaced Pierce).

      They shot the equivalent of one episode for every 4.5 days, IF they had started at the very very beginning of the war. I think they were close, but not that close, so probably more like 1-4 or better.

      The other funny part, to me, was that they kept the theme song, but pulled the words. IIRC they did use it in the pilot episode, but left only the music, after that.

      Most people probably recognize the music but have no idea that the name of the song is “Suicide Is Painless”.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whhAg6bA3_o

      This is pretty amusing, by the way — summary of stuff about the song. Director Robert Altman (who wanted it to be stupid), had his 14yo son write it… and it made more money from royalties on the song than his father did for the movie…

      https://www.metv.com/lists/inside-the-theme-song-m-a-s-hs-suicide-is-painless