Editors’ Note: As this post goes to press, we mark the passing of Sally Kellerman, M*A*S*H’s “Hot Lips Houlihan.” May she RIP.
A mere thirty-nine years ago today, the final episode of the smash TV series M*A*S*H played to the then largest audience ever recorded. Alan Alda, star of the series, directed “Goodbye, Farewell, Amen”, which dramatically advised audiences that Col. Henry Blake had been killed on his way to Japan, a leg of his trip home having completed his tour of duty.
Hollywood’s version debuted in September 1970 starring Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye Pierce. The TV franchise commenced in 1972 entertaining the American public for five decades in total. M*A*S*H portrayed a clearly antiwar message and did so without flogging the issue. By definition, a mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) conveyed the horrors of combat very effectively, as well as the effects of war upon those with responsibility for providing medical care to American and, at times, Korean soldiers.
Although the “police action” in Korea lasted three years (1950-53), 20 years before M*A*S*H was introduced, the war in Vietnam raged until 1975, with daily body counts of deaths and videos of combat scenes. The film has been characterized as a comedy about death while the TV series a comedy about living. Often, the anti-war sentiment was subtle however implicit. In one episode, Hawkeye angrily asserts, “I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash-and-carry, carry me back to Old Virginie, I’ll even ‘hari-kari’ if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun.”
Wars, combat, and death have continued to occupy media and public attention from 1990 to the present in Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Many of these conflicts represent proxy battles among the US, China, and Russia, each deploying strategies within the territories of other nations for their own advantage.
At this moment, the global contest has shifted to eastern Europe, where Russia has declared two sections of Ukraine as “independent” countries,” a novel theory of colonialization he employed with the invasion and annexation of Crimea. NATO and allied nations led by the US have initiated harsh financial and trade sanctions upon Russia, which may take time to have impact within Russia.
The fate of Ukraine, its people, government, and sovereignty is in limbo. Watching M*A*S*H was entertaining; the watch on Ukraine is not.