M*A*S*H - Novel
Updated: Mar 9
Depending on our experiences in life, it's very likely we share a shred of understanding about the horrors of war. Many people sacrificed their lives for the greater good through these battles, and those who live through them may possible be changed forever, for better or worse, by their participation in such a hazardous events as these.
But for every scar inflicted by these events, there's also gonna be a shred of goofiness that would soften the blow and embrace all the positives that life has to offer. And nowhere did this outlook on life run totally amok than here in MASH.
Hailed by many as a comedic classic in many forms, whether it be this novel, published in 1968, the movie, which came out two years later, or the eleven-season long TV series, MASH took plenty of oppurtunities from its own arsenal to satirize the eccentricities that happened behind the scenes of the warzone. And in this case, it was the war medics.
The characters were not only memorable — a vast majority of them, such as the Swampmen, Colonel Henry Blake, Radar O'Reilly, Spearchuck Jones, Painless Pole, Hot Lips Houlihan, and General Hammond, to name a few, left impressions in their own quirky ways — but they also guided the reader into these lighthearted shenanigans as they all demonstrated the battle between sanity and insanity, and what should be done to keep one's consciousness afloat in the face of the chaos that comes with war.
The story starts with two Army medics — Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forrest — being drafted to the 4077th MASH during the Korean War in the early 50s. Their task was to oversee the incoming wounded victims and give their all in treating and recovering them. Later, they both met up with newcomer Trapper John (whom Hawkeye recognized from a college football game in the past) and later modeled their medic tent into The Swamp, a hideout for passerby army medics, which came complete with celebratory and/or complimentary martinis.
From there on out, most of the story is a collection of zany vignettes that highlighted and poked fun at the eccentricites of life in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
To name a few of the memorable vignettes from this story, the Swampmen...
...tried to help local dentist Captain Walter 'Painless Pole' Waldowski, who was having depression issues, and prevent him from committing suicide. They do so by arranging a 'ceremonial departure' for him, where he would take a black capsule to assure his suicide...without telling him that it was actually filled with amytal, a tranquilizing substance.
...assured their 'houseboy', Ho-Jon, that soon, they would send him to America so that he could get a good education there. To do that, they planned to raise funds for it by taking and selling photographs of Jesus Christ himself, cross, goatee and all...or, realistically, Trapper John posing as him.
...went to Tokyo to tend to the son of a Congressman there on their shift. While there, they took advantage of this oppurtunity by playing several rounds of golf near the hospital they were working in, and crossed paths with a fellow doctor who had an impactful relationship with a local Japanese prostitute.
...went crazy from the excessive heat one day to the point that they went to the nearest river to 'fish for mermaids'. Next, Hawkeye purposefully concocted a plan to get themselves shipped off to the nearest mental hospital in light of this activity. Hawkeye told Blake that it was because they might be losing their minds, but it was really just so they could chase down some girls there.
...along with newcomer Spearchucker Jones, planned an unofficial football match between themseves, with Colonel Henry Blake as their coach, and the Red Raiders with General Hammond as their coach. This all started from a bet that Blake and Hammond started with each other concerning which one knew football better.
...were tasked to train two new recruits to practice surgery on their patients as their war medic duties drew nearer to a close. The two new recruits got off to rocky starts with the medical procedures at first, before finally coming into their own and following the Swampmen's footsteps. However, one of these recruits eventually had to leave on account of some family drama going on back home.
Believe it or not, though, it wasn't all comedic hijinks or escapades. One particular chapter dealt with the Swampmen as they tried to reel in the fact that one of the patients, despite their best efforts, didn't make it through and died during the operation. This resulted in them teaching a couple guys how to woo the girls, starting with 'Hot Lips' Houlihan, the chief nurse. The two men's attempts backfired, and this all spiraled until this put Henry Blake in hot water with General Hammond. Once the Swampmen heard of this, they raced down to Hammond's office to tell him why Blake shouldn't be fired.
I like this particular storyline because it showed that just because the Swampmen showed clever tactics in healing the sick and wounded that doesn't mean it would have worked for every one of their patients; there's only so much they could have done. It also showed that if they made a mistake — as in, a really bad mistake — they would have done whatever it took to make things right again, and that's a good example to live by.
Now I will be frank and admit that I've never seen the movie or even a single episode of the TV show. But after reading the original MASH twice this past year, I am now looking forward to diving into them both soon enough. With a generous helping of crazy shenanigans (some of them also valiant) and even some good lessons on what to do when things go wrong, MASH is a weird, quirky, but surprisingly zany and undeniably funny look inside the workings of the war medics whose efforts left imprints on the war effort, even if some lunacy was needed to make it work.
You have a problem in real life that you're trying to deal with? Look no further; that's nothing the Swampmen can't fix.