MASH - A novel about three army doctors

Like every good late Baby Boomer, I watched many episodes of the Tee Vee show M*A*S*H. But I hadn’t read the book.

I finally read it in late 2022.

MASH book cover

It was an interesting read, because I saw the book through the lens of half-remembered TV show re-runs.

First, wow, the writers of the Tee Vee show absolutely strip mined the book for characters, dialog and plots. The TV show ran for 11 years, I respect the writers for making the most of the source material.

There are some oddities. In the book, Major Burns and Major Houlihan are minor characters, but the TV show made them pivotal. Corporal Klinger does not appear in the book. One of the “three army doctors” in the book’s title, Duke Forrest, does not appear in the TV show at all. Can’t recall if he shows up in the movie.

Even though the TV show started in 1972, a time when a lot less attention was paid to even the appearance of equality, the roman catholic chaplain is not referred to with a racist smear. The book does so. Trapper John got his nickname in the book because he was having sex with a young woman in a train car’s lavatory. The conductor caught them, and the woman claimed John trapped her in the lavatory, presumably to avoid the disgrace of sex before marriage. The 40s must have been wild.

If I calculate correctly, the book’s Hawkeye Pierce was born in 1922. Hawkeye would be 101 this year. Alan Alda, TV’s beloved Hawkeye Pierce, was born in 1936, he’s 87.

My own father was born only 3 years after the book’s Hawkeye. Hawkeye’s attitudes and actions in the book make me wonder about my father’s experiences and actions in the 40s and 50s. I never quite believed the few stories my father told about his early adulthood. My dad died in 2018, all I can do is squint at the 40s and 50s in time’s rear view mirror to try to make something out.