My current, slightly anachronistic fixation is the show M*A*S*H, which is a sometimes funny and often poignant fictional snapshot of a medical unit near the frontlines during the Korean War. The TV show was before my lifetime, as was the war it depicts, but there is a timeless quality to the way these men and women use comedy and romance to cope with the ugliest things humanity has to throw our way. This show offers, for me, a unique insight into one interpretation of war, the painful futility of patching up men and women to go back to the front-lines, the struggle to value life in the face of the constant devastation and desecration of that life.
I can’t say it better than Hawkeye shares in an episode from season 1. He’s been cajoled into making a movie about life in a M*A*S*H unit by people enthusiastic to convey the high drama and heroics of life in a medical field unit. While he treats most of it with his particular brand of ridiculous comedy, he concludes with the following assessment of a patient:
“Three hours ago, this man was in a battle. Two hours ago, we operated on him. He's got a 50-50 chance. We win some, we lose some. That's what it's all about. No promises. No guaranteed survival. No saints in surgical garb. Our willingness, our experience, our technique are not enough. Guns, and bombs, and anti-personnel mines have more power to take life than we have to preserve it. Not a very happy ending for a movie. But then, no war is a movie.”
More than a little self-referential and dramatic for a TV show, but man, does that hit an important point. We crave drama. I’ve definitely cried at the videos of soldiers surprising their loved ones upon coming home. And I’ve cried for the loss of lives, and the families who mourn the fallen.
We have to resist turning the current wars, any wars, into something pretty and Hollywood-esque. I am not debating the merits or motivations of war, or even the ethics of fighting them. I am instead calling out our impulse to reduce what’s going on to pithy bumper stickers. Though most of us only access what’s going in the world through the comfort of our computer screens and TV’s, what is going on out there – wars, revolutions, bombings, massacres -- is not for our entertainment. It is a tragedy and an enormous loss of life, forever changing the lives of those left behind. It warrants a conscientious reality check and genuine compassionate response instead of knee-jerk reactions to sound bites by politicians nowhere near the actual fighting. These are human beings we’re talking about -- somebody's brother, sister, daughter, son, father, mother -- and they are all our brothers and sisters.