I Wonder How Many People Hawkeye's Drinking Killed.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 12.06% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Gini and I have been watching reruns of MASH on Netflix, and holy God does this show hold up; there’s a lot of sitcoms from the 1970s that have become embarrassingly dated, but MASH deals with situations that are still actually shocking by modern standards. There’s a whole episode devoted to Hawkeye’s being unable to get it up because he’s so stressed about the war – and while it’s couched in 1970s network standards-and-practices censorship terminology, it’s still pretty explicit.
Yet I wonder how many people Hawkeye killed.
Thing is, it’s made clear in MASH that the choppers can drop off wounded men at the surgical unit at any time, often at the worst times, almost always without warning.  And there’s much hullaballoo made of the fact that it never ends.
Yet somehow, whenever Hawkeye and BJ go on a bender, getting laughing-drunk shitfaced, the choppers never come.
Oh, I know: the MASH 4077th is allowed to operate in this distinctly unmilitary fashion because they have a 97% survival rate, a fact that’s hammered home time and time again in the course of the show.  Which seems unrealistic – how good a surgeon is Hawkeye, to make up for Frank’s blatant and routine incompetence?  I mean, if 97 out of 100 wounded men who make it to the MASH unit survive, doesn’t that make Frank actually a brilliant surgeon, just not as good as Hawkeye and company?  Or is Frank entirely responsible for those 3% dead, and is Hawkeye’s moral duty to shoot Frank in the head so he can achieve a saintlike 100% survival?
And come on, man.  Benders take a while to recover from, and these guys are getting plastered.  Surely the choppers came in while Hawkeye was too soused to see.  Surely Hawkeye had to resect a perforated bowel while he was sweating bathtub gin, some poor bastard of a soldier dying because of bad timing, unconscious and unaware that Hawkeye’s hand-eye coordination with the scalpel deep in his guts has been obliterated due to booze.
I still like MASH.  But I wonder about these things.  I can’t not wonder.


  1. John Wiswell
    Mar 9, 2015

    I’ve been having similar thoughts on my recent re-watch, though from the Frank-angle rather than the drinking-angle. I always preferred Winchester as a beta-antagonist over Frank, in part because the show never made me doubt his abilities as a surgeon. Yet the 4077th is supposed to have this amazing survival rate with both of them. Then why do we typically see Frank screwing up a surgery? Even if all the deaths are his (which seems impossible – if he’s the worst surgeon, the hardest cases would go to others and they’d eat some lost causes), if he sees a quarter of the wounded, he has an 88% survival rate for surgical cases he’s seeing close to the front line.
    The problem is that Frank is an antagonist dumping ground. He’s sexist, he’s patriotic and religious to nimrod levels, he’s emotionally unfaithful to both his wife and Margaret, he sucks at surgery, he sucks at being in command – he’s where the show dumps most unpleasantness that it thinks could be funny. He hates Hawkeye’s drinking, which you rightly have to think would be a problem for surgeons that are always on call. That doesn’t jive with the 4077th’s amazing record.
    Like you, this hasn’t ruined the show for me. But it’s something I mull over as I wind up wishing he were a more rounded, less unfairly written antagonist. In some ways, that’s what Winchester wound up being for me.

    • TheFerrett
      Mar 9, 2015

      I feel the exact same way. He got so Flanderized that he had absolutely no good qualities, which is a problem. And I was glad to see Winchester arrive.

  2. Angie
    Mar 9, 2015

    I honestly never thought of either of these issues, but now that you bring them up, yeah, that was completely unrealistic on both sides. I guess they figured the points they were making were more important than realism or consistency. Although of course, this is Hollywood, so maybe I’m giving them too much credit. It was still a great show, though.
    John — totally agree about preferring Winchester to Frank. Frank was a complete idiot, incompetent in every way. Winchester was a jerk, but he was a competent jerk — once he was shown how to do meatball surgery fast — and a worthy adversary.

  3. Jim Ryan
    Mar 9, 2015

    If you *really* want to hit yourself with a case of fridge logic, consider this:
    * There were 248 half-hour episodes of M*A*S*H aired by CBS
    * With the 96th episode, we have a historic event tied to the events in the show (the Chinese line break of January 1st of 1951) and a calendar point to tie things to
    * That means that the remaining 152 episodes, if broken down to match that calendar, means that each visit to the 4077th for the rest of the run meant we caught up with them during the war once every six days
    That’s a lot of action for any military unit, when you think about something dramatic once a week for two and a half year. Hell, they never got that hairy on THE RAT PATROL or BLACK SHEEP SQUADRON…

  4. Paul
    Mar 9, 2015

    There was one episode where Hawkeye had to leave surgery because of his drinking, I think it was “Fallen Idol” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0638304/). But other than that the scriptwriters intentionally avoided it, I vaguely recall from an interview I saw with Alan Alda, 30+ years ago.

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