Any conflict I had on which TV show to bingewatch after bucket-listing Doctor Who was resolved by the above meme I saw last Sunday night on Facebook. I stole it from the friend. He was cool with it. He probably stole it. Thus, Facebook.

One can never go wrong with the 4077.

For it being a comedy, M*A*S*H was as much known for its wisdom and daring poignancy. The meme’s quote kept me up all night considering pros & cons from all sorts of angles.

Not often a meme blows my mind.

  • Quote: “War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.” – Hawkeye
  • Show: M*A*S*H
  • Episode: Season 5, Episode 20. “The General’s Practitioner.”
  • Airdate: February 15, 1977 (per IMDB.)
  • Writer: Burt Prelutsky and Larry Gelbart (per IMDB).
  • Characters (and Actors) in Exchange: Hawkeye (Alan Alda), Father Mulcahy (William Christopher)

Here’s the full, “War is War, and Hell is Hell,” exchange.

Burns: Well, everybody knows, ‘war is Hell.’
Hunnicutt: Remember, you heard it hear last.
Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.
Father Mulcahy: How do you figure that, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?
Father Mulcahy: Um, sinners, I believe.
Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell, but war is chock full of them – little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for a few of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.
Burns: Well, I’m not. I’m here because my country needs me.
Hunnicutt: How do you know it wasn’t just some excuse to ship you eight-thousand miles from home?
Hawkeye: Yeah. The Korean War was invented so your parents wouldn’t come looking for you.
Burns (?): You’re a pair of sickos.

If you don’t know the show, then here’s the quickest synopsis: M*A*S*H is set in the Korean War.

The main characters are doctors, surgeons, military, and clergy in the 4077th MASH unit, stationed in Uijeongbu, South Korea. They see some serious shit no one should ever have to see and often work with bombs & artillery fire flying too-close-for-comfort near the medical tents. Oftentimes, they’re struggling to make sense of the senseless killing, with viewpoints running the gambit from “duty” to “evil.”

In this episode, “The General’s Practitioner,” General Korshak is considering Hawkeye to be his personal surgeon.

Which is interesting because it implies that General Korshak prefers talent over attitude. Hawkeye’s moral affair with discipline ain’t always military-esque, especially for tactical for strategy, but it’s fascinating the General considers overlooking it for medical needs.

The contrast between the characters allows for fervored juxtaposition.

Accuracy Note:

I’ve seen several episodes, especially when I was little. My mama & I would watch them on re-runs at night. I knew I was growing up when I didn’t have to go to bed when I heard the M*A*S*H theme song play.
I’m trying to recall the characters, going with a balance of memory analysis and gut reaction. I know I’m close if not dead-on. I guess I’ll find out in a bingewatch or two.

Hawkeye & Hunnicutt were the moral dissenters in the unit. They can’t stand what war does to people, especially the innocent. They see it every day, sometimes days at a time without break, and oftentimes watch life slip through their bloodied fingers, right there on the makeshift surgery table.

Major Burns was a sniveling brown-noser, especially in the beginning. He seemingly believed in good and right and bathed in patriotism. I don’t think he knew whether advancement & achievement fueled his patriotism or patriotism fueled his advancement & achievement. From what I recall, this central uncertainty eventually fueled his growth arc. I always wanted to kick the TV when he stepped into the room and never understood how the Hell he got Hot Lips Houlihan.

I always wanted to slap Father Mulcahy. I know I don’t know why when I saw him as a child, but now I think it was because he always made the uncomfortable observations I make now about right & wrong and God and choice & destiny. He was a conscious, sounding board, and living martyr at times. He was definitely the conflicted, umpiring battlegrounds in many ways.

The fervor is fevered by the presence of General Korshak in the operating room observing the surgeons.

You can see Major Burns stiffen his shoulders all soldier-esque when he objects and claims not to be an innocent bystander, while Hunnicutt & Hawkeye remain slouched over, tending to their patients.

And, here’s a clip of the scene. Someone posted it to YouTube:


Why the “War is war, and Hell is Hell,” quote blew my mind:

I grew up thinkin’ & believin’ nothing was worse than Hell. It was place you never wanted to be, and every decision you made here on this planet determined whether or not you went to such a place afterwards.

Through college, not much changed. And with that BA in Religion, while I became less afraid of such an unforgiving place, I never considered any other place could being worse, and typically made a conscious effort to keep folks from taking self-destructive paths that would lead below. Even when my maternal grandmother’s recovery from a heart attack & stroke was failing while I was finishing my Senior year, I still held onto these beliefs. Not that I thought she was going to good Christian Hell despite a new-age twist to her beliefs. I never quite knew that one, but to this day I have hopes God has a broader dialogue than our rudimentary outbursts.

Sure, folks throw “this is Hell,” phrases around like seasonal flu germs. Spreading without thought. Only realizing the impact after the fact.

Chores are hell. Living at home is Hell. School is Hell. School loans are a special kind of Hell. Breaking up is Hell. Losing is Hell. Losing to the Packers or the Cardinals are especially cruel Hells. This fuckin’ job is Hell. Kids are Hell. Suburbia is hell. Long lines are Hell. Hell is a desert greasy spoon with slow service, broken toilets, no credit card processing, price-gouging ATM fees, and only premium gas. Hell is being without your wife for too long. Marriage is Hell. Divorce is Hell. Where the Hell did half my stuff go? Hell is a car with less than 300 horsepower. Hell is gas prices. Hell is listening to political pundits because they’re the first to publish the story. Hell is finding out there is no story. Hell is a story. Hell is truth.

“So this is comedy Hell.” – Robin WIlliams. Night at the Roxy. 1978.

While all those Hells sound Hellish, they’re not really the Hell…

…except losing to the St. Louis Cardinals. That’s eternal pain.

Other than the devilish redbirds, none of us here have experienced a true Hell – that we can remember (a shoutout to my reincarnationist friends and their incarnations).

The innocents don’t suffer in Hell because the innocents don’t go to Hell, so quite a few of us assume.

Hawkeye is right.

There are no innocent bystanders in Hell, but war is chock full of them – little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for a few of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.”

Some pre-destiny folks would argue that each play a role and greater would be their rewards in heaven.

I actually had a college classmate argue that Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself on the cross because Jesus knew his reward was greater in heaven. Fuckin’ great. So long as you believe the system is reciprocal, you’ll do anything. All about the self, not about letting go and giving to others.

We got into quite the dorm room argument over his shitty belief. We don’t keep in touch.

Who really wants to love a God that will let the children suffer, even for a moment? I don’t, and I don’t believe God does either. Now while one could argue life on earth is a place where God doesn’t have full control because of Free Will, to me, war is the only place where God doesn’t have final say. Those who push to war suffer Cain’s fate, over and over again. Or something like that.

No human profits in Hell. Or, at least they’re not talking about it.

Someone’s always profiting in war. Usually it’s traders and brokers and leaders who invested in the opponent’s competitive rivals. Some contractors and mercenaries loot and pillage. Sometimes, enough ban together and say someone else was a loser and leverage them to make reparations. In most cases, it ends up with government-approved contractors making pretty new buildings at a hazard premium.

Hell doesn’t have a mechanism where humans profit at the demise of other humans – in theory. Not even Hell is so cruel.

Perhaps Neil Gaiman was right when he wrote,

“Hell is Heaven’s reflection. It is Heaven’s shadow.” – Neil Gaiman. The Sandman, Vol. 4.: Seasons of Mists.

Hell doesn’t take in all comers.

Say one thing for Hell, they’re particular on who they allow in. God-deniers and assholes, I think that’s what scripture says.

War won’t discriminate. Bullets don’t stop. ICBMs won’t hold up just because they landed on a hospital –

Well, the old ones won’t. The new ICBMs and like devices seem to depend on the discretion of the drone pilot or soldiers sitting in front of multiple screens with multiple joysticks and keyboards to make decisions like they’re playing, “Call of Duty.”

They kill good and evil, soldier and civilian, senior citizen and child alike. “Greater Good,” sycophanting.

I used to be afraid “War is Hell.” Now I think I’m grateful God made it so Hell isn’t War.

I pray.

Katie says we can binge M*A*S*H next.

Her Marine parents introduced her to it when she was young.

But, first, I think I’ll read the book that first inspired the movie, then the TV show.

Why the Hell not?

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