In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien gives a criteria for what makes a war story true. He says that a true war story cannot be believed, does not have a moral or a point, and it does not matter if it’s true or not. So I asked myself: Is M*A*S*H* a true war story?
In the movie M*A*S*H*, I feel a pain in the pit of my stomach... that could just be from laughing though. The movie M*A*S*H*, starring Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, is about a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital three miles from the front line of the Korean War. The camp is run by martini-drinking, wise-cracking, womanizing, degenerate surgeons and their incompetent commanding officer. "This isn't a hospital. It's an insane asylum."
In The Things They Carried, O’Brien says
A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. (68)
M*A*S*H* is not a moral movie. If there is a moral, I believe it’s ‘If you get drafted in the army, find these men.’ The movie does not invoke virtue or courage. Hawkeye and Trapper, the two main surgeons, provide a comic relief from the thoughts of war while behaving in an improper manor. The story has no point. O’Brien's view on that topic is that “Often in a true war story there is not even a point.” (82)
O’Brien also says that
In many cases a true war story cannot be believed... It's a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn't (71)
M*A*S*H* is full of insanity, and ludicrous situations, such as a racy PA broadcast, a mock suicide, a inter-MASH football game, and going to Japan to operate and play golf.
M*A*S*H* is my favorite war movie and after reading O’Brien’s list for what makes a war story true, I asked myself: Is M*A*S*H a true war story? Not at all, M*A*S*H is fiction. Is it a true of type war story? I think so.
But you watch it. You tell me.