MASH Epilogues Vol. 4

(These are my continuing thoughts of where the MASH characters ended up, after the war.)

CAPT. JOHN “TRAPPER” MCINTYRE

What we know: He settled in the Bay Area, and became the chief of surgery at San Francisco Memorial Hospital. At some point before then, he divorced his wife. He became calmer and less womanizing in his maturity—although he never re-married. Eventually his son, JT, graduated medical school and joined his father’s hospital for his internship.

What I think: Trapper spent a lot of time drinking after he left Korea. The death of Henry Blake hit him especially hard. Trapper became an alcoholic who still functioned at work, but the disease (and his wartime affairs) cost him his marriage. He entered recovery in the 1970s. He never contacted Hawkeye—or really, anybody else from the 4077. During the remains of the war, this reticence stemmed from his remorse about getting away, while the rest of them stayed over there—or worse, died in a chopper crash. After the war, Trapper felt shame for not doing well, even though he’d been one of the first to leave. At the same time, he became aware that part of him didn’t escape the war at all—and that confronting someone like Hawkeye would summon too many ghosts.

A ghost found Trapper at a medical convention in 1961, when a Dr. Hunnicutt recognized Trapper’s name. As they talked, Trapper became enraged by Frank’s promotion; bemused by Margaret’s transformation; amazed at Klinger’s willingness to stay in Korea; and dismayed (and even guilty) about how Hawkeye’s final days in Korea found him in a mental hospital. BJ said that if anyone could ever understand Trapper for his reticence, Hawkeye’s own withdrawal would make him a perfect candidate. Trapper said that maybe he and Hawkeye were too much alike—drinkers, womanizers, ace rebel doctors who did their best work with people when those people were asleep. Trapper wondered if Hawkeye’s difficulties came in part because Trapper wouldn’t stay in touch. BJ shrugged and finished his drink. He said there was still time.

LT. COL. FRANK BURNS

What we know: After suffering a meltdown over Margaret marrying Donald, Frank received a transfer to a VA hospital in Indiana. This was so he could run the hospital. For all we know, the army never saw fit to treat him. They did, however, promote him to Lt. Colonel.

What I think: Upon his return, Louise stayed married to Frank just long enough to get the best alimony she could. Frank did little to contest the arrangements. He served as the head of the VA for five years. (He hired on his former secretary—and erstwhile lover—to serve as his administrative assistant.) He eventually married this secretary—because he needed somebody to take care of him, and because he needed a wife so he could look better as a senate candidate. In the early ‘60s, Frank won election as the arch-conservative Senator Frank (All Communism) Burns. He’d keep that post until his retirement in the mid 1980s.

Soon after his election, Frank prevailed upon Margaret to have a drink with him in DC. (It’s possible that he wanted to show her how he’d finally surpassed Lt. Col. Penobscott.) Margaret was cordial during the meeting, but she brooked no joking at any MASHers’ expense. She especially defended Potter and BJ as the finest soldier and civilian she’d ever met, respectively. She and Frank had little to say after that.

“Margaret,” said Frank, “flare your nostrils for me, just once for old times.”

“Senator,” said Margaret, “as a veteran, I have a hard time making faces at a man with no lips.”

Margaret did ask for Frank’s help when Erin Hunnicutt faced riot charges: “I know we’ve fallen out of touch, Senator, but from your time in Korea and the VA, you must understand how when war asks so much of our youth that they eventually must say no. War is so old, and we keep feeding them the young, until war either makes them old too, or uses them to bolster its own longevity by feasting on the banquet of their unspent youth.” Charles Winchester wrote Margaret that last line in a Christmas letter, and she used it with permission. Frank would later use it, without attribution, at a campaign rally in South Bend. He would, however, pull the strings for Erin Hunnicutt. Frank never divulged why he did such a thing. Maybe he liked the power of removing a stranger from her life’s trajectory. Maybe he enjoyed how BJ might now feel indebted to him. Perhaps he had indeed changed since his work in the VA. Or it’s possible that after all these years, he still couldn’t say no to (almost) any request from Margaret.

Power

I’ve been hesitant to post this, not because of my opinion (As if!) but because I’m not sure it’s pertinent to a wider audience. Then I started to think that a whole mess of us are trying to figure out how to be effective activists, and that maybe any information in one direction or another would be helpful. 

On Saturday, I attended a community-action meeting that was both interesting in how it attracted a diversity of races and laudable in how it sought to strengthen a sense of community among the races. It was somewhat hampered by a presenter who didn’t listen to the conversation among the races, and where this caused the most problem was in relation to the concept of power. The presenter—who was Latino—thought that do-gooder people don’t like power. They don’t mention it, he said, in their churches. This is when some of the African Americans asserted that in their church, they talk a lot about power—the power of God, say, and God’s ability to empower. The presenter blew past that. And he insisted that we don’t like power, because we’re afraid of failure. He also said that the vast majority of us aren’t powerful at all. He then went on to his next bullet point—and I, for one, stopped taking notes. 

At this point, I could hare off on a tangent about bad teaching—but I won’t. (I won’t, I won’t.) Instead, I’d like to return to the conversation the presenter squelched. I can’t speak for other races—and I won’t attempt to. But I would like to suggest that the reason white people like me hesitate to talk about power, is because we have so much of it. This man said that I, as an individual, am not powerful. And he’s right. As a squatty fortysomething from a small city, I’ve got nothing. I spoke my outrage to the governor last month. She lied to my face, and walked away. 

But let’s not kid ourselves. As a white, straight, affluent Protestant I have all the power in the country. Maybe all the power in the world. I am female. So I guess this ties one limb behind my back. But if I may speak for the whiteys who seek to be good citizens, I’ll say that the reason we don’t talk about power in our churches is because we know we use our power to oppress. We do it without trying. Saturday’s meeting took place in an African-American church. All the white people sat in the front, and all the black people sat in the back. All the white people, who wanted to combat racism, sat in the front of a church where they were the guests. We didn’t even think about it.

I suggest that maybe we should. And I mean that we should think in two different directions. The first is the way about which we’re self-conscious—the fact, for example, that we felt empowered to take the prime seating in a neighbor’s house. This is the kind of privilege that embarrasses us—and rightfully so. The other way we should think about power is to recognize that just because we do bad things with power doesn’t mean that power is bad in itself. Our privilege is unfair. We have come to our position by standing on the deaths of millions. But privilege also has vantage. It has resources. It has immunities. Privilege allowed me to walk up to the governor. Privilege lets me go to the front lines of a protest, and not worry so much that I’ll get put in a chokehold (or worse). In Iowa, my race enjoys an incarceration rate that 1/11 of what my black neighbors endure. It’s wrong to ignore that. And it might be doubly wrong if we don’t use that privilege to benefit our neighbors.

My suggestion is that although we should never act as if we deserve our power, we should pick it up. We should present it to our neighbors, in the way of trying (but not ever succeeding) to return something we took from them. And then we should leave it at the cause’s best disposal.

(Originally posted May 12, 2018)

If the Shoe Fits…

Dr. Sam Green is the head of King’s College London’s Russia Institute. On Point interviewed him this morning about Putin, where they discussed, among other things, why he’s so, uh, Putey. Green acknowledge the fact that Putin has been out to revitalize the fallen Soviet Union, but he also said that Putin keeps power by conflict and surprise. He likes to push everybody off-balance, and then keep them there. The problem is that to keep up his act, he has to constantly escalate. In my assessment he’s like a TV drama that’s gone on too long. Pretty soon you have helicopters falling on surgeons–or passenger airliners falling out of the sky. The pattern is as addictive as it is lethal–and it could go on for years. 

At that point, my schedule was such that I couldn’t finish the interview. But I left wondering whether, if I had come in during the middle of what I heard, I’d think we were talking about somebody else.

(Originally posted March 15, 2018)

Here Comes a Ton of Posts

Just so you know, I’m about to flood this blog with posts. If you’re following me, you might want to adjust your settings (or even unfollow me for the time being). I don’t want to spam you with figs!

I need to fill in my backlog as soon as possible, so I can write about current topics. I should be done by the end of the week.

EDIT: I’m done filling my backlog. My posting rate will be saner from here on out. Thanks for the patience.