Changes in the Political Climate
M*A*S*H 's producers met more resistance from the network to its handling issues like adultery and homosexuality than to its antiwar stance. One can make the case, as the producers did, that M*A*S*H was neither about Korea nor Vietnam but about the absurdities of the military mentality and all war—especially in regard to the futility of sewing up wounded soldiers so that they could be sent back to the front. Nevertheless, many of the points about the war take particular advantage of the parallels between the situations in Korea and Vietnam. For instance, "Yessir, That's Our Baby" (season eight) raises the problems of Amerasian babies fathered by Western soldiers and left with their Korean mothers, who find their children are outcasts.
The series never lets the viewer forget for long that the war is being fought on the homes and farms of innocent peasant families. Koreans are portrayed most often as orphans, wives, or dispossessed farmers. In addition, some of the episodes deal with issues of cultural difference as Frank regularly misinterprets local customs. Indeed, characters can be measured by their sensitivity to local people. Radar is the only principal who speaks Korean. In the final episode, Corporal Klinger marries a Korean woman.
It is hard to gauge to what extent the series anticipated or reflected the public's growing disenchantment with the fighting in Vietnam. Undoubt-
edly, the references to pointless slaughter in the Far East lost some of their edge after season five, when Vietnam was no longer a front-page story.
As the nation's interests turned inward, so did the show. The tendency toward introspection of the main characters paralleled the increased self-examination and narcissism of the early eighties. As Newsweek put it, "With a canny eye on a new generation of viewers, the series stepped off its leftist, issue-oriented, anti-establishment platform and took on the introspective tone of the Me Decade" (Waters, 50).
One certain parallel between the series and the national psyche was the heightened sensitivity to women's issues. Early episodes regularly exploit the nurses as convenient sex objects. In "Radar's Report" (season two), Hawkeye falls for and proposes to a nurse who then rejects him because she just isn't interested in marriage. However, this is still a story about Hawkeye's feelings, and the nurse's point of view is not examined.
Eventually, homebodies B. J. and Colonel Potter replace womanizers Trapper John and Henry Blake, and Hawkeye stops his inveterate skirt chasing. Perhaps the most direct lecture on feminist pride comes when Nurse Kelly, played by Kellye Nakahara, a regular irregular on the series, is finally foregrounded long enough to proclaim with conviction that she is adorable despite her unglamorous appearance.