The Korean War

There are a number of movies with stories based on history. Even though they are said to be ‘stories’, the majority of those movies are analytical in representing the historical facts. The movie M*A*S*H is one of those movies based on history. This seminar will be looking at the dominant reading of the movie, the historical event which the movie is based on, the validity of the dominant reading in the film and how the future remake of the film should be done according to the historical facts and events.

The 1970s movie M*A*S*H is about a group of army surgeons in ‘Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M*A*S*H)’ during the Korean War. A brief outline of the plot is as follows: M*A*S*H imitates the episodic structure of the book upon which it is based, detailing the pranks that the unit\'s personnel engage in between the frequent outbreaks of intense surgical activity. Upon arriving in Korea, newly drafted Army doctors Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce and Nathan Bedford "Duke" Forrest are sent to M*A*S*H 4077th. They are soon joined by another draftee, Dr. “Trapper John” McIntyre, and the three attempt to maintain their sanity in the face of so much blood by doing what regular army soldiers would do, such as forming a football team et cetera. Another character that holds significance is the Senior Nurse Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan. The three doctors afflict “Hot lips” throughout their stay in the M*A*S*H because unlike other people in the unit, she is bureaucratic.

Before discussing the dominant reading of the movie, let me briefly give details on the Korean War, which is the key issue in this seminar. Korea was formally annexed by Japan in 1910. Korean Nationalists in China and the United States (US) co-operated to form a provisional government in exile under the leadership of the anti-Japanese resistance leader Syngman Rhee. The Koreans based in the Soviet Union, leaded by Il Sung Kim, initially sought to co-operate with the Nationalists in China and the US but were rejected because of their commitment to communism. After the rejection, Il Sung Kim and his associates developed their own strategy for ousting the Japanese. Upon the defeat of Japan in World War II, the US President Roosevelt, the Britain Prime Minister Churchill, and the Soviet Union President Stalin agreed that Korea should become free and independent in due course since it was clear that if independence was given to Korea, the Communists would become dominant in the country –Korea was suffering from poverty and the principle of Communism that everyone is treated equally was admired. The US and the Soviet Union decided that Korea should be divided at the 38th parallel, the US troops disarming Japanese forces South of the parallel and the Soviet Union doing the same North of the parallel. On June 25th 1950, the North Korean troops invaded South Korea in order to unify the country, having Communism as the dominant power. After suffering from three years of war, the two divided nations underwent a number of peace talks, establishing a demilitarised zone (DMZ). Now it has been over fifty years from the war and the two nations technically remain at war. Approximately 37000 US troops currently station in South Korea.

The dominant reading of the movie can differ depending on what perspective the viewer is on. In a perspective of an American, this movie can be seen as representing the anti-war movement which was active during the time the movie was made. “Hot Lips”, who emphasises the bureaucracy of the military, represents the government of the US, which played the key role in the Korean War. Meanwhile, “Hawkeye”, “Trapper John” and “Duke” are representing those US civilians who were solidly against the Korean War. The way the doctors treated “Hot Lips” shows that the US civilians were not in agreement with the government when the government decided to enter the Korean War. However, from a perspective of a Korean, the dominant reading can be quite different. In this case, the only Korean character in the movie “Ho-Jon”, a maid in the M*A*S*H, holds significance. All the doctors in the unit, representing the US as a nation, act heroic, arrogant and confident - trying to teach him how to read English, getting him