While I was at home I ripped the entire series of M*A*S*H to dvd. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) So I’ve been watching it a lot recently. One of the topics that seems to come up frequently is the need to accept people for who they are and love them. This is evident through the interactions between Major Frank Burns and Captain Hawkeye Pierce.
Burns is a very intolerant person and often refers to the enemy (Korean War ==> Chinese) as “gooks.” He uses this dehumanization of people to justify his doing his duty as a US officer. Because all the officers at M*A*S*H are doctors, they have a higher calling and responsibility than just to their country. Their Hippocratic oath is an oath to all humankind–therefore the lesson Hawkeye often must show by example is one of human decency–putting the enemy on the operating table ahead of American soldiers because they are more mortally wounded.
In one episode, Hawkeye starts quoting Rudyard Kipling’s poem Gunga Din–a poem about British occupation in India. The poem is linked here. As I read the poem, I was moved by the speaker’s brutal honesty. He speaks of the need to fit in with his comrades, but also the need to treat the regimental bhisti with better respect, because he is a better man than the speaker.
The speaker speaks for all of us as we realize that often we act exactly as he did: we see that others whom we treat poorly are better people than we are, but for social reason–and any others–we may not have the inner fortitude to better our actions. And we essentially say with the speaker,
Tho’ I’ve belted you an’ flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you.
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!