As a nation reevaluates Atticus Finch - a purported hero in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and revealed to be a racist in the sequel Go Set a Watchman - we should take a closer look at Frank Burns. While binge-playing M*A*S*H in our household, familiar sitcom dialog from childhood coming to the fore, it occurred to me: what if Hawkeye is meant to be an unreliable narrator, unfairly maligning Major Frank Burns?
Think of it: Burns wants order and protocol to be followed in a dangerous wartime environment. Chain of command is essential to reliable operation. Safety is essential in a hospital. Emergency life & death issues emerge on a regular basis. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce is an agent of disruption with deep contempt for authority. Yet the story of M*A*S*H centers on Pierce. The camera angles in The Swamp tent always favor Pierce, not Burns. Through Pierce's eyes, Burns is reliably the ninny and appeaser to those in authority.
Consider a couple things:
- There is only one prominent female in the entire M*A*S*H cast for its full run, Major Margaret Houlihan. She is a woman in power, outranking Pierce and his sidekick-of-the-day, whether Trapper John or B.J. Yet, save for the last few seasons, Pierce and his toadies regularly hold the powerful, self-assured Houlihan in deep contempt. Burns manages a longterm relationship with her for many years.
- Pierce and Trapper John had a black tentmate the first season. A doctor, just like them. They called him "Spearchucker".