By David Swanson
I had to read a lot of books about the current war and occupation in Iraq before I found one that’s laugh out-loud hilarious. It’s a book about a U.S. military hospital in Iraq, a journal kept for a 10-month tour of duty by an operating room medic. The story never leaves the hospital, and it focuses in large part on the relationships among the characters working there, including pranks and hijinks aplenty. One almost inevitably thinks of MASH and its fictional Army hospital in Korea, but there are major differences.
The basic similarity between MASH and this brilliant new book, “Mass Casualties” by Michael Anthony, is disturbing to consider. These are two episodes from different corners of an empire of bases, wars, and occupations spanning multiple generations and continents. Unless the United States shuts down its empire or is forced to do so, similar accounts will be possible in endless times and places for years to come.
The novel on which the MASH movie and television show were based was written by an Army surgeon, but written as fiction. “Mass Casualties” is presented as nonfiction, although written with the touch of a good fiction writer. This new story is packed with adultery, drug abuse, corruption scandals, blackmail, depression, insomnia, suicide, emailed sex photos, and other elements that are not exact parallels to MASH. But the overriding theme, the straight-man to the pranks and dark humor, is the familiar and powerful force of military stupidity.
The military stupidity in this tale includes bureaucratic unaccountability, and — in the background — the general cluelessness as to what the whole point is of being in Iraq. But the dominant dimwittedness is found in some of the individual characters, whose names have been changed but who are supposedly presented as they really were. These include a superior officer so angry and abusive that Anthony’s unit bonds over its members’ common hatred for this man.
Serious injustices and self-destructive policies are addressed head-on in this book, but they pop up in the course of such an entertaining drama that they do not look like they would from a more familiar angle. I’m reminded of the Bush Chain Gang, the giant papier mache heads of Bush, Cheney, and gang with prison outfits and balls and chains, produced by the Backbone Campaign. When these comical creatures come marching through town and absolutely everyone of all political persuasions wants to have a photo taken with them, conversations are opened up about the lawlessness of high officials that would not otherwise occur and could not otherwise take the form they do.
“Mass Casualties” is a book I would recommend to any young person being targeted by military recruiters, to any person opposed to war, to any person in favor of war, and in fact to anyone with an interest in humanity and the enjoyment of an uproarious story about a bunch of ordinary people put through outrageous hardships who for the most part make no attempt whatsoever to come through with any dignity intact.
David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book.