Austin Bay

Early on, David Mamet established himself as a gifted playwright and screenwriter. Genuine artists are not herd animals, esthetically, intellectually or politically. For example, Mamet's screenplay for the 1997 film, "Wag the Dog," finessed -- by in large -- the politically correct cliches, which, since the Vietnam War, have turned Hollywood into an ideologically petrified forest of leftwing premise.

A war film of sorts, "Wag the Dog" satirically mocked lying leaders and sensationalist media. The plot featured a U.S. president mired in a sex scandal. To distract the public, the prez's Hollywood pals fake a war.

Aristophanes' "Lisistrata" satirized the Peloponnesian War. Greek women try to end it by withholding sex. Written in 411 BC, the play's wit still stings. But the Peloponnesian War, like D-Day and 9/11, was no laugher. Satire does not give human suffering and sacrifice just due. Tragic personal experience led Thucydides to write his "History of the Peloponnesian War" and contemplate the war's devastating legacy. After 24 centuries, this masterpiece of sober reflection continues to inform and disturb.

In late 2013, Argo Navis Author Services published Mamet's "Three War Stories." Memorial Day is an opportunity to review it.

The novellas explore warfare's sacrifice, physical destruction, spiritual damage and power to transform character. The first novella, "The Redwing," is the most unsatisfying. Bits of British Empire exotica litter the long confession of a 19th-century British naval officer turned Secret Service agent, so much so that at times the story reads like a deranged Robert Louis Stevenson novel. In fact, the secret agent's tale distinctly echoes Stevenson's "The Ebb Tide." The agent admits he writes fiction based on his career. He also wrote a best-selling, but carefully falsified, memoir. He says he is of two minds. Truth? Crafty lies? Fiction and memory mesh. Narrative vacillation may reflect moral vacillation. However, "Redwing" overplays this literary game.

The second novella, "Notes on Plains Warfare," is a sober memoir crafted by brooding, intellectual U.S. Army officer -- an American Thucydides.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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