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In 1929 elderly reporter Edwin Morrison, working from interviews, old journals, and his own memories, pieces together the 1884-1900 career of Capt. Henry Lawson--whose quest for military-hero status involves such issues as jingoistic/distorted journalism, manifest destiny, racism, and bureaucracy. Edwin meets Civil War hero Lawson back in 1884 through Mrs. Lawson: Edwin's ex-sweetheart Lucy, who has married career-soldier Henry with a ruthless determination that he--with Edwin's newspaper help--will become famous and powerful. And when Lawson's 25th Cavalry (virtually all-Negro) chases Apache ""renegades"" into a series of hapless ambushes and ugly skirmishes, Edwin does indeed turn an ignominious campaign into a media triumph. (""By the time I finished, I compared Lawson's descent into that thermal valley with Orpheus' journey into Hades."") During the next dozen years, however, with no war to wage, Lawson--a stolid sort not cut out for the politics of peace-time army careerism--fades from public view. while wife Lucy writhes with frustrated ambition. Then, at last: the Spanish-American conflict arrives--bringing Lawson to the Philippines, for a second chance to lock in his bid for soldier-celebrity; here again, out of love for Lucy and affection for Lawson, Edwin compromises his principles--ignoring the heroism of black Lieutenant Eccles and turning a virtual massacre on inept Filipino soldiers into a strategic feat for Lawson (who's out of his depth militarily). Finally, however, Lawson's desperate clutch at old-fashioned heroics--a vengeance-mission against Filipino guerrillas--leads to the decimation of his own troops. . . and his own death at the hands of traitor Lieutenant Eccles, who has formed a Third-World-ish alliance with the Filipinos. In outline, then, Kluge's is a basically familiar, somewhat heavyhanded morality-play from the annals of US ""imperialism""--its themes occasionally spelled out baldly. (A wise old journalist tells Edwin: ""You know what went wrong with this country?. . . We ran out of three things. We ran out of land. We ran out of Indians. And we ran out of ideas."") As a study of Edwin's journalistic immorality, it's thin and unconvincing. Throughout, however, Kluge (Eddie and the Cruisers) textures the didactic framework with fine character-shadings: Lawson, in many ways an admirable officer, is more victim than villain; Eccles is not so nobly motivated. And, with curious, balanced period-details (especially in the Philippines section), this is--notwithstanding the often-shrill message--strong, intriguing reading for a military-history audience.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Freundlich--dist. by Scribners