“American Idiot” is an attempt to come to terms with the enigmatic writer Ambrose Bierce. He could be very funny, and very awful when trying to be funny. He called out bullshit, especially regarding U.S. military actions, whether the rose-colored memories of the Civil War—in which he served with distinction—or the imperialist adventures of the Spanish American War. And yet, he loved war in some basic way, and was famously lost to view after he traveled to Mexico to observe the fighting there.
Bierce’s tales are like improvised explosive devices, and deserves to be more fully understood by students of literary history. In this essay, I focus especially on “One of the Missing” and “Chickamauga.”