Collage of Chaos in Lebanon.

BEIRUT OUTTAKES. By Larry Pintak. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books. 368 pp. $18.95. WITHOUT warning, the nightmare happened: three men, brandishing revolvers, pulled the Associated Press correspondent out of a car as he was returning with a friend from an early morning tennis match. Within seconds, they wrestled him into a green Mercedes. Terry Anderson had no chance to speak, and he was gone.

That was four long years ago on March 16, 1985, in Beirut. He was seized as a bargaining chip in a deal which has never been made for 17 Arab prisoners held in Kuwait. This month, Terry Anderson begins his fifth year in captivity, an innocent man chained to a wall, deprived of communication with the outside world, subsisting mostly on hope.

Nor is he alone. Since 1985, hostage-taking in Lebanon has continued. The United States, Britain, France, and West Germany have told their nationals no one's security can be guaranteed. And eight more Americans and six foreigners have been seized.

The fate of these men, who are not so different from ourselves, is one of those human tragedies, which all civilized men and women yearn to see resolved. But their situation seems to yield to no diplomatic pressure or cajolery, and too often we consign their calamity to some dark basement of our own minds.

Yet the questions keep coming back: How could this happen? How did they fall into the armed clashes of Middle East? Will they survive? Will Lebanon survive?

Larry Pintak, a TV correspondent for CBS who covered the Middle East for five years, has given us in ``Beirut Outtakes'' one of the most perceptive accounts of the nightmare in Lebanon, which, one could say, has kidnapped that country's future along with the hostages.

The word ``outtakes'' is highly symbolic. It is the journalistic word for rejected footage that did not make the broadcast. These castoffs almost always contain material that still cries out to be heard.

Pintak has taken these Beirut vignettes and assembled them into a mosaic, which blends the perils of daily life with the broad sweep of Lebanese history and politics. He has sketched the struggle for power between Christian forces and Muslim warlords with a depth the daily news reports cannot convey.

He has chronicled the failure of the US and the multinational force to keep the peace. Pintak argues that the decision to deploy US Marines was founded on an imperfect understanding of the situation and set in motion new destructive forces. Because the Marines appeared to be allied with President Gemayel's Christian soldiers, their presence only strengthened the determination of the warring Muslim groups to push the US and all Americans out of Lebanon. The conclusion is that the Marines did not keep the peace; they stoked the war.

By describing sights and sounds, Pintak succeeds in painting a picture of chaos which otherwise would be hard for most of us to imagine.

``Picture the state of Connecticut,'' he writes by way of analogy. ``Its citizens have been locked in civil war for the past 10 years. Fairfield County in the south has been occupied by New York. The northern part of the state and the coastline below Bridgeport is in the hands of the Massachusetts National Guard. Hartford is a divided city. The western section is controlled by an alliance of Protestant militias. East Hartford is ruled by Roman Catholic warlords, each with his own private army.

``Aside from civil war, at least five other major conflicts with uncounted minor feuds have been fought on Connecticut's soil in the past decade....''

Reading about chaos can be numbing, and this is one of the weaker parts of Pintak's narrative. The collage of vignettes is ragged at times and rarely draws the reader into a flowing story. Despite these shortcomings, Pintak has produced a conscientious and frightening account.

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