How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…
Tom Clancy epitomises some of the ugliest representations of America - at least as viewed by some of us non-Americans: I felt pretty nauseous throughout this proudly xenophobic celebration of ignorance. That being said, after reading just a sample of the so far over 700 amazon.com reviews - generally by Americans who completely trash the book - I have to get off my high horse and acknowledge (with some relief) that Tom clearly isn't speaking for most of his compatriots.
In terms of craft, Clancy offers the pleasure of justice – baddies get theirs. And if he was writing stuff like this as pure fantasy – perhaps set in another time and galaxy and hardly requiring an ‘any similarity’ disclaimer – it wouldn’t be anything worse than a below average thriller. Sure, sure, I’ve picked up that it’s a work of fiction, but the dustcover shouts out the appeal as, “chillingly plausible”, and “a good and timely [plot].” Clancy is writing deliberately to confirm ignorant prejudice: much of his demographic believe what his saying is close to ‘the truth’. In reality it’s about as close as the WW1 posters that present all Germans as slavering beasts keen on raping Belgian nuns between courses of eating babies (and posters that show all allied personnel as paragons of chivalry), a difference being that at least the creators of the posters weren’t taken in by the absurdity of their own propaganda. Reading this reminded me of the film The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopic vision of an utterly right wing future America – the spin here is that its only dystopic if you’re not right wing. Clancy’s heroes are what he dreams of as the ideal American – which at heart is frighteningly shallow enough – but it’s his appallingly demonised dreams of the enemy that make this book as shockingly offensive as it is.
I know you’ve suspected as much, but it’s good to have Clancy confirm for you that all Arab terrorists (whoever they might be – in many cases ‘terrorist’ merely means someone who can’t afford an army) are sexual perverts. No, really – they have loads of cash from oil money and they blow it on prostitutes, alcohol, pornography and rape fantasies in internet chat rooms (not like American soldiers of course – they can all get laid because they’re so hard and cool, and would never drink excessively, or resort to prostitutes or pornography). They might seem to be devout about sex and alcohol – even more than Americans (perish the thought!) – but really that’s just hypocrisy – they grab every chance they can for debauchery. And just in case you get a bit confused about this (because these days American heroes also like sex and alcohol), Clancy makes it clear that their sex lives are seedy and laughable – they have to pay for sex or get off on-line because, hey, they’re big losers. Oh, and you’re right – even if they’re losing their own life in some suicidal attack (as opposed to, say, dropping bombs safely from controlled air space) they are pathological sickos that relish shooting women in the back.
How can Clancy begin to be taken seriously with such pantomime caricatures? But he expects to be taken seriously – despite clearly having made no attempt to discover the motives of the characters he purports to write about. His ‘thinking’ character, young Jack Ryan Jnr. – the prodigy intellect and analyst, isn’t happy to just be given orders like the assassin twins – so he goes deeper into this whole business. You know, he even spends a whole morning (after having already been party to two murders) googling for the Koran and glancing through some passages. Well, shut my mouth – that’s some serious research – and probably represents the wafer of knowledge Clancy has bothered to attain (or, perhaps, thinks would be perhaps worth attaining some time) before wading into his International Relations for dummies text. But this is post the publication of All Quiet on the Western Front, this is in a time where you can read dissenting opinions from ‘enemies’ first hand on blogs while you’re bombing them! It’s inexcusable. Maybe you’d find that one of them might have held a dying civilian child (Brian’s oft reiterated justification for killing) – this time from American fire. Maybe you’d find more than one.
It’s a shame that such a propagandist would be a favourite with Bush – that Bush tries to even present himself as the sort of no nonsense tough guy lauded in such bigoted texts. “Shock and awe” – another way of saying ‘The Teeth of the Tiger.” How do you deal with an enemy? You let ‘em know that you’re gonna waste their ass. That’s diplomacy. And who are the heroes who epitomise the values of this great nation? Well for Clancy it’s pretty much the same person given several different names in the text. Firstly, like good old Louis Lamour’s heroes, they have a lot of money. Somebody probably isn’t really worth talking to if they can’t make themselves independently wealthy. The stock market, for example, should be a game they can play and win – but don’t need to take too seriously. Next, they kill people. C’mon, if you don’t know how to handle a gun and haven’t wasted a few bad guys, you’re just not hero material. Ghandi? Jesus? Martin-Luther King? Pussies. Despite his pretensions of insight, like Eric Lustbader Clancy can’t think of anything more impressive than being able to punch someone out, and needs to be reminded, ‘Fish called Wanda’ style, that apes do read philosophy, they just don’t understand it.
And that's about it really. Clancy tries to make us connect a bit more with them because, um, they like fast cars, those guys. And he constantly tells us just how super smart these players are. He has to, because they don't do much that displays intelligence. Where, for example, does our master of espionage make the hit? In a bathroom that anyone could walk into at any time. He stays there for extra time, gloating - and leaving a knife with blood to connect this body with another killed in the same room a few weeks before (no, that won't make the cardiac arrest look at all suspicious!). He then returns to his table with the twins who have just been noticed by everyone in the restaurant, including the waiter who just spilled wine all over them, and who is about to discover a body in the toilets! And we're supposed to think, "Aren't these guys amazing - they're just invisible!" Do you think their descriptions just might come out in the police interviews? "Oh, yeah, and one of them was the ex-President's son." Yeah, seriously invisible to appoint, say, Chelsea Clinton as your nation's secret assassin - but this isn't even me exaggerating - it's the literal equivalent.
So, actually, it doesn’t even work as an average thriller. This is garbage from several angles. Still, the worst is the self satisfied racism that doesn’t even recognise itself. That can say you don’t even need a photo to work out who the terrorist in Vienna is, just find someone as “Middle-Eastern as hell” – yeah, that’s the guy, whack him. And all this in the company of the most arrogant of narrators. Tom, self-doubt is not necessarily weakness – it could even be the beginning of wisdom. Is there just some little part of you that might be thinking, “Sheesh, maybe I really shouldn’t be talking with such complacence about people I know nothing about”?