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The Tom Clancy Thread

October 3rd, 2013 - 8:10 pm

I related an anecdote many posts ago about flying into Jolo in late 1980s to attend a meeting on recent attacks by the MNLF on civilians. In the seat beside me on the plane was a European man, who introduced himself to me as a member of a well known humanitarian NGO. He announced his intention to travel to Patikul, or some such town. I told him, “that’s Indian country. If you try that you’ll be kidnapped before sundown.”

His answer was “nonsense. I have humanitarian status. They won’t hinder me.” He mentioned an affiliation with some other International agency as proof of his immunity. “Do you think they care about humanitarian organizations?” I retorted. “The bottom line is you’re a white man in Jolo and if you go ahead with your intentions … please reconsider your plans.” We parted ways at the airport and I continued on to my meeting. Sometime in the mid-afternoon the discussions were interrupted by someone with urgent news at the door. “A European has been kidnapped,” he breathlessly related, “and the marines are looking into now”. I checked the hour on my watch. He didn’t even make it to sundown.

More or less the same thing just happened to Greenpeace. AFP reports:

Moscow — Russian investigators said Thursday they had charged all 30 crew members of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship with piracy over a protest against Arctic oil exploration, an offence that carries the risk of a lengthy prison term….

“All 30 participants in the criminal case have been charged over the attack on the Prirazlomnaya platform,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

“They are all charged with… piracy committed by an organised group.”

Piracy by an organised group carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years in Russia.

Investigators accused the activists of trying to seize property with threats of violence.

I guess Greenpeace got lulled into complacency by the fearful water cannons of the Japanese and the mild penalties which were formerly the price their protests. They didn’t count on the Russians who don’t seem to care too much about their NGO and environmental activist credentials. It’s interesting to read the comments on some sites by outraged Belgians or New Zealanders proclaiming their indignation against “outlaw Russia”.

But they miss the point. Who’s going to stop Russia from doing what it wants?  Will it be the Belgian Navy? Or the New Zealand Navy? Or the United Nations?

The great thing about the late Tom Clancy, who recently died at the age of 66, was that he reminded a cynical liberal American and European audience just what exactly stood between the world  and countries like Russia.

The Navy.

To be more precise the United States Navy. To have grown up before Tom Clancy was to have been exposed to the post-Vietnam narrative that depicted the United States as a foolish, bumbling, fundamentally useless power without which the world would be better off. Without America, so the narrative went, the world would be at peace and no one would be engaged in anything more sinister than buying the world a Coke.

His “Hunt For the Red October” was arguably one of the first really popular mass market novels that went against that stereotype. One could not read that book without slowly realizing that “we are the good guys. We are the cool guys.” We are the guys without which the worlds oceans, and not just a corner of the arctic would be controlled by the OPFOR and run according to Gazprom rules.

For whatever Greenpeace thinks, neither al-Qaeda, nor China, nor Russia are very much afraid of the European Union or the United Nations and their works and pomps. Such power as their humanitarian credentials holds is provided by the shadow of the Navy; the thing that holds them back in the long run isn’t the prestige of the UN; it is the reflected glory of the stuff Tom Clancy described in the “Hunt for the Red October.”

And if Greenpeace winds up in the hoosegow the proximate reason will have been the diminution of America’s prestige at the hands of Obama. Time was, not so long ago, Russia would have been afraid to do that. Not any more.

The reason we should care to make this plain is the same reason I cared about the humanitarian guy who got kidnapped. The consequences of ransom. Because the Greenpeace people are likely to be ransomed — even if the ransom is nonmonetary. Ransom left the rebels, whose depredations occasioned my visit in the first place, free to spend those proceeds to buy more and better weapons with which to kidnap kids, burn churches, shoot farmers for their hand tractors or chainsaws.

The best way for Greenpeace to get their guys out of stir is to make a deal with the Russians to turn their boys loose after six months in exchange for an agreement to focus on the “near enemy” — Western oil companies and businesses — while subtly giving Russian interests a wide berth. Ransom takes many forms and one of its most effective forms is the understanding. Why else do you think same-sex activists never try to hold a marriage protest in a mosque? Or depict Mohammed in cartoon form when a crucifix in a bottle of urine or a painting of Mary in elephant dung can be attempted with impunity?

The price of stage protest is the “understanding”. The acceptance of the unstated limits imposed by those who don’t kid around. What many activists really do, though they may not comprehend it, though they may deny it, is to abet the very forces which left unchecked would destroy them.

Ironically the courage of Greenpeace is subsidized by the valor of those they detest. For the stage pirates can only go through their steps while the real pirates are at bay; and their right to prattle about fascism is only possible while the real fascists are kept at arm’s length by those they will never thank, whose existence they will never acknowledge.

Tom Clancy’s greatest contribution was to uncover the physical basis of our liberty, to sing the song of the rock that civilization ultimately stood on. And for a brief period of lucidity right around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it actually became cooler to captain an SSN than be Che Guevara. We’ve forgotten that now.

As the long Pax Americana comes to a seeming end, we might ask ourselves “what did we just throw away?”


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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Top Rated Comments   
When I first came across Tom Clancy, I saw him as proof that America was not an empire. Not in intention, anyway. That he should come to prominence in the latter days of the Cold, a reminder to America of its unconscious prowess seemed singular to me.

Real Empires seek power. And they celebrate it in pomp and pageantry. They are conscious of greatness. Clancy's success proved America did not know its own strength. "Wow can we do that?"

The Brits who came before would have left no doubt in the minds of the public, through the tales of Biggles, the Boys Own whatevers, and Kipling about their heritage of greatness. For Clancy, America's greatness was simply factual consequence. And incident. Nothing to write home about.

America was great because it didn't seek greatness. That seemed to be the message of the Clancy Universe. America was great because it was. And that message resonated with me because I was, as it were, a stranger in a strange land but never quite.

I was the outsider who passed everywhere for American. Who saw in the people simply going to work, in the pedestrian magnificence of Washington, the kind of greatness I imagined was the fulfillment of the Founding Fathers. And in that I may have been wrong, blinded perhaps by love or the desire to love.

But I think not. For the the grandeur of the city on the hill is not in the city but in the people who inhabit it. The guys who go bowling and are excited about "stuff". Who want, for not other reason than it is cool, to tread on Mars or know what Europa -- the planet -- is made of.

For me Clancy was reminder that the ordinary could over overcome the conspiracy. How sad it seems to me, that this lesson should forgotten no sooner than it was preached. That the sole remaining ambition of our leaders should be to transform themselves into the cheapest copies of those they had defeated without realizing the irony.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you for your anecdote. I knew Tom from the early 1980's. We both started out writing for the Proceedings of the US Naval Institute, and our editor introduced us. I knew him through a voluminous snail mail correspondence, phone calls, and later when I joined the computer age fully, by email for over 30 years; but never met him face to face. We bounced ideas off of each other [some unorthodox, and really long and detailed] and had a great old time. I had a small piece of "Red Storm Rising" in that a lot of smart and knowledgeable people, and somehow me, wargamed a lot of it.

Below you mentioned Noonan's piece. In there, she described him as a gentleman and a patriot. He was that, and more. I can't give details, but in a time of crisis, he helped my family greatly, and we will be ever grateful.

There were rumors early on that he was some sort of CIA plant. That no one not connected could know what he did. That is nonsense on stilts. We shared a youthful intent on a military career, and both of us were barred because our eyes were too bad. Both of us studied information that was out in the open, and became, well experts. Because we wanted to. And we talked to those who had been there and done that. The information is out there, but it is somehow considered politically incorrect to understand reality; the reality of good and evil, and that in the main our country has stood up for good.

He was the American dream personified. I met him before HfRO was published and read it in manuscript. He worked his tail off all day, to support his wife and kids. Running a business is not a 9-5 job. At night he would sit at his primitive computer [I had the same primitive computer at the time] and write whenever he could.

It wasn't "connections", it was hard work and a dream. And he made the dream come true, and in the process made the country he loved a better place. Yeah, he will be missed.

Subotai Bahadur
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
My little Tom Clancy anecdote:

I was on active duty in London in the mid-1980's with "Red Storm Rising" came out to press. I believe a colleague had recommended it, and to make a short story long, I was just married with my wife back in the states, and had little desire to do much but work and eat. The London nightlife experience didn't interst me. So, I picked up the book and took to reading it during my off-hours. Work, dine out somewhere interesting, back to my quarters, read, and repeat, for about a month.

I was assuming a new role for a new unit, and my primary task while there was to remain in a document security vault and read the NATO war plans for the mobilization of Europe (presumably, against the Soviet threat). The documentation was both highly classified and dry.

However, as I started reading Clancy's second book, I was shocked by what I was reading. It was as if the book was line-by-line excerpted from the classified NATO and US Navy classified documents. It was that accurate. It certainly peaked my interest in my day job, bringing to life volumes of dearly, mostly logistics related documentation.

It made for a fascinating trip. Oh, by the way, I made that trip solo for two years in a row, and I still owe my wife a payback-European-trip over 25 years later. I have a really good, patient wife.

Tom Clancy will be missed. His books were classics, but of time value. I think they'll drop of the radar screen eventually, only to be rediscovered by generations in the future, who want to know how people living during the 1980s (plus or minus) felt about the world, their security, and who still enjoy international and military intrigue.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (49)
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It's said he started out selling insurance. Heck, he never quit selling insurance --he just extended his line horizontally and opened up his territory.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wretchard, "That the sole remaining ambition of our leaders should be to transform themselves into the cheapest copies of those they had defeated without realizing the irony." Beautiful. "No further questions, your Honor."
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
--i agree --you placed it in a courtroom --cool --how 'bout a bowling alley? The essay starts off weighing the ball and eyeing the pins, then shuffle, approach, release the ball, the ball hisses down the lane. The pins are the word of that sentence --no one knows what they are. Strike, and the pins fly up in the air, and because we have the eyes of eagles, we can read them
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
I like Clancy's stuff. Among other things, he has, I submit, a way of connecting with the desires of his audience. Kipling, in Plain Tales from The Hills, and others, let his middle-class, homebound readers visualize themselves as members of the Raj. I would say he worked at it.
Clancy does the same thihg; drawing his readers to visualize themselves as the courageous, honorable, competent men we would all like to be.
Some think it padding, but I disagree; If a house is on fire and kids need to be rescued by passersby, we get the rescuers' backstory. They may be truck drivers or work in construction. If they're coming from a meeting, it's not a philosophy department meeting. Might be a Knights of Columbus meeting. They would be ex-paratroopers or former Marines. Ordinary guys like the readers are, by implication, brave, resourceful, honorable, competent.
Before WW II, there was a pulp genre of adventure in the Pacific and the Rim. It was far enough away that anything could be plausible, and empires--Japan, the Brits, the Dutch, the Americans--were sniffing around. When the stuff hit the fan, somebody's Navy--not the Japanese--came over the horizon like John Ford's cavalry. We've thought the world was like that ever since. Probably was.
Shame if it isn't.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hi Richard. Thank you for another great post. I have travelled to the Philippines numerous times during the 80's while serving on the USS Midway. I had to privilege of befriending many Filipino sailors who served with me and showed me around the Philippines. I have always loved your country - beautiful and friendly people and a warm contrast to Japan, where we were home ported.

This weekend I will be watching a Filipino opera here in New York, Noli MeTamgese. It is conducted by a dear friend of ours, Michael Dadap. Our daughter plays viola in his Children's Orchestra that he runs with his wife. She is Yo Yo Ma's sister. Lovely people.

Paalam, and God bless
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
That is why you don't hear the gruesomeness in Westgate Mall. Those 'stories' simply disappeared. Because the eff'n West, the progressives, and our propaganda arm can not handle the brutality.

To be replaced by the Horror stories of the Government shutdown. Or the Awesomeness of the Awesome Obama or ObamaCare.

Speak Truth to Power today is but a badly written farce.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
This topic is something I've tried without much success to explain to my friends in China. They like to revel in the PRC's growing power but fail to realize that the PRC now has to either step up and perform the job ensuring the rule of JUST law internationally or become merely a bully.

It is not enough to simply be powerful
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wretchard,

You have outdone yourself once again. This is outstanding
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Without Remorse" is still my favorite- The KBar description should give a
shiver to those without knowledge and a belly laugh to Marines everywhere!
You can solve a lot of uninvited problems with a 1911 and a KBar to this day.

Mike
Ps. A good dog helps too.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Ironically the courage of Greenpeace is subsidized by the valor of those they detest. For the stage pirates can only go through their steps while the real pirates are at bay; and their right to prattle about fascism is only possible while the real fascists are kept at arm’s length by those they will never thank, whose existence they will never acknowledge."

How funny it is. Apparently those brave, brave activists are being tortured by the evil Russians. One who is a vegan can't eat the prison food and others who are non-smokers have been forced to share cells with chain smokers. The horror--the horror.

Stupidity kills. But not often enough.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have sometimes thought that the United States should allow privileged immigration from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines. Haiti and the Dominican Republic were occupied by the United States during the 1920's, while the Philippines were an overseas territory. This experience means that it would be easier for these people to assimilate into American life. At least as important is that nobody in Hispaniola or the Philippines has an irredentist claim upon United States territory, let alone the long standing and deeply held irredentism one finds in Mexico.

I don't think Richard Fernandez is alone. I think there are others. Yet, rather than encouraging people like him to come here, our political establishment seeks to systematically reward people who come here illegally and systemically punish people who try to play by the rules. It's as if the people in power desire to entrench criminal behavior into the warp and weft of our social fabric.

Our priorities in immigration must be to encourage assimilation to our culture and obedience to our laws, rather than worrying over the labor requirements of employers who use a criminal business model. We should avoid letting people in who feel aggrieved if they are not allowed to impose their ways of life upon people who already live here.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
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