How Tom Clancy Reminded the World of American Exceptionalism

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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.

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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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Cross-posted from Belmont Club



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