My family has always served its country.
I mean that in the most literal sense. My seven or eight times removed great-grandfather, one Evan Evans, emigrated to Pennsylvania from Wales around 1750 with his with Jenet. I know almost nothing about them besides their names, but Evan at least must have had more than the standard measure of courage; a quarter century after his arrival in the Colonies, he risked life, property, and honor to fight for the idea of a new country, one where the citizens governed themselves instead of doing what a king who'd never left his island decreed. Thanks to him the women of my family can join the DAR, and though I never have, my father's great-aunt Kate did exactly that just before the Great War.
There were other citizen soldiers in my family over the years, although I've yet to discover what they did and where they fought. One at least volunteered to fight for President Polk in Mexico, that little slice of Manifest Destiny that was the proving ground for the Civil War. I have the muzzle loader he took with him when he enlisted, and if he actually fought with a government-issue rifle instead of the beautiful fowling piece that's been passed down to me, that doesn't make his service any less worthy of respect. He answered the call when it came, then returned to civilian life as so many other Americans have over the centuries.
A century later, my father was drafted as a sophomore in college. He was on the small side, so the Army trained him as a quartermaster and sent him to Europe late in 1944. I have a framed picture of him with his buddies in Avignon, seeing the sights like so many other American boys who went abroad and saw humanity at its most glorious and most brutal as they slogged toward Berlin. He never spoke of the battlefield, but I know he was under fire at La Croix and St. Nazaire in 1945.
The same goes for my uncle Lou. I haven't spoken much about Lou in these diaries, which is a pity, for Lou saw more and lived more in his time on this earth than the rest of them put together. He was a bit of a dandy, to judge by the natty pinstripe suit he wore in a formal portrait taken sometime in the 1930s, with a big nose, startlingly pale blue eyes, and a love of golf that started after the war and continued to the end of his life. He was the one who always slipped me candy and gum when I came to visit, and to this day I can't look at a Bazooka Joe comic without thinking of him.
For all his kindliness, Lou had a tough streak from childhood. Short, wiry, and fiery when provoked, Lou was the one who defended Mum against bullies at school and stood up to Betty when she said or did something particularly outrageous, including the Great "Ex-Lax is Chocolate, Martha" Incident when ten year old Betty decided to feed her little sister a whole package of yummy laxatives for a joke. He wasn't very tall, but he was utterly fearless, and the Army must have seen that when they sent him off to Algeria in 1942.
I haven't yet been able to discover if Lou actually fought under Patton or Mark Clark, since his military history could fit either general's command. He started out in North Africa (where he caught malaria, lost most of his hair, and sent his brother Charlie a letter that began with "I am in excellent health" around the time that nurses were packing him in ice to bring down the fever), fought his way up the boot of Italy (possibly including the destruction of Monte Casino, although I'm not certain of this), through France, and into Germany itself. He stayed close to his war buddies, especially his friend Bake, and occasionally told amusing stories about the time that he was chosen to guard a wine cellar in France since he was the token teetotaler in his unit, or how his lieutenant said Lou was the smartest soldier he'd ever seen since he kept his head down, followed orders, and didn't take ridiculous chances. He turned down three opportunities to attend OCS because, as he put it, "The officers got shot first," and always drove his Buick LeSabre with the same easy confidence he'd learned driving a Jeep for his CO.
For all the funny stories about the wine cellar or turning down promotions, Lou's war had been hard fought and ugly. The Italians might have tried to surrender but the Germans certainly didn't, and Lou saw more than his share of death, mutilation, and horror. Worse, his unit had helped liberate the death camps. Mum told me once that I shouldn't mention the Holocaust around him because Lou had seen the results first-hand, including inmates stoning a collaborator by the fence. Lou and his buddies had stood by while the tortured turned on their tormenters, and for all that it must have been horrible to see, I doubt he regretted his choice.
Lou's service was what used to be the norm: he went, he did his duty, came home, and picked up his life. He didn't boast about what he'd done, rarely spoke of his time overseas, and never gave the slightest sign that war was either glorious or enjoyable. He didn't join in the conversations when it looked as if my cousin's draft number would come up in the early 1970s (it didn't, although my cousin's two sons are both career noncoms). What he would have thought of Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Bosnia, or any of the other places where American boys and girls have left their bones in the years since his death, I can't begin to imagine. I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't have approved of the armchair warriors who've done their best to revive the old lie that dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Lou knew better.
I also wonder what Lou would have thought of all the purveyors of military thrillers who portray military life, military hardware, military missions, military jargon, and the sheer wonderfulness of the military from the Pentagon down to
KP - oh, that's right, we outsourced that to Halliburton Parris Island with the sort of loving precision that turns adventure fiction into barracks porn. The worst examples of this genre were written long after Lou had a heart attack on a beautiful fall morning on his favorite golf course, right after hitting a perfect tee shot in front of his old Army buddies Bake and Chick, so he never saw the rise of the military thriller, but I doubt he would have approved.
In particular, Lou was spared the exploits of one Jack Ryan, the brilliant, omnicompetent, all-knowing and all-seeing CIA analyst/politician who first appeared in a submarine novel and has been cropping up periodically to make the world safe for American democracy in ways that would probably send Captain America into cardiac arrest.
Tonight's diary is yet another in my quasi-monthly examination of Authors So Bad They're Good. I've covered some remarkably terrible writers in this series, including legends like Harry Stephen Keeler, Marie Corelli, and William Topaz McGonagall, and at first glance the following writer might not seem a good fit. He's clearly no Breadloaf alumnus, but his prose is sturdy and serviceable, his characters are memorable, and his plots are suspenseful and fun. There isn't much all that much depth, but the early ones in particular are entertaining reads.
And then he hit the bestseller lists, and started hiring ghost writers, and began appearing on talk shows, and....
Arma virumque cano this Saturday night, specifically a gentleman from Maryland named Thomas Leo Clancy. You may have heard of him.
Tom Clancy was born and educated in Baltimore, Maryland. He married, had a family, and worked in an insurance agency, but his true love was the Navy, especially military technology. This makes sense considering how close the Naval Academy, its museums, and its archives are to Baltimore, and soon Tom Clancy had learned enough to turn his obsession with things military into a sideline writing about the military technology and history he so loved.
Fortunately for American letters, Clancy managed to sell a couple of short article to the Naval Institute. The Institute, a non-profit organization devoted to naval history and heritage, dates back to the 1870s and is respected for publishing Proceedings (the third oldest magazine in the United States), Naval History magazine, and dozens of historical and professional development titles aimed at active duty personnel and military history buffs. Clancy's fellow contributors include the likes the Walter Cronkite, Theodore Roosevelt, David McCullough, Bob Woodward, and various members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so he was definitely in good company.
Soon enough Clancy was writing a novel about a cat-and-mouse game in the North Atlantic involving a defecting Soviet submarine captain, the Soviet fleet subs chasing him, and an American Los Angeles class submarine. It was a cross between John Le Carre's spy thrillers and Edward L. Beach's splendid submarine novel Run Silent, Run Deep, and Clancy's meticulous research gave it the ring of authenticity that similar military-themed books written by civilians lacked.
Unfortunately, that same attention to detail led to passages that read more as if Clancy had decided to spice up a technical manual by including a spy story. He had never written fiction before, and unlike Beach, hadn't yet figured out the trick of including the necessary technical information in such a way that wouldn't put the non-military reader to sleep. Mainstream publishers weren't quite sure what to make of this, and Clancy's manuscript bounced from publisher to publisher, lonely and unloved.
Then he remembered the Naval Institute. And even though the Naval Institute had never published a novel in its century-plus history, the editors read Clancy's manuscript, liked it, and offered him a contract.
The Hunt for Red October rolled off the presses in 1984. You may have heard of it.
Despite being midwifed by a historical press with no experience in selling fiction, the book was a sensation. Ignored by the press when it first appeared, it proved popular among military buffs and the thriller-loving public, and by 1985 it was on the bestseller lists. The Naval Institute found itself with its very first smash hit, and Tom Clancy was suddenly being courted by mainstream houses like Penguin.
Other books quickly followed, including such familiar titles as Red Storm Rising, The Sum of All Fears, Patriot Games, The Cardinal of the Kremlin, and Clear and Present Danger. Many of these books featured a brainy veteran/CIA analyst named Jack Ryan, who proved so popular that Clancy rewarded him with promotion after promotion, both in the intelligence community and the United States government. And is it any surprise that Hollywood started adapting Clancy's books for film? So far they've cast three separate actors (Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, and Harrison, none of whom look a thing like each other, but who cares?) as Jack Ryan, but that hasn't prevented the movies from being popular successes.
So far this could any thriller writer: throw in gay supporting characters and you have Suzanne Brockmann; throw in ultra-right politics and you have Brad Thor. So why I am honoring Tom Clancy with his very own diary?
Let me count the ways:
- Never ending, interminable, and authentic-to-the-point-of-being-unintelligible use of military jargon, to the point that the reader would be advised to keep the glossary bookmarked at all times so as to understand what the devil is going on. It's almost like fetish porn for military buffs, and trust me when I say I know what I'm talking about.
- Interminable, never ending ghost-written series allegedly plotted or inspired by his books, all of which feature super-espionage agents, teams of super-espionage agents, super-soldiers
who are not named Steve Rogers, teams of super-soldiers arms with high-tech weaponry, and terrorist threats all over the world who are jonesing to blow up the American government, American monuments, American technology, American military installations, or just Americans in general.
- Political views that skew from blaming "liberal politicians" for gutting the CIA and thus allowing 9/11 to happen to severe criticism of Donald Rumsfeld to severe criticism of Donald Rumsfeld and a friendship with retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, a four star general who was allegedly floated as a potential running mate for President Obama. Can't he make up his mind?
- A glorification of such freedom-loving states as Saudi Arabia, Russia, Colombia, pre-Arab Spring Egypt, and Pakistan, coupled with plenty of denunciations of the Soviet Union, North Korea, Syria, China, Iran, Palestine, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, India (?), and Japan (??).
- Worst of all, though, is this author's best known and greatest creation: Jack Ryan, stockbroker, millionaire, CIA consultant, instructor at the Naval Academy, National Security Adviser, Vice President, President, loving husband, devoted father, and biggest Marty Stu in contemporary letters. If this weren't bad enough, Ryan becomes President thanks to a terrorist attack that anticipates 9/11, and though Clancy actually commented on the eerie similarity at the time, please note that Debt of Honor is still in print aut6nd can be downloaded to one's Kindle or Nook in seconds.
- Enough video games, movies, and ancillary products that it's a wonder he hasn't opened Wonderful World of Jack Ryan stores in finer malls across America.
Worst of all, though: Tom Clancy never served in the military.
That's right. The creator of Jack Ryan, the originator of the military techno-thriller with more acronyms than vowels, the champion of the armed forces, has never actually put on the uniform. To his credit, Clancy has said repeatedly that this is the greatest regret of his life; evidently his vision was so poor that he flunked his eye exam, which is certainly not his fault, and far better than all the Republican politicians who had "bad knees" and pilonidal cysts that prevented them from going to 'Nam. I have no doubt that if Clancy could have served, he would have - but what would have his books looked like then?
As I said above, I have no idea what my uncle Lou would have made of all this. He rarely talked about his service, and didn't read war thrillers or spy thrillers, and I never really thought to ask. But I can't help wondering if the reason that Tom Clancy, who couldn't serve, writes about the military is that he couldn't do what my tough, wiry little uncle did. Could it be that all those super soldiers and super spies, and even Jack Ryan himself, exist today because a nearsighted kid from Baltimore was declared 4-F?
And so, my friends - what do you think? Am I overanalyzing Tom Clancy? Giving him too much credit? Not enough credit? What are your thoughts on this hot Saturday night?
Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule
|DAY||TIME (EST/EDT)||Series Name||Editor(s)|
|SUN||6:00 PM||Young Reader's Pavilion||The Book Bear|
|Sun (hiatus)||9:30 PM||SciFi/Fantasy Book Club||quarkstomper|
|Bi-Monthly Sun||Midnight||Reading Ramblings||don mikulecky|
|MON||8:00 PM||Monday Murder Mystery||Susan from 29|
|Mon||11:00 PM||My Favorite Books/Authors||edrie, MichiganChet|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00AM||LGBT Literature||Texdude50, Dave in Northridge|
|Tue||10:00 PM||Contemporary Fiction Views||bookgirl|
|Wed||8:00 PM||Bookflurries Bookchat||cfk|
|THU||8:00 PM||Write On!||SensibleShoes|
|alternate Thu||11:00 PM||Audiobooks Club||SoCaliana|
|FRI||8:00 AM||Books That Changed My Life||Diana in NoVa|
|SAT (fourth each month)||11:00 AM||Windy City Bookworm||Chitown Kev|
|Sat||9:00 PM||Books So Bad They're Good||Ellid|