Clancy’s War Part 1

On October 1, 2013 Tom Clancy died. So in honor of that anniversary earlier this month  I am writing a short retrospective on his past work and his ever growing oeuvre.  In the main Tom Clancy is certainly a  hack and despite that is still one of the most impactful writers of the 20th century.

Tom Clancy helped to shape the public face of the United States Military, history, and political discourse in a way that does not register with most of us consciously. His works disseminated and cemented a picture of the United States and it’s armed forces that prevails to this day. This can be attested to not just by the blockbuster movies, the video games that bear his name, and the books he continues to author almost a decade after his death. Tom Clancy represents a mode of production of art objects that is completely militarized and highlights the way the pentagon has come to integrate art objects into it’s arsenal.  Clancy’s innovation was how he sought to emulate the doctrine of US military. Clancy was brilliant because his thoughts were so closely aligned with that of his subject that it becomes difficult to tell what is the line of the military and what is Clancy’s own contributions. Certainly, this is true in the case of Clancy’s break out novel The Hunt For Red October (1984) Clancy was just another white man steeped in a military culture, and immersed in the anxieties of high cold war orthodoxy. He never served in the active military, I do not say this to discredit him, but rather to show him as an outsider to the US military. To the best of my knowledge while writing The Hunt for Red October Clancy did not enjoy the access to the US military, its arms industry boosters and intellectual vanguard that he would quickly developed in his career.

Clancy represented a concise description of what Americans were concerned about at the time, he harnessed the explicit and implicit messages in his environment and reverse engineered those messages into a narrative that captured the imagination of hot blooded young men, and caught the attention of generals. The Hunt for Red October is essentially the story of Reaganite Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD. This notion operated in the vein of Nixon’s mad man thesis, bolstered with the mathematics of the Nash Equilibrium the pseudoscience of economist Leopold Von Missil. In other words the system could work as long as, as one side never developed the capacity to destroy the other without the fear of retribution. Now for those of us looking back on the cold war 30 years hence we know that internally the US felt exceedingly confident in it’s Nuclear edge. This confidence is, in hindsight, a vast underestimation. Revelations from declassified documents during the Glasnost era showed the Soviet Union’s profound unwillingness and under preparedness  to initiate or return atomic weapons fire. The Soviet leaderships wanted stability and was for the most part disinterest in any attempt to initiate an arms race. This may be a better explanation for the aversion of nuclear war, rather than the dominant narrative that the world was spared by daring US brinksmanship. Despite this truth the fear of a Soviet nuclear weapons gap was an ongoing concern for the American public. As long as the public was afraid of the Soviets the Pentagon hand social license to grow it’s power and funding, and they were bringing their friends in the defense industry with them.  Evidently Mr. Clancy felt this same paranoia because he eloquently painted a picture of a Soviet threat in totally American terms. He was worried about  a Soviet stealth sub. A device that was not a Soviet invention but that mirrored the Strategic ambition of the Pentagon, and it was a technology they were actively searching for.

The decision to have a Soviet Stealth Sub with a renegade captain is an especially egregious example, because the atomic weapon armed submarine was the cornerstone of the American nuclear threat and deterrence. A Submarine could hide under arctic or sub arctic ice for months, and launch a preemptive attack from close to soviet territory or retaliate even if the entire US was annihilated. The Soviet plan for nuclear deployment mainly relied on long ranged missiles launched from trucks or trains. This is not to say the the Soviet Union did not peruse naval based atomic weapons, but they did not produce and deploy them on nearly the scale of American forces, largely because the US had another technological edge.

The US protected itself from a naval strategy with an elaborate deep sea sensor net. This emboldened US aggression, because it allowed the US to threaten the Soviets, without fear of symmetrical reprisal. The pentagon rightly understood the terror they had imposed on the USSR and understandably feared the possibility that it would be reversed on them. The idea of a silent submarine was, in 1984, and is a center piece of defense journalists even to this day, and it remains a talking point in the resurgence of nuclear tensions with the Russian Federation. So Clancy was not inventing any of these concepts, but rather taking the public talking points of the national security apparatus and rendering them into a consumable narrative devoid of any of the complexities, and contradictions these actions had in the real world. Tom Clancy wrote a story about them imminent need for nuclear aggression with US rivals, in which the the principle antagonist was the Soviets, behaving as Americans were acting towards the Soviets. This idea was disseminated to millions of people through a best selling book, and a popular film.

The Hunt for Red October was successful because it created multiple synergies with other industries, public relations agendas, and appeared to have legitimacy as it meticulously mirrored official pentagon talking points. The public devoured it, because it confirmed their biases.  Despite being a rehashing of what the new reading public was told told everyday it presented itself as a look behind the curtain into the the secret technology and  classified history of the military industrial complex. This is why Clancy is important because The Hunt for Red October and his other books demonstrates his talent for shaping abstract prejudices and anxieties into concise narratives and filtering them through a propagandistic discourse into the world of Jack Ryan.

Jack Ryan is the central character of the Clancyverse, who has thrice been played by people magazines sexiest man alive, and who in the details of his life represents the perfect trifecta of American power interests: Wall Street, The Pentagon/CIA, and Capitol Hill. The Jack character is a brilliant finance market speculator, a veteran who made it rich on Wall Street despite his modest providence, before going into intelligence work, and who later became vice president and then president of the US. If you replace his respectable white middle class background, with a family of financiers and oil barons you have… Georg H. Bush’s (The first one) career path from veteran, tycoon, CIA director, Vice President, President. I feel it also is worth mentioning that Jack becomes president after the Japanese fly a highjacked jetliner into the congress killing the president during the State of the Union Speech, in his 1996 book Debt of Honor. Of course it was an error, of the ever culturally sensitive Clancy, to accuse the Japanese of something so reminiscent of World War II(more on that later.).  The richness of how the hopes and fears of the security state play themselves out sometimes years ahead of them shaping policy decisions or the security landscape, as in the case with suicide plane-jacking. Because what Clancy had done to support the navy was only the beginning as Clancy progresses to his next client. The US State department.

To be continued next week

Podcastiversary 3

On October 2, 2016 we started this podcast. We are excited that this thing is still going, and we are thankful to you all for listening, and supporting the show. Our third year will bring some exciting changes, and more thrilling SciFi content.

On a personal note… I would like to thank Marshall for being a great collaborator and keeping things going.

Live long and prosper,

Stephen

Games of Thrones, Past and Present

The central mythology of American Interventionism

The story of Game of Thrones is, in a certain sense, an ancient one. A story in which historically material conditions have created environments wherein rival armed groups, who had historically been forced to cooperate would fight each other for dominance in the absence of a clear political consensus fostered by the former ruler. The quest to procedurally mitigate the violence of transition of power is the central aim of most political theories, for whom the cost and devastation of civil war was far too great a price, and the leaders it produced far too cruel and monstrous, though they tended to pale in comparison to the pointless villainy of their progeny.

In England, the solution to reining in the tempestuous mismanagement of the state by the genocidal egomaniacal nobles was the Magna Carta (1215/AKA robin hood times). It was an agreement between the king and the nobility of England signed after a century of tumult and chaos largely produced by the office of the king stretching back to the Anarchy (1135-53) and narrowly avoided after the death of Richard I. The so called ‘Great Charter’ migrated power of taxation from the king to the collective body of nobles and landowners, the newly created parliament. The goal of creating a secondary locus for power of the political body was to mitigate disruption to the functioning of the state should the body or mind of the holy vessel of state power become corrupted. The Magna Carta did this by giving the nobles a hold on the purse strings of the Kingdom allowing them to mitigate the harm the throne could do and create a mechanism to recognize and facilitate the transition of power that was run by the individuals who would be the chief belligerents in any war of succession.

Unsurprisingly this ignited a…. civil war The First Baron’s War (1215-17). However, as time went on, England became one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Europe. This was, fairly or not, attributed to English parliamentarianism as contrasted with the absolutism of the continent. It began to inform the development of a political theory of liberalism and it espouses that the collectivisation of authority amongst leaders of a society is the best way to govern and manage a nation. This is what the word liberal means. Liberalism is not a media buzzword, it is a well-established philosophy to which almost all politicians in the western world subscribe. Bush and Obama were both Liberals in this sense. They were both operating on the assumption that the wealthy leadership of a society would react to a need for change, but would not change matters so drastically as to endanger the hierarchy and structure of that society. Power would be transitioned through traditions written down into laws, that applied to the people who made them/ including laws to govern who was king. While the institution of the parliament did not stop civil wars, especially when France or other nations states backed armed groups to start one, the parliament did still form the intellectual foundations for western political economy today: the sacred notion that organization of the enfranchised citizens was the best way to create a government. This was a significant contribution to the constitution of the United States and the central objection of colonists to England.

Over two centuries later the United States still pays lip service to the transmission of democratic liberalism as its goal in “interventionist” actions. In practice, the US has propagated civil wars and worked tirelessly to damage the capacity to facilitate transfer of power and to organize as countries. The US would rather see large swaths of the earth ruled by coalitions of tribes, militias, and other armed interest groups.  Game of Thrones can be read as endorsing a central myth of Western imperialism that all this blood shed can pave the way to a better future. We need the narrative of Game of Thrones to help us rationalize the growing disconnect between what Western foreign policies claim they do and the millions of lives they destroy.

Valerian and the Paris Massacre of 1961

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets may look like a futuristic sci-fi story but, like all science fiction, it is as much about the world of the author as it is the world of the characters.  Based on 1960s comic books of Pierre Christin, Valerian tells not only of our time but also of post-war France and Belgiums’s fading colonial power, where migrants from colonies were often abused and marginalized. The comic book Valérian and Laureline, on which the recent movie is based, clearly shows reflections of the society in which Christin lived.

On a chilly October day in downtown Paris, the French National Police shot and killed an ‘unknown’ (100-300) number of French protesters, largely of North African heritage, who were opposed to the ongoing Algerian War. To cover up the crime, a bulldozer was brought in and the murdered citizens were unceremoniously dumped in the Seine. The attack was ordered by police chief and former Vichy (French Nazi) regime officer Maurice Papon, who also oversaw the 1962 Massacre of French communists in the Charonne metro station as well as contributing the general ethos of thuggish racist machismo in Parisian police culture. He started his illustrious law career torturing French resistance members and hunting Jewish French citizens who had evaded deportation to concentration camps. In his 1998 war crimes trial, Papon was found to be associated with some 1,600 cases of people he helped to turn over to the Nazis. The return to wartime brutality and overt racism of the Paris Massacre remains a dark and contested chapter in short history of the 6th Republic, where France’s ongoing imperialist interventions in its former North African colonies continue to this day; this old narrative of empire rebranded under the “war on terror” inc. brand.

Graffiti after the Paris Massacre 1961
Graffiti left on Saint-Michel Bridge in downtown Paris. It reads: HERE WE DROWN ALGERIANS.
Courtesy Wikimedia commons.

But what does this ugly incident have to do with 2017 summer box office bomb Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Dir. Luc Besson. In fact, the Paris Massacre is paid a small homage at the end of the movie, where the Pearls of planet Mül are being killed and their slain bodies are falling into a shimmering, water-like, energy barrier. This is a nod to the colonial legacy that the comic Valerian and Laureline struggles with to this day. This drives at the liminality of this movie’s politicization. The Pearl Massacre is used in this scene not so much to make a statement on the genocidal bent of imperialism and a death before dishonor mentality, but as emotional leverage for the motivation of the central characters. It is strangely dialectical in how it holds “war is wrong”, but only the “brave soldiers of humanity (France/America/NATO) can end the killing”. The contradiction of the doctrine of peace through western imperialism is the central conceptual tension in this film and in our own ideology today. We admonish war deaths and genocide, blind to our own complicit role.  Luc Besson doesn’t transcend this blind spot, but is ham-fisted enough to make it a clear example of this moronic and naïve belief that is driving the Western World deeper into a terror of its own making.

What is Androids and Assets?

Hi we are Androids and Assets,

We are a weekly podcast about ideology in Sci Fi and Fantasy. We believe that media shapes our perceptions about our situation historically, socially, and politically. We are going to dig into different franchises and talk about what are the values and ideals that franchise conveys.  We love almost everything we talk about, we are not judging things as good or bad, but we are out to describe the implications of the ideas embedded in that narrative. Keep posted, and we hope you enjoy our little podcast.  Thanks!

PS If you have any questions, recommendations , death threats…. Find us on Twitters @Assetdroid or email me stevesteve@androidsandassets.ca

With love, Steve