The Common Good

The Mythical World of Tom Clancy

The books of Tom Clancy, who passed away this week, contain some of the most detailed description of military weaponry and procedures the public is likely to see. And people want to believe it: Clancy’s world is one in which technology can provide security and the so-called experts can be trusted to protect us. He takes a complex world and doesn’t merely simplify it, but rather creates super humans and super machines that can manage the world’s complexities.

Tom Clancy novels, cdrummbks / Flickr.com
Tom Clancy novels, cdrummbks / Flickr.com

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If you were an admiral, would you rather have systems like those of the Vincennes, which misidentified and shot down a commercial airliner, or the novelist-perfected Aegis anti-air radar system that effectively identified and categorized large numbers of incoming missiles during an attack in Red Storm? The choice is clear, and it goes a long way toward explaining the attraction that some military-minded folks feel toward Clancy: His stories are their dreams-come-true. The greatest danger from this fallacious thinking is that military planners—and their politician counterparts—are tempted to make real-world decisions based on the erroneous assumption that complex and risky operations can be pulled off cleanly and without a hitch by these super men and machines.

Read more from our review of the first five Clancy novels, A Clearly Present Danger, in the Sojourners magazine archives.

Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners magazine.

Image: Tom Clancy novels, cdrummbks / Flickr.com

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