Tom Clancy hasn’t written a new novel in a few years, content to license his name out as a franchise and co-author books with those who really have “been there and done that,” but for quite a few years the man was golden. His books were guaranteed best-sellers, and — say what you want about the man — he knew how to spin a yarn.
One thing that stuck with me as I went through all his novels, though, was his gift for seeing the future — but not quite perfectly. He was sort of a modern-day Cassandra, foretelling the future guised as fiction, but never quite “on” enough to make anyone wonder.
In 1991’s “Sum Of All Fears,” he introduces a minor character — an FBI agent stationed in Colorado. The fellow’s name? Bill Clinton.
In 1994’s “Debt Of Honor,” shoddy consumer goods from an Asian nation kill several Americans, and lead to a trade war that eventually becomes a full-blown shooting war, with the threat of nuclear weapons hanging overhead. The nation is Japan, however, not China.
That novel ends with an airliner being deliberately crashed into the Capitol Building during a joint session, wiping out most of the US government.
In 1996’s “Executive Orders” a theologically-driven, expansionist Iran takes over Iraq after Saddam’s death and launches a war against the US, using weapons of mass destruction. It’s not nuclear weapons, but weaponized Ebola virus.
A subplot features a couple of nutjob militia men who build a big truck bomb and plan to kill the president.
1998’s “Rainbow Six” features a wave of terrorist attacks across the US and Europe, but it’s not Muslim extremists. Instead, it’s a bunch of true environmental whackoes winding up and turning loose a bunch of non-Muslim whackjob terrorists to stir up trouble around the world.
And in 2000’s “The Bear And The Dragon,” Western consumer backlash against Communist China triggers a massive economic crisis — that eventually leads them to invading a weakened Russia with the goal of exploiting the massive untapped resources in Siberia.
All these little details, never quite dead on, but they can be taken apart into their component elements and reassembled into a fairly decent facsimile of the real world.
For all his other flaws, Clancy does his homework. I’ve heard military personnel grit their teeth and wonder how the hell he gets so many details right about stuff he has no business knowing.
Clancy spent several novels building up the notion of Communist China as a threat to the US, and not just economically. He laid out his reasoning from Debt Of Honor, expanded on it in Executive Orders, and brought it to a climax in The Bear And The Dragon.
I think it’s the influence of those novels — and several others — that have made me so conscious of Communist China’s role in our economy — and politics. (Paging Bill Clinton…)
There’s an old saying that “truth is stranger than fiction,” and I once heard an explanation for that — because fiction has to be believable, while truth is under no such constraints. In that spirit, I find myself often looking at fiction for signs of what may be coming — because fiction writers have to make their stuff plausible and believable, and the best of them know that they can best do so by basing it on reality.
The signs all point to a coming conflict between the US and the west and Communist China. It might be a trade war. It might be a quiet revolution or a bloodless coup. It might be major change in the status quo, where the United States’ role as the globe’s sole hyperpower might be diminished and Communist China will be recognized as a true superpower in every way. It might be the first cyberwar or space war — Communist China is making great strides in both environments. It might be an old-fashioned shooting war, or even a full-blown nuclear war.
Similar situations exist with Japan and India, but they don’t worry me as much. Those countries are functioning democracies, and while it’s not a perfect law, the principle that “democracies don’t go to war with democracies” is one of the best rules of thumb around today. They are also far more integrated with the rest of the world, while Communist China remains largely isolated.
I don’t like bringing up problems without clear solutions. I like even less bringing up situations where I don’t know a hell of a lot, and have to admit it. But the situation with Communist China is too damned big to ignore for the sake of my own ego. If all I can do is start people talking — quite likely people who do know a hell of a lot more about it than I do — then I’ll do that.