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Reading the tea leaves

I'm a fan of good techno-thrillers, especially those with a bit of a naval element. And of late, I've noticed some common elements in a few of them -- especially in who they set as the United States' opponents.

Here are a few examples:
Weapons of Choice -- (initially) militant Muslims in Indonesia.

Balance of Power / The Price of Power -- Indonesian pirates.

Target Lock -- Indonesian pirates.

Sea Strike -- Chinese civil war.

The Bear And The Dragon -- China invades Siberia.

Executive Orders -- Iranian Islamists with biological WMDs.

Protect and Defend -- China invades Siberia.

Obviously, these are all fictional. But there's an old saying -- "truth is stranger than fiction." I've always thought that was so because fiction is supposed to be believable, while truth is under no such restrictions.

These are authors who do their homework (or, in Clancy's case, probably pay people to do their homework). They look at the past and the present, and try to construct a plausible future. That's what their job is, after all. And while I don't think we should be having novelists set our foreign policy, I think we'd be foolish to let their research and speculations go to waste.

For example, piracy on the high seas has quietly been making a comeback, as most of the world's navies have been cut back in the wake of the end of the Cold War. Last Sunday, the Boston Herald had a story about a Massachusetts couple sailing in the Red Sea having to fight off a pirate attack. And according to this report, piracy claims jumped 57% in the year 2000 alone, with attacks in Indonesian waters accounting for most of the increase.

Every year, the government pays consultants millions of dollars for research and reports on potential threats. To supplement that, I'd like to see them hire one guy to spend $25-$50 a week at Barnes & Noble and see what threats the technothriller authors are seeing coming down the pike. It strikes me as the kind of "outside the box" thinking (gag, retch -- my apologies for using that despicable cliche') that just might head off a future crisis -- or, at the very least, put us in a better position to face it.

And compared to what the Rand Institute or the Mitre Corporation or other think-tanks charge, it's a real bargain.


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Comments (13)

Speaking of Clancy... this ... (Below threshold)

Speaking of Clancy... this is hearsay, of course, but I have a friend who is a retired self-described army "intel puke." Her security clearances ran many levels above top secret. She says that if Clancy's source(s) are ever caught they would do serious jail time, because Clancy's stuff is "good."


These are authors ... (Below threshold)
These are authors who do their homework (or, in Clancy's case, probably pay people to do their homework). They look at the past and the present, and try to construct a plausible future. That's what their job is, after all. And while I don't think we should be having novelists set our foreign policy, I think we'd be foolish to let their research and speculations go to waste.
They don't.

In fact, the DoD regularly works with some Hollywood types to do scenarios and come up with ideas for weapons systems. I kid you not.

The Institute for Creative Activities is one such example.

Don't forget, one of Clancy... (Below threshold)

Don't forget, one of Clancy's books in the Jack Ryan series, a pilot crashes a commercial airliner into the Capital. That's what gets Ryan into the presidency.

That book was a few years before 9/11...

BTW Jay, that would ... (Below threshold)

BTW Jay, that would make a fine name for a regular column if you were ever to write such a thing.

And I guess “tea bag” and “tea balls” are ripe for the picking too. Metaphorically speaking, of course…

There you go, the Jay Tea F... (Below threshold)

There you go, the Jay Tea Foundation for Applied Fiction!

The best example I can recall of a fictional version of using writers for analysis was in Footfall, by Niven & Pournelle. They gathered in a bunch of SF authors to help scheme and to help find things out from one of the aliens.

Isn't that what "Three Days... (Below threshold)

Isn't that what "Three Days of the Condor" was all about?

Murderous piracy on the hig... (Below threshold)

Murderous piracy on the high seas has been going on, non-stop, for the past 50 years at least. It's just been "low intensity", with fewer then 100 crew members and maybe a dozen ships being taken over.

The seas around Indonesia lead the list, but you also have it off the West African coast, and a variant--drug related--in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The last usually involves private yachts, with the boating parties dumped overboard (dead or alive) while their boats get used to ferry drugs into the US.

Also BTW Jay, I appreciate ... (Below threshold)

Also BTW Jay, I appreciate the fact that I have the opportunity to leave ridiculous, off topic, irrelevant, and irreverent comments here in response to any of your posts.

You put your money where your mouth is with respect to the flag burning thing.

Actually, jmaster, I didn't... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Actually, jmaster, I didn't until this very moment make the connection between my title and my nom de plume. I simply used the old fortune-telling phrase, without connecting it to my chosen identity. It's because "Jay Tea" is simply a phonetic spelling of my initials -- J.T. -- and I don't think of "Tea" as a name. I guess that's a consequence of working 50+ hours a week, while still trying to maintain 3-5 postings a day here.

I still am a bit irritated over your vulgar and insulting use of my "name," but it's lessened by the realization that I set myself up for it.


Jay,I thought it m... (Below threshold)


I thought it might have been unintentional/Freudian on your part. That’s why I pointed it out. I didn’t want something like that to slip away into the ether unnoticed.

And as far as irritating you, thanks! That’s my goal. I would truly hate to offend you. But irk, irritate, cajole, or pester, absolutely. Of course, always with a wink and a smile!

No, actually, Clancy does h... (Below threshold)

No, actually, Clancy does his own homework. Then he pays other people.

But, more importantly (howe... (Below threshold)

But, more importantly (however it is that I forgot to include this in previous), other people also pay him.

The reasons to invade Iraq ... (Below threshold)

The reasons to invade Iraq were substantially based on fiction. Is this the kind of thing you have in mind?






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