Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Farewell, Mr. Clancy

"The U.S. Military is us. There is no truer representation of a country than the people that it sends into the field to fight for it. The people who wear our uniform and carry our rifles into combat are our kids, and our job is to support them, because they're protecting us." Tom Clancy (1947-2013).

His characters were vivid not because they were unique but because they were ordinary. Submarine Captain Bart Mancuso commanded his Los Angeles-class attack submarine with a competence common among his peers. CIA analyst Jack Ryan, recurring main character in so many Clancy novels, began his government career as a Marine Second Lieutenant. He exhibited the kind of reluctant bravery one finds in American fighting men and women - afraid to fly, he boards a Naval carrier plane in the midst of a raging a storm. US combat equipment sucked almost as much as their adversaries', but the ingenuity of the men and women crewing the vessels overcame shortcomings.

Tom Clancy worked as an insurance broker. He wrote a book. He pestered a woman into becoming his agent, then pestered her to promote his novel. Only the Naval Institute Press would touch it - so the story goes, as a favor.

Fifty million books later, he'd become a genre.

To Clancy, American might existed not for imperial purposes, but to defend a country worthy of the blood shed for her. Simple soldiers and sailors lived and died on his pages fighting battles for each other, sometimes at the behest of flawed leaders ignorant of the price paid at the pointy end of the spear. They were brave, selfless and, above everything else, sprung predominantly from the small towns and rural areas from which our nation draws so many of our best. He told not necessarily the story of who we are, but who we aspire to be.

It was an era of paper pages. I would impatiently await the next novel, usually spaced about a year apart. It would sit in cardboard until, children in bed, I would open the box. A glass of wine at hand, seated in a comfortable chair, I'd lay open page one. A familiar fragrance, the sound of the binding exhaling.... Where would this man's mind take mine?

In Rainbow Six, Secret Service agents had perished defending a protectee's child. A body lies where it fell, the child unharmed because of his valor. An investigator surveys the scene, walks over to the dead agent and says "Nice job, man." Of course.

Fair winds and following seas, sir.

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