Tom Clancy and the Post-9/11 World

There is something melancholy about [Tom Clancy's] older works. One almost longs for the days of Cold War, when there was a single, unpredictable but rational threat. Many Cold War military officers I've spoken with have described some of the insane plans for which they trained to fight the Soviets; in every instance, the officers felt sure—if only on a gut level—that they'd never have to do those jobs in real life. The world just wasn't that crazy. 

And so the techo-thrillers of Tom Clancy gave us a globe without restraints. He took the map of the world and our weapons of war and he put them to the test. The joy of his fiction was that, with the turn of the final page, we knew without the dread of having to really know. That would change, of course, with 9/11. The phrase "like a Tom Clancy novel" became a shortcut—a way of describing an unfathomable horror beyond words. 


The power of literature is to mark these kinds of epochal changes. After the Holocaust, writers also felt that the world had gone crazy, so the only proper reactions were to lapse into silence, which wasn't feasible, or to embrace the craziness and reveal the emptiness of mainstream discourse. And after World War I, there was a renewed sensitivity to irrationality in the world order. What the Modernists understood, however, and Clancy did not, was that irrationality is always present in the most stable world orders.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s