Archive for January 19, 2010

Cannonball 14: Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy

You're probably wondering what possible relevance this picture has to the subject of this post.

When I was in middle school, I had a HUGE crush on Jim French, the boy who sat behind me in homeroom. I was completely boy-crazy in middle school, so that wasn’t anything remarkable.

What was remarkable about this one was that he was the one boy that maybe liked me back. He saw beyond my thick glasses and bad hair and nerdy clothes. He saw through to the kindred spirit within that liked reading and board games and “The Simpsons”.

But, alas, it was never to be. My friend Mandy liked him and asked me to find out if he liked her. Looking back, I think she had an inkling of the young love about to blossom in my scrawny, teenaged bosom (*sigh* I was so skinny then. It’s the only thing I miss about middle school) and knew that the quickest way to squelch it was to make me her advocate. Being the loyal friend I was, I sadly agreed to ask him for her.

The next day in homeroom, I obediently steered our conversation towards Mandy. “What do you think of her?” I asked reluctantly.

“Mandy?” he echoed, surprised. “She’s okay, I guess. Why?”

“Well…” I took a deep breath. “I think she likes you.”

He was silent. He looked at me, saying nothing. Was that hurt in his eyes? I panicked.

“You should ask her out,” I babbled desperately. “She’s really nice. And I think she really likes you. You’d make a cute couple. She’s a good friend.”

He stared down at the notebook we’d been doodling on and smiled bravely. “Maybe,” he replied a little sadly.

He put away the notebook and pulled out a book and began reading silently. I knew at that moment that our friendship had been effectively ruined and would never be the same.

A few days later, Mandy came up to me and gushed that Jim had invited her to watch a Dodger game with him and his family. I smiled wanly and told her that was great.

Jim never talked to me again. Well, we’d greet each other in class, but that was it — the camaraderie of the previous months was gone forever. Even after he and Mandy broke up, we remained distant.

Then, in high school, he turned into a serious weirdo and started dating this really geeky girl who was a year older than us and stopped washing his hair. I was so embarrassed that I’d ever liked him that I didn’t talk about it for twenty years. Guess I dodged a bullet there.

But I’ll always be grateful to Jim French circa 1991 for three months of exhilarating friendship. He made me laugh, complimented my drawing, taught me how to play chess — and he introduced me to Tom Clancy.

Ahh, yes. There’s the tie-in. Jim let me borrow The Hunt for Red October. “You’ll love it,” he insisted. “The plot gets kinda crazy, but you’re smart enough to get it.” Oh, how that made me blush in the most unattractive way.

Anyway, he gave it to me right before the whole Mandy thing went down, so I never gave it back and I actually didn’t read it until I was in college. And he was right. I loved it.

Now, I have no idea how I came by a copy of Clear and Present Danger. I was scrounging around for reading material the other day and next to Jim’s battered copy of The Hunt for Red October, a copy of Clear and Present Danger had somehow weaseled its way onto my bookshelf. I decided to read it.

Clear and Present Danger Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Clear and Present Danger is Clancy’s fourth novel about CIA agent Jack Ryan. The book deals with a covert government operation sending a hand-picked and highly-trained group of soldiers into the hills of Colombia to fight a secret war on a ruthless drug dealer. Unbeknownst to Ryan, an enemy agent has compromised a CIA contact and is maneuvering to take down the leader of the drug cartel so that he can become its new leader.

In the meantime, Jack must figure out how to save the soldiers after the operation goes sour, how to bring the high-level government officials who set the plan in motion to justice, and how to keep it all under wraps so that the American people wouldn’t lose faith in their government or the war on drugs.

Let me say one thing about Clancy up front — he’s a decent writer and he sure knows how to build a plot. It’s not Shakespeare, but I can totally understand how he’s sold so many books. It was fast-paced and exciting; I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. The book reads like a solid action film — good guys go up against bad guys; everything’s shrouded in conspiracy; there are a few good gunfights and action sequences and then the heroes somehow save the day and tomorrow’s sun will dawn yet again on a free America.

I guess my only real problem with the book is this: if you read too much Tom Clancy, you’ve got to be pretty discerning or else you’re going to start seeing the world as US vs. THEM. If you buy into the view of the world that Clancy presents in his books, you won’t bat an eye at the thought of the US secretly invading Colombia to fight a guerrilla war on drugs — a “preemptive strike,” if you will (sound familiar?).

It raised a red flag for me when I read the book and the characters were outraged that one of the characters had abandoned the soldiers in Colombia to save his own hide — not so much that he had authorized their mission in the first place.

Sure, the characters are dismayed that this secret operation was given the green light. Sure, one of the characters (Domingo “Ding” Chavez — another thing Clancy does really well is creating great characters. He gives you enough backstory to get you invested in them, too) a moment here of “Why are we doing this?” and a moment there of “The poor guy I just killed is probably only involved in this drug ring to feed his starving family.”

But, for the most part, I thought that the message of the book was “protect America, no matter what it costs (the rest of the world).”

Personally, I just don’t think the issue is that black-and-white. So remember, dear reader: it’s just a book. It’s fiction. Don’t let a book you can buy at the supermarket form your entire stance on foreign policy.

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