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.
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.