Title: Executive Orders
Author: Tom Clancy
Clancy, Tom (1996). Executive Orders. New York: Putnam
PS3553.L245 E9 1996
Date Updated: July 31, 2013
Tom Clancy makes me hurt—really hurt. I like his writing but he is so, so biased in presentation. Well, he is slanted away from me and I guess that is what hurts. I just don’t like his harping on what’s wrong with America. I will quote some from a New York Times review.
LOGLINE: The President, Congress and the Supreme Court are wiped out when a Japanese airline pilot turned terrorist crash-dives a 747 into the Capitol. The inexperienced Veep, Special Agent Jack Ryan, who had been sworn in only moments before the crash, is forced to take over the Presidency, fight the Iranians (who have launched an Ebola virus threat), declare martial law, prevent a bloody kidnapping attempt on his daughter and finally save the country.
COMMENT: Unfortunately, most of the book is about what’s wrong with America and how Jack Ryan can make it a better place (not the kind of place Oliver Stone would like). But the real problem is that Ryan has little to do here, and without his beating up Russians (The Hunt for Red October) or taking down Colombian drug lords (Clear and Present Danger), this will be a major disappointment for Clancy fans and is a DEFINITE PASS, pending of course a NEW SCRIPT. Then RECONSIDER.
So, what does Clancy have to say?
Inside every Tom Clancy novel is a thin Ian Fleming waiting to get out. Executive Orders makes the memoirs of Richard Nixon (1,120 pages) seem far more entertaining, if not as wacky. In inimitable Clancy fashion, Executive Orders would have us believe that Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford in two movies)—rogue C.I.A. agent, opponent of abortion rights, and what Oliver North always wanted to be—has temporarily become Vice President of the United States owing to a sex scandal involving his predecessor (Jack Ryan, I believe, has yet to experience an errant erection).
This of course allows Mr. Clancy, disguised as Ryan, to act out his innermost secret fantasy and become President for 874 pages. He gets not only to go after the Iranian “ragheads” (who have, incidentally, solved one problem by taking over Iraq) for launching the deadly Ebola virus against us, but also to recognize Taiwan, the better to stick it to the heirs of Mao Zedong, and along the way to turn the psychological tide on the evil Liberal Media Empire. (I must admit to wondering, What liberal media empire? In the 1970s, those tired of crime got Dirty Harry. In the 90s, when a jaded and disgusted pre-election citizenry is jumping to its feet when the White House is blown to smithereens in Independence Day, those tired of the whole exhausting media-soaked process get Jack Ryan.)
Clancy’s essential miscalculation is not allowing Jack Ryan, an action hero at heart, to stop telling others what to do as President and go out there and kick more butt, which is exactly what President Harrison Ford will do in his movie Air Force One. On this one, Clancy may for once be behind the Zeitgeist.
As usual, some of the Clancy plotting is fiendishly inventive, and he has a technically sharp command of the realistic detail, like the horrifying use of Ebola as an instrument of war rather than of nature. But the realism comes at the expense of the story’s flow, and here I must ask whether anyone actually “edits” Mr. Clancy, or for that matter whether there is any living workaholic who actually reads every cybernetic paragraph, with its obligatory expressions of grief, anger, fear and that little bit of love that in Clancy’s world can be taken to mean “responsibility.”
The book’s true spirit lies in its dedication to “Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th President of the United States: The Man Who Won the War.” I am curious as to which war Mr. Clancy means– Grenada? Libya? Or the Bush wars of Panama and the Gulf? Surely I am not the only Vietnam veteran to have nightmares whenever the Tom Clancys of the world promote this reverential mythos of winning great wars, when in fact the proper analogy to our behavior as a nation comes from the backs of those magazines we read as kids, promising the 98-pound weakling that if you sent in 25 cents, you too could beat the living daylights out of the beach bully and grab the girl. Has no one noticed that in our movies and our popular culture, we have become the beach bully? Since when did Stallone the cartoon cross over and become a national symbol? How has the ideology and demagoguery of Nixon and McCarthy entered and so infected our cultural landscape?
I suspect that when Mr. Clancy celebrates Mr. Reagan’s war record, he really means the perpetual war he is fighting in his own mind against all foreign demons, be they Arabs, Chinese, the drugged veins of our own populace, or crazed Hollywood liberals. Yes, promotion of a culture of threat is and always has been a pop function, but it is being ideologized into a political reality. The trouble is, as my grandmother used to tell me, the boy cannot cry wolf every day without eventually bringing on the Big Bad Wolf.
When I read and see stuff like this perpetually coming out of Hollywood, I wonder, have I lost touch? Do the old and the young in this country, bombarded by action films and Tom Clancy novels, even remember that once upon a time patriotism was occasionally a highly suspect emotion, lending itself to vigilantism, the suspicion and murder of foreigners and plenty of local lynchings? That, as Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart might have said at their scriptwritten best, in the name of patriotism many a scoundrel has shone in passing times of terror and degeneration?
To thrive in such a climate means precisely to help create such a climate. Create the terror, then rescue the terrorized, and you will be a hero forever. In such a way does the white knight Tom Clancy (a k a Jack Ryan) save his bride (the U.S.A.) from the clutches of the Evil Arab, Oriental, Outsider, and so on.
The myth is a false one. You rescue yourself only. From your darkest nature. The bride, the other that you rescue, is also yourself, call it your feminine. The whole purpose of the theatrical exercise at the end of the day, in my opinion, is the reintegration of yourself. Thus the true Happy Ending. I’m all for it. But let’s not take our private struggle too seriously or too publicly, Clancy. And that goes for you too, Mr. Stone.