It could be said, that I’m a child of the Cold War - not just because of the fact that I was born two years after Desert Storm or two months after the abortive December 1991 coup that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union..but also because of my deep, unabiding interest in the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. And of course, reading spy thrillers did nothing but fuel it.
So when someone says “spy thrillers”, a few names come to mind. John le Carre. Robert Ludlum. Jack Higgins. Frederick Forsyth. And Tom Clancy.
Admittedly, one of the first spy movies I saw as a kid - Clear and Present Danger, based on Clancy’s novel of the same name. The first Clancy novel I read, at the age of 13? Patriot Games. It introduced me not only to Jack Ryan(a character I deeply admire and love - I mean, come on! The guy started off as a simple Marine, broke his back, became a stock market trader, taught naval history at Annapolis, joined the CIA as an analyst, slowly crawled his way up and became a Deputy Director(Intelligence), then became the National Security Adviser, and finally, the President! You have to like him.), but also to the world of espionage, and how it’s not always apparent who the bad guys are.
Over the years, I made it a point to read every novel Clancy wrote. I remember a time when, in high school, I ditched basketball timeslots and hid in the library, eagerly reading The Cardinal of the Kremlin, and hoping that Ryan would be able to extract Colonel Filitov, an American agent in the Soviet Defense Ministry(for the curious ones, he ultimately not only exfiltrated Filitov from Moscow, but also blackmailed the KGB chief to defect.). Or that time when I read The Sum of All Fears, and marvelled over Ryan’s brilliant plan to turn Jerusalem into an international city, governed by the Vatican, Israel and Saudi Arabia, and policed by the Swiss Guards, the IDF and the Saudi National Guard(admittedly, it was a brilliant idea.). And when I read Red Storm Rising a few months ago, and loved Clancy’s extensive work on simulating an actual war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact on the North German plains.
A year ago, I read many of Clancy’s papers on naval and submarine warfare, as well as his work on armored cavalry tactics - one of my pet projects is to use mathematical models to demonstrate the viability of his tactics. I also found out that Clancy predicted quite accurately, the heavy role of air cavalry in combat - this was demonstrated in Desert Storm, where Apache AH64s from the US 3rd Armored Cavalry were able to destroy a major chunk of the Iraqi Republican Guards II, III and VIII Corps, before ground forces moved in. It was quite apparent, that Clancy was also a top-notch military strategist, and not just a first-rate novelist. He had that very, very rare gift of being able to explain military strategy to a civilian, in as concise a manner as possible.
Three days back, I re-read Executive Orders, and was wondering where I could grab a copy of his last novel from the Jack Ryan series. I was also eagerly looking forward to the release of his next novel, sometime next year. I guess that isn’t happening now: Tom Clancy has passed away.
That sinking feeling. The realization of the passing of an era. I felt the same way when I heard that Ludlum had passed away. I feel the same now. It’s the end of an era, not just in literary history, but in military history as well.
Rest in peace, Mr. Clancy. You shall be sorely missed.