Saturday, September 1, 2007

Tom Clancy: Debt of Honor

Somehow, I have always liked reading books by Tom Clancy. His books always contain a good deal of learning about things that you read superficially about in news articles, but when you read about them as he explains them, they make much more sense. So, for example, in this book by Tom Clancy that was published in 1995, you learn about trade, about the politics that drive bills in Congress, a lot about the stock market and the working of major financial institutions, and about the military (a pet subject of Tom Clancy), as well as about the effects of a fully laden plane flying into a building.
Now, in a book about a major trade war between the US and Japan, you would expect to see a lot of Japan bashing, but it is not so obvious actually. There are many people in Japan who are depicted as weak or with ill-will towards the US, but then you have major American politicians who are also shown as weak, or philandering. So, there is some Japan bashing, but very minimal, and I am pretty sure that from what I read earlier, the depiction of the influence of businessmen in Japanese political life is accurate to a large degree.
What appeals most about Tom Clancy is how he keeps several stories running at the same time, switching between the stories from time to time and still making sense. One problem of course is doing this, giving character to the novel makes it cumbersome and a bit big to read in terms of pages (this book itself being 900 pages), but I don't mind it too much. He also plays a lot on honor, considering that too be a core attitude in a person, and he has a set of core characters who are honorable, such as the lead man, Jack Ryan, the CIA operatives, the Russian head of the spy agency, his FBI friend, and so on.
The book starts 2 years from where the previous book (The Sum of All Fears) left off, with Jack Ryan getting called back into public life and getting appointed as the National Security Advisor. He has a couple of initial successes, and then the story takes a twist on its own. A car accident and a botched gas tank leads to politics that leads to a trade war as a politician leverages on the public outrage; this action leads a disaster in terms of the Japanese trade and economy getting badly affected. The Prime Minister has to resign and a hardliner takes over, being guided by a businessman who has visions of Japan regaining old glory. The businessman has also influenced an attempt by the Japanese to develop nuclear weapons, with old Russian missile bodies being used for the delivery mechanism (ostensibly for space launchers).
The trade war escalates, with the Japanese businessman coordinating a melt-down of the storage of American stocks records, leading to a disaster as with no records, there are no established trades. In the midst of this, a planned naval exercise with Japan turns ugly for the Americans when the Japanese sink 2 submarines with all the personnel on board, and America is now at war, with a nation that also has nuclear capability.
In addition, the Americans do not have current nuclear missile capability, they do not have naval assets to take back some islands that the Japanese have taken over. In the midst of all, there is a sexual criminal scandal against the Vice-President. Jack Ryan has to deploy all his skills to win back the initiative for the Americans, and he eventually does that. The description of the military battles as well as the stock mechanisms are very detailed. The only weak point was the sudden termination of the scandal involving the Vice-President.
At the end of the book, with the Vice-President having resigned, Jack Ryan is called to be the Vice-President, at which a time a disgruntled Japanese pilot puts his fully fuel loaded plane into the Capitol Hill, killing most of Congress, the President and the Supreme Court. Jack Ryan will have to be President now.

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