Clancy’s gift of foresight
How did he do it?
Tom Clancy, who died Tuesday at 66, mixed information and imagination to produce memorable books that spawned truly riveting action movies.
But he wrote so accurately about modern weaponry and cutting-edge warfare that critics wondered whether he had accessed classified information. Indeed, techno-novelist Clancy sometimes seemed able to write about events before they happened.
An example, in recent days, was the horrific shopping-mall attack in Kenya by militant Islamists. Clancy had written of just such attacks by al Qaida-like terrorists – on American malls – in the 2003 novel Teeth of the Tiger.
Clancy’s 2010 Dead or Alive, about the capture of a terrorist mastermind, bore similarities to the demise of Osama bin Laden just a few months after the book was published.
As Time magazine’s Christopher Matthews noted, One of Tom Clancy’s more successful video games, Ghost Recon,’ was released in 2001 but is set in 2008. The game begins with a conflict between Georgian rebel forces and Russian nationalists who have seized power with the intent of re-establishing the Soviet empire. Though many who study the region may have predicted that tensions between Georgia and Russia were likely to escalate into military conflict, Clancy’s game is strangely on target predicting the war’s start, as the game’s events take place in April 2008, just a few months before the real-world conflict began.
Clancy’s most stunning fictional prediction, though, was in Debt of Honor, in which a 747 is piloted into the U.S. Capitol by a survivor of a strange war between Japan and the United States. That book was published in 1994 – seven years before the 9/11 attacks.
His first book, The Hunt for Red October, was published in 1984. It was a huge success. Even President Ronald Reagan called it my kind of yarn.
From then on, it was often observed, Clancy’s fan base included those he cultivated as sources: people involved in military and intelligence work. That probably had a lot to do with his ability to write so presciently.
Clancy wasn’t a psychic, nor was he trafficking in classified intelligence reports. He was, however, an extremely detail-oriented researcher and writer who closely studied real events even as he constructed his fictional worlds.
Those who want to know the future pay attention to the present.