Clancy’s novels were also some of the first works to cast the military in a positive light after Vietnam. When “The Hunt for Red October” was published by the U.S. Naval Institute in 1984, that war still dominated the nation’s conscience. “Apocalypse Now” was released in 1979; the first “Rambo” movie was out in 1982. Such movies painted the military and many of its veterans as inept and unwise at best, corrupt or evil at worst. But Clancy’s books presented admirable lead characters such as John Clark, a Navy SEAL and Vietnam veteran turned CIA clandestine officer, and “Ding” Chavez, an Army infantryman who earns his master’s degree while learning to be a spy under Clark’s tutelage. Clancy’s stories also helped fuel a genre of books and movies like “Top Gun,” and the film version of “Red October” helped rehabilitate the military’s image in the nation’s imagination.
That pop-cultural shift came with a price, however. For all the realism of Clancy’s Cold War novels, he described a very technical view of war, of wars made easy. Weapons systems and omniscient intelligence platforms win the day in Jack Ryan’s world. This was hardly the bloody mess of nonfiction masterpieces such as Mark Bowden’s “Black Hawk Down” and Nathaniel C. Fick’s “One Bullet Away.” Clancy’s take on warfare applied well to the first Gulf War, but less so to the more recent fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.