Like The Hunt for Red October (1984), and Clancy's other novels, Clear and Present Danger is episodic; the attack against the drug cartel serves to focus the actions of the many characters. This focus helps keep events in perspective; everything a character does is measured against its effectiveness in hurting or aiding the cartel. Bashing drug smugglers is likely to appeal to many readers, but Clancy avoids pandering to those who expect the complete destruction of vile villains. Instead, the novel explores the moral ambiguities and confusions of the situation.
Cutter seems right at the novel's start when he insists that the drug cartel needs to be hit hard by America's might. The reader finds himself whole-heartedly agreeing, but as the plot progresses the reader becomes mired in the consequences of Cutter's statement. At first, the attacks on drug manufacturing facilities are all excitement, with evil men being killed, but then the bodies of unarmed villagers are found among the dead, poor peasants who are only trying to feed their families by doing menial tasks for the cartel. These deaths bother the American soldiers, who see the villagers as victims of their poverty. In the same way, other situations are set up as ideal or desirable and then revealed as ambiguous in their consequences. Many American troops perish as the conflict intensifies in the Colombian jungles. The leader of a combat team, Captain Ramirez, is courageous, honest,...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Clear and Present Danger is a frightening novel. Clancy's research is, as usual, impressive, and the accounts of grotesque evil ring true, making the novel not for the faint of heart. It is full of ideas and social issues and offers many opportunities for discussion. The most obvious approach to the novel would be to focus on the issues of drug abuse. Drug users in the United States fill a rich drug industry run by some of the world's most despicable human beings. How responsible are we Americans for the problems generated by the drug trade? Do Americans care about what their drug suppliers do to people?
Another tack to take would be to focus on law enforcement. Are Clancy's portraits of law enforcement people accurate? Would members of the Coast Guard be as frustrated by the evils they face as they are portrayed in the novel? Would police officers resort to quasilegal methods to deal with drug cartel members as some seem to do in Clear and Present Danger?
The art of the novel also calls for attention. Note how Clancy defies expectations. One fantasy a person might entertain would be what would happen if America waged a real war against illicit drug manufacturers; Clear and Present Danger gives that fantasy form, and provides some wish fulfillment as bad guys are blown away, but ultimately the results are disastrous. Clancy points out that there is no way to wage a clean war — noncombatants inevitably are hurt, and...
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Clear and Present Danger focuses on the terrible problems created by the transportation and sale of illegal drugs to the United States. Although there are frequent references to the evils done to America's citizens by drugs — its young people in particular — the novel focuses primarily on the evils of rape, murder, torture, and theft committed by leaders of the Colombian drug cartel and their followers. Of Clancy's novels to date, Clear and Present Danger presents the most immediate portrait of cruelty and murder. Even Red Storm Rising's (1986) awful slaughter of thousands of soldiers and civilians has a detached air about it, with the killings seemingly abstract and remote. But Clear and Present Danger has several scenes of outright horror, and its detailed references to rape, torture, and murder vivify the vile natures of the drug smugglers. This is a tough look at the harsh world of illegal drug trafficking.
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In the pattern of the cold war espionage novel, Clear and Present Danger has spies, soldiers, and political leaders all plotting against one another, yet it touches only briefly on the contest between East and West. Its focus is the conflict between Western democracies and international drug dealers. The drug dealers make formidable enemies; their immense wealth enables them to bribe people in high positions of public trust. Add to this the many legal limitations on a democratic government's ability to act against untried and unconvicted criminals, and Clear and Present Danger has all the complexity it needs for a gripping tale of espionage.
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Some critics refer to the "Jack Ryan series" of novels because Jack Ryan is a continuing character in Clancy's books. It seems clear that Clancy likes the Ryan character, who is both a man of action and a man of quiet deliberation. In suspense, Clear and Present Danger may outdo its predecessors; the consequences for mistakes in the story are even more horrible than the physician- run Soviet torture chambers in The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988). Enhancing the suspense in each novel is the knowledge that the underlying events are essentially true. People are raped, mutilated, and murdered by the drug cartel every day.
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Paramount Pictures produced the motion picture version of Clear and Present Danger and released it in 1994. Mace Neufeld, Robert Rehme, Ralph Singleton were the producers. It was directed by Phillip Noyce. The screen play was by Donald Stewart, Steven Zallian, and John Milius. It won Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects and Best Sound. Harrison Ford, who had signed on to star as Jack Ryan in five motion pictures, appears for the second time as Ryan. As in Patriot Games, he delivers a fine performance as the scholarly man of action.
Readers of the novel are likely to be jarred by the many liberties taken with the story, especially the changes in the characters. Robert Ritter (played by Henry Czerny) is completely changed, becoming a vicious villain, and the president (played by Donald Moffat) is radically changed in personality from the upright if somewhat dim figure of the novel. Some of the basics of the novel remain, most notably the drug cartel. In general, reviewers liked the motion picture, and it is fairly successful as a thriller.
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