Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor examines the complexities associated with international relations, while also analyzing how society as a whole operates. The novel begins with the two governments operating as allies, but relations between the two quickly sour, with Japan ultimately escalating the situation to a full-scale attack against the United States Navy, as well as devising a plot to crash the stock market. Throughout the novel, there are many examples of how society operates in the world, including the influence of money, as well as an expectation for accountability, superiority, and also trust.
One of the first examples of how society demands accountability is after the automobile crash in Kentucky. After an automobile crash that resulted from a faulty gas tank, a hearing is held to discuss what could have been done to prevent the situation. The vehicles involved in the accident were both made by Japanese companies. When asked how the Japanese-made gas tank could be dissimilar from one made in the United States, the Japanese negotiator said, “The steel, the design of the tank, these are unique. I am not an engineer myself, but the people who do the design work tell me this is so, and that their product will be damaged by the substitution of other parts” (Clancy 71). The questions of the trial illustrate accountability in society.
After the Japanese negotiator responds, the State Department official inquires as to how that could be the case, as the parts should be standardized all over the world, but finds out that is not the case, as Japan has different specifications (Clancy 71). This conversation between the two during the hearing shows how society demands accountability for unsafe products, as Japan has issued a subpar product that was shown to cause an accident, leading to the government to investigate the matter. The hearing shows that it is important for society to investigate matters that could lead to a public danger, largely because it could eventually affect all citizens, not just a select few.
Another aspect of society that is examined during the description of the car accident is how money buys power in society. Big businesses in society tend to dominate their smaller competitors, as they work to keep prices low due to the constant fear they invoke by threat of taking their business elsewhere. In describing the power big businesses exert over smaller ones due to their increased capital, Clancy describes: “In Japan the relationship between the bigger fish and smaller ones was both stable and cutthroat: stable insofar as the business between the two sets of companies was generally one of long standing; cutthroat insofar as the demands of the assemblers were dictatorial, for there was always the threat that they would move their business to someone else” (Clancy 72). By providing dictatorial power to the bigger business simply because they have more money, it shows how society enables those with the most capital to have access to the most power.
Another example of how society allows for money to buy power is the fact that the Zaibatsu controls the Japanese government during the novel. Led by a man named Mr. Yamata, the group comes to meet with American officials after Yamata purchases a large penthouse. Clancy discusses how only three years prior it had been illegal for a Japanese citizen to purchase American land, but “the right lawyer, and the right case, and the right amount of money had fixed that” (Clancy 14). This is of course a problem, not necessarily because a foreign citizen should be prevented from purchasing American land, but because the price of the attorney largely determines the outcome of many court cases. When extended to other aspects of the justice system, one can logically assume that the person with the better, more expensive lawyer will win most cases, regardless of whether he or she is innocent or guilty. Many Supreme Court justices have openly confirmed this fact, with both former Justices William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor arguing, “substantive expertise may influence the U.S. Supreme Court justices’ decisions, particularly in areas of the law in which the justices are relatively uninformed” (Johnson et al. 281).
One final instance involving the power of money is when Jack Ryan discovers the amount of lobbyists who serve the Japanese government. When having a conversation with Mrs. Foley, Ryan is told that, “Too many American public officials left government service and immediately became lobbyists or consultants to Japanese business groups, or even the Japanese government itself, invariably for much higher pay than what the American taxpayer provided (Clancy 124). The scenario once again shows the power of money, with Americans willing to assist a foreign government that does not have the best interests of the American people in mind in order to receive more money. This again proves that society has set up a system where money provides access to power.
Tying in with the concept of money in society, the novel shows how the stock market plays a huge role in shaping the economy and how society largely trusts the market. During one section of the novel, there is a massive sell-off from investors after the value of the dollar drops dramatically. Clancy describes how much society relies upon the stock market to keep its economy stable by detailing what can happen in the event of a crash, stating: “When bank stocks dropped rapidly, confidence in the banks themselves was invariably badly shaken, and that people would think about moving their money out of the banks that appeared to be threatened. That would force the banks in turn to pressure their lenders to pay back loans… [or] to liquidate their own financial holdings to meet the demands of depositors who wanted their deposits back” (Clancy 306-307). The situation is later complicated by the fact that Japan launched an attack on the stock market by preventing the trades from being recorded, leaving trading houses clueless as to what trades were made after noon of that day (Clancy 312). This further complicated the situation.
The Japanese attack is devastating to the U.S. economy and displays what can happen when society relies too heavily on the stock market. In another chapter, it also discusses how members of society trust the stock market to deliver a return on investments without ever really knowing how the system works. After Arnie claims that he does not understand how the stock market works, Secretary of the Treasury Bosley Fielder explains: “Every investor who lost money first gave his money to another trader, in return for which he received a stock certificate. He traded money for something of value, but that something of value fell, and that’s what the crash was” (Clancy 397). The group later goes on to discuss how consumer confidence triggered the Great Depression, with investors buying stocks at exceptionally high prices in hopes to quickly making a profit. Many eventually lost money after they were forced to sell off their stocks for far less than they initially paid. The situation described illustrates how those in society hoping to invest in the stock market should be weary, as there is not always a guaranteed return on investment.
In addition to many hoping to make money by investing in the stock market, society hopes to pay less than market value when purchasing land and other goods. In a section describing how the Japanese banking system was flooded with capital due to the frugality of its citizens, the novel discusses how banks were able to issue low interest loans because they had an abundance of cash on hand. However, after the stock market declined and the strings were tightened on loans, it became much harder for citizens to purchase a home, resulting in, “the stunning but unsurprising realization that nobody wanted to pay book value for a parcel of land; that although everyone accepted book value in the abstract, actually paying the assumed price was, well, not terribly realistic” (Clancy 113). This description examines another characteristic of society: frugality. Citizens will accept market value for prices and objects, but when it comes time to pay the market value, most do not wish to do so. It also shows how businesses are forced to lower their prices in times of recession due to the fact that many are simply unable to afford to pay market value.
Society also demands responsibility from its public servants. This is most evident in the case of Vice President Edward J. Kealty being questioned following accusations that he drugged and raped a staff member named Barbara Linders. Although Kealty denied all charges, he is eventually forced to resign from his position (Clancy 80), allowing for protagonist Jack Ryan to be appointed to the position of Vice President of the United States. A quote from the novel that sums up the duties public servants are expected to fulfill is when Jack Ryan closes his eyes and thinks to himself, “She’s an American citizen, Jack. They’re the people who pay your salary” (Clancy 82). The two situations display how Americans expect their public servants to engage in responsible, ethical behavior at all times.
The situation involving Vice President Kealty in Debt of Honor vaguely parallels the Bill Clinton sex scandal from the 1990s. Although Clinton’s scandal did not involve the president drugging a staffer, it did involve him having an inappropriate affair with one. It is important for public servants to establish a credible image with the public, because it is the public they serve. The press also influences the public’s perception of politicians, as “how the president and other officials construct his image finds its way into the press and then to the public, and how the media portray the president may influence how other officials and the public think about the president (Just and Crigler 180). The situations involving both former President Clinton and Vice President Kealty from the novel display how society holds its leaders accountable for their actions. Although Clinton was not officially discharged from office, his approval ratings plummeted and he faced impeachment following his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Lastly, another way society operates as evidenced in the book is that each society hopes to remain superior to its competitors. This takes place numerous times throughout the story. Most importantly, it involves the Japanese attempting to take control of the Pacific Ocean after launching an attack on the United States Navy, while simultaneously hoping to destroy its financial system with an attack on the United States Stock Market. It is also evident when each country enacts unfair trade practices against one another in order to encourage domestic business. The general agreement on trade in services displayed how countries can utilize domestic trade policies to keep other countries from competing economically. Ultimately, both countries attempt to remain superior by employing unscrupulous practices, showing that society has established a system where each of the world’s powers hopes to become the most power nation by almost any means necessary.
In Debt of Honor, the most important conclusion made by the author is that money will buy power in society. This is seen in so many instances that it would be nearly impossible to document each case. From the description of how lawyers influenced laws in order to allow for Japanese citizens to purchase American land to the Zaibatsu ruling the Japanese government to the description of how large businesses bully smaller ones, the book clearly illustrates that money is associated with power. Society has ultimately allowed for those with the most money to rule over the majority of the population, which is one of the points Clancy was likely hoping to make in the novel.
Although the events in the novel take place decades ago, the situation still holds true today. Since the early 1920s, a small portion of the American population has held a good portion of the nation’s wealth. According to a report, the “top 1% of wealth holders has consistently owned an average of 30% of total household sector wealth” (Keister and Moller 63). The reality of 1% of the population holding a large share of the nation’s wealth is not necessary a problem because the nation’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, but more so because “studies of wealth mobility suggest that upward movement is rare and eras of relative equality reflect deflated asset prices more than they do improvements in the financial well-being of the majority of the population” (Keister and Moller 63). Studies have shown that the upper class controls a majority of the nation’s wealth, and members of the upper class are the business-owners, CEOs, and politicians in the nation, meaning those with the most money have the most power. This point is emphasized repeatedly throughout the novel, and is the most important point that Clancy made in the story.
In conclusion, Clancy does a tremendous job of not only displaying how foreign relations work between countries, with situations such as the rival countries mirroring one another’s trade policies and working together despite the fact that they were secretly plotting against one another, but the novel also outlines various ways in which society as a whole functions. Although the story is penned as a thriller, with protagonist Jack Ryan doing all in his power to help the United States overcome their adversaries in the midst of a war that could potentially threaten the freedom of the citizens of the United States, it also represents a complex examination into the functions of government, the stock market, and perhaps most importantly, society as a whole.
Clancy, Tom. Debt of Honor. New York: Putnam, 1994.
Just, Marion, and Crigler, Ann. “Leadership Image-Building: After Clinton and Watergate.” Political Psychology, vol. 21, no. 1, 2000, pp. 179-198.
Keister, Lisa A., and Moller, Stephanie. “Wealth Inequality in the United States.” Annual Review ofSociology, vol. 26, 2000, pp. 63-81.
Johnson, Susan, et al. “Does the Lawyer Matter? Influencing Outcomes on the Supreme Court ofCanada.” Law & Society Review, vol. 41, no. 2, 2007, pp. 279-303.