So said a character in a U.S. comic-strip about 50 years or so ago. And so says Terry Pratchett in his typically funny, absurd and thoughtful "JINGO" as he takes on the absurdity of war and those who have led us into war since time began.
Jingo features Commander Vimes and the men, women, dwarves, trolls and undead members of the Watch. Jingo opens with Ankh-Morpork on the brink of war. The small island of Leshp has risen miraculously from the Circle Sea. Although small and of little value to anyone the good citizens of Ankh-Morpork and their historical protagonists the Klatchcians each claim title to the land. Each claim ownership based on ancient claims of dubious origin. Sound familiar?
In very short order a Klatchian diplomatic mission arrives in Ankh-Morpork. However it it is clear that powerful forces of both nations are striving for the most efficient way to let loose the dogs of war. An assassination attempt is made, one in which Pratchett finds a way to evoke the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The too simple solution, the "one arrow" theory is quickly lost in a swirl of conspiracy theories. The drums of war beat faster and a war council, led by a cast of characters each of whom could be played by Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, assume control of war planning. In short order Commander Vimes find himsaelf and his men immersed in an invasion while at the same time the Patrician, Lord Vetinari seems bent on following his own secret course of action.
Of course a mere description of the plot of a Discworld book can never quite do it justice. It is impossible in a short review to reference the many asides, jokes, cynical observations and allusions to our own experience here. Captain Carrot find himself immersed in Klatchian culture, learns the language, adjusts to the desert culture (which seems clearly to be located in the Middle east) and ends up bearing a striking resemblance to Lawrence of Arabia. The Ankh-Morpork high command, led by gentlemen soldiers with little knowledge of military affairs and even less common sense reminded me of the British and French high command from WWI days. There are light moments throughout the book. Nobby goes undercover and discovers his softer side. The visual image one gets from that alone is worth the price of admission. Vimes meets his Klatchian counterpart in 71-hour Ahmed and their interplay forms the heart of Jingo. As events race (and events always race in a Discworld book) towards a conclusion we find a pensive Vimes realizing that he can deal with small crimes like murder, but wondering whether a meaningless war isn't the biggest crime of all and one in which his own nation bears as much responsibility for as its enemies:
"It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things."
Yes, Vimes like Pogo has met the enemy and has realized it is us. Towards the end of the the book 71-hour Ahmed turns to Vimes and says "there's plenty of reasons for fighting Ankh-Morpork. A lie isn't one of them." I'll leave it up to the reader to determine whether such a sentiment is one that has applicability outside of Discworld.
As with his other Discworld books, Pratchett makes you laugh so hard you don't even realize you're thnking and that is a wonderful feat.