The cheapness of human life in black ops novels

Surprisingly, black ops novels give me a sense of closure in a world where’s little closure. Another pacifist friend and I discovered that we both watched the TV show “24” because, while “real life” often made us feel powerless in the face of all the issues with seemingly no answers or bad answers, Jack Bauer’s actions on the show brought us a feeling that sometimes bad guys are caught and threats are neutralized.

I feel the same way when I’m reading “Tom Clancy,” James Patterson, and other series in which the good guys see a threat, analyze it, and then put a stop to it. Like Jack Bauer, these good guys operate in groups that are out from under any umbrella of legalities that (as they say) “hampers” black ops.

What bothers me, though, is how cheap life seems to be in these books. If you watched “24” you know there were car chases in which dozens of vehicles (driven by every day innocent people) were shown blowing up, turning over, falling off bridges, etc. in the background. Any police force conducting that kind of chase in “real life” would be on the carpet in minutes. But it “24” those people are collateral damage and (apparently) not so bad a price to play for Bauer catching a notorious bad guy.

While black ops novels seldom have those signature car chases that have been popular in the James Bond movies, a lot of cardboard characters always get blown away with little notice or regret en route to “a more-important goal.”

I’m sure ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups see mass numbers of civilian casualties as a sign of success.  Fortunately, the good guys in over-the-top novels, movies, and TV shows aren’t trying to create massive civilian casualties. In fact, in these stories, most of the cardboard characters killed are bad guys with no names who stepped ou from behind a building with blazing Kalashnikovs and got taken out by the good guys. No harm, no foul, right?

Perhaps bad guys and good guys really feel this way in “real life,” and by that I mean, operations that fall into the category of black ops rather than war.  If so, this bothers me more than the deaths in fiction; with fiction, I have plausible deniability since I know none of those deaths really happened.

In “real life,” I’m against black ops, but that doesn’t mean that novels about black ops aren’t serving as addictive painkillers against the insanity of the world.


Malcolm R.. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” “Special Investigative Reporter,” and “Sarabande.”



2 thoughts on “The cheapness of human life in black ops novels

  1. Coming to this a bit after the fact, but this “with fiction, I have plausible deniability since I know none of those deaths really happened” I find especially interesting. It has long worried me that so much fiction, TV, film and even radio relies on violent death – and the investigation of it.

    I try to avoid it in my own fiction. And I have found that it is a bit like not using chillis in cooking – it does leave a strong flavour out.

    And I quite see that it is the human race’s incurable curiosity as much as anything else which means we are consumed to know ‘whodunit’.

    But I do still find it odd that we can’t get our detecting rocks off over anything ‘below’ murder. The Queen of Hearts’s tarts, for instance – not rivetting in the way of a locked room mystery, a poisoning, or indeed a Black Ops disappearance such as you were talking wisely about in your post.

    1. I suppose those deaths are more obvious in movies where dozens of civilians are killed while “the good guys” pursue the bad guys in an endless, groaner-filled car chase through a major city. I agree that when that doesn’t happen, it is rather like leaving out the chillis. I suppose it’s the lack of accuracy of such things that bothers me: if anyone (cops, feds) caused all those deaths in a car chase in “real fife,” they’d be arrested since there are laws against such things. Oh well, “they” call these books and movies “murder mysteries” and “thrillers” for a reason.

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