Monday, April 18, 2011

Carnifex by Tom Kratman

Carnifex takes up the action right where A Desert Called Peace leaves off, on the planet of Terra Nova. The initial campaigns of the Legions put together by Patricio Carrera (nee Patrick Hennessey) and his colleagues have wound down, and the FSC has tried to mothball them. So, when the time comes that they need to be called back to service, Carrera/Hennessey makes the politicians who fired him in the first place pay through the nose to hire his men.

In the meantime, Carrera and the boys have been building an even more formidable force than before, including the beginnings of a fleet of ships, including a small aircraft carrier, and their first job is to tackle the piracy which is crippling shipping for the FSC and its allies. Then their army is hired to take care of the Salafists who have retreated to a mountainous and tribe-infested area of the planet (sounds like Afghanistan).

After Mr. Kratman was kind enough to comment on my post about the first book in this series, A Desert Called Peace, I feel moved to discuss some of the deeper issues raised in reading his books.

The main protagonist, Patrick Hennessy, enters into this endeavor motivated mostly by vengeance, needing to make the terrorists pay in blood for the death of his family. In the journey, however, we do see some other aspects of Hennessy, such as his intense loyalty towards his men. He'll spare nothing, not even his own health, wealth or sanity, in order to make sure that they get the best training and equipment possible to wage this war. In the beginning, they have little, but after a time, they are the most effective fighting force on the planet. He also endures the dilemma that all commanders face, of sending troops off into situations where they are all likely to be killed, in order to achieve a strategic objective, and this responsibility ages and saddens him, but not past his ability to do what he must.

There's a point in the books when Hennessy, seeing that the opposing forces are not treating prisoners humanely, makes a public statement to the media and to his foes that if they will abide by the rules of war, his troops will continue to treat prisoners well, allow battlefield surrenders, and so forth. But if the Salafists will not abide by the rules, then his forces will be released to be as brutal as necessary to win. This policy appeared to work in the book. It raises some moral questions, though, and one wonders if in lowering our standards to those our enemies follow, we might not become too much like them to bear.

The Legion also maintains a very secretive on-the-water "intelligence gathering' operation. Captured terrorists are both physically and psychologically tortured until they give up the information needed to thwart their organization's ongoing plans. We've just been through a huge public debate on torture in this country, so I've considered it a bit. My gut level reaction is that, if the lives of my family or friends were at stake, and time was short to find out how to stop an impending attack, my first instinct would be to use whatever means necessary to stop it. The needs of the many, or the innocent, outweigh the cost of brutalizing someone who means them harm. Does it make it moral, however?

In the United States, we have long had a mandate that the military forces of the country are ultimately under civilian control, with the President as our commander in chief. The Legion, in these books, is only nominally under civilian control, mostly from a payroll standpoint, though as time goes by Hennessy and his financial wizards come close to achieving financial independence as well. So, is the existence of a superior fighting force, abiding mostly by their own sense of honor and duty, a good thing to have lying around? In this story it may very well be. What responsibility should an army have to their civilian masters when those master become corrupt, incompetent and at times betray their own nation?

Other thoughts...

What happens when the standard of living in a country is so low that joining a mercenary force like the legion provides young men with the highest wages they could ever earn, better training than the could ever have hoped for, a guaranteed retirement and death benefit, and for the truly talented, paid scholarships? When you have such a flood of volunteers that you can pick just the best and the brightest for your troops?

At what point do you regard media workers who are ostensibly neutral or overtly hostile to your cause to be actual enemies? What level of cooperation with your armed enemies makes them fair targets? What about members of NGOs who are providing material aid? What level of retaliation is appropriate? Humiliation or discrediting them, taking them prisoner until the war is over, assassinating them?

If you like hard core war fiction, complete with rape, torture, assassination, violent combat, graphic sex, corruption, and twisty plots, traps and pitfalls, it's a great book. Kratman makes no bones about how he feels about those who view the world as they wish it could be, rather than accepting reality and dealing with treacherous terrorist forces accordingly.


Tom Kratman said...

Well, I'm glad you liked _this_ one. ;)

By the way, ADCP and Carnifex were originally one books. I hit about 360k words (of and eventual 500k+) and the publisher said, "Too hard to bind; cut it in two." It's still really just a single book, though.



Jon said...

Actually, Tom, I "like" most everything I've read by you so far, as evidenced by the fact I keep buying and reading them. I happen to like "war porn".
I can well imagine your editor's face when he saw the two volumes in their original single form. It was some serious pagery even one at a time.