The Manchurian Candidate
It's too bad Richard Condon is dead. We could use him about now.
In 1959 Condon published the novel whose title is above, about the attempted takeover of the United States by means of a Red Chinese puppet President. The puppet was a McCarthy-style conservative who in reality served the Maoists. His immediate controller was his wife: the agent of his rise was to be a brainwashed assassin, his stepson. Of course, the plot was foiled by a brave Army officer, who managed to undo the assassin's conditioning in the usual nick of time. It's a good story, even fifty-plus years later.*
Sure, it's a satirical sci-fi-ish thriller, not to be taken seriously. It reflects the prejudices of the author, most likely a Kennedy-style Democrat who found in the arch-conservatives of the day a perfect vessel for venality to the point of treason. The story went over well, though it could hardly be called realistic or even credible. I mean, what would the Reds have done with the US if they had a puppet President? Neither the Chinese nor the Soviets could manage their own economies no matter how many millions they killed in the effort. The best they might have done would have been to force the US to lose the global competition, say by crippling our economy, creating massive debts, building a hostile underclass, weakening the military, hollowing out our educational system...
A president alone couldn't accomplish that much destruction. It would require support in Congress, in the Supreme Court, the mass media, schools and universities, labor unions and so forth. They would need to gradually erode Constitutional limits so that a puppet President might rule by executive fiat. Not even the stereotypical Yellow Peril, nor a whole Kremlin full of Rasputins, could have managed it. No, we'd have to be induced to do that to ourselves.
With the above as background, how might one structure a Manchurian Candidate-like novel today? The Chinese couldn't be the ultimate villains. They've got no motive. They own more than a trillion dollars of our government debt, manufacture a lot of the goods we buy (which incidentally benefits the People's Liberation Army), and have only to wait until our power in the South China Sea diminishes to assert hegemony there. They're good at waiting. Meanwhile, if they want to give us trouble they can have the North Koreans do it.
Not the Russians, either. They're busy rebuilding their empire and won't have the capacity for another twenty years or so, assuming Putin stays in power. He's Stalin's natural heir, without the ideology and paranoia, and is happy to accumulate subject states while the US and Europe stumble around trying to prop up their economies and fight off Islamic terrorism without offending the enemy. He'd willingly kill as many people as Stalin did; he just hasn't had to. Yet.
So who does that leave as a credible source of villainy? How about our Islamist friends? They've got the money--that is, our oil money. They've got the motive, world domination and imposition of sharia. Sure, it may not be cost-effective, but since when has religious fanaticism depended on bottom-line calculations? Besides, the sultans and imams will live in luxury regardless of how much they spend, and if the rest of the people live like it's 999, why should they care? The Islamists make very credible villains.
Who would be their accomplices? That's easy. Just recruit the Progressive Left, the ones Lenin called "useful idiots." Since the Progressives have never met a "victim" they didn't love, just paint some Muslims as victims. The so-called Palestinians are perfect. In our fictional plot the evildoers then get the added bonus of making everyone's favorite scapegoats, the Jews (or nasty Zionists, if you prefer) look responsible once again. American Jews can be counted on to do nothing, since most of them are liberals having little identification with Israel. Even when uber-Progressives like the Occupiers mutter darkly about "Zionist bankers" on national TV, most American Jews stay passive. All you have to do is repeat "social justice" often enough and they'll fall into line.
Left-wing politicians are easy. After all, politicians are motivated by power and its rewards. Some campaign contributions and the possibility of a little influence-peddling and insider trading will probably do it. Have them create political support among other "victim" groups by, say, spreading welfare around, promoting unsustainable mortgage subsidies, de facto open borders, whatever, and you're a long step toward your goal. This has the additional benefit of vastly increasing public debt and further weakening the economy at the same time. It's a twofer. Even Ian Fleming couldn't imagine Ernst Stavro Blofeld** inventing a plot that devious.
Environmentalists would need to be included, too. Being mostly recycled leftists, they'd rush to join the plot. Have them prevent oil and gas exploration and transport, create climate change hysteria so power plants can't be built, make every seasonal puddle a "wetland" so private property can't be developed and of course vote Progressive to save dear Gaiea and you've got still more support.
Oh, and the academics. A credible plot has to include them. Once your cabal gets control of tenure committees, professional journals, and granting agencies, academics will follow. Not only does this give your movement intellectual cover, it gives you expertise in molding public opinion. After a generation or so of academic domination, most of those claiming college degrees will be at least friendly to the movement, especially journalism majors. That gets you newspapers, magazines and TV. To be most effective, though, "higher education" has to be spread around. Thus, with the help of your politicians, government builds more campuses, provides student loans (with the happy side effect of further increasing indebtedness), and creates incentives for schools to offer easy degrees which can't possibly lead to real employment. This increases the mass of dependent self-perceived victims.
Now the stage is set for the election of a puppet President, without the unnecessary drama and risk of an assassination. Who should that puppet be? Not a mature politician co-opted by power and money. They don't stay bought. The puppet needs to be a fresh face, a virtual unknown who has been selected in childhood and groomed for the role his entire life. Ideally he should be someone identifiable as a member of a victim class, but not really of that class.
Someone surrounded from birth by those of the proper ideology. Nice looking but not too pretty, presenting himself with the skill of the sociopath. Smart but not too smart, so there's no risk of independent thought.
To elect him you create a crisis, military or economic, and have the captive media present him as the savior. It doesn't matter if nothing is actually done, since all his supporters will want to believe he's effective and benevolent. After all, how many Chinese on the Long March envisioned the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution? How many dedicated Bolsheviks foresaw the KGB, the gulags, the purges? How many useful idiots can imagine living under Saudi or Afghan-style sharia?
See how nicely our story fits together?
Realistically, such a novel wouldn't ever be published. One, it's too long for modern audiences, with too many necessary characters. Two, it reeks of paranoia. Three, it's very much like one of those depressing 70's dystopian stories that led me to give up on science fiction. Four, and perhaps most importantly, there's no conquering hero. How could there be? How does one imagine that James Bond, Jason Bourne, Quiller, Jack Reacher , Bob Lee Swagger or even Harry Flashman*** could overcome something of the magnitude I've outlined?
Fortunately, it's all imaginary, just the doodles of a never-was writer, the outline of a story too far-fetched for comic books, let alone hard covers. It can't happen here. Don't even think about it.
* Read the book. The original movie was good but not the same, and there are parts that don't make sense unless you've read the book. You'll also miss a lot of the satire. The recent remake sucked, ignore it.
** SPECTRE, remember?
*** These are all fictional heroes who defeat nefarious plots one way or another. Google any who are unfamiliar. Flashman's my favorite.
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