Mark Reads ‘Jingo’: Part 2

In the second part of Jingo, Vimes and Vetinari suspect the future is about to get really messy. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of racism, xenophobia, imperialism, and war. 

GOOD LORD, I DIDN’T EXPECT THIS AT ALL. I’m just gonna imagine that – at least thus far, since I’ve just barely started this book – Jingo is a spiritual response to what Pratchett attempted with Interesting Times. In just these eighteen pages or so, he hones his social commentary into a biting and hilarious conversation between Vetinari/Vimes and the civic leaders of Ankh-Morpork. There are just so many lines here that honestly blew me away. LET’S TALK ABOUT THEM.

“Quite so. What you are telling me, in point of fact, is that their assassins have been doing it longer, know their way around our city and have had their traditional skills honed by you?”

You can just @ the United States on Twitter, Pratchett. BECAUSE HOLY SHIT, THIS DESCRIBES MY COUNTRY’S FOREIGN POLICY PERFECTLY. Did Pratchett necessarily intend to make this parallel? I’m not quite sure, but I appreciate that the text made these thoughts pop into my mind. Specifically, my country has long trained and funded mercenaries, militias, and oppressive regimes around the world (always because some part of it benefitted our foreign policy), and then turned around and threw a fit when said actions backfired on us. But I think that Pratchett was trying to build the case that the conflict between Klatch and Ankh-Morpork was artificial, or at least it was pretty damn silly. There was no problem with the Klatchian people in Lord Downey’s eyes when he could benefit from training them. But of course, the second they’re the “enemy” in another sense, then it’s easier to demonize them.

The armaments manufacturer looked affronted.

“Pardon me? Of course. They’re weapons.”

Mr. Burleigh personifies this same exact attitude. He sold his weapons to Klatch because it made him money. But Pratchett takes his commentary a step further: I think he’s referring to the way that war is profitable, that some people cannot even conceive of not making weapons, which are inherently designed to hurt other people. To Burleigh, it’s nonsensical to even suggest that he should care about what people do with what he creates. Again: Pratchett, you can just say this is about American gun production or war profiteering. WE CAN HANDLE IT.

Just kidding. (We actually can’t most of the time.) But I don’t think it’s all that accurate to say this is an American phenomenon that Pratchett is commenting on, since plenty of other countries all throughout history have done the same thing. The shoe fits, however, so I’m gonna make sure my country wears it, you know? It’s a way to help me understand the text, to filter it through my understanding of a specific country’s history. As I worked my way through this section, I could see how much Pratchett was actually referencing the British empire. WHICH IS SUCH A WEIRD THING TO THINK ABOUT. I say that while living in a place that is often times just as imperialistic as Britain was at one point, except we’re a lot more insidious about it. It’s a topic that’s been on my mind, too, since I just got back from a trip in Europe and the UK.

Specifically, this section reminded me of one singular experience: visiting the National War Museum inside Edinburgh Castle. I’ve always had a weird relationship with museums because you can’t ignore how many of them exist specifically due to imperialism. How many museums are full of things that were looted and stolen from other countries? Other peoples? Other cultures? I can appreciate the difficult process of untangling these paths, but at the very least, I hope museums can exhibit an awareness of how these sort of things affect their collections. Yet the National War Museum is shockingly unaware, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given that it is a WAR MUSEUM. (It’s in the name, Mark. IT’S IN THE GODDAMN NAME.) Multiple times throughout this museum, there are references to the “great Indian invasion.” Imperialist regimes are referred to with words like “glory” and “duty” and “righteousness.” There’s a particularly horrifying exhibit where a scrap of a turban is on display; it was stolen from someone who was conquered, and there’s a tiny quote from the descendent of one of the men who brutalized countless countries, cultures, and peoples. The woman was “distressed” by “what befell those people,” as if a natural weather phenomenon happened to them.

It’s all about the perspective, isn’t it? That’s why Pratchett makes that joke about why the two sides are trying to claim Leshp. One side sees it as part of a “pioneering spirit.” The other side sees them as “unprincipled opportunists.”

“The records relating to the lost country date back several hundreds years, my lord. And they are of course our records.”

“Only ours?”

“I hardly see how any others could apply,” said Mr. Slant severely.

“Klatchian ones, for example?” said Vimes, from the far end of the table.

And that’s the point Pratchett is trying to make. There’s a relativity at work here, and the deliberate way that the civic leaders refuse to acknowledge that is disturbing. That’s how these conflicts happen, isn’t it? It’s so much easier to ignore other realities and other points of view and to construct a narrative that supports yourself:

“We’re not going to take their word for it, are we?” said Slant, pointedly ignoring him. “Excuse me, my lord, but I don’t believe that proud Ankh-Morpork is told what to do by a bunch of thieves with towels on their heads.”

Good lord. The racism on display here is so much more direct than I expected, you know? But it’s part of the reason this war is developing. This key difference – a way people wear clothing – is the simplest way to point out that they’re different, and that difference is wrong. It’s not the way they do things in Ankh-Morpork, so why should they listen to them?

You saw some lad with a face that’d got camels written all over it, and when he opened his mouth it’d turn out he had an Ankhian accent so think you could float rocks. Oh, there’s all the jokes about funny food and foreigners, but surely…

Not very funny jokes, come to think of it.

I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. I love that Vimes has this sudden realization of how a kind of behavior that was always innocuous to him before is actually part of something a lot darker. Those jokes were always amusing to him, and he was just joking, right? Except those jokes establish Klatchians as the Other, and it makes everything that follows even easier to justify. Their food is funny. They’re foreign. How long until a culture starts believing that these people don’t really belong?

“Many of them don’t like Klatch’s current expansionist outlook, but they don’t like us much, either.”

“Whyever not?” said Lord Selachii.

“Well, because during our history those we haven’t occupied we’ve tended to wage war on,” said Lord Vetinari. “For some reason the slaughter of thousands of people tends to stick in the memory.”

!!!!!!!!!!!! how is this happening HOW IS THIS REAL. Look, this is all so complex, and that’s one of the reasons I love it. Pratchett could have just stuck with a conflict that had a much more one-note style of prejudice at work, but he addresses so many things in this conversation. Here, he talks of societal memory and how oppressors often refuse to understand why the people they oppressed might not like them. Again, not to make this all AMERICA AMERICA, WE ARE THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, but I had the luck to get assigned a fantastic book during college that helped explain this phenomenon: Why People Hate America by Ziauddin Sardar and Meryl Wynn Davies. It speaks to this same kind of memory that can outlast generations, that can be passed through families and laws and social norms. But to these men, the idea is ridiculous! They haven’t personally done anything wrong to the Klatchians (they have, this section is LITTERED with examples of it), so why are they so mad right now?

He tossed the paper aside. “Taxation, gentlemen, is very much like dairy farming. The task is to extract the maximum amount of milk with the minimum of moo. And I am afraid to say that these days all I get is moo.”

YES, TERRY PRATCHETT, DRAG ALL THESE RICH ASSHOLES THROUGH THE MUD AND EXPOSE THEM FOR BEING HYPOCRITICAL ASSHOLES WHO DEMAND USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS CONSTANTLY FOR THEIR OWN NEEDS, BUT WHO GO OUT OF THEIR WAY TO REFUSE TO EVER CONTRIBUTE TO THEM. FINISH THEM.

So in that sense, I think it was smart for Vetinari to just let all these men fund their own armies to “fight” Klatch. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, sure, but it’s one that will most likely backfire on the civic leaders more than anyone else. At least I hope so. I understand Vimes’s reluctancy here, of course, because he’s concerned for the collateral damage. Who will get caught up in this pointless, bigoted war? How many innocent bystanders will get swept up into it?

Thus, it’s fitting that this scene is followed by a parallel: the Skats and the Mohocks, two street gangs who are always on the edge of some huge battle, but who are tempered by Corporal Carrot. Here, Carrot finds a way to get them to get along in the purest, most simplistic sense. He strips them of weapons and distracts them with games. These are two groups who absolutely despise each other, and yet, Carrot finds a way to pacify them, if even for the moment.

Can Vimes find a way to pacify Klatch and Ankh-Morkpork?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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