In the fourteenth part of Night Watch, Vimes begins to commit to his decisions. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For continued discussion of police brutality, riots, and protesting.
This just gets more and more real??? With each new twist?? AND THERE’S SO MUCH HERE, SO LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS.
Unsurprisingly, Rust leads the charge to attack those who set up a barricade to protect themselves against the oncoming tide of violence. BECAUSE OF COURSE RUST WOULD DO THIS. His view of other people, particularly those he sees as beneath him, is clearly abysmal. On top of it all, he’s got a dangerous issue with anyone he sees as opposing or thwarting his authority. The very idea that anyone could disobey the state is anathema to him, and so the people he comes across deserve what happens to them. At least in his mind, that is. Look, y’all, that’s one of the many reasons why police brutality still thrives to this day, years and years after this book came out. This kind of logic permeates modern law enforcement agencies around the world: they position themselves as superior to those not in power, and then they treat those below them as disposable and deserving of what happens to them. It’s why you see such dehumanizing logic around extrajudicial executions. In the end, any number of things can be used to “justify” why taking a life was necessary.
They were anti-authority. They were poor. They were Black. They were mentally ill. They were trans. They weren’t here “legally.”
They weren’t worthy of life.
And there’s a direct connection between this and the sort of moral struggle that Vimes has in front of the barricade. Why can’t people take the law into their own hands if the law so deeply disrespects them? Views them as deserving of violence? Treats them like things instead of people? This argument is rooted in the notion that morality makes law, not the other way around, and sometimes, that means the law is wrong. And despite that the history monks want Vimes to just exist and not change history all that much, Vimes makes and commits to his decision to do what’s right in this specific moment.
He turns on Rust.
And this act is not without immediate consequences. After stones are thrown at the watchmen and Rust orders them to fire arrows over the barricade, Vimes says no, then knocks Rust out. Well, actually, there’s a moment where the younger version of himself holds a crossbow up to Rust, and it’s both horrifying and super adorable? It’s a deviation from what happened originally, but I love this change. Vimes is inspired to stand up for what’s right by his own self.
So what do you do after this? I expected Vimes to take command, but how do you shift the tide of this mob? Of what’s coming? Well, you deliver another surprise:
“I repeat, I order you to dismantle this barricade.” He took a deep breath and went on: “And rebuild it on the other side, on the corner with Cable Street! Properly built! Good grief, you don’t just pile stuff up, for gods’ sake! A barricade is something you construct! Who’s in charge here?”
It’s so satisfying that this is both a revolutionary act and INCREDIBLY FUCKING FUNNY. The very image of a copper ordering people to further disobey the law is a lot of fun, but there’s obviously a deep meaning here. Vimes is positioning himself and the Treacle Mine Road Watch as agents who genuinely aim to protect and serve, rather than serve other interests. (More powerful interests, that is.) Unsurprisingly, this is VERY BEWILDERING to everyone present. The Watch don’t know how to react. (Though all it takes is Vimes pointing out that they have nowhere else to go, and then they agree to help move the barricade.) The citizens present are speechless and confused, too, since this act is so unique and surprising. Pratchett has a lot of fun with it, though, such as when Reg Shoe gets involved and Vimes is the one to kind of nudge him into position. (Though there’s a hint of tragedy there. Is this how Reg dies???) Or when someone’s grandfather was put into the barricade on his favorite chair. Or the singing of songs, or the way Vimes speaks to the troopers…
And as much fun as this all is—I feel like it’s all a giant reference to Les Miserables—there’s just so much meaning packed into it. Vimes has set up a showdown, one that might have some similarities to what happened in the original storyline. Has he changed the past enough to create a new future, or will time course correct itself? When the troops attack the barricade—and I truly think that’s still gonna happen—will the same people die, or will different people?
I DON’T KNOW, I’M SCARED.
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