In the fifteenth part of Night Watch, Vimes discovers the true nature of Swing’s regime. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of police brutality, torture.
I really am struggling with how to talk about it without trivializing it. It’s perhaps the most important scene in Night Watch (certainly so thus far), and it’s also heavily based not on fantasy notions of violence and law, but on our own world. It’s hard for me to divorce this from the time it was published either. This book came out during a year when nations were discussing whether or not it was justified to torture people, to hold them indefinitely in imprisonment because they were “enemy combatants,” and to suspend human rights laws in the name of fighting terrorism. So it’s not lost on me that Pratchett might be drawing heavily from conversations had during the writing of Night Watch.
But it’s also the point in which the cruelty of Swing and the Unmentionables is undeniable. And even if Carcer influenced them in some way, you can’t blame this nightmare on him. No, these people, in every version of history, had always exploited their own power to murder and maim any citizen they suspected of committing a crime. Any citizen they didn’t like. Any citizen who opposed them. Any person they wanted. Make no mistake, either: PRATCHETT DID NOT INVENT THIS DYNAMIC, EITHER. Indeed, half the fun of Discworld is in the way Pratchett gave us a glimpse of our own world through the lens of the Disc. But that also means that sometimes, we see those horrors, too.
And I appreciate that there really isn’t a sense of humor to the narration here. There shouldn’t be. Instead, Vimes’s narration is somber, a quiet horror that’s hard to convey but one that I felt as I read this section. Was young Vimes in the same place all those years again when Vimes originally experienced it? I don’t think so. The text suggests this is a new memory/experience, one that horrifies young Vimes so much that he’s nearly speechless. OH, AND HE’S CRYING. Which!!!!! I don’t like Sam Vimes crying!!!! It deeply upsets me!!!! But I understood why he felt that way. I said this on video, and it’s worth repeating. Pratchett pulls no punches, and even if what happened in this horrible place was perpetrated by others in Cable Street, young Vimes was still complicit in this torture. He and the others worked the hurry-up wagon, and they all left prisoners with these monsters. Does that make them 100% responsible for what happened? Of course not, especially since this was all hidden from them.
Yet there’s an important message here. The Watch men were never encouraged to question anything they did. Obedience was valued above all else. And the superiors certainly exploited that in order to get these people to do what they wanted. My gods, now I’m wondering if there was a Watch member who tried to question orders, and they got thrown into that chair.
It’s a chilling thought. However, that’s sort of the point. No one truly considered what was going on there. Oh, they knew people rarely appeared again once the Unmentionables got ahold of them; they knew that people readily confessed while held there, too. Yet no one was brave enough to question it all, at least not until Keel/Vimes showed up. And if that’s what happened in the original version of history, does that mean Swing was killed by Keel, too? Was Keel the one to expose the corruption here?
And what the hell happens to Vimes next?
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