Come Nineveh, Come Tyre
Allen Drury, 1973
The Promise of Joy
Allen Drury, 1975
These are the last two books of Drury's Advise and Consent series.
The story so far is that it is the near future, which is just like the
early 1970s only with videophones. The long-serving
president has died, his vice president has succeeded him and been killed in a
mysterious plane crash, and the Speaker of the House has become president,
but only for a few weeks because there's an election coming up.
Because Drury likes conventions more than elections, his United States
is basically a one-party state. The unnamed majority party has 84 senators
to the minority party's 16, and whoever wins the nomination of the majority
party is guaranteed the White House. Oddly, the majority party has a
conservative wing and a liberal wing, while the minority party is centrist.
Funny how that works. Much of the argument between the right and left wings
of the majority party revolves around a couple of foreign wars in which the
US is entangled, one in Panama, the other in the fictional African nation
of "Gorotoland." Before these books begin, conservative Orrin Knox
has been nominated for president while his chief opponent, liberal Ted
Jason, has been named his running mate in a move toward creating a unity
ticket. However, at their first joint appearance, one of them is
In Come Nineveh, Come Tyre, Knox is assassinated, and Jason is
elected president with a fellow liberal as his running mate.
In The Promise of Joy, Jason is assassinated, and Knox is elected
president with a fellow conservative as his running mate.
In Come Nineveh, Come Tyre, the new Soviet premier sends Jason a
letter saying that he wants to work together to create a lasting peace.
Jason, a "lightweight and a weakling," is "ashamed of himself for questioning
for even a moment so honorable and peace-loving a man," and vows to "bend over
backward to assist and encourage the leader whose task was as difficult, and
whose motivations were as idealistic, as his own." Thus, he unilaterally
withdraws American troops all over the world. The USSR replies by invading
all the countries from which the US has withdrawn and also Alaska. Jason is
summoned to Moscow where the Soviet premier yells at him, reducing him to a
recluse mewling at White House portraits. Meanwhile, a liberal senator from
Wyoming — and if you weren't laughing already, that's your cue —
takes the opportunity to push legislation through the Senate that turns the
United States into a Stalinist dictatorship with him at the helm, while the
Secretary of Defense screams at Jason, "For God's sake, man, will ye no act
like our leader and not like a poor wee mouse!" In the end, Jason and his
liberal vice president commit suicide, and the senator-turned-dictator
invites his master, the Soviet premier, to the White House to confirm that,
yes, by electing a liberal as president, the American people have indeed
allowed the USSR to take over the world.
In The Promise of Joy, Orrin Knox, who believes in "firmness,"
being "tough," and securing "the military strength without which [...]
negotiation and agreement is impossible," is opposed by the Congress,
the courts, and above all, the liberal media, embodied by the Times
and the Post — or as Drury delights in calling them, patting
himself on the back for his bons mots, the Pimes and the Tost
— and by a TV commentator whom Drury has named, I kid you not, Frankly
Unctuous. When the Soviets and the Chinese attack American positions
immediately after Knox's inauguration, Knox responds by escalating the
conflict, and the world fears that nuclear war will be the result. But
Knox continues to throw everything America has at the Soviets and the
Chinese, and they respond by nuking— each other! Go figure. Knox
commands the Russian and Chinese people to overthrow their governments,
and in hours the war has been halted and the world greets two new countries:
the United States of Russia and the United Chinese Republic. Knox is hailed
as the savior of mankind. Yet the new governments, the products of military
coups, are just as intractable as the old, and eventually they go back to war.
This time it is primarily a land war, and the Chinese are clearly winning.
American liberals freak out at the demise of their beloved Stalinists and
demand that Knox intervene to save Russia. In the end, Knox does indeed
intervene, but on whose behalf? That mystery is saved for the next sequel,
except there wasn't one.
These books are stupid.
At one point in Come Nineveh, Come Tyre, the British ambassador to
the UN asks, "How far from the truth can this world get and still survive?
How far can it afford to let the Soviet Union and her friends persuade it
that black is white, up is down, yea is nay, evil is good?" This is ironic,
considering the many ways that Drury has inverted reality in creating the
world of his novels.
Drury writes repeatedly about the threat of "the violent." On the very
first page of Come Nineveh, Come Tyre he writes that Jason was
"confident of his ability to control the violent." In The Promise
of Joy characters say things like, "She was about to leave him because
he wouldn't break away from the violent." It's all about the violent.
So who are the violent? Why, peace activists, of course! In
Drury's world, American soldiers who shoot people dead and the politicians
who send American soldiers to shoot people dead are not violent, or at
least not the violent. (I guess it's lucky these books weren't
written thirty years later or he'd have called them "teh violent.")
So who are the violent?
In real life, the prototypical anti-war activists were hippies. Not in
this book. In this book, they are members of a consortium called NAWAC,
the National Anti-War Activities Congress. NAWAC is composed of three
groups. Are you ready? One is the Black Panthers; the second is the
Ku Klux Klan. That's right, they're working together. Who knew.
And the third is the Stalinist group called the Committee for Making
Further Offers for a Russian Truce, which with typical Drury subtlety
is called COMFORT, as in Aid And _______ to the Enemy. So there you go.
If you want the US to pull out of Vietnam, you're either an undercover
KGB agent, a big scary Negro, or a Grand Wizard. Take your pick.
Part of the impetus behind these novels was Drury's conviction that
America had entered an "utterly rabid age." Both in the books and in
real life, America was recovering from a decade's worth of assassinations.
The problem for Drury is that he wanted to blame peace activists —
you know, the violent — for knocking off conservatives, yet in real
life, the people who got killed were John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther
King, and Robert Kennedy. Inconvenient! But easily fixed. Drury just
arranges things so that right-wing politicians are the ones getting knocked
off. Goddamn fictional violent pacifist black supremacist Stalinist KKK
Let's talk some more about those guys. NAWAC and COMFORT are headed by
Fred Van Ackerman, a shrieking psychotic demagogue who is, as noted above,
the junior senator from Wyoming. Why Wyoming? Perhaps because of all those
damn Wyoming hippies? Nah. It is because Drury was worried that without
alliteration helping him, people would miss that Van Ackerman was closely
modeled on the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy. But,
again, this is inconvenient for Drury. McCarthy was a conservative
who made his mark as a hysterical anti-communist. But Drury is a hysterical
anti-communist himself! What to do? Easy: presto change-o, and all of
McCarthy's negative traits are now embodied and amplified in the form of
a liberal pro-communist! Neat!
He's also a racist, as most liberals are in Drury's world. Not only does
the KKK make up much of the liberal rank-and-file, but in The Promise
of Joy, once the war stars the liberals — mainly through the
media, since the media is entirely liberal — all clamor for the
president to attack the "GODLESS YELLOW HORDES." (There are a lot of
all-caps passages in these books.) In a typical speech, Van Ackerman
crows that the public, being racist liberals for the most part, will
"turn to the man who understands them and knows what they really
want, not all this idealistic crap [...] I won't have to feed them
anything to get them to follow me, after this — except
maybe a few of the damned niggers and the damned kikes and the damned
In both books, Van Ackerman is portrayed as Satan's nastier little
brother; he giggles with delight when others call him a monster, and
the omniscient narrator rails against him in many a paragraph. The
Soviets get the same treatment. Van Ackerman and the various Russian
leaders all get several "muha muha muha" speeches apiece. But it is
not enough for Drury to have his villains make evil speeches that end
with cackling laughter — he then has to harangue his own villains.
"Why can't they ever act genuinely like human beings?" he asks after
describing the Soviet leadership, for instance. I hate to break it to
you, bud, but the answer is "because they're in an Allen Drury book."
(Did I mention that it turns out in Come Nineveh, Come Tyre
that it turns out that the reason it's been such a harsh winter is
because dastardly Soviet scientists have figured out how to control
the weather? I probably should have mentioned that.)
So, considering that these books fail as literature and as political
analysis, the next question is, how are they as historical artifacts?
What do these books tell us about the mindset of the hyperventilating
right-winger of the 1970s in comparison to his counterpart today?
In the apocalypse class I crashed this spring, those of us who
remembered the Cold War tried to impress upon the disbelieving
students that between 1945 and 1989, people actually did expect that
nuclear war was basically inevitable. Drury's books support this
contention. He offers a choice: elect liberals who will back down
when the Soviets make aggressive moves, or conservatives who will
escalate the conflict and risk nuclear war in the hopes that the
Soviets will back down. There is no third option: trying to
establish peace through negotiation is just another way of backing
down. In Come Nineveh, Come Tyre, the Soviet premier
chortles, "We have 'thaws,' we have 'détentes,' we have
'freezes,' we have whatever other easy, sleazy catchwords your
media dreams up for us, but all the time we just go steadily
right along, no matter who is in charge here, no matter what
apparent outward twists and turns of policy we may find advisable:
we still go steadily right along." (PS: "He was so happy he
was almost giggling.") As Drury sees it, it's either red or
dead, and he prefers the latter.
Of course, he was wrong. It's funny — Drury almost never
mentions real political figures by name, but he does explicitly
declare that "not since Nikita Khrushchev sent John Kennedy dazed and
trembling away from his savage raking in Vienna had the ordure been
heaped with such savage ferocity" as in Come Nineveh, Come Tyre.
If Kennedy didn't meet Drury's standards — Bay of Pigs
Kennedy, Cuban Missile Crisis Kennedy — then I have to assume
that after Jimmy Carter was elected, after Carter did the single
thing Drury uses as an emblem of American weakness and gave Panama
the canal, after he responded to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
not with a counterinvasion but with an Olympic boycott... hell, Drury
probably expected that by 1980 Brezhnev would be sleeping in the
Lincoln Bedroom. But that didn't happen.
And then when Ronald Reagan was elected, and started using
rhetoric like Orrin Knox's, Drury undoubtedly thought that ATOMIC
WAR!!! was right around the corner, but surprisingly this turned
out not to be the case either. Why not? Not so much because of
Reagan, revisionist history to the contrary. The right-wing meme
that "Reagan ended the Cold War" comes off as a bit of a canard
when you look at the history: Reagan + Brezhnev = Cold War,
Reagan + Andropov = Cold War, Reagan + Chernenko = Cold
War, Reagan + Gorbachev = conclusion of Cold War. You might
want to look at the variable that's actually associated with the
change. In the late 1980s, Gorbachev did exactly what the new Soviet
premier does in Come Nineveh, Come Tyre. In Drury's world,
this is of course a trick. "We thought you might have changed,"
President Jason says, and the premier replies, "We will never
change. We are educated, trained, dedicated Communists. Our
methods may change, our goals never." A great president
like Orrin Knox doesn't believe that "glasnost" and "perestroika"
crap for a second. Only a wimp like Ted Jason does. Except that
in real life forty-four years of nuclear brinksmanship actually did
end when an American president trusted a Soviet premier. Fancy
So what would Drury make of George W. Bush? I haven't found much
online commentary about these books, as they have become deservedly
obscure, but I did find one person comparing George W. Bush to Ted
Jason: they're both empty suits with a messianic streak in thrall to
extremists who want to turn the US into a dictatorship. (Except of
course in Drury's world it's the liberals turning the media
into a propaganda outlet and imprisoning people indefinitely without
charges.) But I dunno. The main thing about Jason is that after
the commie yells at him, he is shattered and paralyzed
and so very very wounded that he hides in his room for a year. (I
would chalk this up to typically ham-handed characterization on
Drury's part, but I actually do know people like this.) Over and
over Drury hits the same notes. "Why isn't he brave?" demands
Jason's predecessor, italics included. Jason calls him in to explain
about the yelling. "I literally did not know what to do," Jason says,
and when the ex-president asks, "Do you now?", Jason replies, "No."
Bring on some more italics! "You cannot do this to us. The President
must know what to do, that is the job of Presidents. You must know."
(Bring on the comma splices too, apparently.) A senator adds, "Don't
be scared. You can't afford to. You must be decisive and
daring. There is no other way." And that is why I think the one
politician of the postwar era that Drury would admire is in fact George
W. Bush. After all, he's The Decider. True, his decisions are always
wrong, but that's okay — Orrin Knox's decisions cause a nuclear
war in The Promise of Joy and he's still the hero of the book.
So who's to blame? Yes, yes, the communists and the liberals, but how
did they achieve ascendancy? Why, it's because of "certain influential
sections of the media," along with "certain influential members of the
academic world" and "a certain intellectually fashionable segment of the
churches" telling kids that "the United States of America was no damned
good." Yes, "passing through American schools, reading American newspapers
and magazines, watching American television and listening to American radio"
have turned the public into "human time bombs." And the "wavering elders,"
even if they could avoid being destroyed "by a relentless media and a
vindictive intellectual community," are no help because they "could always
be scared into line by a raucous hoot of 'conservative!'"
So here I am in what, to Allen Drury, was the future. According to Drury,
I'm living in a world in which Mike Dukakis won the presidency by turning
"conservative" into a smear. Dukakis then turned the country over to the
evil, cackling Mikhail Gorbachev. But since "in the last analysis all an
international confrontation really involved was character — one man's
guts against another man's guts," the avenging son George W. Bush was able
to drive out the Russkies through sheer force of will. He knew what to do!
He's The Decider! And yet when he started some foreign wars, the relentless
liberal media aggressively questioned his every move.
What can I say? The man was a prophet. No wonder he won a Pulitzer.
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