Thoughts & Essays

How do they rise up?

Terry Pratchett wrote 40 Discworld novels before he died, and you can learn something from every single one of them. If you’ve somehow managed to make it this far in life without having read any Terry Pratchett books, I strongly suggest you remedy that as soon as possible.

My suggested reading list for Pratchett is as follows: Every single one of them. But in these times, it might behoove you to start with the Sam Vimes books. Sam Vimes is a cop, and he runs the Night Watch in Ankh-Morpork, Terry Pratchett’s “New York/London/Large Metropolis” city.

The Sam Vimes books, in order, are: Guards! Guards!, Men At Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, Thud!, and Snuff. He cameos in other books, but these are his main storyline.

The Discworld novels are written as stand-alone books, so you don’t have to read all of them, or read them in any particular order. If you’re only going to read one of the above, Night Watch is my personal favorite, and probably the one most germane to the times.

There’s a fantastic scene in Night Watch, about halfway through the book. The city’s in turmoil, there’s protesting and rioting, and one of the watch stations had been attacked by rioters and burned down just prior to the scene. A group of rioters/protesters stands outside Vimes’ watch house, working up their nerve.

Vimes is ordered to protect the watch house. So he turns on all the lights, brews up cocoa for everyone, opens the doors, and stations a couple of cops outside to keep an eye on things, picking two cops from the local neighborhood whom everyone knows. Then he goes outside with a cup of cocoa for a smoke, and has a nice chat with the crowd.

He calls members of the crowd out by name, talks to them about why they’re mad, sympathizes. He can do all that because he knows his community, even though Ankh-Morpork is a vast and sprawling city of millions. He talks the crowd down.

That’s the “community-based policing” everyone talks about when they talk about police reform.

History was full of the bones of good men who’d followed bad orders in the hope that they could soften the blow. Oh, yes, there were worse things they could do, but most of them began right where they started following bad orders.

“I’m not a natural killer! See this? See what it says? I’m supposed to keep the peace, I am! If I kill people to do it, I’m reading the wrong manual!”

“You took an oath to uphold the law and defend the citizens without fear or favor,” said Vimes. “And to protect the innocent. That’s all they put in. Maybe they thought those were the important things. Nothing in there about orders, even from me. You’re an officer of the law, not a soldier of the government.”
Night Watch

Once you get troops on the streets, it’s only a matter of time before it goes bad. Some kid throws a stone, next minute there’s houses on fire and people getting killed.
Night Watch

Everyone was guilty of something. Vimes knew that. Every copper knew it. That was how you maintained your authority – everyone, talking to a copper, was secretly afraid you could see their guilty secret written on their forehead. You couldn’t, of course. But neither were you supposed to drag someone off the street and smash their fingers with a hammer until they told you what it was.
Night Watch

“He asked you to shoot at people who weren’t shooting back,” growled Vimes, striding forward, “That makes him insane, wouldn’t you say?”

“They are throwing stones, Sarge,” said Colon.

“So? Stay out of range. They’ll get tired before we do.”
Night Watch

“In return, however,” said the Patrician, “I must ask you not to upset Commander Vimes.” He gave a little cough. “More than necessary.”

“I’m sure we can pull together, sir.”

“Oh, I do hope not, I really do hope not. Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.” He smiled. “It’s the only way to make progress.”
The Truth

Cheery was aware that Commander Vimes didn’t like the phrase “The innocent have nothing to fear,” believing the innocent had everything to fear, mostly from the guilty but in the longer term even more from those who say things like “The innocent have nothing to fear.”

No civil police force could hold out against an irate and resolute population. The trick is not to let them realize that.
Unseen Academicals

It always embarrassed Samuel Vimes when civilians tried to speak to him in what they thought was “policeman.” If it came to that, he hated thinking of them as civilians. What was a policeman, if not a civilian with a uniform and a badge? But they tended to use the term these days as a way of describing people who were not policemen. It was a dangerous habit: once policemen stopped being civilians the only other thing they could be was soldiers.