Jungle Rules Explained

Jungle Rules Explained

I was first introduced to the term “Jungle Rules” as a young athlete.  Playing by these rules meant playing by no rules at all.  As a child, I pushed back against all rules, and roughness in sports seemed a natural way to win (and winning was everything).  Over time, the importance of rules became clear to me.  At home, in church, and at school, I learned to play by established rules, both moral and practical.  Entering the naval profession, I understood that rules must govern behavior in all activities that support government policies.  Even war has rules  “the law of armed conflict”.

Writing the first novel in my trilogy of thriller fiction, I wanted to use a title that captured the spirit of organized crime as well as the environment within which the action takes place.  Jungle Rules , then, is meant to have a double meaning: men (and women) are not bound by rules in the jungle; the jungle rules them.  Beyond that, the story portrays what might happen if government officials in Washington themselves played by jungle rules; if they started with good intentions but ended up as criminals themselves.  Without rules, all of us are thrust into survival mode.  Civilization breaks down, and Darwin takes over.  Either we have rules or we don’t, right?

Right… but things are not that simple.

How do you fight those who recognize no rules?  Fighting “transnational organized crime” requires governments to consider bending the rules.  How do we beat them without becoming them?  In the novel, I examine this question at both ends of the chain of command.  Carl Malinowski is a government “contractor” but feels like a mercenary.  He kills for money, CIA money.  He is a hired gun.  But his career as a Navy SEAL imbued within him a sense of fairness, and he realizes that he and his men operate at the edge of morality.  They go into the jungle to capture a drug lord; they come out to find out their own government is just as bad as the kingpin.

Carl is a hardened warrior, supremely confident that he and his men can get the job done.  Any job.  But they are bit players in a national-level scheme to frame the president of Colombia.  They go back to the jungle to rescue an American ambassador, taken hostage by the cartel.  The CIA has gone rouge.  Too late, Carl finds out his own government is trying to kill him.  He leads his men through the mess created by criminal bureaucrats and politicians, intent on surviving to tell the story.  He has seen that killing is not the same thing as fighting.  He fought for his country; he is tired to killing for it.  He retires to an ordinary life.  Thanks to Carl, a lot of drug traffickers and FARC guerrillas do not get to retire.  More than a few US government officials end up in prison.

Most novelists take some license with realism.  I was able to get the tactics right, but I was afraid the politics might be seen as too much of a stretch.  Watching the Washington impeachment hearings every day, I can see that my fears were unnecessary.  All governments have some level of corruption, and Washington is no exception.  Without an inter-agency process for making decisions, plans that initially seem clever can go off the rails completely.  Governments need rules, and they need to follow them as closely as they can.  Even when fighting criminals without rules.  Those who play by jungle rules die by the same rules.

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