I was lucky enough to get permission to reprint this essay by Victoria Martin, originally posted to alt.books.pratchett. I found it remarkably enlightening and can only regret that I didn't think it up myself.
From: Victoria Martin
Subject: Jingo reassessed. Was Re: Dangerously Controversial post
One of the things that's always troubled me about J is the way Vetinari acts so out of character, dropping the helm of A-M and charging off on what is more than likely to be a wild goose chase (and one which, on the "real" leg of the trousers of time, turns out to be a failure, with A-M invaded). But then this discussion of the war got me wondering if it made any difference to my interpretation of Vetinari's behaviour if I assumed that he knew from the beginning of the book that Klatch was determined to invade. And it turns out it does.
It's easy to overlook what Vetinari is thinking in the opening chapters because we see him almost exclusively through Vimes' eyes, and Vimes perspective is utterly different - he's wrapped up in the here and now, wholly preoccupied with events in A-M, and misses the bigger picture altogether. His obsession with thinking of the Klatchians as the "good guys" is a clear warning to the reader that his perspective is unreliable, but it's all too easy to get caught up in his viewpoint just the same.
When J opens, Klatch has been preparing for war for some time. Vetinari must know this. Cadram couldn't keep the building of so many warships secret from anyone with an intelligence service half as efficient as Vetinari's (and we know from T5E that he doesn't only use his intelligence systems to spy on his own people), and anyway, in the council in the Rats Chamber Vetinari shows that he knows that the Guild of Armourers has been supplying Klatch with weapons for some time (Corgi, p.23). All the cities of the circle sea know of Klatch's 'current expansionist outlook'(p.28) and are watching political events there nervously. Doubtless some of them, especially those with standing armies, are increasing their defence budgets, but this isn't an option open to Vetinari because (a) maintaining an army for as long as it takes Klatch to decide to attack would have to be funded by punitive taxation at a level the citizens of A-M would simply not accept; (b) it would probably push Klatch into starting a ruinously expensive arms race; and (c) A-M has always been 'violently against a standing army' (p.29). So at the start of J Vetinari is keeping an extremely close eye on events in Klatch and worrying about the use Cadram's navy will be put to when it's ready, fully aware that the Seriph is seeking an external enemy to distract from the mess he's making in his attempt to 'pacify the outlying regions' (p.24) and to unite the warring divisions behind him. And then he has the huge ill-luck that Leshp rises out of the sea and some wretched fisherman from A-M stakes a claim to it, giving Klatch the perfect excuse to begin a diplomatic dispute with A-M that can only be the prelude to an act of aggression. This is the moment when Klatch decides definitively to pick on A-M. Vetinari knows A-M won't be able to resist militarily. His one hope is to buy time by persuading the council to cede Leshp to Klatch - this will give Cadram a propaganda coup that might reinforce his position sufficiently to postpone external acts of aggression for a while (what might Vetinari do with this extra time? Try to forge alliances with the other cities of the Circle Sea, perhaps). The whole scene with the council, in which he really looks very ineffectual, at least through Vimes' eyes, has a different impact when you realise that he is trying to prompt the others present into suggesting that they give up their claim to Leshp - he lets them see that Klatch is extremely well armed (p.24), that A-M has no convincing legal claim to Leshp (p.26), that no other states will come to A-M's aid should it declare war on Klatch (p.28), that A-M has no army (p.29) and that it lacks the financial resources to employ mercenaries (p.30). Vimes doesn't pick up on what's going on in this scene at all - he's too busy feeling hatred and contempt for the Guild leaders to see where Vetinari is trying to lead them. The attempt fails, because Lord Rust suggests reviving the private regiments; at that point Vetinari knows he has lost them, and ends the meeting, saying revealingly 'The precedents are clear enough. I can't go against them. I have to say I cannot afford to' (p.33). Here he is speaking no less than the truth - when Klatch invades, as he knows it now will, the private regiments are A-M's only hope of defence, a point he presses home to Vimes: 'Every official gentleman is entitled, in fact I believe used to be _required_, to raise men when the city required it. And, of course, any citizen has the right to bear arms. Bear that in mind, please' (p.35).
At the end of the council meeting, Vetinari reveals that the Klatchian ambassador is about to arrive, a fact he appears to have kept secret from everyone, even Vimes, who is responsible for security and hence understandably annoyed that he hasn't been informed. The ambassador has been invited by Vetinari, who has offered him an honorary doctorate from UU. Why would Vetinari go to the trouble of inviting the ambassador to A-M at a time when anti-Klatchian feeling is running high and there is all sorts of potential for diplomatic incidents (as he is well aware - p.36 'I would consider it a favour if you could see to it that no one throws eggs or something at the Prince. That sort of thing always upsets people')? My guess is that Vetinari invited the ambassador over in the hope of being able to cede Leshp to him - when his gamble doesn't pay off, he's forced to entertain the man, with nothing to offer him, and a terrible worry that something will happen to upset him and thereby trigger a declaration of war. Vimes thinks he has to wear his red tights because Vetinari enjoys annoying him, but in fact I rather think Vetinari is terrified that anything less than full honours will be interpreted as a diplomatic slight to Klatch (as Vimes learns in Ueberwald, if the ambassador is slighted by the Commander's refusal to appear in full regalia, Klatch is slighted).
What Vetinari doesn't know, of course, is that Cadram has planned to have his brother assassinated on A-M soil. This has two advantages (i) it rids him of a political problem (only hinted at) and (ii) it provides the perfect excuse for an invasion. Leshp is sufficient justification for the purposes of internal politics, but an invasion over Leshp might nonetheless encourage other countries to come to A-M's aid because 'they all have rocks off their coast'. Invading on the pretext of Kufurah's assassination allows them all to breathe a sigh of relief and continue a policy of appeasement a la Chamberlain.
Although Vimes foils the assassin, the attempt to cede Leshp has proved an unmitigated disaster and Vetinari is almost at the end of his resources. Even Vimes notes that 'the man was looking harassed' and feels 'a pinch of sympathy' (p.91). Indeed, he clutches visibly at straws when Vimes offers him the 'lone bowman' theory: '"A lone bowman," said Vetinari, "an idiot with some kind of grudge [...] If Commander Vimes had not slowed down the procession, the wretch would undoubtedly have got a much better shot [...] Yes... the Prince, possibly, would accept that" '(p.89).
In spite of this, he holds out no real hope that a Klatchian invasion can be prevented, which leaves him one last long shot. 'When Vimes had gone Lord Vetinari sat at his desk for a while, staring at nothing' (p.92). Presumably he is here weighing up the pros and cons of using some hideous weapon of mass destruction against Klatch, a gonne writ large, for immediately he emerges from his reverie he goes to see Leonard, and the word that he uses over and over again in their discussion is 'weapon'. As soon as he has sat down, he picks up a sheet of Leonard's drawings and scans it for a sketch of a weapon (this is presented by the narrative as a comment on Leonard's psychology, but it is deliberately ambiguous: 'Vetinari found what he was looking for in the bottom left-hand corner [...] It, or something very much like it, was always there somewhere' (p.96)). He asks for a detailed explanation of the 'war machine', paying particular attention to whether it could actually be built, whilst being careful not to let Leonard know what he's up to, although he does start to prepare the ground by trying to explain the threat Klatch poses ('Have I told you that the Klatchian situation is intensely political? Prince Cadram [...] needs to consolidate his position' (p.98)). Then he finds the sketch of the mountain mover and knows he's found what he's looking for. But, because using such a thing goes against all his instincts, all his abhorrence of waste, he clutches again at a straw and tries to get Leonard to tell him that Klatch is so technologically backward that something less extreme would do the job as well ('"But the way you put it, these major achievements were some considerable time ago..." Lord Vetinari sounded like a man straining to see a light at the end of the tunnel' (p.100)). When this hope, too, is confounded, he believes he has no choice but to unleash a Hiroshima on Klatch ('"There is a small problem developing. I thought perhaps you could help. Unfortunately," the Patrician glanced at the sketches again, "I suspect that you can"' (p.100)). And then, as he is leaving, he suddenly realises the significance of what Leonard has told him about Leshp and a for the first time feels real hope that there could be another way of dealing with this.
He goes to Leshp himself, rather than detailing someone else, for two reasons. Firstly, he doesn't trust anyone else to improvise a plan should his hunch about Leshp prove to be right. Whether he has already formed the idea of surrendering, in which case he will have to be there in person anyway, or whether this only occurs to him on the Boat, isn't really relevant because (and this is reason number 2) he can't do any good in A-M anyway. Inspiring men to a heroic, last-ditch defence simply isn't one of Vetinari's strengths (FoC and TT make it clear that he inspires personal loyalty in almost nobody), and in any case he would have very little control over the private regiments, so he leaves the defence of A-M to those who want to play at soldiers, whilst letting the Watch, who are the only hope of a realistic defence, know that this is what they, too, should be doing. Alas, in the other leg of the trousers, this gamble, too, does not pay off, and the Watch die heroically but in vain in defence of the city they love. But on this leg, he has the huge stroke of luck (to match that awful one that raised Leshp at exactly this politically tense moment) that Vimes takes ship in pursuit of Angua, thereby persuading Cadram to delay the invasion and buying him time to get to Leshp and thence to Gebra.