Robert Heinlein: Starship Troopers

cape_royds

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I think one can certainly contrast the History and Moral Philosophy taught to Rico, from RAH's own social and political ideas.

Because many of RAH's books include didactic philosophical dialogues, I think it is easy for the reader to assume that the author is always doing the talking, esp. if the book is written in the first person.

But we can just look at a few of his other books written not long afterwards: Glory Road, Farnham's Freehold, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Imagine Jubal Harshaw sitting in one of Rico's H & MP classes. The hyper-Hobbesian Terran Federation depicted in Starship Troopers would infuriate an anarcho-libertarian like Harshaw.

And in Stranger, Heinlein tackles a dimension which is altogether missing in Starship Troopers: the spiritual void in modern society.

What would happen if Valentine Michael Smith landed in Camp Currie? Now that would make an interesting piece of fan fiction!
 

cape_royds

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Get the hell off that planet!

this seems to be quite topical with the recent restrictions on international air travel and new govt initiatives for national security

It brings to mind Lazarus Long's remark that if you're ever forced to carry identification, get the hell off that planet!
 

Connavar

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I think one can certainly contrast the History and Moral Philosophy taught to Rico, from RAH's own social and political ideas.

Because many of RAH's books include didactic philosophical dialogues, I think it is easy for the reader to assume that the author is always doing the talking, esp. if the book is written in the first person.

But we can just look at a few of his other books written not long afterwards: Glory Road, Farnham's Freehold, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Imagine Jubal Harshaw sitting in one of Rico's H & MP classes. The hyper-Hobbesian Terran Federation depicted in Starship Troopers would infuriate an anarcho-libertarian like Harshaw.

And in Stranger, Heinlein tackles a dimension which is altogether missing in Starship Troopers: the spiritual void in modern society.

What would happen if Valentine Michael Smith landed in Camp Currie? Now that would make an interesting piece of fan fiction!

Its funny to me cause my next RAH book after this one was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress which is totaly the opposite of this one.

Those characters would fight the federation to their last breath.

Which is why i think its wrong to say RAH is preaching his military fanboyism and facism in this book like many haters of the book claim. If he was HE isnt the same RAH who wrote The Moon.

I find him more interesting when he tackles so different views and characters in his books. Its not always the same political ideas and views in his books.
 

Urlik

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Its funny to me cause my next RAH book after this one was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress which is totaly the opposite of this one.

Those characters would fight the federation to their last breath.

Which is why i think its wrong to say RAH is preaching his military fanboyism and facism in this book like many haters of the book claim. If he was HE isnt the same RAH who wrote The Moon.

I find him more interesting when he tackles so different views and characters in his books. Its not always the same political ideas and views in his books.
RAH manages to explore so many issues on so many levels
some of his stories are pure adventure, while others give warnings for the future based on extrapolating today's conditions to extreme's and it is in some of those stories that we find the preaching from characters
 

cape_royds

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Starship Troopers, Fascism, and the Organization Man

RAH was certainly no fascist, but the society he descirbes in Starship Troopers is fascistic.

Consider:

1. The Federation originated with bands of loosely-organized war veterans who, disgusted with the disorder and corruption they found in a postwar world, decided to take matters into their own hands.

Heinlein has taken the "Freikorps Phenomenon" and placed it in a future history setting. The Freikorps in post-WWI Germany, and the Blackshirts of post-WWI Italy, were bands of war veterans who "restored order" in those impoverished, divided societies.

2. Note that in Terran society, business and commerce are not given a high social value. Rico's father, who is a successful entrepreneur, nevertheless feels that his commercial was unmanly. Moreover, businesspeople are depicted as easily replaceable: Morales takes over from Rico Sr. with no evident problems.

Commerce is not the only social activity relegated to inferior status: workers, even workers in important or hazardous trades, are not valued much either, as we can see from the story of the merchant sailors in Seattle.

In fact, at one point in the novel, Rico refers to civilians as "like beans," which can be purchased or discarded, as required.

Even the sciences are disparaged, seen as frivolous "professor types," unless like Carl, they enlist to serve the State.

3. Only the warrior is truly worthy--this is a major theme in all Fascist movements. The warrior strives to expand the living space of the race. As Rico is taught, everything is always about "real estate."

The rest of society has value only insofar as it supports the warrior. Even motherhood has value only for the purpose of nurturing the soldier. Rico's mother is depicted as a failure and a cause of problems, because she does not validate Rico's role as a warrior. And when she dies, only then is Rico's father free once again to become a real man--a warrior.

4. The Federation's meritocracy is based strictly on the "Leadership Principle." Natural leaders will come to the fore, selected from the fury of the struggle for survival !

So there it all is: Living Space, Blood and Soil, Leadership Principle, the Storm of Steel, German Motherhood.

Many of the central ideals of the Terran Federation could be cribbed straight from a Nazi poster of the 1930's.


Heinlein has done two things, however:

1. He has stripped away the top charismatic leader. Instead, it appears that the Federation has a more or less nonpartisan collective leadership.

But this is like the Ernst Röhm faction of Nazism, which downplayed the role of a Führur. Röhm's faction was purged by Hitler in 1934.

2. Heinlein has given us a genial, naif, "aw shucks" kind of narrator.

As a result, it takes a careful reading to recognize that the Terran Federation is an idealized picture of a fascistic society.


As I said in an earlier post, Heinlein likes to press people's buttons, to test them, to experiment with their ideas. Heinlein knew damn well that Fascism was not just something that happens somewhere else--it is the product of a certain set of historical conditions. Heinlein also knew that Fascism didn't emerge without widespread public approval. So in Starship Troopers, Heinlein portrays the sort of Fascism that he thinks would appeal to his fellow Americans, who at the time he was writing in 1959, were busy building up what Eisenhower would soon call the "military-industrial complex."

As for Rico, he is the very quintessence of the "Organization Man." Shortly before Heinlein wrote Troopers, sociologist William H. Whyte wrote a bestseller which was widely discussed at the time, the 1956 book The Organization Man. I'll give two quotes from Whyte,

source: William Whyte's The Organization Man

William H. Whyte said:
These people only work for The Organization. The ones I am talking about belong to it as well. They are the ones of our middle class who have left home, spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions. Only a few are top managers or ever will be.

and for the Organization people, as depicted in fiction,

Society itself becomes the deus ex machine. In such cases one of the characters is a sort of accredited spokesman for the system in which the protagonists operate. The system, with an assist from its spokesman, resolves the hero's apparent dilemma.

Consider the protagonist's (Rico) relationship with several "spokesmen," such as Colonel Dubois, in getting over his "hump," after which he fits in nicely with the system.


What Heinlein did was take a set of future-historical circumstances and place within them the sort of post-WWII American "organization man." Result: a fascism with American characteristics.

It's so convincing, that many people get angry at Heinlein when they read the book, while many others wish society was more like that!
 

Toby Frost

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I don't know: Fascism occured in so many variations that even Orwell, who knew it backward, had trouble defining it much beyond "bullying". Nazism (rather than, say, Japanese fascism) works as an allegory up to a point, although the absence of a leader-god weakens it hugely. I don't think either Heinlein or the ST world is fascist, although it is militarist. In the ST world, anyone who is not MI is to some extent a sissy pansy pinko, who should be forever counting their blessings that the army is there to defend their lily-white backside. However this doesn't necessarily mean the ST system of government is fascist rather than just plain brutal (and a bit dim).

On the subject of brutality for its own sake, here is a slightly queasy proposition, made (perhaps) in mockery by Brian Aldiss: the real theme of Starship Troopers is not politics, but masochism. Heinlein's Starship Troopers by Brian Aldiss

The more I think about this, the more one thing keeps coming back to me: ST is not a great dystopia, or utopia. It simply isn't in the same league as 1984 or Farenheit 451, and the RAH who wrote it would see their basic kindness and humanity as signs of weakness. It lacks the decency of either of those books, and I think it's this that really stops it being a first-rate vision of another society. Whether or not Heinlein was himself a nice guy, the ST world lacks any sort of kindness or pity. And as the British and Americans demonstrated in WW2, you do not necessarily have to become pitiless in order to defeat pitiless people. I'm not sure that Starship Troopers truly understands this.
 
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Connavar

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I don't know: Fascism occured in so many variations that even Orwell, who knew it backward, had trouble defining it much beyond "bullying". Nazism (rather than, say, Japanese fascism) works as an allegory up to a point, although the absence of a leader-god weakens it hugely. I don't think either Heinlein or the ST world is fascist, although it is militarist. In the ST world, anyone who is not MI is to some extent a sissy pansy pinko, who should be forever counting their blessings that the army is there to defend their lily-white backside. However this doesn't necessarily mean the ST system of government is fascist rather than just plain brutal (and a bit dim).

On the subject of brutality for its own sake, here is a slightly queasy proposition, made (perhaps) in mockery by Brian Aldiss: the real theme of Starship Troopers is not politics, but masochism. Heinlein's Starship Troopers by Brian Aldiss

The more I think about this, the more one thing keeps coming back to me: ST is not a great dystopia, or utopia. It simply isn't in the same league as 1984 or Farenheit 451, and the RAH who wrote it would see their basic kindness and humanity as signs of weakness. It lacks the decency of either of those books, and I think it's this that really stops it being a first-rate vision of another society. Whether or not Heinlein was himself a nice guy, the ST world lacks any sort of kindness or pity. And as the British and Americans demonstrated in WW2, you do not necessarily have to become pitiless in order to defeat pitiless people. I'm not sure that Starship Troopers truly understands this.


I think you missed alot of ST if you thought it was Dystopia.

Aldiss has a good point in that article saying we dont see much of the world. BECAUSE its not about the world.


Its not Dystopia when its about Rico life. The hole book is about Rico. Everything is from Rico point of view. RAH puts in alot of political ideas but mostly its about Rico and the military life. I think people that say it glorify Military way of life got it more right than Aldiss predictable article.

Of course its not nice. Its war and pointless death most of the book thats not suppose to be nice.
 

Toby Frost

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I said "dystopia or utopia": I meant to refer to books that talk about a bad future or a good one in order to tell you something about the present and how it should be. I can think of almost no recent utopias except ST, but I'm sure there are loads.

Heinlein is completely right to say that war is nasty, and I don't think ST tries to avoid that. I don't think ST glorifies war, but it does glorify warriors, to the point where it forgets that they may well be no better at ruling than anyone else - and if encouraged to think of themselves as an elite ruling caste, they may start doing bad things.
 

Connavar

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I said "dystopia or utopia": I meant to refer to books that talk about a bad future or a good one in order to tell you something about the present and how it should be. I can think of almost no recent utopias except ST, but I'm sure there are loads.

Heinlein is completely right to say that war is nasty, and I don't think ST tries to avoid that. I don't think ST glorifies war, but it does glorify warriors, to the point where it forgets that they may well be no better at ruling than anyone else - and if encouraged to think of themselves as an elite ruling caste, they may start doing bad things.

Heh i didnt see ST world as Utopia. It was messed up world from our point of view but i didnt see it as dystopia or an utopia. People liked their world too much for it to be a dystopia. It was something in beteween for me.

As Aldriss article says for 5000 years in the future the world didnt change much except which system of goverment and idea that ruled. That i agree on. If it was about the world and not the military it would a very dissapointing SF book. Since it didnt tell much of their world.


Yeah it did glorify the soldier but that didnt it make less interesting IMO.
 

Urlik

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even the glorification of the warrior isn't neccesserily fascistic
the political setup of ST is a militaristic meritocracy and its main aim is to be able to defend its borders
there is no conscription and all the warriors are volunteers who want to serve
the only penalty for not serving is not having a vote.
the unfranchised civilian population are free to earn a living, they aren't slaves except in the sense that they are wage slaves, just like us.
 

BeerClark

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I don't know: Fascism occured in so many variations that even Orwell, who knew it backward, had trouble defining it much beyond "bullying". Nazism (rather than, say, Japanese fascism) works as an allegory up to a point, although the absence of a leader-god weakens it hugely. I don't think either Heinlein or the ST world is fascist, although it is militarist. In the ST world, anyone who is not MI is to some extent a sissy pansy pinko, who should be forever counting their blessings that the army is there to defend their lily-white backside. However this doesn't necessarily mean the ST system of government is fascist rather than just plain brutal (and a bit dim).

On the subject of brutality for its own sake, here is a slightly queasy proposition, made (perhaps) in mockery by Brian Aldiss: the real theme of Starship Troopers is not politics, but masochism

The more I think about this, the more one thing keeps coming back to me: ST is not a great dystopia, or utopia. It simply isn't in the same league as 1984 or Farenheit 451, and the RAH who wrote it would see their basic kindness and humanity as signs of weakness. It lacks the decency of either of those books, and I think it's this that really stops it being a first-rate vision of another society. Whether or not Heinlein was himself a nice guy, the ST world lacks any sort of kindness or pity. And as the British and Americans demonstrated in WW2, you do not necessarily have to become pitiless in order to defeat pitiless people. I'm not sure that Starship Troopers truly understands this.

I don't remember Rico looking down on civilians throughout the book. Maybe he saw himself and MI as elite over EVERYONE else (vets included!) almost as MI men being self appointed heros. But to me he seemed more proud of protecting the civilians as part of his career.

And as far as the pity... well, there wasn't much. But I thought he at least showed a glimmer when he threw the random bomb into the group of Skinnies.. I thought he actually felt a little relieved that it was one with a warning timer. Of course, any pity he might have shown was detached at best. But regardless, what soldier has the convenience of pity? Its kill or be killed. They may not want to kill their enemy, but they can't sit around feeling bad about killing them too much. I don't think WWII American and British soldiers were much different from Rico. I'd say thats especially true in the Pacific given the Japanese attitiudes during the war.

The only real brutality I saw in the book was when Rico made mention that humanity HAS to expand and conquer. That its just humanity's nature.
 

Toby Frost

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Certainly there's little pity for the aliens, but I wasn't really thinking of them so much as for other humans. The aliens don't do anyhting much to deserve pity (they take prisoners, but who knows how they treat them), and it would be pretty reasonable for a soldier to despise them. What I really meant was that the only run-ins Rico has with civvies tend to be fights, shopping (I'm sure he says of one planet that the civilians were ok because they called him "sir") and experiences where he looks down on them.

This makes sense given the voting setup, but my point is that it encourages a situation where the MI look down on the very people they are there to protect. Being a caste apart encourages them to do this.

Of course, things might be different among voters who merely accepted hazardous jobs instead of being in the MI, but Heinlein doesn't really go into that. Maybe the fleet have a different viewpoint altogether? I suppose we come back to Rico's very narrow viewpoint, which conceals a lot and makes a lot of different interpretations possible.
 

Urlik

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I think everyone who reads ST should then read Revolt in 2100 before making assumptions on RAH's politics

just started rereading revolt and I'd forgotten just how good it is and how quickly the story grips the reader
 

Urlik

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well not having the vote does remove one from the decision making process
 

Zanussi

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Never mind the History and moral philosophy, get on with the action! I tried to like the book but it failed of my expectations, guess I am just a low-brow shoot em up fan at heart, I was vaguely reminded of a series of books I read a huge amount of time ago that sadly I cannot now recall title or author, but were set in WWI and the author preached of the "honour" of using the bayonet and refraining from "touching trigger" in a trench fight. Both authors managed to eject me from the story and left me looking puzzled at the book in my hands and wondering if they had been written in soft crayon by the occupants of a padded cell.

What a shame the film was hijacked by the anti-war theme, all those Nazi/Stalinist propoganda clips, boy the Director had a low opinion of our intelligence did he not? Hello! We get it okay? Enough already! Harry Harrison did it a lot better in "Bill the Galactic Hero."
 

ghost8772

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Actually, the feel I got from the story that if it was a pure translation from book to screen, it would be like all the other war movies, monotone main character describing their situation as it plays across the screen
 

Beamer

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Ok it amazes me the responses this book still generates. When written it was actually aimed toward a young audience. I believe it was supposed to be part of his juvenile book commitment to his publishers. From what I have read they thought it might be a bit too controversial and he went on to get it published elsewhere. While I will agree he was preaching that we have to be responsible and willing to help defend our nation in time of need, I don't believe he was advocating a particular type of government. Like all speculative writers he created a world and then built his story upon it. Some might be reading too much into that world.

Also someone mentioned in the thread that they thought he wrote this in part because he did not like the anti-war sentiment over our involvement in Vietnam. As I was all of about 5 when this was published I can not say for certain but since we had not really sent troops to Vietnam till after it was published I am not sure how much of a anti-war movement was going on. I understand there were small numbers of the infamous "advisers" and we had sent supplies and agreed to help train the South Vietnam army, but very few US troops were in Vietnam at that time.
 

Toby Frost

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I heard that part of it refers to Korea. There's a strong theme about "leave no man behind": I read somewhere that there was a lot of concern over abandoned POWs in Korea - The Manchurian Candidate plays off this slightly. Though to be honest I'd have thought the bugs were just "commies".
 

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