Robert Heinlein: Starship Troopers

iansales

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That's hardly a basic point, since most of the book stresses that it's military service veterans who get the vote. And threin lies the system's biggest flaw: it's in the interest of the system to stay at war in order to provide sufficient voters of the required mind-set to keep the existing power structures in place. And any system which implicitly advocates almost continuous war is not a good system.
 

Connavar

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That's hardly a basic point, since most of the book stresses that it's military service veterans who get the vote. And threin lies the system's biggest flaw: it's in the interest of the system to stay at war in order to provide sufficient voters of the required mind-set to keep the existing power structures in place. And any system which implicitly advocates almost continuous war is not a good system.

You are reading things that wasnt in the book. It isnt hard to see what the Federal service meant in other ways than the military if you remember the scenes that mentioned them.
 

iansales

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They're in the book:

“No offense. But military service is for ants … And for what? A purely nominal political privilege that pays not one centavo and that most of them aren’t competent to use wisely anyhow.” (pp 32)


Because Rico joins the Mobile Infantry, the benefits of doing so are strsssed throughout the story. Military service = the franchise.
 

Toby Frost

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If I remember rightly you can volunteer for medical testing, waste disposal and other hazardous tasks if shooting commies isn't your thing. Rico writes:

"I didn't bother to list the various non-combatant auxiliary corps... an experimental animal or sent me as a labourer in the Terranising of Venus..." (pp 35)

However I don't know whether these are civilian organisations or not (a bit like the peace corps). It may be that Heinlein intended the criteria for the franchise to be not actual fighting, but the willingness to risk death in the service of the nation. But surely in the Starship Troopers universe, nobody escapes the joyous and enlightening experience that is boot camp. Not even peace-loving long-haired sissy types. Especially not them.

Here's a thought: WW2 British propaganda is Starship Troopers in reverse. According to the posters citizens fought because they had the vote (and other democratic rights) and didn't want to lose them. The price of citizenship was that you were expected to fight (or participate fully in the war effort), rather than citizenship being the reward for doing so. It seems to have worked.
 

cape_royds

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You can volunteer for any kind of service, but you get no say in which job they actually place you. Remember that MI was one of Rico's bottom picks?

If you have rare and valuable skills, then the Federation might make you a starship jockey. But if the Federation decides it needs some cannon fodder, then you're cannon fodder. Or if the Federation thinks you would make a good test animal, then you're gonna be a test animal.

Oh yeah. You can always quit. But then you don't get your vote. And to quote our narrator Rico, "you never, ever, get a second chance."

More: if for any reason the government is not happy with your service, then you get discharged and lose your chance that way.

So in the Terran Federation, one's acquisition of full citizen rights is completely contingent upon the government's estimation of your usefulness to them, and upon their assessment of your performance.

The Terran Federation is not a meritocracy. It is a self-selecting, self-replicating oligarchy, waging an endless war for galactic lebensraum.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World, the protagonists are misfits in their respective worlds.

But Starship Troopers is a story narrated by a naïf. Rico lacks the sort of education or intellect to criticize the society in which he lives. He's giving you the first-person perspective of one who dwells in dystopia--and loves it.
 

ghost8772

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But Starship Troopers is a story narrated by a naïf. Rico lacks the sort of education or intellect to criticize the society in which he lives. He's giving you the first-person perspective of one who dwells in dystopia--and loves it.

Heinleins worlds have always been dystopias. They are also told by a character within them, and typically where there are conflicts occuring. maybe not full scale war, but conflicts at the least. I would not say that any of those characters loves the world they are in, but for most it does work for them. Since the world works, it even makes a logical sense for their mindset. But I wouldn't call the world Loved by Johnny.
 

Fried Egg

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I am reading this book right now and am around three quarters of the way through.

One of the things that strikes me about what many people say about this book is that they found it very hard to believe that it was not meant as a deadpan satire, that the ideas presented here could not possibly be taken seriously. Quite frankly, for people to be so outright dismissive says to me they haven't really understood or thought about what Heinlein was saying here.

Now let me just say that I don't necessarily agree with the views expressed in this book but it does raise a lot of real questions that are not easily answered. He points out several problems with our current system that do exist and haven't gone away since this was written. It is not so obvious that our ways of raising children and organising society are so superior to that which he proposes and can be dismissed without second thought.

Heinlein's prescience at times was startling. He envisaged a late 20th century in which gangs of lawless youths would tyranise the streets and parks. I don't think we've quite reached the level that he depicts but we've certainly moved in that direction. The rise in youth lawlessness has paralleled a change in the way we bring up and disipline our children, with corporal punishment having been phased out and more liberal methods experimented with.

Some people have objected to Heinlein's ideas about restricting the right to vote (and full citizenship) to veterans because they are no better at thinking than anyone else. But Heinlein acknowledges this fact in the story. Indeed, he says that veterens may often be less intelligent than civillians. The point is that he is trying to balance power with responsibility. Only those who have demonstrated the ultimate sense of responbility to society (by being prepared to lay down their lives for it) earn the right to wield ultimate power. An interesting possibility this leaves open is that people might demonstrate such a sense of responsibility in other, non-militaristic ways.
Shell_Kracker said:
I personally find the 'fight to protect freedom' idea juvenile - because even seemingly posetive idealism turns into fanaticism - and one's own idea of what freedom is, is not definitive.
If someone is intent on taking away your freedom, you either fight to defend it or roll over and cede it. You (and everyone else) have freedom because we live in a society that is powerful enough to deter all those who would take it away. I don't see how anyone can believe they are entitled to freedom if the were not also willing to fight for it if it became necessary.

The problematic bit for me is this: I believe in fighting in defence and that if my country were being invaded everyone who enjoys the freedom that this society offers should be expected to contribute to it's defence. But on the other hand, it is hard to argue with the strategical doctrine that "attack is the best form of offence". This presents a real quandary for me because once you accept this, almost any form of pre-emptive attack can be justified on the grounds of self defence.

So, all in all, this is a deeply thought provoking book attempting to address problems that are more pertinent today than they were fifty years ago when this book was published. It should not be so glibly dismissed or ridiculed when we have so little grounds for faith in our solutions we've thus far found.
 

iansales

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First, the system in the book pretty much relies on the society being at war - and if it isn't, then it will no doubt try to change that. That's no basis for government. Second, people should be responsible for the decisions they make while in power, and demonstrating a talent for unquestioningly following orders is no qualification. Heinlein idolised the armed forces, perhaps because he spent WWII behind a desk, and their role in no way makes them suitable candidates for determining the policies of a nation. That's on a par with equating a national economy with a household chequebook.

Also, there's no link between lack of corporal punishment and rises in crime. Birching kids for anti-social behaviour will not magically turn them into law-abiding citizens. There have been gangs of "lawless youths" terrorising streets and parks for centuries, perhaps longer - have you never seen Quadrophenia, or Rebel Without A Cause?
 

Fried Egg

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Ian, I'm certainly not trying to say the social system proposed in this book doesn't have, at the very least, some serious flaws. Only that it attempts to answer some of the questions that we (still) don't have answers for.
First, the system in the book pretty much relies on the society being at war - and if it isn't, then it will no doubt try to change that.
I see you posted that earlier in the thread but I'm not quite sure there's a sound basis for your assertion. When Rico signs up the world is at peace and has been for quite a long period of time. War takes everyone by surprise so doesn't seem like the normal state of affairs that the social system relies upon in order to exist.

Besides which, even if Henlein doesn't focus on it, as I said above, I think the possibility is left open that people might demonstrate their willingness to sacrifice themselves for society in other, non-militaristic ways.
Second, people should be responsible for the decisions they make while in power, and demonstrating a talent for unquestioningly following orders is no qualification.
It is not the "talent" for blindly following orders as such that qualifies them for wielding power, but rather their willingness to put society's needs before one's own. I'm not sure how much I agree with that but I think the idea has at least some merit that's worth considering.
Also, there's no link between lack of corporal punishment and rises in crime. Birching kids for anti-social behaviour will not magically turn them into law-abiding citizens. There have been gangs of "lawless youths" terrorising streets and parks for centuries, perhaps longer - have you never seen Quadrophenia, or Rebel Without A Cause?
There has been a rise in youth lawlessness (I'm not talking about crime in general) but whether that's anything to do with corporal punishment falling out of favour and other liberalising of social attitudes towards youth rearing is another question.
 

Nerds_feather

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Just a couple points:

He envisaged a late 20th century in which gangs of lawless youths would tyranise the streets and parks. I don't think we've quite reached the level that he depicts but we've certainly moved in that direction. The rise in youth lawlessness has paralleled a change in the way we bring up and disipline our children, with corporal punishment having been phased out and more liberal methods experimented with.

Not sure this is exactly "prescient." Gangs were a common feature of 18th century London, and 19th/early 20th century New York--as much if not more than today.

If someone is intent on taking away your freedom, you either fight to defend it or roll over and cede it. You (and everyone else) have freedom because we live in a society that is powerful enough to deter all those who would take it away. I don't see how anyone can believe they are entitled to freedom if the were not also willing to fight for it if it became necessary.

I think the problem here is that the number of times "defending freedom" is evoked to justify military or civil action where your freedom is not actually at stake far outnumbers the times it is (as in, say, the Second World War). Making matters worse, "defending freedom" can sometimes be a smokescreen for rolling back or curtailing rights. Heinlein's militarism is, in this sense, at odds with his avowed libertarianism, since militarism is the ultimate form of statism. I don't get how a libertarian can be a militarist with a straight face.
 

iansales

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Ian, I'm certainly not trying to say the social system proposed in this book doesn't have, at the very least, some serious flaws. Only that it attempts to answer some of the questions that we (still) don't have answers for.

You knew I'd disagree :)

I see you posted that earlier in the thread but I'm not quite sure there's a sound basis for your assertion. When Rico signs up the world is at peace and has been for quite a long period of time. War takes everyone by surprise so doesn't seem like the normal state of affairs that the social system relies upon in order to exist.

You know the saying that when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail? It's driven US foreign policy since World War 2. That.

Besides which, even if Henlein doesn't focus on it, as I said above, I think the possibility is left open that people might demonstrate their willingness to sacrifice themselves for society in other, non-militaristic ways.

A political system which enfranchises only those who fail to die when - somewhat suicidally - choosing dangerous careers doesn't seem a very sensible proposition. If you look at the British Army, or the US Army, neither are filled with noble self-sacrificing men and women driven by a desire to do all they can for their society. The British Army is filled with nutters, and the US Army with neonazis and gang members.

It is not the "talent" for blindly following orders as such that qualifies them for wielding power, but rather their willingness to put society's needs before one's own. I'm not sure how much I agree with that but I think the idea has at least some merit that's worth considering.

Good soldiers obey orders. That would hardly make them the perfect electorate - unless you're the president, I suppose. I don't see any common ground between the reasons people join the military and the qualities needed to make for an enlightened electorate. Unless you subscribe to some bizarrely romanticised notion of the armed forces.

There has been a rise in youth lawlessness (I'm not talking about crime in general) but whether that's anything to do with corporal punishment falling out of favour and other liberalising of social attitudes towards youth rearing is another question.

How do we know there's been a rise? Do we have the figures prior to the middle of last century? Don't forget the population has more than doubled since 1901.
 

Fried Egg

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iansales said:
A political system which enfranchises only those who fail to die when - somewhat suicidally - choosing dangerous careers doesn't seem a very sensible proposition. If you look at the British Army, or the US Army, neither are filled with noble self-sacrificing men and women driven by a desire to do all they can for their society. The British Army is filled with nutters, and the US Army with neonazis and gang members.
I guess that for the system to work the military would need to be quite effective at filtering out all the nutters as it does in the book. Whether that would in anyway be achievable is another question.

But it's important not to distort what Heinlein was saying in this book. It is not that veterens have proven their desire to do all they can for society, rather it was that they have proven they are willing put their life on the line in order to carry out society's will.
I don't see any common ground between the reasons people join the military and the qualities needed to make for an enlightened electorate.
Again, it is not about ensuring an enlightened electorate. It's about ensuring a responsible electorate. And the idea is that those who join for the wrong reasons are weeded out in the training process.
How do we know there's been a rise? Do we have the figures prior to the middle of last century? Don't forget the population has more than doubled since 1901.
No, I don't have figures but I don't have any interest in debating something that seems blatently obvious. Who would claim that fifty years ago gangs of young people roving the streets was far less prevelent? It was virtually unheard of then.
 

Toby Frost

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For me, the one thing that deeply sours Starship Troopers, leaving aside it's other flaws, is the tone: it's just mean-spirited and nasty in the name of toughness.

Consider the things that happen and are tacitly approved of in the course of the book: public floggings, executions (IIRC), giving some long-haired kids (goddam pot-smoking hippy types!) a good thrashing in the name of the Corps, the disregard for all that pansy due process bull in the trial of the loutish soldier (sorry, I've forgotten his name), the casual way the Federation is said to have started with a bunch of lynchings in Aberdeen - it all adds up to a pervading atmosphere of getting pleasure out of brutality. The system gives the green light to every sort of bullying.

The picture of Heinlein I get from Starship Troopers is, at best, of a crotchety old man who hates those damned kids because they don't appreciate what he (sort of) went through in the war. The less charitable picture I get is of someone attracted to cruelty in the name of toughness, who wants through the Mobile Infantry to engage in a bit of Spartaw*nk. (I must add that I get that impression from this book only. Heinlein might have been a great bloke having a bad day). I've read books by people who genuinely were hard-cases, and they don't tend to read like this. And that, to me, invalidates it as a serious work.
 
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clovis-man

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The British Army is filled with nutters, and the US Army with neonazis and gang members.

Reaching a bit aren't we? Gang bangers tend to be unidirectional in their choice of affiliation. Army life isn't one of their chosen areas of endeavor.

I see Heinlein's ex-miltary as citizens as his overly simplistic meritocracy. But even if we think voting rights, etc. based on merit is something to be desired, we would all probably have different versions of who is deserving and who is not. All of which argues against the notion.
 

Nerds_feather

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For me, the one thing that deeply sours Starship Troopers, leaving aside it's other flaws, is the tone: it's just mean-spirited and nasty in the name of toughness.

Consider the things that happen and are tacitly approved of in the course of the book: public floggings, executions (IIRC), giving some long-haired kids (goddam pot-smoking hippy types!) a good thrashing in the name of the Corps, the disregard for all that pansy due process bull in the trial of the loutish soldier (sorry, I've forgotten his name), the casual way the Federation is said to have started with a bunch of lynchings in Aberdeen - it all adds up to a pervading atmosphere of getting pleasure out of brutality. The system gives the green light to every sort of bullying.

The picture of Heinlein I get from Starship Troopers is, at best, of a crotchety old man who hates those damned kids because they don't appreciate what he (sort of) went through in the war. The less charitable picture I get is of someone attracted to cruelty in the name of toughness, who wants through the Mobile Infantry to engage in a bit of Spartaw*nk. (I must add that I get that impression from this book only. Heinlein might have been a great bloke having a bad day). I've read books by people who genuinely were hard-cases, and they don't tend to read like this. And that, to me, invalidates it as a serious work.

Think I agree with most of this. At one point in my life, I was able to read stuff like this without fully recoiling. Now, though, having known a lot of veterans and civilian war survivors, it just feels creepy and, well, like a pencil-pusher's "spartaw*nk," as you so colorfully put it.

For once, I think the film got it better than the book it was based on.
 

iansales

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I guess that for the system to work the military would need to be quite effective at filtering out all the nutters as it does in the book. Whether that would in anyway be achievable is another question.

Except that mean weeding out those who make good soldiers. You can't have an enlightened army in order to make an enlightened electorate. Because it will be a rubbish army.

Reaching a bit aren't we? Gang bangers tend to be unidirectional in their choice of affiliation. Army life isn't one of their chosen areas of endeavor.

A recent study has shown that there are a large number of gang bangers in the US military. A lot of those accused of abuse at Abu Ghraib were found to have gang affiliations or are members of neo-nazi groups. The US military relaxed its entry qualifications over a decade ago, and it's suffering now as a result.
 

iansales

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No, I don't have figures but I don't have any interest in debating something that seems blatently obvious. Who would claim that fifty years ago gangs of young people roving the streets was far less prevelent? It was virtually unheard of then.

It was virtually unreported then. And there aren't "gangs of young people roving the streets" now. Not unless you live in Daily Mail land.
 

Nerds_feather

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A recent study has shown that there are a large number of gang bangers in the US military. A lot of those accused of abuse at Abu Ghraib were found to have gang affiliations or are members of neo-nazi groups. The US military relaxed its entry qualifications over a decade ago, and it's suffering now as a result.

Well, let's get a bit more fact-y...turns out you both have a case:

In 2008, FBI gang investigator Jennifer Simon stated that 1-2% of the U.S. military belongs to gangs, which is 50-100 times the rate in the general population.[1] According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, the NGIC has identified members of more than 53 gangs who have served in the United States military, including Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, MS-13, Sureños, Juggalos, the Aryan Brotherhood, Barrio Azteca, Bandidos, Hells Angels, and Gangster Disciples.[2]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gang_presence_in_the_United_States_military

[of course, juggalos are not a gang--they're fans of a really terrible "music" group.]

Gang members constitute a very small proportion of the enlisted, but a disproportionately large one compared with the general population.
 

J-Sun

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Not directly on the meat of the topic, but I was struck by this quoted from the wikipedia:

In 2008, FBI gang investigator Jennifer Simon stated that 1-2% of the U.S. military belongs to gangs, which is 50-100 times the rate in the general population.

Well, of course it's larger than the general population. The armed forces are made up of all kinds of people, including probably some 70 year old grandmothers but they are disproportionately made of young men vs. the elderly and female. And gangs are generally made up of young men vs. the elderly and female. The 50-100 times makes it sound like it would be disproportionate even using comparable demographic metrics but nowhere near that disproportionate.
 

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