Disclaimer: the post is not very intelligible, read the novel to understand what I am talking about.
Want to make a short post on a novel I recently read, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. It is a military sci-fi, meaning it is a novel not only interested in the speculative tech-driven futurism, but also in the military.
The novel is about a young guy enrolling into the army and becoming a brilliant officer. There is no drama and no real tension, it is just a feels-good piece for army fans. The book is set in the future where Earth is at war with some insect-like aliens, and the protagonist is a member of the infantry which engages the enemy on the ground.
The reason why I decided to write about this novel is because, very much like Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, it is full of such utter nonsense, mixed in with entertaining narrative, that it is hard to resist to argue with it. There is no real need too, the book is just cheap entertainment, but still I think I won’t do too much damage if I write a few lines about it ^^’/
The first fun fact about the happy future the book describes is that in that future only army veterans are citizens and only they are allowed to vote. Army service is no trifle either. The army happily killed a dozen people to train a few dozen, as was described in the book. And hundreds were sent home. The training as described in the book is filled with moderately-to-extreme hardships and constant humiliation of the lower ranking soldiers and aggression from the higher ranking army men. As explained in the novel, the army served as a sieve to pick only the most community-minded individuals and allowing only them to vote was good for everyone.
That is where I make my first stop. Obviously such system couldn’t last, it would be dysfunctional from the start. Such a group of voters would be hugely biased and would be easily exploited and lead astray to destroy their country. Not to mention that even in the novel there were plenty of episodes where army was brain-washing its members to follow a certain line of thinking, be it though drills or exams where you had to know the right answers for questions related to governing the planet (like, there was a right answer to a question “should you starrt a war if …”). I think even a little kid would be able to guess that this political system would result in something horrid, probably in extreme militarism.
That is an unfair criticism though. Heinlein didn’t care. He was happy with military dictatorship. Unless he was making a joke, he also believed that it is possible to provide correct answers to moral questions using mathematical proofs (shows he had no idea what math is 😅), and those were usually that you need to start wars and use other kinds of violence. That is fine, no one says that you have to have pacifist views or whatever. This is a military sci-fi after all.
In his book, kids and later officers, were studying something called “History and moral philosophy”. I am itching to say that this means the kids learned neither history, nor philosophy, but just got a pile of propaganda damped on their heads, where history served to justify ridiculous claims “moral philosophy” and its “mathematical proofs” were making. And during one of those lessons, kids were told that US, before its collapse in the 20th century, was filled with street violence brought by “adolescent delinquents”.
I have to stop here a second time. This gives me Thus Spoke Zarathustra flashbacks, where Nietzsche’s moral problems were ridiculous in their simplicity compared with what real world deals with. Like seriously, hooligans are the problem that you cite? For real? That is your big concern? Just how sheltered do you need to be if that is your problem?.. I guess if you are the upper class and in your otherwise perfect life street gangs are the only dirty spot… but even then it is silly. Read Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald, they wrote a lot about the upper class life in the early 20th century, it is absolutely not a dull lit (seriously, read them; it is an actually good writing, and they talk about morals better than either Nietzsche or Heinlein).
And here we come to the first thing that is actually worth chewing. You know what Heinlein brings up when talking about the hooligans and about how you get rid of them? He talks about how you need to beat a puppy to teach it to behave. That is what you need to do with people, he says. Beat them till they are moral and good. Wow, that is really something 🙄 If you want me to bash your novel, add stuff like that in to it, would increase the chances greatly.
Jokes aside, it is not just some random silly parallel. Heinlein really does treat people like animals in this book. His hero and all his mates are in the infantry, where the soldiers are referred to as ‘apes’. At some point in the book he is seriously worrying about how humans on some planet are not exposed to radiation which would limit their ability to mutate and change (which is, I am pretty sure, nonsense on all kinds of levels). I don’t know if Heinlein noticed, but space travel was a product of human ingenuity, not mutations. Sorry, hard not to fall into a rant ^^’
The feeling I get from the book is that it is a wish fulfillment piece. But in this case, the wish is to be kicked in the face, be praised for taking the hit well and not complaining and then cherishing the footprint on your face as a treasure and honor. There is nothing wrong about loving system that disciplines and teaches you and makes you better. Read Hesse for good examples. Heinlein is good too, but in a different sense. His novel exposes the seeming perverseres of this love, the desire to be praised for accepting humiliation and pain.
In case you want to compare it to a military novel without that masochistic love, try All Quiet on the Western Front. I am not saying that there is something wrong in what Heinlein does, it is just that I get a feeling that Heinlein didn’t intended it to be so obvious that the core of his novel is the love towards submission and praise from a faceless system. I wonder how well he would have been able to write if he lived in the Soviet Union where that system he envisioned existed in that very time when he was writing that novel.
That is all from me. See you next time ^^/