Commentary by Joseph T Major on Robert A. Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS

Opus #133; NHOL #G.140a; written November 8-22, 1958; 60,000 words

Serialized as Starship Soldier in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction October-November 1959 (NHOL #G.140b)


Sun Tzu said

Generally, in a Fiery Attack,

There are Five Fiery Variations

That must be followed and responded to.

If a Fire is started on the inside,

Respond at once from the outside.

If a Fire is started and the Strategy is silence,

Hold back and do not Attack.

If a Fire has exhausted its strength,

Pursue if there is opportunity;

Stop if there is not.

If a Fire can be started on the outside,

Do not wait for a time to start it on the inside.

If a Fire starts upwind,

Do not Attack from downwind,

In the daytime the wind may last;

At night the wind may stop.

Generally, the Army must understand the Five Fiery Variations

In order to analyze its own defense.

The Art of War, Chapter XII, 6-12

Robert Heinlein's novel Starship Troopers was controversial since even before its publication in 1959; it has become more controversial over the years; and even now, nearly forty years after that publication, it is not only controversial of itself, but has engendered controversy in an entirely different medium. It even began in controversy, as the author explained:

When the soi-distant "SANE" Committee published its page ad in Colorado Springs (and many other cities) on 5 April 1958, I was working on THE HERETIC (later to be published as STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND). I stopped at once and for several weeks Mrs. Heinlein and I did nothing but work on this "Patrick Henry" drive. . . .

Presently I resumed writing not STRANGER but STARSHIP TROOPERS.

Expanded Universe, p. 396

The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy had been founded in June 1957 by a coalition of pacifists. Its first such advertisement had been run November 15, 1957. There was at the time substantial concern regarding Communist infiltration, both within and without the organization, including in Time magazine, no less [Guenter Lewy, The Cause that Failed, pp. 224-6], Heinlein's concerns regardless.

Heinlein decided to press his efforts in other fields, ones in which he already had expertise and experience. In two weeks (November 8-22, 1958) he wrote a sixty-thousand word book. One can get an idea of the fervor of his effort by quoting from his submission letter to his agent Lurton Blassingame: "I finished a draft of a novel, working title Sky Soldier, at 5:20 this morning" [Grumbles from the Grave, letter of November 22, 1958, p. 81].

In a notorious response, the book was rejected. Heinlein afterwards almost bragged about having been rejected [Expanded Universe, p. 207], and certainly seemed to be expecting to be rejected beforehand: ". . . I anticipate that [Dalgleish] is not going to like parts of this book, I might as well get it over with . . . It is not a juvenile" [Grumbles from the Grave, letter of January 10, 1959, pp. 81-2]. Nevertheless, at the time that rejection stung:

. . . However, the Scribner's angle is a special case. Yes, I do know that Miss Dalgleish is no longer there. But my irk is not alone at her; it includes Mr. Scribner himself. I feel that I was treated in a very shabby fashion, and I regard him as in part responsible and do not wish to place any more stories with his firm. Scribner's had published twelve of my books and every single one of them made a profit for them and each one is still making money for them. At one point Miss Dalgleish told me that my books had kept her department out of the red.

So I offer a thirteenth book . . . and it is turned down with a brisk little note which might as well have been a printed rejection ship, for it was just as cold and just as informative.

I then found it necessary to write to [George McC] to find out what the score was. He told me that it had been a joint action, in which several of the editors had read my ms including Mr. Scribner and that Scribner himself had joined in rejecting it.

Grumbles from the Grave, letter of September 19, 1960, pp. 83-4

Charles Scribner wrote a book of memoirs, In the Company of Writers: A Life in Publishing (1990), and assembled a collection of essays on the publishing business, In the Web of Ideas: the Education of a Publisher (1993). In both of these, he praises Alice Dalgleish for her exemplary work in Scribner's juvenile fiction division. He even lists the writers she published, the ones who built their reputation. This listing does not include Heinlein. He never mentions Heinlein at all. This could be from a desire to avoid litigation, but Heinlein does not appear to have been given to lawsuits except in extreme cases (i.e., the movie The Brain Eaters (1956), a blatant infringement of the copyright of The Puppet Masters (1951)). This leaves the observer forced to at least consider the possibility that perhaps Heinlein's works were not as important to Scribner's as he believed them to be.

This was the last conflict with an editor where Heinlein lost. Prior to that, there had been his ill-advised breakoff with The Saturday Evening Post, where the rejection of what would become "Ordeal In Space" provoked a similar reaction [see Grumbles from the Grave, letter of November 24, 1947, p. 154]. When John W. Campbell had rejected a story in 1940, Heinlein had also quit, but (he claimed) then let himself be tempted back into writing. This is discussed in Expanded Universe, pp. 92-5 and Grumbles from the Grave, pp. 11-5.

The period Heinlein gives in the former of "about a month" [p. 94] does not quite seem to accord with the dates given in the latter. The "retirement" letter is dated September 6, 1941 [p. 11] and the "back to writing" letter is dated September 16, 1941 [p. 15]. (This dichotomy between his observations in Expanded Universe and observations elsewhere will be significant in discussing this book.) Nevertheless, in the progression to this incident Heinlein had suffered a hardening of attitudes, one that would eventually rebound to the detriment of his reputation.

This setup seems to have been his way out of a relationship which was increasingly unpleasant. When Heinlein well-nigh brags of having submitted a work which didn't fit the established specifications "It is not a juvenile" his revulsion at its rejection (see the letter of September 19, 1960) somehow doesn't seem to fit either.

His reputation has taken a different sort of knock from this work. This book has been the target of the bitterest criticisms. It has been called "fascist" by commentators who have shown themselves utterly ignorant of the book itself and not all that more informed about the nature of fascism.

For example, in the 1985 denunciation of "sci-fi" in Harper's Magazine by Luc Sante (the litcrit folks at Harper's feel the need to do this occasionally; see Damon Knight's dismissal of an earlier such spasm on page 2 of In Search of Wonder) he targeted Heinlein as such. It is an interesting comment that when, preaching to the converted, the SFWA Bulletin refuted the article, that was the only charge not addressed (see Robert A. Heinlein (1987) by Leon Stover, p. 47).

Less overtly, the book has been parodied and refuted, with varying success, and it seems the most effective rejoinder had been written before the book itself. Even some of the praise has been made from a less-than-adequate perception of the book.


Sun Tzu said:

Heed me by Calculating the advantages

And reinforce them by Directing outwardly. . .

Those who triumph,

Compute at their temple

A great number of factors

Prior to a challenge.

Those are defeated Compute at their temple

A small number of factors

Prior to a challenge.

Much computation brings triumph.

Little computation brings defeat.

How much more so with no computation at all!

By observing only this,

I can see triumph or defeat.

The Art of War, Chapter I, 16, 28

"The book's nearest cousin is the sort of recruiting film that purports to show the life of a typical soldier, with a soundtrack commentary by earnest sincere Private Jones who interprets what we see for us," says Alexei Panshin in one of the less heated discussions of Starship Troopers [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 94] Panshin did not let the personal clash that alienated Heinlein from him get into this analysis.

The book is dedicated:

To "Sarge" Arthur George Smith

Soldier, Citizen, Scientist

and to all Sergeants anywhere

who have labored to make men

out of boys.

Starship Troopers, dedication

Panshin thought that this relationship might provide some insight into the book, and so looked up Sergeant Smith. He had died, but his widow let Panshin read the letters Heinlein had written him. Heinlein heard of this and ever after rejected Panshin on the grounds that he was a snooper, someone who read other peoples' mail.

Given that gunso [sergeant] Yano Tetsu has publicly paid tribute to Heinlein in inspiring him to rebuild his life and career amid the ruins of postwar Japan, mentioning Starship Troopers as a work that later inspired him even more [Requiem (1992), pp. 238-9], it could be reasonably expected that the relationship between dedicator and dedicatee might be of interest.

Heinlein did not deny the point, either, though he views it from a different perspective:

"That book glorifies the military!" Now we are getting somewhere. It does indeed. Specifically the P.B.I., the Poor Bloody Infantry, the mudfoot who places his frail body between his loved home and the war's desolation but is rarely appreciated.

Expanded Universe, p. 398

The question that Heinlein in addressing is the preservation of the polity. Is the polity worth preserving? What efforts are desirable to preserve it? The genesis of the book, as seen, was his concern regarding his perceived unwillingness of the elites of the West to defend the polity by his standards.

A previous editor seems not to have thought highly of the book either, or so Heinlein opined: "It is pleasanter than offering copy to John Campbell, having it bounced (he bounced both of my last two Hugo winners) and then have to wade through ten pages of his arrogant insults, explaining to me why the story is no good." [Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 9, 1963, p. 152]

However, a selection of those arrogant insults is available:

Re: "Starship Soldier" by Robert A. Heinlein . . .

I feel that Bob's departing from the principles he himself introduced in science fiction "Don't tell the reader about the background; let him gather it from what happens." In this yarn, there are several sections of multi-page preachments of this thesis. Some of the preachments I agree with fully; they still strike me as being ineffective because of the technique of direct-statement presentation.

The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume I, p. 362,

Letter to Lurton Blassingame, March 4, 1959

Calling such an agreement, albeit a partial and qualified one, an "arrogant insult" says more about Heinlein's attitude towards criticism of this work than he might have liked to have said. Moreover, Blassingame himself had said to Heinlein, "there were places where action stopped and author went in for lecturing." [Grumbles from the Grave, letter of January 21, 1959, p. 82]

Another editor, not particularly known for being Campbellian, had a similar opinion as well:

For the unfortunate fact is that this is not a novel at all, but an irate sermon with a few fictional trappings . . . Many of [the author's] points are highly debatable (especially his restriction of the franchise to veterans and his insistence upon the virtues of war as man's "noblest fate") and usually very well debated; but the author is so intent on his arguments that he has forgotten to insert a story or any recognizable characters.

H. H. Holmes, N. Y. Herald-Tribune Book Review, November 8, 1959, p. 15

Perhaps if that reviewer, under his other pseudonym of Anthony Boucher [William A. P. White, author of Rocket to the Morgue, which features a character named "Austin Carter" who is very much like Heinlein], had still been editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Heinlein would have had two editors giving rejections to complain about to Blassingame. When three people call you a horse, perhaps you had better give some thought to buying a saddle.

From the comments in Expanded Universe [pp. 386-7 and 396-402] it is obvious that Heinlein identified deeply with these theses. You will recall that the book was composed in a brief, intense, spasm of writing, as a specific response to a public issue.

Since the posthumous publication of Take Back Your Government (1992) it has become clear that Heinlein was both capable of and able at writing nonfiction devoted to a political end. Had he written, instead of this book, a nonfiction book expounding on the theses of his "Patrick Henry League", his views might have been more clearly understood. The response to the book that he actually ended up writing ended up validating for him many of the things he had done and said. Not that all of them should have been validated.

When this is compared with the earlier didactism, the stories in the collection The Green Hills of Earth, which were intended to prepare the way, in the realm of ideas, for the coming Age of Space, a certain coarsening of methods may be observed. Note that all three of the commentators, Campbell, Blassingame, and Boucher, demurred from the lecturing presented in the book. Note further that when Heinlein's hagiographer Spider Robinson discussed the question of "Heinlein lectures at the expense of his fiction" [see "Rah, Rah, R.A.H." in Requiem, pp. 286-307] he specifically avoids mentioning Starship Troopers [op. cit., pp. 301-7]. (Instead, he defends I Will Fear No Evil (1972), which defense offers substantial proof of his abdication of judgment in this matter.)

In an earlier point, Robinson addresses the question of "Heinlein's male characters are all him" and goes on to show his lack of research by saying "I understand this notion was first put forward by James Blish in an essay titled, 'Heinlein, Son of Heinlein,' which I have not seen." [see Requiem, p. 297] Robinson's subsequent discussion of the differing characters in the books is not without merit, though influnced by the halo in his eyes. If he had actually read Blish's essay, though, he might have had a harder time pretending to refute it:

The failures of masters are usually more interesting to the technician than the triumphs of tyros, and this one is no exception. The only first-person narrator Heinlein has created who is a living, completely independent human being is The Great Lorenzo of Double Star. . . . On the other hand, the heroes of "Gulf," The Puppet Masters, and The Door Into Summer, are all the same man, the competent young engineer-operative . . . By drawing on all three novels, a critic could produce quite an extended portrait of this man, but in no one of the novels is he presented in the round, and I think it is quite safe to assume that he is in actuality an idealized self-portrait of the author.

"William Atheling, Jr." [James Blish]

"Heinlein, Son of Heinlein", More Issues At Hand, pp. 54-5

But Blish found out that it was not safe; "Heinlein reportedly was furious," he heard [loc. cit.] In an extension to the original essay Blish cites Starship Troopers and points out that while it does not use the first-person self-portrait protagonist of the three works he cited [a point that Robinson missed through his failure to read the book], it contains considerable editorializing [More Issues At Hand, p. 57] In any case, Blish is following Knight, who said "Heinlein's greatest asset, I think is this same perennial hero essentially he's Heinlein himself, and Heinlein likes himself." [In Search of Wonder, p. 80] (Similarly, Robinson's discussion of the Heinlein Individual in connection with this point shows that while he has read Heinlein In Dimension, he hasn't understood it very well.)

Not that Panshin is without problems. In discussing the title, he says, "[Note,] for instance, the emotional difference between the magazine title ["Starship Soldier"], the editor's choice, and the book title, Heinlein's choice" [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 94]. But it turns out that the original title was Sky Soldier [Grumbles from the Grave, letter of November 22, 1958, p. 81] and it was sold as Starship Soldier [see Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 23, 1959, p. 83 for instance]. In other words, Panshin would seem to be saying the exact opposite of the situation here. Understanding this point helps to clarify understanding the intent of the book.


Sun Tzu said:

The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle.

For if he does not know where I intend to give battle,

He must prepare in a great many places.

And when he prepares in a great many places,

Those I have to fight in any one place will be few.

Hence, when the front is prepared, there are fewer in rear.

When the rear is prepared, there are fewer in front.

When the right is prepared, there are fewer on the left.

When the left is prepared, there are fewer on the right.

And if there is no place he does not make preparations,

There is no place he is not vulnerable.

The Art of War, Chapter VI, 14-15

Panshin describes the opening scene of the book as "One Mobile Infantrymen are dropped from a starship during a future war. There is a quick strike, given in detail, ending with the death of one of the armored, heavily-armed soldiers as they are picked up from the raid." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 94] The detail is almost too detailed. We begin with our, for now, anonymous point-of-view character describing the preparations. To "humanize" himself, he confesses "I always get the shakes before a drop," [p. 5] George Macdonald Fraser's inimitable Harry Flashman gains credibility for his unsparing critiques of Victorian-era societies by his even more unsparing critiques of his extreme self-security, the peculiar form of cowardice which makes him more willing to go into danger than to be shown up as lily-livered. Flashy's assessments, self or external, will however be unwanted in this field of endeavor.

From there the narrator steps outside a little farther, discussing his unit. Which is, it seems, already understrength, and becoming further short of troops to boot. His platoon is for the moment being commanded by its noncom, the officer having been killed in the last action. At first glance this implies a more extreme pace of operations, where reinforcements cannot catch up. This is true but not complete.

Acting platoon commander Sergeant Jelal, like all the officers and noncoms in the book, is wise, brave, humane, tough, concerned, and able. Not to mention eloquent:

. . . "What a gang of apes!" he growled. "Maybe if you'd all buy it this drop, they could start over and build the kind of outfit the Lieutenant expected you to be. But probably not with the sort of recruits they get these days." He suddenly straightened up, shouted, "I want to remind you that each and every one of you has cost the gov'ment, counting weapons, armor, ammo, instrumentation, and training, everything, including the way you overeat has cost, on the hoof, better'n half a million. Add in the thirty cents you are actually worth and that runs to quite a sum." He glared at us. "So bring it back! We can spare you, but we can't spare that fancy suit you're wearing. I don't want any heroes in this outfit; the Lieutenant wouldn't like it. You got a job to do, you go down, you do it, you keep your ears open for recall, you show up for retrieval on the bounce and by the numbers. Got it?"

Starship Troopers, p. 6

Leave aside the consideration that a real sergeant giving such an oration would depend heavily on the employment of a four-letter word of sexual connotation, used as all parts of speech. (Consider the times and the audience.) Note instead that Jelal invoke the memory of the deceased platoon commander. We are far from the vicious, corrupt, incompetent, stupid "regulars" of such works as Catch-22.

Writers like Joseph Heller and Asimov, to take a closer example grew up in the thirties hearing that the only reason that anyone would originally enlist, much less remain, in the armed forces was because they were incompetent, unable to work in the civilian world. When such middle-class intellectuals were drafted and put under the authority of these "incompetents" this affront to their self-image reflected itself eventually in literary portrayals of said superiors as vicious, corrupt, incompetent, and stupid (cf. In Memory Yet Green). Heinlein's reaction (Catch-22 was not the first of such works) is oppositely unbalanced, less so, albeit he endeavors to justify it by stressing the high level of training the commanders undergo.

Somewhat closer to the reality is the presentation in the original M*A*S*H by Dr. Richard "Richard Hooker" Hornberger and in the works of his sometime collaborator William "W. E. B. Griffin" Butterworth, particularly his The Corps series. The officers presented there are not all good, but neither are they the vicious, corrupt, incompetent, stupid "regulars" of affronted ex-draftees' work. As L. Sprague de Camp (Heinlein's sometime co-worker) puts it:

My considered opinion is that the percentage of sons of bitches is really no higher among military officers than elsewhere. It only seems higher sometimes because, when such an officer gets a position of power, he can make life interesting for so many people under his authority.

L. Sprague de Camp, Time and Chance, p. 185

As we shall see, Heinlein argued that it was possible to screen out those "sons of bitches" whether it would or not is another matter.

Sergeant Jelal's address to the troops has another factor. The emotional imagery he is employing is of a wise, benevolent family endeavoring to carry on after the death of its loving father a portrayal so idealized as to be grossly at variance with not only similar real-life situations but the even more aggressive ideology featured in the book.

After the address to the troops, Jelal permits the men to seek reassurance. The chaplain will be going on the mission, and our narrator, who Jelal tells us now is named "Johnnie", lets drop a basic theme of his military life: "In any case, in the Mobile Infantry, everybody drops and everybody fights chaplain and cook and the Old Man's writer." [p. 7]

This is followed by Jelal, Johnnie, and the rest of the platoon forming up to be dropped into that fight. This section is very technical, describing the means by which infantrymen can be dropped from a spaceship and reach the ground alive. Considering that paratroop drops in the Second World War assumed a five percent disabling injury rate just in the initial drop, and given the marginal reserves this unit has, any technology that minimizes landing injuries is worth deploying, in order to get the fighting men to the point of action.

The drop includes a number of decoys, objects intended to confuse and distract the enemy's defenses. In the middle of this, Johnnie and his men are being deployed by a complex multi-layered landing system which is described in detail. This might overwhelm some readers; others would revel in the "techie" detail laid out herein. More recent development has brought about a method of parachuting called HALO, for High Altitude Low Opening, where a parachutist attempting to infiltrate a hostile area will jump from a high-altitude, using oxygen to survive, presenting a minimal radar or visual target on the drop until he reaches a low altitude, at which point the parachutist will finally open the very observable parachute and slow to landing velocity. Since air resistance causes falling objects of, for example, human size to reach a stable velocity that is considerably less than that achievable by gravitational acceleration, this is not the elaborate suicide method that it seems to be. Which is what Johnnie and the platoon are doing in this very High Altitude HALO drop.

The landing brings into play other features of the trooper's equipment, with references to jump jets, internal navigation instruments projected on the visor, and gyroscopic stabilization. Personal jetpack propulsion has turned out to be impractical for fuel reasons, gyroscopic stabilization is used but not as much as that, but what airplane designers call "heads-up displays," projections of essential controls on the windshield, are now commonplace.

The fighting methods presented here are an advanced level of fighting, requiring high levels of initiative on the part of the individual soldier. This is correlated with the high firepower and mobility available to that soldier. As the firepower available to the individual soldier has increased, as the mobility has expanded, from slingstones to muskets to assault rifles, from feet to trucks to helicopters, so has the initiative and individual action required increased. The tactics and methodology demonstrated here are an extrapolation of these trends.

The natives might be less than enthusiastic about this demonstration. For all that Sergeant Jelal had stressed "You'll kill only when you can't help it," [p. 7] the combat Johnnie proceeds to engage in would seem to be killing a lot of people (the preceding sentence "You'll take no prisoners." is usually not held to mean what Jelal seems to be ordering here). The term "collateral damage" was not then in use, but burning down buildings, much less firing off small-yield nuclear weapons, hardly seems to be defined as life-sparing. But then, they could have obliterated the planet, so perhaps this vast carnage is, by comparison, letting "the enemy know that we could have destroyed their city but didn't but that they aren't safe even though we refrained from total bombing." [p. 7] Those burned or radiation-poisoned perhaps might not appreciate the mercy.

So far the raid has gone well, from the raiders' point of view. The most hazardous point is pickup, when it is necessary to land a shuttle and embark, exposing the unit to destruction en masse, on the cheap. Accordingly, "you had better be on hand, because the bus can't wait and there won't be another one along," [p. 18] Johnnie says in typical Heinlein banter.

But then a problem ensues; a man is down. As assistant section leader, Johnnie is tasked with recovering the wounded the assistant section leader is not directly responsible for command purposes, while it is desirable, both for morale purposes and for saving the investment in a trained soldier, to make efforts to recover wounded. (In Cyril Kornbluth's "The Only Thing We Learn" [see This Share of Glory, pp. 494-501] the Earth fleet has an elaborate system of hospital ships and automated retrieval of wounded; the vulnerability of this system to a foe that is willing to expend less-valued people to attack it makes a different sort of point.)

So, in spite of Jelal's tough guy speech about "We can spare you, but we can't spare that fancy suit you're wearing," Johnnie and the other rescuer peel the wounded man out of his suit. In spite of the timetable-stressing "you had better be on hand," the carrier is waiting for the wounded man, and Jelal himself jumps back to lend a hand. In vain, ultimately, but a point has been made.

The militarist aspects of Starship Troopers have been used as the point of attack on the book. This method has many advantages, not the least of which is that it removes the need (from the advocate's point of view) to discuss the ideas of the book. But even on this level such an attack is less than adequate.

But even that is more developed than such arguments will admit. The combat described in Chapter One described a new kind of war, one fought with advanced technologies, demanding a high standard of soldiers to use this equipment. Such people could consider themselves, with justification, to be an elite. Which way of thought has its own consequences.


Sun Tzu said:

The Tao means that there must be a common conviction shared by both the people and the government. The people must agree with the goals of the government before they will be willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the country.

The Art of War, Chapter I, 5

Panshin continues his summary, "Two Just as the recruiting film would do, cut back to pick up the eager young narrator on the day he enlists (instead of going to Harvard as his rich father would have him)." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 95] This hypothetical film seems more like a Hollywood movie about the wonders of service.

"I never really intended to join up," [p. 21] is an opening line on a par with "You see, I had this space suit," from Have Space Suit Will Travel [p. 5] (1958). Johnnie's father is quite explicit about how joining up is a typical immature wish, which argument he reinforces by citing a number of other immature flings Johnnie had had. His plan, it seems, is to put his son through training, world travel (or maybe "worlds travel", since one of the perks of this plan is a trip to Mars), and then slot him into a training level at the company so he can secure the succession of management. (Since Johnnie received a "Rolls copter" since Rolls-Royce also makes jet engines this is not unrealistic for his fourteenth birthday [p. 21] once can guess that the family is rich.)

Unfortunately for his plans, but fortunately for the plot, Johnnie is suffering from peer pressure and mentor mastering. Carl, his best friend from school is going in. Carl treads in the spacesuit boots of Art Mueller, Kip Russell, and the brothers Stone, not to mention Richard B. Seaton, being a top-rate techie, with a good friend to help out in his lab building the Skylark of Space.

And then there was the mentor mastering . . . since we left our own time, the curriculum has added a new course, neither quite a requirement nor an elective, called "History and Moral Philosophy". It isn't an elective because everyone has to take it, but it's not quite a requirement because no one has to pass it. The teacher, Mr. Dubois (Johnnie's father doesn't like this idea of importing foreigners, which is a clever piece of misdirection on Heinlein's part) teaches by quarrel he snaps out a proposition and then nags a student into debating it. Dubois is even more cut up than Deacon Matson of Tunnel In the Sky (1955), having lost part of an arm, which may have been an indicator. In the scene where he is discussed, Heinlein gives a brief exposition of the philosophy powering the work:

. . . Suddenly he pointed his stump at me. "You. What is the moral difference, if any, between the soldier and the civilian?"

"The difference," I answered carefully, "lies in the field of civic virtue. A soldier accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic of which he is a member, defending it, if need be, with his life. The civilian does not."

Starship Troopers, p. 24

Thus stating the theme of the work quite early on. This definition will also lead to some other contradictions.

Whereupon they find an early warning. If you thought Mr. Dubois was shorthanded, the job applications clerk is even more abridged: "But his right arm was off so short that his tunic had been tailored without any sleeve at all . . . and when you came up to the rail, you could see that he had no legs." [p. 26] This is a recruiting sergeant who doesn't seem all that interested in making a quota, either.

Johnnie has come down with Carl and they met another schoolmate, Carmencita Ibañez, who has the same thing in mind enlisting, that is. Her math skills are top-rate (Johnnie admits to having slid through in the style of the early Kip Russell (as before Clifford Russell, Sr., booted him up to college prep), which seems odd preparation for getting into an elite college and running a business enterprise) and she gets sent upstairs to pilot sign-up without a second comment. The boys, on the other hand, get a sterner lecture.

"The government doesn't care one bucket of swill whether you join or not!" [p. 27] he snarls, beginning a lecture on the nature of the new kind of war. While many are called, few are chosen, and those who fail the high standards are flung into unpleasant alternative work. The new soldier has to be skilled in many difficult fields and capable of taking the initiative. Either way, the service is intended to make the volunteer realize that life is not all easy.

This was why a triple amputee is the gatekeeper; to serve as an initial "sickener" factor. Much the same reasoning as with the harsh initial evaluation for the Space Patrol in Space Cadet (1948).

In spite of this, Johnnie and Carl persevere. The next stage is a medical exam, by a doctor who is a contract employee and who indeed derogates the entire concept of the service. And he can't fail anybody for anything the only way not to get sworn in is through mental incompetence.

Some would say that mental incompetence is what it takes to join. They swear to join "the Federal Service of the Terran Federation," [p. 30], not even asking "How can I get out of this chicken outfit?" After a last period for reconsideration, Johnnie begins his evaluation.

He requests a variety of services, Navy first, then various support services, finally the combat arms. When David Niven finished his term at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and filled out a request list for regiments, he listed two Highland regiments and then said "Any Highland Regiment except the Highland Light Infantry." So Second Lieutenant Niven was assigned to the Highland Light Infantry. Heinlein would later handle assignment procedures a little more flippantly in Glory Road (1963).

Selection here is a little more skills-oriented, and after Johnnie is found to be deficient in the various skills needed for the naval service, he gets passed over for most of the other arms, and after a short interview with one, is also turned down for the K-9 dog handling corps. Actually, this seems to be an intelligent selections process, but even that has problems. A similar procedure was used by the U.S. Army during the Second World War, leading to the problem that the infantry got the left-over poor-quality men, after the Army Air Force and the "technical" support arms got first choice, and not surprisingly took the able and skilled. Similarly, the Soviet armed forces had the same selection process producing the same result, as former Soviet Captain Vladimir Bogdanovich "Viktor Suvorov" Rezun pointed out [Inside the Soviet Army (1982), pp. 218-220]

But Johnnie ends up in the combat arm, his last choice, the Mobile Infantry. This turns out to please the recruiter, now introduced as "Fleet Sergeant Ho" [p. 35 (think about the ethnic implications of that name) who congratulates him in terms worthy of the Marine sergeant in Space Cadet. Lacking a Lieutenant Wong to counsel him otherwise, Johnnie goes with the flow.

This chapter shows the first of what will be a number of references to a significant problem many have with this book. Heinlein later stated his opinion very explicitly: "In STARSHIP TROOPERS it is stated flatly and more than once that nineteen out of twenty veterans are not military veterans." [Expanded Universe, p. 397] This was his answer to criticism of the book as militarist; most of the people in "Federal Service" were simple civilian bureaucrats.

But did he? James Giffard thought differently. In an exhaustive analysis, "The Nature of Federal Service in Starship Troopers", to be reprinted in his guide Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion, he analyzed the references in the book to the nature of Federal Service. Giffard argues that wherever such references were explicit, they were to military or military-connected service; it was never "stated flatly and more than once" or even once that any significant number of veterans were nonmilitary, much less ninety-five percent.

For example (just so far), Johnnie's father equates Federal Service with wearing a uniform [p. 22] and with fighting in a war [p. 23]. Johnnie's discussion of the difference between a soldier and a civilian [p. 24] has already been cited. In his un-recruiting speech [pp. 27-8] Sergeant Ho does mention alternative services not particularly "bureaucratic" ones, but more workers under military discipline but stresses the military aspect.

There seem to be a small number of such choices going by Johnnie's arm of service selections between the Navy and the Mobile Infantry: intelligence, psychological warfare, chemical warfare, biological warfare, combat ecology, logistics, and K-9 [p. 32] The other alternatives he cites are medical experimentation and pioneer labor. Now here was a man with "GS-3 Clerk/Typist" well, "FS-3" stamped all over him in several prominent places, but all his choices are military. Carl's assignment has to do with the author's history Heinlein's activities at the Philadelphia NAES were military-related, and this just makes the relationship official. This will be more significant later, when the composition of Federal Service is discussed.

When Johnnie goes off to training, he will be facing more tests.


Sun Tzu was a native of Ch'i who by means of his book on the art of war secured an audience with Ho-lü, King of Wu.

Ho-lü said, "I have read your thirteen chapters, sir, in their entirety. Can you conduct a minor experiment in control of the movement of troops?"

Sun Tzu replied, "I can."

Ho-lü asked, "Can you conduct this test using women?"

Sun Tzu said, "Yes."

The King thereupon agreed and sent from the palace one hundred and eighty beautiful women.

Sun Tzu divided them into two companies and put the King's two favorite concubines in command. He instructed them all how to hold halberds. He then said, "Do you know where the heart is, and where the left and right hands and the back are?"

The women said, "We know."

Sun Tzu said, "When I give the order 'Front', face in the direction of the heart; when I say 'Left', face towards the left hand; when I say 'Right' toward the right; when I say 'Rear', face in the direction of your backs."

The women said, "We understand."

When these regulations had been announced the executioner's weapons were arranged.

Ssü-ma Ch'ien, Shih Chi, 'Biography of Sun Tzu"

Panshin's analysis of this part of the book continues: "The next five chapters give an account of basic training: the tough sergeant, the rigorous training, the hero fouling up and being straightened out, and then graduation from basic.: [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 95]

The callow youth of Chapter Two has suddenly become a thoughtful, objective observer. The fault of "Man Who Learned Better" works is of the sadder-but-wiser writer describing his earlier, unwise self, which is hard to do without coming across as naïve or making the transition seem scanted, as if this wiser, maturer person were somehow trapped inside his ignorant, naïve outer self. (See, for example, Heinlein's own "If This Goes On" (1940, 1953).)

Johnnie seems suddenly to have become wise and experienced. At intake at M. I. training Camp Currie, while listening to a standard-issue drill sergeant speech about the unfitness and unworthiness of the current recruits he is quite objective about it all: "Somehow I was not insulted; I became greatly interested in studying his command of language. I wished that we had had him on our debate team." [p. 38]

Having begun with words, drill sergeant Zim proceeds to follow through with deeds. He challenges the recruits to see if they can defeat him in fighting, and proceeds to show his physical superiority. This does have one striking example of the "brisk, bright, clever metaphor" [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 144] that marks the higher-level Heinlein Individual: "Well, let's agree that if eyes are gouged out they must be handed back when it's over." [pp. 39-40]

(Heinlein seems to have become a bit confused here. When Sergeant Zim asks the two Germans he is fighting if their facial scars are from Heidelberg, the one who speaks Standard English replies "Nein no, sir. Königsberg." [p. 39] Well, Heinlein knew about the dueling societies at Heidelberg, see Glory Road, but unless there have been some changes there is nowadays no great university at the city now known as Kaliningrad or any other of the towns of that name Regiomontanus, the astronomer whose pen name was his hometown Latinized, lived in another Königsberg.)

After this introduction, Johnnie proceeds to summarize the next few weeks. As with the Patrol in Space Cadet, the Mobile Infantry strives in basic training to weed out the incapable. Again, in discussing this intent, Johnnie displays here a depth of comprehension rather above that of the callow naïve fellow who signed up six weeks (and a chapter-and-a-half) ago. But the presentation here seems to be again an example of lecturing over demonstrating; the parallel with raw cadet-aspirant Matt Dodson being escorted by an accepted Patrol Cadet, and then later on in Space Cadet full cadet Dodson escorting aspirants through Hayworth Hall shows how Heinlein shifted methodology from showing to telling.

A further comparison or two might be drawn from the citation of Judges 7:2-7 that leads off Chapter Four. There was a further reason for this hard training; to produce soldiers capable of performing in the complex, stressful combat environment described in Chapter One. The basis of basic training has always been to reshape the recruit into a fit constituent of the new environment; since the M.I. are blatantly based on the U.S. Marines (cf. Heinlein In Dimension, p. 95 e.g., Johnnie is at "boot camp," not "basic training").

A recent (that is, post-Starship Troopers) book discussing this is Making the Corps (1997) by Thomas E. Ricks, a description of the experiences of a training platoon at Parris Island, one of the two Marine training camps. Not only do the experiences described therein show definite parallels, but Ricks also provided commentary on the higher purpose and support measures that strikingly parallel Starship Troopers, which is interesting given that he never mentions it.

Even in this section, the "veteran" issue crops up. The "noncombatant services" reference is often cited in defense of the "95%" thesis. Again, this may have been the intention, but also again, the only case actually described of a boot camp dropout staying in Federal Service is of a man who went into the navy [pp. 45-6].

From what we have seen, and what will be discussed later, it follows that the requirement is for soldiers who are not only highly skilled but also highly motivated. Making training rigorous will achieve both these goals economically. However, in the light of other matters, which will be discussed later, there is yet another consideration that must be raised, one with more dubious effects.

There is no doubt that the training is extreme; Johnnie describes survival training in the field with nothing [p. 49] and weapons training of an broad variety [pp. 50-4]. Given the technological level of weaponry as already shown, the question raised by Private Hendrick on the topic of "Why bother?" [p. 50] is not without merit. Zim's answer about proportionality of force [pp. 51-2] is apropos and thoughtful but rather at odds with the demonstration in Chapter One.

A point that should be raised in conjunction with the question of "militarism" is Zim's further explanation of civilian control of the military and (implicitly) the perils of micromanagement:

". . . It's never a soldier's business to decide when or where or how or why he fights; that belongs to the statesmen and the generals. The statesmen decide why and how much; the generals take it from there and tell us where and when and how. We supply the violence; other people 'older and wiser heads,' as they say supply the control. Which is as it should be. . . ."

Starship Troopers, p. 52

This is not an attitude in keeping with militarism.

And then, having questioned one kind of premises, Hendrick finds out what happens to people who question other kinds of premises. Having failed a training problem he bounced up off an anthill and punched Sergeant Zim when he pointed out the error Hendrick manages to argue himself into Field Punishment.

Flogging to modern readers is transgressive, something so far beyond their experience, observation, and beliefs as to be shocking and disruptive. In this case it signals a serious moral crisis, but not quite in who you would think. In keeping with the image of the tough sergeant with a heart of gold, Zim is concerned with his having failed, only to be outdone by the C.O., who feels the same, only more so.

The point is made that Hendricks should have known better. Johnnie points out that "Just before church call every Sunday they lined us up and read aloud the disciplinary articles out of the Laws and Regulations of the Military Forces." [p. 59] Nowadays the boot is instructed in the Uniform Code of Military Justice during specific training courses [see Making the Corps, p. 73]; whereas naval disciplinary instruction encouraged reading out the Articles of War on Sundays [see Life In Nelson's Navy by Dudley Pope (1981), pp. 196-7]. An interesting example of navalist partiality on Heinlein's part.

And he does not use the colorful nickname for the pre-UCMJ military regulations of "Rocks and Shoals" admittedly the "thirty-one crashlandings" of the M.I. is more like what they would be saying. Those are the thirty-one capital offenses. "Sodomy" the term was used for both homosexual and bestial intercourse was a capital offense in the eighteenth-century navy, the rarity of such sentences a counterargument to the modern-day portrayals of gay pleasure barges. In Rocks and Shoals: Naval Discipline in the Age of Fighting Sail (1980) James E. Valle points out that homosexual offenses amounted to less than one third of one percent [p. 166]. (The intellectual dishonesty of evaluating other cultures by the standards of one's own is only exacerbated by the evaluators being so radical, producing profoundly distorted results. Worse yet, they accuse others of "ethnocentrism" this is projection.) One wonders if this is true for the Federal Service. Johnnie himself is interested in women getting ahead of the story, see his ecstatic comments during his first leave [pp. 99-100], for example and given the intended market a homosexual pass would not have been written, but from the historical record one wonders.

This scene is the emotional nadir of the story, and Johnnie's intent to quit (having been acting clerk he did have "FS-3 Clerk/Typist" stamped on him) is averted by two letters. One is from his mother. Her reassurances of support of his decision for enlistment only confirm his resolve to resign, in the upside-down ways of adolescents making the transition to adulthood. A hint as to Johnnie's ethnicity may be derived from his mother's calling him "Juanito" [p. 68], but this is ambiguous.

But the other letter is from his teacher, Mr. Dubois. Or Colonel Dubois of the Mobile Infantry, it turns out, and the letter is carefully timed as being from one who has been there himself, passing along the wisdom of the ages, as it were. In his psychological evaluation Lieutenant-Colonel (ret.) Dubois has decided that his former student has reached the cusp, "the deep, soul-turning readjustments and re-evaluations necessary to metamorphize a potential citizen into one in being." [p. 73]

What does a citizen do? Colonel Dubois uses a paraphrase of Francis Scott Key to define the matter: "The noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and the war's desolation." [p. 74]

This letter has several implications, some incongruous. Matt Dodson, with his feeling of association with Commodore Arkwright [Space Cadet, p. 220], might be able to explain how Dubois could regard Johnnie as a "comrade" [p. 74]. The colonel has evidently decided that Johnnie will make it through after all, and, favoring his old service, is glad to see one of his own do likewise.

In the letter, Dubois implicitly associates citizenship with military service. Johnnie equates "veteran" with "citizen" and muses about how his students "had supposed . . . that he must have been a corporal or some such" [p. 74]. If 95% percent of citizens are "former members of federal civil service," [Expanded Universe, p. 397] it seems odd that Johnnie had thought of a military position first.

This letter brings back old memories, of Mr. Dubois discussing the concept of "value". In his filmic critique, Panshin refers to this as "Three Neatly eased into the above is a flashback to the hero's high school class in History and Moral Philosophy," [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 95], and critiques it pretty thoroughly [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 97], primarily on the grounds that a government that lays down a philosophical doctrine that is so rigid as to assert certain propositions, as for example, that "value" is not an absolute, is likely to be rigid in other fields of endeavor. Perhaps so in general, but the context of the discussion is economics. Mr. Dubois is generalizing from economics to general human action, and is beginning with a refutation of the Labor Theory of Value.

The refutation is simple enough, pointing out that labor can reduce or destroy value as well as increase it. It should be noted that commonplace refutations get counter-refuted. Henry Hazlitt discussed this refutation in Time Will Run Back, quoted a Marxist counter-refutation, and then refuted that [op. cit., pp. 166-185].

This runs into a general problem of intent versus result. If the government were as "rigid" as that belief indicated, then one would think that Mr. Rico would be deeply concerned about the government, and be currying favor and striving for influence if not actual power, as a protective measure. (And, moreover, ensuring that his heir was assigned to an "easy" service, the way that the children of the nomenklatura, when drafted, did their time in the Soviet foreign service school, while those outside the nomenklatura suffered the slings and arrows of Soviet Army basic training [see Inside the Soviet Army by "Viktor Suvorov" (1982), pp. 218-220].) But, as seen, voting and indeed participation in government are irrelevant to him, things that he can not only do without but dismiss as trivial.

As it turns out, Colonel Dubois's judgment was sound and his predictions are vindicated. Mail call was at the break of a training march. While marching back in, Johnnie considers and reconsiders his decision to resign and discovers, to his surprise, that it is gone; "I had passed my hump!" [p. 78] he realizes. His psychological acculturation to M.I. norms is now complete.

Connections are not unworthwhile, either. Having already seen Zim reveal himself as a cinematic noncom with a heart of gold, Johnnie finds (in a more realistic scene) that Zim has a past after all. He is curious if the "Dubois" who had written Johnnie had lost his left hand, since he "was nearby when it happened." [p. 78] Johnnie's having taken H&MP from this old brother-in-arms impresses Zim, who lets the shell crack in a more realistic fashion.

This is followed by a technical discussion about the suits. This is in keeping with the detailed technical discussion of spacesuits in Have Space Suit Will Travel, and as with that work, this "dull technical detail" is neither dull nor irrelevant. And in turn, given the integrated nature of the plot, this discussion of tactics entails discussing the nature of conflict.

The discussion of feedback is an anticipation of such matters as virtual reality. The problem of communication, a crucial part of military operations, has been dealt with in a manner that showing serious thought, but Heinlein had been in communications.

The only jarring part is the digression on the inevitability of conflict inserted in the middle of this [pp. 80-1]. While this is comparable, being a discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of the novel the way that the discussion of the power suits is connected to the technological underpinnings of the novel, it still seems out of place some of that lecturing that Blassingame, Boucher, Campbell, and Panshin found objectionable.

The technical stuff leads to what Panshin cites as a example of the "recruiting film" (but which seems more like a dramatic climax) where "the hero fouling up and then straightening out" [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 95]. During a training exercise with power suits, Johnnie flips up his snoopers [p. 85]. For this, he is cited, and having Hendrick's bad example in mind, instead of asking for a court-martial, submits to administrative punishment, receiving five lashes. (As Pope points out, courts often awarded heavier sentences for example, desertion usually merited 72 lashes, but a court awarded one deserter three hundred [Life In Nelson's Navy, p. 221]) Now there are several factors to be considered in this regard.

Byron Farwell discusses military punishments in Mr. Kipling's Army: All the Queen's Men (1981). By the standards of the British Army of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Johnnie would be hardly being punished at all. Just on the first page of his discussion, Farwell cites punishments of 400 lashes for theft, 170 lashes for looting, and 200 lashes for not calling "All's well!" on schedule while on guard [Mr. Kipling's Army, p. 96]. Some units prided themselves on their ability to resist punishment; Farwell gives the case of the 58th Regiment of Foot [now part of The Royal Anglian Regiment], nicknamed "The Steelbacks" from the severity of its punishments and the endurance of the men under flogging, and how one man who fainted after receiving a mere twenty strokes was ostracized and had to go to great lengths to recover his "face" [Mr. Kipling's Army, p. 99].

Yet, as Farwell also points out, at such times when flogging was used in the Indian army, "the Indian soldier was immediately discharged. It was thought unwise to retain as a soldier a man who had been so humiliated." [Mr. Kipling's Army, p. 98]

The concept that a few stripes across the back will cure all moral ills is worthy of a school headmaster. Probably one of the sort who in P. J. O'Rourke's immortal words, "inspires any feeling child to sneak back in school at night and spray-paint the halls with descriptions of the human love act." [Republican Party Reptile, p. 57] And one wonders what the H&MP lesson plan on "The von Sacher-Masoch Method of Moral Reformation" would say about the drummer mentioned by Farwell who had, over fourteen years, received a total of 25,000 lashes [Mr. Kipling's Army, pp. 96-7]. (Recall that 1) Chevalier Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the man after whom (as you might guess) "masochism" was named, got off on suffering, whether outright physical pain or mere emotional humiliation; 2) he was a very brave soldier.)

It is rather interesting that before Johnnie is flogged, Zim gives him a mouthpiece to bite on because "It helps. I know." [p. 86] Farwell quotes some British noncoms who personally testified to the self-corrective qualities of a good flogging [Mr. Kipling's Army, p. 97] so Zim has plenty of company.

Farwell, Pope, and Valle also discuss capital punishment. So does Johnnie, who recounts the execution of a deserter. "The Army makes no effort to find deserters and bring them back," he says [p. 88], in keeping with the broadly-interpreted volunteer ethos described throughout. There may be other reasons involved, of which more later. (For example, compare Ricks's discussion of desertions [Making the Corps, pp. 246-7], though it seems easier to desert from Parris Island than from Camp Currie.) However, under some circumstances they do bring them back.

It seems rather sinister that "military law and jurisdiction take precedence over civil code" [p. 88] and later on Heinlein goes into the reasons behind this. The exact relations between civil and military authority have been a constant source of conflict throughout history. They did have a good reason for punishing the deserter, though; "Then he killed a baby girl." [p. 88] He was returned to Camp Currie for execution. M.I. must be made of sterner stuff as no one fainted during the hanging. It is, all the same, a piece of cheap melodrama to have the murderer named "Dillinger". Moreover, John Dillinger the bank robber was noted for a personal abhorrence of killing.

The problem of sociopathy is very real, and as society becomes more interconnected, of more significance. This represents a conclusive, and admittedly extreme, solution to the problems of sociopathy. Johnnie wonders if such people are even curable.

This leads Johnnie to another reminiscence of H&MP. Mr. Dubois's description of life before the current order of things sounds positively (and horrifyingly) predictive:

"Law-abiding people," Dubois had told us, "hardly dared go into a public park at night. To do so was to risk attack by wolf packs of children, armed with chains, knives, homemade guns, bludgeons . . . to be hurt at least, robbed most certainly, injured for life probably or even killed. This went on for years, right up to the war between the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance and the Chinese Hegemony. Murder, drug addiction, larceny, assault, and vandalism were commonplace. Nor were parks the only places these things happened also on the streets in daylight, on school grounds, even inside school buildings. But parks were so notoriously unsafe that honest people stayed clear of them after dark."

Starship Troopers, p. 91

(Note that rape cf. the "Central Park Jogger" case is not mentioned. This seems to indicate that the book was not revised after being dropped as a juvenile.)

Mr. Dubois goes on to explain, in terms dear to David Gelertner's heart, how and why this Hobbesian state of nature came to be: Western society quit punishing children. Young offenders were classified as "juvenile delinquents," held ultimately irresponsible for the consequences of their actions, until they reached the arbitary age of maturity, at which point, untrained in morality, they became "responsible".

This was because parents abdicated their responsiblity to instill moral values in children, aided and abetted by the society at large. This error was further exacerbated by the undue emphasis placed on "rights" and the equal and opposite denial of the concept of "duty".

It is possible to be appalled at such behavior and still not buy into the concepts being presented. This is a more substantial example of the lecturing deplored by the editors and agent, and the philosophical ideas (for all that Heinlein derogated the very idea of philosophy) presented so forcibly in the book and decried by Panshin as being declared as axiomatic, when they were not obvious to everyone and necessary assumptions.

It is such broad and rigid doctrines that lead weaker minded-types like Aldiss, Delany, Disch, and Moorcock to bellow "Fascist!" But they show no comprehension of political theory at all, much less that of the theory and practice of fascism. The problem of Heinlein's attitude as presented here is more comprehensible as an example of the attitudes described in Norman Dixon's On the Psychology of Military Incompetence (1976). The dichotomy between its desired result and its probable one will require more data from the book to fully explore.

The ideal of this worldview, however, can be seen by an opinion Ricks uncovered:

Because of the nature of American society today, the reentry shock of leaving recruit training appears to be greater now than it was in the past. Asked to explain this difference, retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor noted that: "When I got out of boot camp in 1946, society was different. It was more disciplined, and most Americans trusted the government. Most males had some military experience. It was an entirely different society, one that thought more about its responsibilities than its rights."

Thomas E. Ricks, Making the Corps, p. 237

You can see where Mr. Dubois and Heinlein are coming from. Nevertheless, it seems they are making the mistake of conflating the severity of punishment with the certainty of punishment. Usually the two are merely confused; calls for increases in prison terms, expanded application of the death penalty, reintroduction of corporal punishment, and the like as solutions for crime. But the increaced severity for drug crimes has not produced a corresponding decline. (This also, for example, calls into question the greed-powered increased severity postulated in Larry Niven's "The Jigsaw Man" [Dangerous Visions, 1967] and The Patchwork Girl (1980).)

In the sixteenth-century Spanish Army of Flanders, such punishments as exist in the Mobile Infantry were the norm, though that Chestertonian hero Don John of Austria and his successors did go after deserters. One of the first great mutinies of the Army of Flanders had to do with floggings: "In 1574 the mutineers of Antwerp asked that no man should be given 'a dishonorable punishment, like strokes of the lash, if the offense does not merit it, because often a man is dishonored for little reason, leaving him and his friends outraged and perplexed, with an excuse for indiscipline.'" [Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659 (1972), pp. 199-200] The problem then becomes how to make the officers able to judge fairly.

Since Heinlein displays in this book a certain fondness for naval similes and tropes, the mutiny on HMS Hermione in 1797 might be considered more relevant. As recounted in Dudley Pope's book on the topic, The Black Ship (1963), the mutiny was set off because of the erratic punishments of the captain. From just the surviving records, Pope notes that Hugh Pigot, the captain of the Hermione, had a lack of balance in awarding punishment: "For attempting to desert one man was given a dozen lashes while another received forty-eight; for actually deserting one man received twelve while another had thirty-six. Likewise Pigot gave twenty-four lashes for mutiny which, apart from murder and treason, was one of the worst and rarest offenses in the Navy and twenty-four for drunkeness." [The Black Ship, p. 69] Pigot had achieved his command through internal politics; his father had been an admiral and he did well through favors owed, being quickly promoted past his level of incompetence.

We are supposed to presume that the intensive stress in H&MP and the scientifically established theory of morals prevent this from happening, that this will screen out the sons of bitches that de Camp pointed to. As in the case of the supposedly cooperative students in Tunnel In the Sky (1955) who, having been intensively schooled in history and moral philosophy and trained in teamwork, proceed to cut loose in a "no-peace-beyond-the-Line" rampage of murder and theft (which may explain why Jacqueline Daudet cut her hair and wore a cuirass, not wanting to be a target for rape), no doubt.

Johnnie doesn't always go over his memories. In the final phase of this training the unit is transferred to an advanced training camp, and the troopers become entrusted with leave. (The basic training camps were placed in desolate areas. How the authorities prevented the emergence of taverns and the like outside is never mentioned.)

On leave, he engages in the two standard recreations of soldiers, booze and broads. Since this is still slanted at the young adult level, Johnnie only admits to watching [pp. 99-100] a counterargument to Panshin's comment that "At the end you know nothing about his tastes, his likes and dislikes" [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 96] and particularly to Disch's projection. As for the other thing, he implicitly denies it. These restrained attitudes seem rather unlikely.

Farwell, Pope, Valle, and Ricks all point to the lures of women [Mr. Kipling's Army, pp. 224-7; Life in Nelson's Navy, pp. 171-4; Rocks and Shoals p. 177-9; Making the Corps, p. 240] and drink [Mr. Kipling's Army, pp. 209-15; Life in Nelson's Navy, p. 154, 222; Rocks and Shoals pp. 200-211; Making the Corps, p. 240, 250]. But Johnnie and the friends he is out not-drinking and not-wenching with get into a fight. Ricks cites hostility [Making the Corps, pp. 230-1] but nothing like this bar fight, where four people, two sailors and two punks, entirely unprovoked attack the three soldiers, and they find out the reason for all that unarmed combat training [pp. 100-2].

This scene contains some comments that reflect further on the "95%" theory. The policeman who gives them directions is wearing an impressive array of medal ribbons, and from Johnnie's enthusiastic "Yes, sir!" [p. 100] these presumably indicate a substantial military career. That is to say, at least some policemen are veterans. One of the causes of the brawl was that the merchant marine had been trying without success to be classified as Federal Service [p 101]. If bureaucrats are veterans, it seems odd that people who have fought the forces of nature aren't.

And then, after this adventure and some undetailed ones, Johnnie graduates. The dropout rate seems rather high: "The regiment had started with 2009 men; we graduated 187," [p. 103] not all of whom, of course, were complete dropouts; but there seems to be a substantial winnowing factor. By way of comparison, the Marine boot platoon Ricks followed passed out fifty-five out of sixty-three recruits, though in the first year, six were discharged and two deserted [Making the Corps, pp. 84, 238-9]

Matt Dodson's recruit unit in Space Cadet had a low retention rate as well. The precedent of such high attrition is not a good one. The Japanese pilot training program produced pilots of remarkably high quality. One such, kaigun chu-i [Ensign] Sakai Saburo, during the last year of the war shot down at least four bi-ni-ju-ku (B-29s) in spite of being half blind and only having one functioning arm.

But there was a price for such skill levels; a high attrition rate among trainees. And when war came, the small elite force of pilots was gradually worn away, swamped by the numbers of less-godlike American and Australian and New Zealander and eventually British pilots. The training program could not produce replacements in sufficient numbers, and after a while it could not produce replacements at all. The new Japanese pilots had virtually no training, because there was no one left to train them.

The Federal Service training program may be setting its thresholds too high. Yet this may be intentional, and for more reasons than just ensuring a high-quality military.


Sun Tzu said:

Victory is the main object in war.

If this is long delayed,

Weapons are blunted and morale depressed.

When troops attack cities,

Their strength will be exhausted.

When your weapons are dulled and ardor dampened,

Your strength exhausted and treasure spent,

Neighboring rulers will take advantage of your distress to attack.

Even those who are very clever

Cannot remedy the consequences!

While we have heard of blundering swiftness in war,

We have not yet seen a clever operation that was prolonged.

A prolonged war has yet to bring advantage to a country.

The Art of War, Chapter II, 3-7

"I was a trained soldier," Johnnie says at the end of chapter IX [p. 103], then goes on in Chapter X, "That is, I thought I was a 'trained soldier' until I reported to my ship." [p. 104]

But it turns out that the Federation needed even semi-trained soldiers. Panshin characterizes this section as "Four The early career of a raw young soldier. This is where the raid that opens the book naturally fits." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 95] In spite of his father's reassurances and the cynicism of the recruting doctor, there is a war going on. Their lack of concern may stem from one consideration:

The historians can't seem to settle whether to call this one "The Third Space War" (or the "Fourth"), or whether "The First Interstellar War" fits it better. We just call it "The Bug War" if we call it anything, which we usually don't, and in any case the historians date the beginning of "war" after the time I joined my first outfit and ship. Everything up to then and still later were just "incidents," "patrols," or "police actions." However, you are just as dead if you buy a farm in an "incident" as you are if you buy it in a declared war.

Starship Troopers, p. 104

One wonders who the opponents in the First and Second Space Wars were. There is no mention of other alien races save the Skinnies (seen being shot down and up back at the beginning of the book) and the Bugs, of whom much more later. Did the Terran Federation have to conquer the dragons of Venus and the Old Ones of Mars? Or was it unrest in the Federation, a case of "Fire Up Above!" repressing breakaway colonies? This detail can be troublesome to consider, and lends support to the various theses of authoritarianism adduced against this book. And even so, it is one of those details inserted ostensibly to provide depth, but which, unexplained, only provides confusion. Though it does show the depth of understanding of the perspective of the man in the front lines. This is an informed military.

This statement is preceded by one of those comments that had set John W. Campbell's teeth on edge: "But if ever there was a time when 'peace' meant there was no fighting going on, I have been unable to find out about it." [p. 104] Whereas Campbell's opinion on the matter was:

And there are points with which I disagree very strongly including, as a matter of fact, his fundamental thesis-point. That shooting-war is, was, and forever will be, amen. . . .

What Bob misses is this; "it's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, as time goes by" . . . but when you discover weapons vastly more efficient than teeth, you stop biting. When you find techniques of destroying an enemy that are more efficient than cutting, burning, or blasting him . . . you stop that method.

The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume I, pp. 363-4

Letter to Lurton Blassingame, March 4, 1959

This insight was indeed an "arrogant insult", an affront to his conceptual system. And in spite of the long-term grandiosity of Campbell's sweeping opinon, his point is well taken. These days, some forty years afterwards, the weapons wielded by the physical combatants are as deadly and even deadlier; but the opposition has adopted the ideas and ways of their opponent even as they fight. The stern manifestos of overthrowing hegemonic Eurocentric imperialism are issued over the Internet, for example.

From Campbell's all too-comprehending comprehension we come to a commentary which descends to a nadir of comprehension. In "The Embarrassments of Science Fiction" Thomas M. Disch proclaims that the starship trooper "swaggering leather boys" are homosexual because they are so macho and wear earrings.

Now as to the first part, that is a particularly absurd piece of psychologizing: noting a similar claim, namely that a man who has sex with many women is a latent homosexual, psychiatric critic Thomas Szasz replied that then, if a man has sex with many men, does that make him a latent heterosexual? It is an all too common instrument of psychiatrists' efforts at moral domination to make a fervid practice of trait "A" proof of a real (but detectable only by the therapist) presence of "Not-A". Small wonder that Heinlein scorned Freudianism, for this methodology means that any behavior can be adduced as proof of anything, which gives it a net predictive value of nil.

As for the earrings, Disch is being ethnocentric; the fact that his ethnos is "modern" is irrelevant. Earrings for men have at times been a simple piece of acceptable jewelry. Projecting the ethos of a modern aggressively-self-promoting lifestyle onto the past or onto a future, while satisfying to the emotional needs of that ethnos, is a fundamentally dishonest way of thought.

For example, there was a certain rite of passage in Napoleon's Grenadiers de la Garde Impériale:

A new grenadier's . . . second purchase was a pair of gold earrings. A comrade would pierce his ears and insert a loop of lead wire, to be replaced with gold as soon as possible.

John R. Elting, Swords Around a Throne, p. 186

A cochon Americain who declared to the grognards that such behavior made them pédés could count on getting a red-hot baionette shoved up his cul. At least.

Heinlein was providing a different society for his story, where Johnnie's earrings [p. 105] and general use of jewelry was as normal for men as fingernail polish was in Beyond This Horizon or skirts in Methuselah's Children (these last are called "kilts" but from the description clearly are not the intricate garments that properly have that name). This is supposed to be what you do in science fiction.

However, he doesn't get to enjoy his new unit's distinctive insignia for very long. It is a well-conceived one, being a skull ear ornament with bones, one for each combat drop the wearer has made. The Mobile Infantry seems to be assigning unit identification at the lowest level, as Johnnie finds himself in what is formally designated "Company K, Third Regiment, First M. I. Division" and known to its men as "Willie's Wildcats" [p. 104].

But his first drop turns out to be the last for this unit. The high command has decided to stage a strike directly at the enemy home planet of Klendathau, codenamed "Operation Bughouse". [Ideally, a code name should not allude to its referent.] The ensuing catastrophe has a parallel with the catastrophic Bonin Islands expedition in Hector C. Bywater's The Great Pacific War of 1931 (1925). (One wonders if the Naval Academy had bought a copy.) From the description of the complex maneuvers required to merely begin the landing, the planners ignored the principle of war of Simplicity. His landing ship collided with another partway through the drop, killing half the company. The subsequent operations seem to have also been short of material.

Johnnie's introduction to combat is therefore particularly grueling. Perhaps not surprisingly, the description of this disaster is fragmented and distanced, as opposed to the detail of the cheerfully recounted first chapter with its almost-antiseptic combat. But there is a common feature; for all that there are large numbers of people killed, none of them quite seem to get to Johnnie's feelings; he comes across as hardened and indifferent, a tone quite at odds with the constant portrayals of officers and sergeants as being concerned, caring commanders obsessed with the well-being of their men.

In the aftermath of the disaster, there ought to be a shakeup in the high command; maybe there is, though the commander of Operation Bughouse evidently decided to die in the fighting and so avoid a hearing. There is a shakeup lower down, as the Wildcats, having suffered substantial losses, are disbanded and their men redistributed to other units, which is how Johnnie gets into "Rasczk's Roughnecks", the independent platoon he is in during the raid in Chapter One.

This seems to be an extreme practice. William Manchester has noted in his history Goodbye, Darkness (1980) that during the Pacific War, U.S. Marine units would take staggeringly high casualty rates during a campaign and still endure; as such a casualty himself (at Okinawa), he can speak from experience.

The acculturation process for the Roughnecks is faster, and in the description of this and the next few months we see hints of the truth behind Robert E. Lee's famous line about war: "It is well that this is so terrible, else we should grow fond of it." The presence of a common purpose towards which all can, do, and should be working to attain is a enticing attraction. But this section is scanted; almost as if Heinlein had more important things in mind.


Sun Tzu said:

To cultivate a uniform level of valor

Is the object of military administration.

And it is by proper use of the ground

That both shock and flexible forces are used to the best advantage.

It is the business of a general to be serene and inscrutable,

Impartial and self-controlled. . .

To assemble the army and throw it into a desperate position

Is the business of the general.

The Art of War, Chapter XI, 41-42, 47

Not all was wine and roses on board the good ship Rodger Young. The horrendous blunder of Operation Bughouse had come about through a need to make some sort of response to the destruction of Buenos Aires by the Arachnids. At first, this was only incidental to Johnnie, but afterwards he found out how important it would be, since he found that "My mother had been in Buenos Aires when the Bugs smeared it." [p. 114]

Again, this seems not to affect Johnnie. Note by way of contrast the deep emotional response triggered in Lazarus Long by Mary Sperling's going-over to the Little People in Methuselah's Children (1941, 1958), which he compares to his grief at learning of his mother's death. (And note also the great trouble to which Heinlein went to invalidate this emotional crisis in The Number of the Beast (1977).)

He seems a trifle more moved by the death of Lieutenant Rasczak, describing how he was killed rescuing a rescuer who had been wounded and the wounded man that was being rescued. Rasczak is depicted as being the quintessential concerned officer; wise, brave, humane, tough, concerned, and able. Ricks (Making the Corps, pp. 239-40) describes the disillusionment of some Marines from his subject platoon at finding that not all the officers are Rasczaks, not all the sergeants are Zims. The expectations may be too high.

Johnnie now states explicitly what was implied in the first chapter: "Have you ever seen a widow with stern character keep her family together by behaving as if the head of the family had simply stepped out and would return at any moment? That's what Jelly did." [pp. 115-6] One wonders if, given Johnnie's family situation, if he actually would have encountered such circumstances, for all that they would have been not uncommon in early twentieth-century Missouri.

A more valid criticism of the book has been the way in which it is "loaded", in which the enemy is pure Communist, them evil greedy Red Russkies recast as great big bugs. That is to say:

. . . But don't make the mistake of thinking they acted purely from instinct, like termites or

ants; their actions were as intelligent as ours (stupid races don't build spaceships!) and were much better co-ordinated. It takes a minimum of a year to train a private to fight and mesh his fighting in with his mates; a Bug warrior is hatched able to do this.

Every time we killed a thousand Bugs at a cost of one M.I. it was a net victory for the Bugs. We were learning, expensively, just how efficient a total communism can be when used by a people actually adapted to it by evolution; the Bug commissars didn't care any more about expending soldiers than we cared about expending ammo. Perhaps we could have figured this out about the Bugs by noting the grief the Chinese Hegemony gave the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance; however the trouble with "lessons from history" is that we usually read them best after falling flat on our chins.

Starship Troopers, p. 121

This seems if nothing else a backhanded compliment to Communism, in that it is feasible, just not with the current human race. This criticism comes across as not accepting that alien races can indeed be different. The Accepted Soviet criticism of Murray Leinster's "First Contact" was that spacegoing races could never have conflict, since by the time they achieved space travel all beings would have evolved to the highest, Communist, state of social organization, in which there was no conflict possible. Imagining that all races have to be by nature of the same social organization is the sort of superficiality that has plagued science fiction. Unfortunately, the answer to this has often been a different sort of superficiality. Perhaps the negativity about Heinlein's portrayal of the Bugs stems from an ideological conflict.

One could with somewhat more force argue that there is a racial subtext there. Note that the war is waged by the "Russo-Anglo-American Alliance". The composition of this book came before that trip of Heinlein's to the Soviet Union that was to so unnerve him.

If anything, this "future war" can be argued to be a follow-up to the "Yellow Peril" theme of Beyond this Horizon (1942, 1948) and Sixth Column/The Day After Tomorrow (1941, 1949). In fact, the description of Homo proteus given in Beyond this Horizon [pp. 27-8] is almost exactly like that of the Bugs in this book [p. 121]. Such themes, therefore, were present in Heinlein's thought long before any of the events of the late fifties. Those apparently served only as stimuli, evoking a response based in more fundamental thoughts of his. (It is interesting to compare Sixth Column/The Day After Tomorrow with its origin, John W. Campbell's story "All" (published in The Space Beyond (1976)). Campbell's story is less racially themed and more socially themed; the Empire that conquers America, temporarily, is a different society, not the Yellow Peril conquering white men.)

Since Tunnel in the Sky (1955) we have clearly gone through a paradigm shift. Whereas Captain Helen Walker could command troops in battle, under far more grueling circumstances, here Carmen and her fellow soldier Yvette Deladrier are assigned to piloting. You see, "drop & retrieval require the best pilots (i.e., female)" [p. 161]. Experience so much for prediction has not lived up to these expectations. From the collapse of Jacquelyn Parker, who in her quest to be the first female fighter pilot in combat destroyed an entire Air National Guard squadron in retaliation for her failure to pass, to the spectacular end of Kara Hultgreen, who confirmed the predictions of her overridden training downchecks at the cost of her life and a F-14, the grand failures of politicalized female would-be combat pilots have negatively confirmed this prediction.

The methodology of the Mobile Infantry at least makes impossible one poor procedure of the U.S. military. When the Rodger Young is out of drop capsules, they return to base to pick up new ones and also for the Roughnecks to take in replacements. It isn't possible to feed in replacements constantly, and have the FNG who doesn't know anyone and no one knows him get blown away by dawn, the way it happened from Morocco to Vietnam, at a great cost to the U.S. military. For a more detailed critique of that replacement policy, see William Bradford Huie's The Execution of Private Slovik. This is a case of technology reinforcing procedure, hardware and software combining in a synergistic enhancement, so to speak.

But it's where the replacements are replaced that sparked off a different sort of problem. The planet called Sanctuary "is a delightful place, better in many ways for a few days R&R than is most of Terra." [p. 125] This has the outside-base enterprises that were so significantly lacking at Camp Currie, the sort of things that date back to the Classical era (the Latin word, for example, is canabae).

What makes it delightful is that the indigenous environment has no natural resistance to imported plants and animals, so terraforming is a trivial matter. The problem is that this low mutation rate stems from the local lack of natural radiation. It was here that Heinlein got into making "a brief pitch for Dr. Edward Teller's contention that a little fall-out is good for you." [James Blish, More Issues at Hand, p. 57] If Blish had wanted to cavil at questionable biological theories, he might have done better to look at Space Cadet, where, in the Patrol Academy's "Doubt" class, this idea was asserted as far more of a positive thing [op. cit., p. 101].

Johnnie notes the low radiation field there (would there not be stellar-origin cosmic rays?) and quotes a discussion he had on a slow afternoon with a researcher from the scientific base there. That in itself is interesting, since he makes it clear that the researcher is male. From this and his association with Carl it is possible to guess that Johnnie likes to hang around with scientists.

What so horrified Blish and others was one of the proposed solutions to the consequent retarded evolutionary rate of the human colonists of the planet: "[Maybe] set off lots of dirty-type nuclear explosions each year to build up a fallout reservoir in their atmosphere?" [p. 124] They seem to ignore the next sentence: "(Accepting, of course, the immediate dangers of radiation to themselves in order to provide a proper genetic heritage of radiation for the benefit of their descendants.) [loc. cit.] The following paragraph in Johnnie's exposition is even more dismissive of the idea, arguing that not only will such irradiation not be done but that it hardly seems necessary.

The forties and fifties were the era of the great mutation stories. From Cyril Kornbluth's "The Mindworm" (1950) to "John Wyndham's" Re-Birth (1955) stories portrayed superhuman mutations that had been engendered by nuclear radiation. But thus far what radiation has engendered is mostly lethal mutations, if not outright lethality. Not only Heinlein subscribed to this theory; but others did not even give as much proper consideration to the associated problem of cancers and the like.

Other incidents during this R&R contradict other theories about the book. Of those progenitors of future unmutated humans Johnnie says, wistfully: "But in the first place, half of those civilians are female." [p. 125] This is followed by a paean to the sexual attractiveness of women that, while it gives the reader (Alice Dalgleish, for example) no idea what this attraction is for, does make quite clear that the narrator has a particular interest in the other kind. This attitude would become even more explicit in Glory Road (though, as Panshin points out [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 151] Gordon's finding Vietnamese women unappealing sexually is inexplicable).

Also, it's interesting that, again, the "civilians" are presented as being something besides Federal Service types. There aren't even Federal Service "Space Angels" as in "All You Zombies" (1959)?

And while romancing one of those women, a chemist from the research station (scientific types again), Johnnie buys her champagne while himself drinking phony pineapple squash [p. 127]. Indeed his teetotalism seems very much inclined to support the editorial predilections, for a second example. (It seems quite unlikely that a twenty-year-old soldier would worry or care about being an underage drinker.) So we do learn about our narrator's likes and dislikes, if not at any overwhelming length.

The "95%" question comes up again with another of those acquaintances: "I had had a date the night before with a chemist (female, of course, and charmingly so) from the Research Station. She had known Carl on Pluto . . ." [pp. 126-7] Remember, Carl had joined up along with Johnnie, and "Carl had . . . [got] the R&D assignment he wanted." [p. 35] Therefore at least some researchers are Federal Service. Fleet Sergeant Ho had admitted as much, in the speech to the recruits on the theme of "The placement officer pays attention to your choice, too" [p. 28] (but not very much).

Nevertheless the organization Carl (and probably, though it is never specified, the date he fixed Johnnie up with) is in is styled "the Research and Development Corps". This seems a rather odd title for a civilian organization.

Even if that "95%" includes implicitly the labor battalions (the equivalent of Kurt Vonnegut's Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps, the "Reeks and Wrecks", from Player Piano (1952)), the line about "rigors of military discipline" implies that at least some discipline is applied to the laborers; that if Edgar R. B. Hagstrohm were to be transferred in grade from Player Piano to Starship Troopers, to rot in the molds of Venus in the process of contributing as much to society as Johnnie or Carl, he would be required to say "Yes, sir," and "No, sir" and be flogged if disrespectful to a senior officer. Yet no figure is ever given of how many are in the combat arms, how many in the support arms, and how many in the auxiliary services.

The book was composed hastily, in two weeks, as you will recall. In such a fury of composition, it is entirely possible that Heinlein may have conceived inchoate ideas regarding the intent of Federal Service and really meant to write them down. Add to this the span of time between the writing and the creation of the article for Expanded Universe and it is entirely possible that he may have remembered with advantages, particularly in the light of the prevailing criticism of the book as militarist. But this is as much an evasion of the question as the evasion of the lecturing nature of the book is.

For all that Heinlein refers to "a veteran fireman or veteran school teacher" [Expanded Universe, p. 397] it is rather interesting that Johnnie's drinking buddy Ace talks about serving his term in these terms: "I'll have my twenty years in and retire and get one of the reserved jobs cop, maybe" [p. 128]. Twenty years service, incidentally, was the established term for vesting of military retirement benefits in the 1950s (and is today), the period after which a retired soldier could receive retirement pay and other benefits. The question of retirement benefits will have further implications.

This planned career path confirms Johnnie's respectful salutation to the policeman in Seattle [p. 100]. However, it also calls the reference to "a veteran fireman or veteran school teacher" into question. If History and Moral Philosophy teachers are veterans [p. 22] does this mean that other teachers are not? And if police positions are reserved for veterans, are fireman positions? (There is also the question of supply. If police can only be discharged veterans, considering that discharges are disallowed during wartime, that just might create a certain inflexibility in police recruitment.)

However, Ace has a different career track in mind for his designated driver: "Ever thought about greasing for officer?" [p. 127]

It seems rather altruistic of Johnnie's fellow noncom and drinking buddy to recommend that he become a shavetail. This is in keeping with the presentation of officers and noncoms as wise, brave, humane, tough, concerned, and able: Ace is taking the interests of the service as a whole into consideration. This seems rather an exalted standard of behavior.

This needs some consideration and Johnnie gets the time to do so. His subsequent introspection treats various levels of social connection and is a key passage of the book.

. . . I had signed up to win a vote.

Or had I?

Had I ever cared about voting? No, it was the prestige, the pride, the status . . . of being a citizen.

Or was it?

I couldn't to save my life remember why I had signed up.

Anyhow it wasn't the process of voting that made a citizen the Lieutenant had been a citizen in the truest sense of the word, even though he had not lived long enough ever to cast a ballot. He had "voted" every time he had made a drop.

And so had I!

I could hear Colonel Dubois in my mind: "Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than the part . . . and that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice itself that the whole may live."

I still didn't know whether I yearned to place my one-and-only body "between my loved home and the war's desolation" I still got the shakes every drop and that "desolation" could be pretty desolate. But nevertheless I knew at last what Colonel Dubois had been talking about. The M.I. was mine and I was theirs. If that was what the M.I. did to break the monotony, then that was what I did. Patriotism was a bit esoteric for me, too large-scale to see. But the M.I. was my gang. I belonged. They were all the family I had left; they were the brothers I never had, closer than Carl had ever been. If I left them, I'd be lost.

Starship Troopers, p. 129

Citizenship, as Johnnie understands it, on the basis of his education and experience, is a matter of commitment. The citizen is one who contributes to the organization of society, up to and including his own life, as circumstances require; paying his own way in society.

If there were the statements about "non-combatant auxiliary services" this passage would seem less authoritarian than it does. For all that Heinlein points out that the voters are retired Federal Service members [p. 129; Expanded Universe p. 398] it is to be noted that authoritarian habits learned in service are difficult to unlearn out of service; note for example Professor Major Norman F. Dixon's rueful self-analysis in On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, where he noted that he himself had the rigidity and authoritarianism of the incompetent high commander [op. cit., p. 405]. By way of contrast, how it is that the scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1984) where Spock shuts off the nuclear blowoff at the cost (albeit temporary, though he could not have been sure of it at the time) of his life because "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" seems good while this allegedly is not is an exercise left to the observer.

William Manchester made the similar observation that the primary attachment of the soldier is to his immediate associates, not to any broader abstraction. His observation was based on personal observation; the wounded Sergeant Manchester had left hospital to rejoin the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines's Intel Squad because it "was his gang" [Goodbye, Darkness, pp. 11-2, 391], the Raggedy Ass Marines.

And then, there seems to be a break of some sort, as Johnnie comes to a decision without mentioning it. But then, it may be a subconscious decision, as he finds himself back at the barracks, where he approaches now-Lieutenant Jelal and says "Sir, I want to go career." [p. 130] Evidently Ace wasn't the only person who noticed something in Johnnie that hadn't been observable otherwise, as Jelal has the proper forms already filled out. "And I hadn't even told Ace. How about that?" [p. 130] Johnnie has passed his second hump [see p. 78], this time even before the training begins.


Sun Tzu said:

Thus such troops need no encouragement to be vigilant.

Without extorting their support the general obtains it;

Without inviting their affection he gains it;

Without demanding their trust he wins it.

My officers have no surplus of wealth

But not because they disdain worldly goods;

They have no expectation of long life

But not because they dislike longevity.

The Art of War, Chapter XI, 34-35

After one more raiding cruise the Federation seems to be on the strategic defensive against the Bugs and Skinnies sergeant, soon to be cadet, Johnnie is detached for officer's training.

Which is called O.C.S., "Officer Candidates School", a choice of term which implies a certain USAn bias, either in the origins of the Federation or the transcriptions of the writer. Given what we shall learn about the origins of the political system, for example, "Officer Training Unit" might be a more likely name for that training center.

Right away he gets into a setup that Panshin scorns as "pat"; if this book is to be considered to be a thirties style story of redemption through military service, this is one of the more cliched scenes, to be accompanied with abrupt violin music. From having disdained the entire concept of Federal Service, Johnnie's father has now become its enthusiastic supporter. Moreover, out of a desire to be the man he was in his son's eyes, he has even demanded and received the same service. And you thought Edgar Rice Burroughs was the big man for coincidences; Johnnie's father is the replacement for his son (!).

Johnnie wonders why he was not in the Logistics Corps [or the Navy], but his father insisted on being a soldier. This seems rather an extreme example of letting choice prevail. Having the head of a large business enterprise, a man experienced and able at managing the actions of people and the distribution of goods, converted into cannon fodder seems to be a gross misallocation. Back at enlistment time, Sergeant Ho had made it quite clear that while placement officers did consider the recruit's wishes, that was the least factor [p. 28].

If Heinlein had really wished to emphasize the "95%" factor, here would have been a chance, an opportunity to show how the "noncombatant auxiliary corps" still undertook unpleasant duties to ensure the survival of the social order. That he chose instead to insert a melodramatic trick rather works against that argument, and more broadly the argument in general of the book.

This further shows a weakness in the structure of the book. Johnnie's father comes across as a different sort of lecturer; a character who serves as a mouthpiece for the flimsy "opposing view" whose conversion inevitably comes across as similarly unconvincing. This flourish of patriotic spirit comes across as a forced emotion a trend which will become more overt in this book and more intrusive in later ones (cf. Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 96, 112-3).

There is genuine emotional appeal to be found in this passage, though, which makes the patriotic drumroll seem all the more forced. Not only is there the loss of Johnnie's mother to consider, but his father tells a story about friends of a friend who had the misfortune to be on a conquered planet, and the naïveté of the friend about their circumstances [p. 135]. The underplayed mutual understanding of the father and son of this obliviousness is a more felicitous presentation of the changes in attitudes involved in accepting responsibility for citizenship the view from the far side of the "hump."

There is much of the adolescent rebellion theme in this book, the painful process by which a teenager establishes himself as a separate emotional and intellectual entity, breaking the ties to parents. One can see an eerie foreshadowing of the sixties in this particular scene, where Johnnie's father adopts his son's views, foretelling the heralded "prefigurative culture" extolled by Margaret Mead (for example), the validation of the youth rebellion by those who should have pointed out its errors. By definition, Heinlein is right here, but it's still a point that reinforces the presentation of Johnnie's father as, not a complete character, but a vehicle for the expression of the author's arguments. Instead of working out his ideas through events and character, Heinlein falls into the quick and dirty mode of lecturing a reflection, admittedly, of the hasty and reactive-focused writing of the book. Its successes would have the unfortunate consequences of validating not only the positive ideas but the less good means of the book.

(In a recurrence of one of Heinlein's favorite methodologies, Johnnie's father admits to having been seeing a hypnotherapist. Hypnotic methods appear frequently in Heinlein's works, from "If This Goes On " (1941, 1953) to Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) and he clearly believed in their efficacy (cf. the defense of the woman who couldn't pronounce her "own" name properly, in Expanded Universe pp. 385-6 Virginia "Ruth Simmons" Tighe pronounced "Bridey" (as in "Bridey Murphy") to rhyme with "Friday" but as a diminutive of "Bridget" the name is properly pronounced "brid-ee"). One wonders if this therapist wasn't patriotically meddling with his patient's mind in this setup, elaborate posthypnotic commands would work!)

In spite of the shifts of meaning, the confession of Johnnie's father shows what Heinlein was trying to get at: "I had to perform an act of faith. I had to prove to myself that I was a man. Not just a producing-consuming economic animal . . . but a man." [p. 136]

So they go their separate ways, and Johnnie enters upon the next phase of his career, or next scene in the movie, beginning with the first mention of his last name: "Career Sergeant Juan Rico, to report to the Commandant pursuant to orders." [p. 136] Panshin summarizes this as, "Five a very long chapter showing Rico, the narrator, as an officer-in-training," [Heinlein in Dimension, p. 95]

Sergeant, now Cadet, Rico proceeds to describe to the receiving sergeant his improbable excuse for being late. The sergeant chokes back a tear and allows that he had a good reason, in proper melodramatic life-of-a-soldier movie procedure.

For all that this was a crucial time in his life Johnnie has very little to recount, except for two memorable incidents straight out of high school. One is personal:

I guess the high point in my whole cadet course was a visit from Ensign Ibañez, she of the dark eyes, junior watch officer and pilot-under-instruction of the Corvette Transport Mannerheim. Carmencita showed up, looking incredibly pert in Navy dress whites and about the size of a paperweight, while my class was lined up for evening meal muster walked down the line and you could hear eyeballs click as she passed walked straight up to the duty officer and asked for me by name in a clear penetrating voice.

The duty officer, Captain Chandar, was widely believed never to have smiled at his own mother, but he smiled down at little Carmen, straining his face out of shape, and admitted my existence . . . whereupon she waved her long black lashes at him, explained that her ship was about to boost and could she please take me out to dinner?

And I found myself in possession of a highly irregular and totally unprecedented three-hour pass. It may be that the Navy has developed hypnosis techniques that they have not yet gotten around passing on to the Army, Or her secret weapon may be older than that and not usable by M.I. In any case I not only had a wonderful time but my prestige with my classmates, none too high until then, climbed to amazing heights.

Starship Troopers, p. 138

Now what was that about "you know nothing of his tastes, his likes and dislikes, his personal life" [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 96]? In tone, if not in target (indeed, we'll see how much so), this could well be Oscar Gordon of Glory Road speaking. Indeed, this may have been one of the reasons that the book was deemed unsuitable for juveniles. At least Johnnie can be overtly interested in sexual matters, unlike (say) Rod Walker of Tunnel In the Sky.

One of the things they talk about over that dinner is the fate of tinkerer Carl, who was "killed when the Bugs smashed our research station on Pluto" [p. 138]. The Arachnid fleet cannot protect their home planet, Klendathu; evidently the Federation fleet cannot protect human planets either. The tactics of the M.I. do not seem to be particularly conducive to any sort of defense, either. One wonders what would happen if an Arachnid ship deposited a colony on Earth; how would Johnnie and his mates conduct a War Against the Chtorr?

Giffard cites this attack in defense of his thesis regarding the military nature of Federal Service: "While it is possible that Carl was working for a 'civil service' branch of Federal Service, it appears that the Pluto Research Station was of sufficient military importance to warrant destruction by the enemy. If he was not a military serviceman, he was working in a military-support capacity." ["The Nature of 'Federal Service' in Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers" p. 9] Going by Isaac Asimov's observations [In Memory Yet Green, pp. 393-4] Heinlein considered his work at the Naval Air Experimental Station Philadelphia to be military support, and any criticism of the facilities a criticism of the military, hence disloyal, disruptive, and detrimental to the war effort. Seventeen years later, he could create in fiction a world where such activities were in fact military, and thereby retroactively validate his services away from the front, "in a military-support capacity" as the man said.

The other incident was educational, and a more sustained one; the Officer Candidates School History and Moral Philosophy course. At first Johnnie thinks it may be a remedial course, since H&MP is not offered universally. (This is an interesting commentary that calls into question the history of the Federation as later presented.) But there is no Bonehead H&MP at this institution, there is far more than that to this course; this time, he not only has to take the course, he has to pass, and if he fails, he may be discharged and not get his franchise.

This selection process does lend support to the thesis of an authoritarian government those not in line with the nomenklatura could easily be flunked regardless but that clashes with the abundant evidence that in practice the government is not authoritarian. This inconsistency again reflects the rushed nature of the composition of the work; Heinlein may have conceived of ways in which the government moderated the rigidity and authoritarianism of military service, but he did not put them down. Those comments in Expanded Universe show that he did indeed have such opinions, but these are post-publication reflections, unexpressed in the original. If you don't say what you mean, people will think that you meant what you said.

All the same one wonders how this checking would fare, absent the auctorial hand. Dixon discusses in On the Psychology of Military Incompetence how the demands of military organization foster the development of attitudes at lower levels of command that prove to be disastrous at higher command. Likewise, in his critique of the inadequacies of the U.S. armed forces The Straw Giant Arthur T. Hadley quotes Matthew Ridgeway as saying that the most important role of a commander is to preserve the mavericks [op. cit., pp. 165-6]. There are as presented here powerful impetuses to the contrary.

Nevertheless, authoritian regimes don't try to instill habits of deep philosophical analysis in their governing cadres. Think of Commodore Arkwright's rationale for the "Doubt" class in the Patrol Academy of Space Cadet. Here it goes further in philosophizing, if less far in instilling opposition. Johnnie observes that "History and Moral Philosophy works like a delayed-action bomb. You wake up in the middle of the night and think: Now what did he mean by that?" [p. 140] And he follows suit with an example.

In this history, the Russo-Anglo-American alliance fared less well in its war with the Chinese Hegemony than the opponents of the Great Khans in Beyond This Horizon, though better than the US in "All"/Sixth Column/The Day After Tomorrow. The war ended by mutual exhaustion and without an actual peace treaty per se, merely an armistice that omitted trivial matters, like prisoner exchange.

Such matters have been a significant factor; the armistice negotiations for the Korean War (which is referenced shortly later [p. 146]) underwent severe difficulties due to that matter. Heinlein makes much of the "brainwashing" charges but the biggest obstacle was the mass defections of the North Korean and Chinese troops, often encouraged by the South Korean government. This omission makes it seem that government had broken down.

Which did indeed happen. Nature abhors a vacuum in politics far more than in physics, and "it was more like what happened in Russia in 1917 the system collapsed; someone else moved in." [p. 142] In this case it was committees of vigilance, composed of disgruntled veterans. The vigilantes organized to punish their own; then, in the lack of other security forces, became the government by default.

Johnnie's instructor discusses various factors of this state of affairs. For all that the society is supposed to be based on a "scientifically verifiable theory of morals" the ultimate justification is pragmatic. It works. (Within the covers of the novel, by definition.)

It also addresses a serious question. How to establish Sun Tzu's Tao, "the common conviction shared by both the people and the government"? The destruction of Athenian power in the Peloponnesian War highlights the instructor's comment that "The unlimited democracies were unstable because their citizens were not responsible for the fashion in which they exerted their sovereign authority" [p. 145]. The climatic example of this is the reaction to the battle of the Arginusae, the overwhelming triumph of the Athenian fleet over the Spartan. But because of a political (and ethical) conflict, the victorious commanders were executed. Their successors were far less aggressive, and as a result the Spartan commander Lysander reversed the balance at the battle of Aegospotami, utterly destroying the fleet and laying the ground for the siege and surrender of Athens. And the not-responsible Demos was now naked before its oligarchic enemies. (See Xenophon's Hellenica, Chapter I, for this tale of ingratitude.)

How to prevent this instability? By bringing into being an electorate that has through personal experience made the connection between force and responsibility:

". . . We have democracy unlimited by race, color, creed, birth, wealth, sex, or conviction, and anyone may win sovereign power by a usually short and not too arduous term of service nothing more than a light workout to our cave-man ancestors. But that slight difference is one between a system that works, since it is constructed to match the facts, and one that is inherently unstable. Since sovereign franchise is the ultimate in human authority, we insure that all who wield it accept the ultimate in social responsibility we require each person who wishes to exert control over the state to wager his own life and lose it, if need be to save the life of the state. The maximum responsibility a human can accept is thus equated to the ultimate authority a human can exert. Yin and yang, perfect and equal."

Starship Troopers, pp. 145-6

Heinlein got very exasperated with superficial commentary: "I think I know what offends most of my critics the most about STARSHIP TROOPERS: It is the dismaying idea that a voice in governing the state should be earned instead of being handed to anyone who is 18 years old and has a body temperature near 37C." [Expanded Universe, p. 399]. He followed that by making yet other proposals.

The first one, Mark Twain's "The Curious Republic of Gondour", has been a cause of annoyance due to its inaccessability. (It did not help that the name of the place is spelled "Gondor" in the book.) This is a piece published in The Atlantic Monthly describing a utopia where voters receive additional votes for education, wealth, and other factors. James Giffard hunted the item down and put it on his web site.

The other suggestions range from the bizarre (actually selling franchises) to the discriminatory (intelligence tests) to the exotic (limiting the vote to women who have borne a child). All these would face serious legal and organizational challenges. But as Heinlein plaintively asked, could any change be for the worse? Perhaps the final comment is Mordan Claude's summation of Hamilton Felix's "stupid" question about the afterlife: "He did not ask it stupidly."

This discussion also contains one of the few passages that lends support to the "95%" theory: "[In] peacetime most veterans come from non-combatant auxiliary services and have not been submitted to the full rigors of military discipline" [p. 143]. If federal civil servants are submitted to even a mild version of military discipline, it would be far more in accordance with the facts to call them "militarized". Moreover, "auxiliary services" implies a military connection. All those that have been mentioned logistics, intelligence, research, labor battalions either have a direct military connection or have been connected; e.g. the Israeli NAHAL (Noar Halutsi Lochem, Fighting Pioneer Youth), their military pioneer corps. There may indeed be a majority of federal civil servants, but if so it is well hidden.

But Major Reid admits that this is not totally an ideal government. This is no intellectual meritocracy: "Service men are not brighter than civilians." [p. 143] And he also takes issue with Major Dixon's survey of military personality: "[Nor] is it verifiable that military discipline makes a man self-disciplined once he is out; the crime rate of veterans is much like that of civilians." [loc. cit.]

A veteran who might well agree with those judgments is George Macdonald Fraser. In his other military series, Fraser featured, among other soldiers from a thinly-disguised Gordon Highlanders (the regiment in which he was a lieutenant), a type case, almost, of a future veteran who was neither intelligent nor self-disciplined. The General Danced At Dawn, McAuslan In the Rough, and The Sheikh and the Dustbin give us a searing picture of Private McAuslan, the illiterate, uncleanly, uncouth, belligerent layabout of the Gordons. Yet he, having demonstrated "through difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage" [pp. 144-5], would be qualified, in these terms, to be a voter and officeholder. And in an amazing coincidence it is stated that the first committee of vigilance was formed in Aberdeen [p. 142], which is in the recruiting area of the Gordons. (What would Fraser himself or Flashman think?)

Since Heinlein appeals to practicality it is well to discuss practical considerations in response. To take the most obvious one first, in a general war such as is being hypothecated, many if not most of the veterans would be in fact conscripts. With such a breeding ground, the ethos of voluntarism set forth herein one of the more admirable parts of the society, and a factor understandably dismissed by those wishing to denounce the book seems to be unlikely to have come about. One would think that the veterans would say "a proper turn of square-bashing will do them a world of good." Not to mention Dixon's consideration; the sort of personality that is advantageous in lower-scale command is not particularly fitted either to manage larger-scale concerns or to bring about a non-authoritarian state of affairs.

Indeed, note that the impetus for the first committee of vigilance was a matter of law enforcement, where "they weren't going to let any 'bleedin', profiteering, black-market, double-time-for-overtime, army-dodging, unprintable' civilians have any say about it. They'd do what they were told, see?" [p. 142] (And that does sound like McAuslan speaking.) And so "[what] started as an emergency measure became constitutional practice . . . in a generation or two." [loc. cit.] To belabor the obvious, in this context civil servants are "army-dodging, unprintable" civilians. It seems unlikely, given this origin, that they would ever be allowed in. Private (ret.) McAuslan is just not going to allow Mr. Blair, late of the Central Upper Eastern Highlands Government Council's Department of Administrative Affairs, a voice in trying to repair the cock-up he had made of matters.

Moreover one wonders under what justification they let even Royal Army Service Corps the equivalent of the Logistics Corps of this book, and indeed the R.A.S.C. (after a name change to Royal Corps of Transport) has been amalgamated into the Royal Logistics Corps veterans into this, much less people from even less combatant services such as the Pay Corps (Dixon cites a gross example of unmerited hostility by a combatant towards a senior officer from that corps [On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, pp. 230-1]) or the technical services like the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.


Sun Tzu said:

If you say:

Which ruler possesses moral influence?

Which commander is more able?

Which army obtains the advantages of nature and the terrain?

Which has the better trained officers and men?

Which has enlightened rewards and penalties?

I will be able to forecast

Which side will be victorious and which will be defeated.

If a general who heeds my strategy is employed

He is certain to win.

Retain him!

When one who refuses to listen to my strategy is employed

He is certain to be defeated.

Dismiss him!

The Art of War, Chapter I, 11-15

It is a defining consideration for evaluating criticism of this book to note that some of its best-known passages are actually not at all in the book. For example:

Thus Heinlein, in Starship Troopers, by a description of a mirror reflection and the mention of an ancestor's nationality, in the midst of a strophe on male makeup, generates the data that the first person narrator, with whom we have been traveling now for two hundred and fifty-odd pages (of a three-hundred-and-fifty-page book), is black.

Samuel Delany, Triton, p. 339

The paperback edition is only 208 pages. Therefore we must read Delany's statement as "five-sevenths of the way through". This puts us at about page 150. But there is no scene at or around page 150 where Johnnie is looking in a mirror. There is no scene whatsoever in the book where he is looking in a mirror, or for that matter thinking about makeup. (Jewelry, yes [p. 105], but again, this is a historically-sanctioned example of different standards.) There is a scene about Johnnie's ethnicity, but it is at the end of the book.

The quoted passage reads as if Delany had somehow confused two books. If he was paying that little attention to this one, there seems to be not much point in taking his further comments on it at all seriously. Yet they are taken seriously, so much so that Thomas Disch, instead of going back to the original source, restated Delany's claim as fact in The Stuff Our Dreams Are Made Of (1997).

Unfortunately, in the next few pages that are actually in the book, Heinlein himself indulged in some claims and assertions that were equally questionable, if not even more so. Moreover, these not only were at odds with the previously established background but provided material to reinforce the claims of such as Delany on other matters.

The discussion of government is wrapped off with another of those "right-by-definition" assertions, that no rebellion is possible against the government because all those with the necessary personal resources for a successful rebellion go into Federal Service and become part of the System [p. 146]. Even on its own terms this assertation is rather overblown. The potential rebel may be downchecked for some other reason than leadership personality, injuries, say; going by the high winnowing-out rate evidenced in Johnnie's training this is a real possibility. And, someone so deselected may well become even more aggrieved, alienated, and dissociated. This argument even further assumes that the potential rebel will not be so alienated as to never even consider "accepting the System" in the first place.

Indeed, given the deeply-ingrained volunteer ethos of the society, how could they "separate out the aggressive ones and make them the sheep dogs" [p. 146]? This implies a deliberate selection by those holding power, that they somehow draft would-be rebels into Federal Service, which flatly contradicts everything else said on the matter. In the terms of the political relationship, as Panshin points out, this "is the justification of a sheep-shearer." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 97]

This is immediately followed by another one of those assertions. Having raised a question about ideological wars, Johnnie is given a class assignment to refute his own assertion. "All wars arise from population pressure," [p. 147] he ends up saying, though his subsequent justification that "you have to dig into trade routes and birth rate and several other things" [loc. cit.] to prove that the Crusades did comes across as more of a case of adjusting the data to come to a desired result. As with much of the historical data presented in the book, this is questionable in and of itself.

The Black Death, with its catastrophic reduction in populations, did not abort the English campaign that climaxed at the Battle of Poitiers (1356). Indeed, if population pressure is the source of wars, then Sung China should have attacked the Mongols, not the other way around. Arguing about the population pressure Chinggis Khan had to deal with may be relevant in his own context, but going by comparative populations he was on the short end. Which pretty much reduces the "population pressure" argument to a tautology.

This defective argumentation in turn undercuts the immediately subsequent argument:

. . It may be verified by observation that any breed which stops its own increase gets crowded out by breeds which expand. . . Either we spread and wipe out the Bugs, or they spread and wipe us out because both races are tough and want the same real estate.

Do you know how fast population pressure could cause us to fill the entire universe shoulder to shoulder? The answer will astound you, just the flicker of an eye in terms of the age of our race.

Try it it's a compound interest expansion.

But does Man have any "right" to spread through the universe?

Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics you name it is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what man is not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.

The universe will let us know later whether or not Man has any "right" to expand through it.

Starship Troopers, p. 147

"[This] is really the old argument that might makes right," [Heinlein in Dimension, p. 91] is Panshin's summary of this statement, and he goes on to characterize it as another example of the lecturing that had so displeased Blassingame, Boucher, and Campbell.

In fact Campbell had some very specific problems with that thesis:

Bob bases his proposition on "A living organism that does not grow, dies. Therefore the presence of two or more organisms in the Universe inescapably implies physical combat."

Not true. It does imply competition but not necessarily physical. Primitive organisms do, in truth, have to grow physically or die; higher organisms have discovered ways of growth that are nonphysical, and so can cease physical growth. We do not need new territory, if we can develop new dimensions. The saurians tried the route of unlimited physical size and were licked by small mammals, who tried unlimited adaptability instead.

The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume I, p. 363

Letter to Lurton Blassingame, March 4, 1959

James Blish also cited an authority that questioned "Heinlein's doctrine that man is a highly dangerous wild animal. (This as Poul Anderson has pointed out, is a wholly romantic notion; it seems truer to the facts to hold, as Anderson does, that man was far and away the first of all animals to be domesticated.)" [More Issues At Hand, p. 57] Blish is talking about Have Space Suit Will Travel but this criticism is more apropos to this book.

Thus, we see a progress from erroneous bases to fallacious conclusions. Indeed, Anderson would have a lot more to say about the problem of "man is a highly dangerous wild animal".

At the end of his Lensman training, Kimball Kinnison and his classmates confronted their dreaded Commandant, Lieutenant-Marshal Fritz von Hohendorff; similarly, along the way Space Cadet Matt Dodson met the chief of the Patrol Academy, Commodore Arkwright. In this vein, Cadet Johnnie Rico gets a pre-precomissioning interview with his own commandant of cadets, another physically challenged teacher, who is showing off his devotion to the force by taking a bust in grade: "The Commandant had a permanent rank of fleet general (yes, that Nielssen), his rank as colonel was temporary" [p. 148].

Now Heinlein was exceptionally skilled at creating depth of background by inference, but sometimes this technique misfired, and this case is an example of such. As Panshin says, "Drum flourishes of this sort are frequent and, of course, are irrelevant. Emotion should always be fairly earned, not prompted, forced or manufactured." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 96]

This failure may stem from the differing environments. Heinlein was profoundly influenced by his Naval Academy education, where such "drum flourishes" were common, and had fairly earned emotion:

Patriotism Moral behavior at the national level. Non sibi sed Patria. Nathan Hale's last words: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country." Torpedo Squadron Eight making its suicidal attack. Four chaplains standing fast while the water rises around them. Thomas Jefferson saying, "The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots" A submarine skipper giving the order "Take her down!" while he himself is still topside. Jonas Ingram standing on the steps of Bancroft Hall and shouting, "The Navy has no place for good losers! The Navy needs tough sons of bitches who can go out there and win!"

"The Pragmatics of Patriotism", Expanded Universe, p. 467

These statements have emotional value that has been fairly earned because of a common external background against which they can be evaluated. No such background exists in such a novel as this unless it is provided by the author. In a similar situation, in Space Cadet, Heinlein not only provided that background but used the detail to reinforce the moral point as well as the plot point:

"What distinguishes Commodore Arkwright?"

"Uh, he's blind, sir."

"Not blind, Mr. Dodson, not blind! It simply happens that he had his eyes burned out. How did he lose his eyesight?" The cadet stopped him. "No don't tell them. Let them find out for themselves."

The cadet resumed eating and Matt did likewise, while thinking about Commodore Arkwright. He himself had been too young to pay attention to the news, but his father had read an account of the event to him a spectacular, single-handed rescue of a private yacht in distress, inside the orbit of Mercury. He had forgotten how the Patrol officer had exposed his eyes to the Sun something to do with transferring the yacht's personnel but he could still hear his father reading the end of the report: "these actions are deemed to be in accordance with the tradition of the Patrol."

Space Cadet, p. 21

Instead of a similar brief lecture on the incredibly high standards of achievement of the Mobile Infantry, as personified in the life and times of Commandant Nielssen, all we get is "that Nielssen". Were it not now known that the novel was written in one brief, sustained effort and not revised, it might be hypothesized that such a description had been written but was deleted. Given the actual circumstances, this makes the "drum flourish" a hallmark of a failure of writing. Heinlein could make such emotion fairly earned, and the shift to manufactured emotions is an indication of a decline in his writing skills.

But the lecture that Johnnie and his two fellow almost-officers gets has its own problems. Commandant Nielssen is giving them the emotional underlay that was so lacking in his own biography, explaining how they are so unworthy to take on the great burden of being officers of the Mobile Infantry a more abstract version of Jelal's speech back on Page 6. His moving speech on the force of tradition, however, is undercut by two errors of fact, and as before, such errors in their turn engender errors of philosophy.

In spite of their manifest unfitness for this high honor, Commandant Nielssen avers, these cadet-officers have one advantage against all their predecessors: "[Every] candidate must be a trained trooper, blooded under fire, a veteran of combat drops. No other army in history has stuck to this rule, although some came close." [p. 152]

This accords with the theory that there will always be a war somewhere, the idea that Campbell found so difficult to credit. As Panshin observes, "Starship troopers are not half so glorious sitting on their butts polishing their weapons for the tenth time for lack of something to do," [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 97] and without a war to blood the officer candidates in, there would be a serious recruitment problem, one way or the other. Never mind the tacit assumption that there will be a war; but this is so basic an assumption of the book that it should be discussed separately.

But even reducing this assertion to "every officer has been in the ranks," that is still wrong. The German Army inherited from its Prussian progenitor the custom of the Fahnenjunker, the officer candidate as serving soldier, a literal noncomissioned officer. [See The Army of Frederick the Great by Christopher Duffy, pp. 30-1, for the background of this custom.] And indeed, technically officers are not "commissioned" in the German Army; they are promoted.

But one army did even better than that: "Nobody [in the Israel Defence Forces] becomes an officer by any means except selection after basic training as a private soldier." [Max Hastings, Yoni, Hero of Entebbe, p. 32] The topic of this book, sgan aluf Yonatan ben Benzion Netanyahu, commander of the most Mobile Infantry-ish unit in the Israeli Army, sayeret mat'kal, had once been a private soldier.

As had been every other officer in that army, including his brother Binyamin (the former prime minister), and his former C.O. Ehud Barak (his successor and the future tat-aluf, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, leader of the Israeli Labor Alignment, and the most decorated soldier in the IDF), hero of a dozen "combat drops". This dates back to the founding of the IDF, stemming from its origins in the socialist ethos of the founders of Israel. (See The Sword and the Olive by Martin van Creveld [1998], pp 116-7.) Yet Heinlein didn't seem to know about this.

Going on, in an example of how the officer-cadet must always bear in mind that he might be called upon to assume command at any moment, Nielssen cites an incident "from one of those bush wars that flared up on the edge of the Napoleonic wars." [p. 153] Give Heinlein credit for not being USAn-centric, for he is talking about the battle of USS Chesapeake and HMS Leopard during the War of 1812. Nielssen discusses in moving terms (but no names) the awful responsibility laid on Midshipman William Cox, who was cashiered for desertion because while he was taking the captain to the surgeons, all the other officers were incapacitated and he became commander.

There are several errors in this presentation. A trivial one is that Cox was "acting fourth lieutenant", not third as Nielssen says. (Also, that was Cox's job title and the comparison Nielssen makes with the rank of acting third lieutenant the cadets will hold is flawed.) More seriously, his description of the trial is erroneous. Cox was acquitted of cowardice; he was convicted of "neglect of duty", though that was enough to get him cashiered. He had had a good case that he had been ordered by Captain Lawrence to take him to the surgeon and that the next senior officer had dubious reasons for turning over command. Finally, after many years, the House Armed Services Committe rehabilitated Cox. It seems rather unbelievable that Heinlein did not know about this last, as it happened in 1952 [James E. Valle gives a brief discussion of the legal processes in Rocks and Shoals, pp. 148-152] and he even states, through Nielssen's voice, the exact opposite.

Having endeavored to impress them, Commandant Nielssen proceeds to give the new officers their insignia. A rather sinister hint of a problem in the M.I. comes when one of the insignia sets turns out to have been issued to five successive cadets who were killed in action. And the cadet who gets them is himself killed two weeks later.

Indeed, almost every M.I. officer and sergeant who appears in the book is either killed or maimed. The principal exceptions are those who appear in the last chapters, Johnnie himself (and one other cadet, who leaves on assignement and is not mentioned again), and one other. This is an extreme exemplification of the US Marine doctrine of leading from the front. It calls into question how the M.I. functions at all in combat, given the consequent loss of command control when the officers and sergeants are taken out.

It seems to be in keeping with the Nobility of Failure attitude, reminiscent of the Japanese ideal of the hero who is overwhelmed by his enemies and finally dies, that the last five cadets who have worn Johnnie's insignia were busted out. Evidently the standards for an officer are so exalted that dismissals are more common than commissions. One wonders how long these exalted standards would persist under the pressure of such high casualties.

The entire scene has too much of a juvenile attitude in it, something out of a thirties' boys book with a straight-laced, clean-cut, pure hero who would never go out on a date with a pert little pilot or even enter an establishment where spiritous liquors were being served. Thus we have a hardened veteran who has in fact earned a field commission trembling on the verge of tears at the honor of wearing insignia formerly worn by a person who evidently means something to him [p. 155]; another example of trying to force emotion and imply detail without earning either. And we have Johnnie himself on the verge of breaking down at the thought that though he is not now technically in the Mobile Infantry, if he dies in combat he will be posthumously commissioned [pp. 150-1]. More Nobility of Failure there.

With such inauspicious portents ringing in his ears, Acting Third Lieutenant Rico reports to his first combat command.


Sun Tzu said:

Now war is based on deception.

Move when it is advantageous

And create changes in the situation

By dispersal and concentration of forces.

When campaigning, be swift as the wind;

In leisurely march, majestic as the forest;

In raiding and plundering, like fire;

In standing, firm as the mountains.

Be as unknowable as the dark.

Move like a thunderbolt.

The Art of War, Chapter VII, 12-13

The last half of Panshin's Part Five of the hypothetical recruitment movie that he considers this book to be is "showing Rico . . . as a student officer in an important combat situation." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 95] Along the way he manages to show up some more fundamental flaws in the structure of his military.

Third Lieutenant Rico is undergoing his apprenticeship at arms in an independent unit styled "Blackstone's Blackguards". Those exalted standards for officers have produced a shortage of command staff, which causes Mr. Rico (the style of address of a U.S. Marine lieutenant, as pointed out by Panshin [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 95]) to be propelled into command of a platoon.

From this exalted position, he proceeds to explain the high morale of the Mobile Infantry. This is a trusted band of brothers, in which "Everybody works, everybody fights." [p. 164] For every 10,000 troopers in the M.I., there are 10,000 fighting men. Earlier armies, he explains, had wasted vast numbers of men in non-fighting roles, as many as 70,000 non-fighters to support 10,000 combatants [p. 163]. With such a tight-knit community and strong common purpose, the cohesion and morale of this elite force are inevitably high. Well, yes, for every 10,000 troopers there are almost 10,000 fighting men. (Rico admits the training staff and those on leave to be counted against that number.) But this number has been achieved by what can only be described as shady doctrine.

One of these kludges is blatantly alluded to: "But all 'soft, safe' jobs are filled by civilians" [p. 164]. This is not an unprecedented recourse, as the history of civilian employees from the artillery drivers who abandoned guns on seventeenth-century battlefields to the annoyed dockyardmen who had to repair the guns of HMS Prince of Wales under fire from Bismarck in the Denmark Straits shows. These "soft, safe" jobs had been militarized in the first place because civilians, not being under "the full rigors of military discipline," ended up being less than wholehearted contributors to the war effort through means legal (such as working eight-hour days and otherwise sticking to the book) and illegal. What would the starship troopers do if their essential civilian technicians were to go on strike for higher pay, better benefits, safer conditions, or horror of horrors, voting rights?

A second evasion is described without recourse to its consequences. M.I. troopers are cross-trained, so that each platoon contains its own technicians. Rico becomes exhausted trying to run his platoon, keep up his studies, and serve as an Ordnance and Armor Mech (O&A) suit maintenance technician [pp. 171-3]. If its O&A technicians were to be killed, a platoon on a raiding cruise (like the Roughnecks in Chapters One, Ten, and Eleven) would be almost useless. And likewise for the other intrinsic services.

The third "cheat" is only vaguely alluded to. Rico admits that the Navy has to transport it to its targets [p. 163]. Presumably Dubois, Ho, Nielssen, and their like were saved to do the limited duty found so praiseworthy [p. 164] through the efforts of Navy medical staff. And there is an additional indication of a vast substructure of other Federal Service personnel to consider.

Back at enlistment time, Johnnie put in for a number of assignments; "Intelligence . . . psychological warfare, chemical warfare, biological warfare, combat ecology . . . logistics corps . . . and a dozen others" [p. 32] Note that "logistics corps". The majority of noncombatant support troops are in supply. As previously noted, the British Army has merged the bulk of its support-type forces into an organization called "The Royal Logistics Corps". Shipping new capsules, suits, missiles, and replacement electronics, and having them where needed, is as crucial to the war effort as using the capsules to drop the troopers wearing the suits to use the electronics to shoot the missiles at the Bugs. And as much can be said for the other services he put in for in vain.

So while there may well be close to 10,000 M.I. fighting out of every 10,000 M.I. total, in order for them to be able to fight at all they will be backed up by perhaps 70,000 civilians and Navy, logistics, and other Federal Service corps [cf. p. 163], or perhaps even more. Putting the support troops, who are performing very real duties not done by combatants, into other organizations, in order to have an army where "Everybody works, everybody fights," is a paper exercise, a dubious pretense, and indeed an unsound basis for an army.

The current aim of this effort is to drop those workers and fighters on a planet known only as Planet P. There seems to be some confusion here. They will not actually drop, since other M.I. units have already secured the surface of the planet. Their mission, rather, is to penetrate the Arachnid living space and recover an Arachnid brain.

We can see here a premonition of Joe Haldeman's Forever Peace (1997), with its remote-control soldierboys being operated by teams that become mentally merged, in the manner of Spider Robinson's zero-g dancers in Stardance (1979). In this context somehow it doesn't come across as so wonderful an idea.

This segues to a discussion of human cooperation, via a digression on prisoners. (This seems to have been weighing heavily on someone's mind; take for example Johnnie's set essay on prisoners on pp. 140-2.) Fortunately the lecture on the great moral resource and strength of having two people drown failing to rescue a child [p. 176] is brief. Nevertheless, this is again a case of a point being "told" instead of being "shown," which weakness goes back (again) to the hasty composition and brevity of the work. And the positive response to it unfortunately reinforced negative behaviors, such as lecturing and not revising.

Heinlein has inadvertently highlighted a few weaknesses in this idealized military force here. Elaborate preparations are required for them to remain combative for a mere forty hours of combat [pp. 185-6]. Johnnie's platoon relieves a unit which has become disrupted due to a few key casualties. Somehow the starship troopers seem to be losing too many of those rare and expensively-trained men.

In spite of these difficult circumstances Johnnie deploys his forces and begins searching for the enemy. At this point he gets supernatural aid literally as one of those "auxiliary corps" is deployed. An aircar arrives in his area of operations carrying a "special talent", a tired-looking boy who somehow senses the Bug tunnels beneath the ground. It seems curious that in a battlefield environment of dubious survivability [see p. 175 for the marginal environmental conditions] even without combat [e.g. fallout from the nuclear explosion referenced on p. 181-2] any combatant would be allowed out with "no armor . . . just an oxygen mask" [p. 186] which he even takes off. Even if "He knows it." [loc. cit.]

(Introducing powers of mind has its own problems. Campbell perceptively pointed out that a Lensman could have won this battle single-handedly, by taking over a brain Bug [The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume I, p. 363]. He goes on to make a philosophical point but for now the tactical considerations are what matter.)

And in a few minutes that nice map the Special Talent had done for them becomes obsolete, when the Bugs dig tunnels to the surface and start coming out. This turns out to be a feint. (Captain Blackstone firmly warns Johnnie not to try to get a medal [p. 194] and as in true Nobility of Failure fashion medals have been posthumous or almost so, it's probably a good idea that he agrees.) While determining this, Johnnie learns that his platoon is committed in another section.

Just in time, too. Johnnie takes a relieving force down after the searchers. It turns out that his platoon sergeant had gone down there first. After some self-sacrificing moments, the relief force breaks through and finds the platoon sergeant, who has singlehandedly fulfilled the mission of the force by capturing a brain Bug.

At this point (conveniently to save time in recounting action, when instead it can be summarized afterwards), Johnnie is knocked cold by a piece of the tunnel roof, and for some reason he is retrieved.

Matt Dodson's incredible accomplishment on Venus was adjudged to be normal performance of duty, and similarly Johnnie's noteworthy contribution to the success of this battle was not quite fully held against him. At least in Galactic Patrol Kimball Kinnison got a regular promotion to Captain for his exploits in the first Brittania. One wonders how either of these other forces ever gets officers at all.

Or maybe not; after some more unspecified experiences Johnnie finally gets his commission. While departing to his new assignment he also finally reveals his ethnic background. He makes a comment to a fellow officer and is asked: "But what language was it?" He replies, "Tagalog. My native language." [p. 205]

And in speaking of his native history he invokes "Ramon Magsaysay . . . Great man, great soldier probably be chief of psychological warfare if he were alive today." [loc. cit.] Ramón Magsaysay was elected President of the Republic of the Philippines in 1952 and pursued a vigorous and highly successful campaign against the Hukbakalap rebels until his death in an airplane crash in 1957. It should be noted, though, that Magsaysay's electoral and subsequent military campaigns were managed by CIA operative Colonel Edward G. Lansdale, a man whose exotic combination of special warfare and unconventional warfare theory with small-town American patriotism earned him the nickname of the "All-American Boy Guerilla Fighter".

Therefore, far from being of Samuel Delany's ethnicity, Rico is oriental Filipino. But then, Heinlein has been hiding much in this scene, taking off from the immediately previous revelation that Rico's platoon sergeant had been his old trainer Sergeant Zim.

And finally, we have Panshin's Section "Six Close with the narrator as a seasoned officer in a reprise of the situation that opens the book." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 95] And indeed the hypothetical thirties "man-who-learned-better" in the army movie is melodramatic in the extreme, with Johnnie delivering an overblown speech. Not to mention that his father is now his platoon sergeant (?!), something that really ticked off Panshin, with reason.


Sun Tzu said:

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles

Is not the acme of skill.

To subdue the enemy without fighting

Is the acme of skill.

Thus, what is of supreme importance in war

Is to attack the enemy's strategy;

Next best is to disrupt his alliances;

The next best is to attack his army.

The worst policy is to attack cities.

The Art of War, Chapter III, 3-7

The hierarchy of methodologies enunciated by Sun Tzu is ordered by declining value of merit. They run from the most metaphysical to the most physical, from working on the enemy's ideas in their purest form, their strategy, to their physical assets in their most material form, their walled cities.

Aldiss, Delany, Disch, Moorcock, and their sort "attack cities"; they strike at Heinlein's work at its strongest point with their weakest forces. By seeing his work through their own preconceptions, imposing on it not what is there, but what they desire to be there, they make a powerful argument against nothing. Their critiques are more self-revelatory than informative.

Of the two novelistic responses to the work, Harry Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965) can be subsumed under the head of "attacking his army" quite literally, as Harrison presents an army that totally devalues the values of the M.I., a nihilistic nightmare governed by fear and motivated by greed, founded in fraud and pervaded by deceit from beginning to end. Small wonder that Bill the Galactic Hero shoots himself in the foot to get relieved, or that he ends up deceiving his own brother as he was deceived.

Harrison presents a world where values are devalued shams, a Hobbesian struggle of all against all. Though to the extent that it parallels the expansionistic aggression of Heinlein's grow-or-die perspective, it calls it into question, if not altogether successfully. The story moreover is diffuse, in that it is not only a broad satire, but a singularly unfocused one. Copying some of the outward structures of Starship Troopers while ignoring others, and including parodies of yet other works, makes for an undirected facade for this core of nihilism. Instead of questioning Heinlein's values, Harrison denies that there are any values for anyone. This argument reduces to a "Is!" "Is not!" counterplay, where the contestants argue past each other.

Gordon Dickson's Naked to the Stars (1961) is more idea-focused, as it were "disrupting his alliances", in this case the expression of the ideas as physical entities. Dickson cleverly parallels the society of the Federation with enough differences to avoid plagarism. (For example, veterans have an additional vote, instead of being the only voters.) And his plot follows the broad outlines of Johnnie's initial story his separation from his family, hard basic training, initial combat. (Admittedly Johnnie's lapse of memory came after a blow.)

But in the realm of ideas, Dickson wants to go "naked to the stars", arguing that "the presence of two or more organisms in the Universe" does not "inescapably [imply] physical combat." Sapient beings can peacefully work it out if they do not inevitably assume hostility, and so Dickson's Contacts Service will go unarmed to the stars, and find that no one will fight unarmed men.

This takes a rather optimistic view of sapient nature. Dickson of course has been plotting such a course, in that his Childe Cycle is intended to demonstrate the next step in human evolution, to the "responsible man" whose actions coordinate with his beliefs.

But he offers as much or as little evidence to support this belief as Heinlein does in his book. The Skinnies, after all, changed sides, something that tacitly implies that peaceful coexistence is possible and that in fact Campbell's conclusion is overblown, the existence of the Human race does not entail the extermination of all others. And contrawise, any peaceful contact may be no more than a prelude to a conflict there is no reason to believe that first impressions, on either side, are complete or even true.

Joe Haldeman's The Forever War (1974) takes the same thesis albeit with different routing; that war came about because of mutual misunderstandings fueled by militaristic assumptions. Its resolution turns out again to be as rosy as Stardance. (What Heinlein seems to have admired about the book was its portrayal of the fighting men.)

James Blish cited Poul Anderson as providing a powerful counterargument to Heinlein's idea that man is a highly dangerous wild animal. This is no unfounded speculation, either: "But possibly the most important discovery we have made about ourselves is that Man is a Wild Animal. He cannot be tamed and remain Man". ["The Third Millenium Opens" [written Nov. 1955], Expanded Universe, p. 382]

"The Master Key" (Analog, July, 1964) on the surface is another Nicholas van Rijn story of detection, where the fat, lazy, and debauched trader reasons through a conundrum of alien doings to the solution the Dr. Watsons around him do not quite yet get. The explanation of the unprovoked attack and thoroughgoing submission by the Cainites turns out to be rooted in the basis of their society.

Kidnapped and rescued captain Per Stenvik, on the basis of his very personal observation, believes it to be that the traders had gone, if not quite "naked to the stars," reluctantly and restrainedly in their use of retaliatory force. His rescuer, Manuel Gómez, finds them to be just like the chicos down in the barrio, respecting those who defend themselves. But van Rijn has deduced a more basic basis for their actions; the aliens are not one species, but two, a race of domesticated sapients, followers by nature, and their "wild animal" masters, free, ungoverned, and ungovernable. Then he steps into philosophy:

. . . "We'll have to instruct everybody who goes to Cain," [Per] said. "I mean, not to let on that we aren't wild animals, we humans."

"But, Captain," Manuel said, and his head lifted high, "we are."

Van Rijn stopped and looked at us a while. Then he shook his own head violently and shambled bearlike to the viewer wall. "No," he growled. "Some of us are."

"How's that?" Harry wondered.

"We here in this room are wild," Van Rijn said. "We do what we do because we want to or because it is right. No other motivations, nie? If you made slaves of us, you would for sure not be wise to let us near a weapon.

"But how many slaves has there been, in Earth's long history, that their masters could trust? Quite some! There was even armies of slaves, like the Janissaries. And how many people today is domestic animals at heart? Wanting somebody else should tell them what to do, and take care of their needfuls, and protect them not just against their fellow men but against themselves? Why has every free human society been so short lived? Is this not because the wild-animal men are born so heartbreaking seldom?"

He glared out across the city, where it winked and glittered beneath the stars, around the curve of the planet. "Do you think they yonder is free?" he shouted. His hand chopped downward in scorn.

"The Master Key"

This is a discussion of the ideological core of this book, an attack against its structure of ideas, "attacking its strategy." And finding the weakness in a strategy is how one may subdue an opponent.


Sun Tzu said:

Pay heed to nourishing the troops; do not unnecessarily fatigue them.

Unite them in spirit; conserve their strength.

The Art of War, Chapter XI, 32

There are many obstacles to becoming a member of Federal Service, from the living warning of the dismembered recruiter through the long and grueling process that the recruit undergoes to the continually tempting offers of resignation at any time. Only the most devoted, seemingly, are to become voters: the few, the proud.

And that's a problem itself. What we have in the Starship Troopers government is an electorate that has the right to vote itself a salary and benefits. The instructors at OCS could be getting "full-pay pensions" [p. 138] and presumably Fleet Sergeant Ho, for example, will still need maintenance on his prostheses even after he quits recruiting. So there are transfer payments to retirees to voters, that is.

That original Aberdeen military soviet of vigilance had had a grievance against civilian society, one expressed in truly McAuslanian terms: "They'd do what they were told, see? While us apes straightened things out!" [p. 142] Society owed them and this is an attitude that can express itself financially as well as emotionally.

Under this system, candidates for office can legally offer financial advantages to the electorate, ones paid for by the taxpaying and non-voting, mass of citizens. It hardly seems like a system that will engender low taxes [cf. p. 144].

John Campbell once posited a modification of Lord Acton's dictum that "All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." What Campbell observed was that it was not power per se but one of the perquisites of power that was the problem; immunity corrupted, not power, though power enabled one to gain immunity from the consequences of one's actions. (However, it was not the only means.) And in effect, the voters are "immune" from taxes on their pensions.

The many barriers to mere enlistment and "sickener" factors in training are not unconnected to this, either. It is against the interest of the existing electorate to dilute their power by adding to the number of voters. This obstacle course can even be justified, by such justifications as set forth by Major Reid in OCS H&MP. Which does not mean that it isn't a restriction.

For all that its harsh social organization created a powerful military machine, the weakness of classical Sparta was that its political base was small and inelastic. The Spartiates "owned" everything and ran the government; therefore the fewer Spartiates, the more political power and economic resources (better armor and weapons, not effete luxuries like food and clothing) for each individual Spartiate.

The "sickener" factors can therefore have as much of a relationship to the serving force as to the electorate. The selection procedure entails that only the most capable and motivated get through. Nevertheless, it cuts down on the number that do get through.

This is not an entirely exclusionary method, though, with reference to Sergeant Ho's un-recruiting speech [pp. 27-8] and the fact that some dropouts from boot camp did remain in Federal Service, if not in the Mobile Infantry: "Some of them were dropped without prejudice and allowed, if they wished, to sweat out their terms in the non-combatant services" [p. 45].

Indeed, if the "95%" ratio were true, one could imagine, in the future, military service being dropped from post-Federal Service voting qualifications, on the grounds that so few made it and those few were so out of keeping with the educated, civilized bureaucrats; Sir Humphrey and Mr. Kiku outvoting and voting out ex-Private McAuslan two to one and "asking" him not to let the door hit him in the arse as he leaves. Which is another point against that thesis.

Even taking the original constituency into consideration makes for problems. The original founders were not from the lean, mean, fighting machine described here, but from the bloated force of noncombatants in uniform described in Johnnie's scornful historical note. It follows, therefore, that the bulk of the veterans then, in those veterans' committees of vigilance, would be from supply and support troops. Or from that sort of "combat veteran" who always manages to stay out of combat. Imagine, if you will, a Veterans' Council run by Milo Minderbinder, Willie Keefer, and Dr. Frank Burns yet they too had each demonstrated "through difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage" [pp. 144-5].

In Making the Corps, Ricks describes a Marine Corps well on the way to the abstract isolation from society celebrated here; a world of the stern values celebrated in this book, facing an alien society of laxity, hedonism, and dissipation. Combine this with the philosophical rigidity evident in lower levels of command, as discussed in Dixon's On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, and the foundation for an authoritarian regime has been laid. This possibility is what the lowest-level critics are responding to, it seems; that they ignore the evident lack of supporting presentation in the book is a demonstration of their incapability.

In other words, in this sense the government of Starship Troopers doesn't live up to its potential. It could be the aggressive, rigid, strict polity of the square-basher's dream, with the Spartiate veterans laying down a stern law to the Helot civilians. And about as sterile and doomed as that Lykurgan constitution, too. Perhaps it's just as well.

Another threat can be seen in the relationship between civil rights and voting rights. Without a connection to the electorate, the motivation of the governing power to respect the rights of others is less powerful. The consideration (or actually, the lack thereof) for those who were counted as "three fifths of all other Persons" (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, Clause 3) is an example of this unconcern.

How might the nonvoting, noncitizen portion of the population fare? Particularly since there is no barrier to attaining citizenship, and noting the particular moral disesteem towards those who have not done so, referenced by the H&MP teachers. One can imagine the rationalization that those who haven't shown any desire to earn citizenship don't deserve certain civil rights, either.

Yet it doesn't seem to have done so. Again, the Ricos are not voters, don't seem to feel the need to be voters ("[This] family has stayed out of politics and cultivated its own garden for over a hundred years" [p. 22] says Emiliano Rico, proudly), and seem hardly to be being inconvenienced by not being voters. Well, they're rich, but other nonvoters seem not particularly disadvantaged. The doctor at the recruiting station sarcastically dismisses veteran status as "A purely nominal political privilege that pays not one centavo and that most of them aren't competent to use wisely anyhow." [p. 29] Even the four people who dared raise hands against three soldiers are not prosecuted [pp. 101-2], albeit Johnnie says, a touch sinisterly perhaps, "It's a mighty serious thing, a civilian assaulting a member of the Armed Forces [loc. cit.].

Again, this seems to be a case of the system not living up to its potential. The doctor's comment about "Now if they would let medical men run things but never mind that; you might think I was talking treason, free speech or not," [p. 29] harks back more to the Functionalist Revolution of "The Roads Must Roll" [Astounding, June 1940]. It may be intended to prepare the ground for the point raised about all potential revolutionaries being channeled into becoming supporters of the status quo [p. 146]. Heinlein may also have had the lame revolution of Beyond This Horizon in mind when writing about "the 'Revolt of the Scientists'" [p. 143] but not wished to explicate it.

So the society of the Federation is one with much liberty, but many factors that would undercut it. The potential is there.


Sun Tzu said:

Now the resources of those skilled in the use of extraordinary forces

Are as infinite as the heavens and earth;

As inexhaustible as the flow of the great rivers.

For they end and recommence;

Cyclical, as are the movements of the sun and moon.

They die away and are reborn;

Recurrent, as are the passing seasons;

The musical notes are only five in number

But their melodies are so numerous

That one cannot hear them all.

The primary colors are only five in number

But their combinations are so infinite

That one cannot visualize them all.

The flavors are only five in number

But their blends are so various

That one cannot taste them all.

In battle there are only the normal and extraordinary forces,

But their combinations are limitless;

None can comprehend them all.

The Art of War, Chapter V, 6-11

Now the melodies and combinations, blends and resources of Heinlein are beyond number; none can encompass them all.

Those critical of this society have not considered Mordan Claude's comment, "He did not ask it stupidly." Hamilton Felix was concerned about a serious human concern; he was right to ask and it was proper to investigate it.

Similarly, in his rage at progressive disarmers, Heinlein asked a serious question: "What does the citizen owe to society?" When that question was phrased, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," it looked eminently acceptable to the very same people who had found Starship Troopers so bad.

What sprang from Heinlein's mind in the white-heat of that visceral rage is a portrait of a society in which the art of governing is exercised by those who have contributed to the maintenance of that society. What is worked for is more highly valued than that which is given without thought.

The society Heinlein grew up in was one in which the founding values of the nation were honored, respected, and acclaimed. He lived to see a society where such values were devalued, derogated, and despised and which was sinking into social and moral disarray. His weapon to fight against this degradation was the pen; he sought to create in print an exemplar of a society where such values might be valued again. More than that, this society would fulfill a promise inherent in those values; it would be a society which was broader and more inclusive than the one he grew up in, a society where it didn't matter if the language you spoke at home was Tagalog or English.

Among those values are those whereof Robert E. Lee spoke upon seeing the slaughter of the Battle of Fredricksburg: "It is well that this is so terrible, else we should grow fond of it." The values of military service have been derided by those who seem to value those values in other contexts. George Patton's snort that "An army is a team!" is echoed in other contexts.

Those who deride this book are, as we have seen, doing so for a multitude of reasons. The most common cause stems from, as he himself put it, "a failure to understand simple indicative English sentences, couched in simple words" [Expanded Universe, pp. 396-7].

As was all too often the case for Heinlein's liking, Alexei Panshin understood him too well. In Heinlein In Dimension Panshin confesses that he thought "for a time that Heinlein was an authoritarian, but he is not. His characters ask no one to follow and obey them except from choice. Even the subordinates in Heinlein's military stories are always volunteers." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 167] And he goes on to tie this in to elitism, an elitism drawn from competence. Heinlein was one of those who was looking at the stars.