While the bugs are all kinds of huge in the movie, I was surprised at how little they actually figured in the book. The entire book I kept waiting for the epic bug fights, as my previous introduction to the story had been through the second half of the movie. A third of the way through the book, Rico gets out of boot camp. The bugs aren't even mentioned until the halfway point. For all that there is commentary about the evil commie hive-mind bugs, I found that they had virtually no importance in the novel. The book never truly ends, and the bug war certainly doesn't. Rico has had time to make it to Lieutenant, and it's still the same war against the same enemy with heated combat.
The Federation strikes me much more as a war industry than a political force. It doesn't matter who the enemy is, it just matters that there is an enemy, and that it is very different from humanity. At this point, there is an implication that the entire world and its numerous extra-planetary colonies are all under one government, one nation. Yet throughout the text, you have these small moments of the acknowledgement that earthly nationalities still exist, almost subversively.
When Rico's father rails against Rico joining the Federal Service, his comment of Mr. Dubois is "Hmmph, a silly name--it suits him. Foreigner, no doubt" (23). Throughout the text, there is the implication that there is but one government, one nation, under the Federation, and one official language, English. How there can be a foreigner, then, if this is truly the system, is quite the puzzlement. Given that the military is the one that clumped the entire world together, and has since maintained order with an iron fist, it seems logical that civilians have not had the sense of home and tradition and personal heritage taken away from them because they still have an individuality that implies a personal history. This individuality is stripped away from those who enter service with the Federation.
Even the Service, though, has some sense of national heritage, as is seen with the band that plays on marches. Rico always talks about the origin of the music when he talks about the band, be it the Scottish bagpipes that somehow grew on him, or French revolutionary nationalistic songs like Marseilles (94).* There are also many ethnically specific, or at least evocative, names throughout the text, which creates a small attempt by civilians to maintain personal pride and heritage. Juan becomes Johnnie, though, showing how the military environment, with its Standard English, further seeks to strip away personal identifiers and pride in and loyalty to something other than the Federation.
There is also a strong sense of a division between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres throughout the book. At boot camp, Zim adopts a completely different persona when fighting Shujumi. There is a strange highlight on the art of the martial art, with a step away from the martial. Attaching on to this, Heinlein creates a history, written during the Cold War, in which the "Russo-Anglo-American Alliance and the Chinese Hegemony" (113) are the two sides in the final war before all the world's government and law-enforcement systems break down, sometime in the late XXth century.** What I found most striking here was that Heinlein rearranged the alliances of the Cold War, putting bitter enemies together, mixing communism and democracy. Perhaps Heinlein was attempting to subtlety underscore his belief that neither system worked well enough. What struck me most about this, though, was the construct of the East versus the West. While both sides fall to shambles, the West ultimately wins, in that it is in Scotland that the Federation first begins to form.
I don't know exactly what Heinlein is trying to do with this. The best I can come to making sense of this is through the scene with martial arts. Yes, Rico mentions later that Shujumi serves as the group's martial arts instructor, but there is never again a point when it is explicitly used. Zim learned from Shujumi's father, whom Shujumi also trained under. Zim wins the fight. Is the message, then, that only when you have consumed all the cultures around you, form their fighting styles to their music, can you truly "win" at anything? The Federation maintains power by being the only governing body in the world, quite literally. To do so, they have had to consume all of the world's cultures. Is, then, part of the failure in the war against the bugs a result of their inability to learn from the bugs? Rico mentions that the brain bugs, though captured, prove to be of little use, as they die so quickly after capture. Or is this lack of understanding of the bugs, the inability to communicate or compromise, and the resulting war necessary for the continuation of the Federation, and thus in some way propagated by the Federation? I'm not suggesting some crazy paranoid conspiracy plan, but what I am suggesting is that Heinlein's stance in this book is that war is a human necessity, and that the lesser of the evils, that which is better for the group, is to fight against that which you cannot understand, rather than fight amongst those who you choose not to understand?
*Interesting tidbit! Apparently banned at various points in French history and has words like citizen running amok in it. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/marseill.html
**Perhaps XX instead of 20 is meant to indicate that we are so far in the future that Arabic numeral fail us, we need the oh-so-classy, complex Roman numerals for that might that is the World? Or maybe it's meant to harken back to the Roman Empire?
***Completely unrelated, but stuff I thought was fascinating: the bugs in the text are never given much size definition, but the queens are thought to be the size of large horses, which seems inconceivable to Rico, so presumably they're meant to be rather smaller than those awesome goo-filled guys in the movie. This seems important, but I haven't fully sorted out for myself just why.
****Other thought--Rico refers to Zim as an "invincible robot" (85), the MIs are forever being called apes, and "[Sergeants] don't have mothers. [â€¦] They reproduce by fissionâ€¦like all bacteria" (50). These MIs sure spend a lot of time not being human, then don exoskeletons to go fight intelligent bugsâ€¦ Something's up hereâ€¦ Alas, it is also 2am.