Response To Heinlein's Starship Troopers
I'm tempted to call this novel nostalgic, for all of its debatable purpose and philosophy. Of course I wouldn't be the first to call it so, and part of the reason the jacket calls it "The controversial classic of military adventure" is the long history it has spawned of civilian readers being to some degree upset or suspicious of the almost fond way in which this future society of citizenship through military service is described; but still I had promised myself going in that I was going to try and find Heinlein's real philosophy behind the novel.
The fact that Starship Troopers is on the reading list for four of the five military academies is certainly not surprising. The book is the story of a man who finds enlightenment through his progression in the military. Johnny discovers that one must make personal sacrifices in order to be a citizen. It is a privilege that one must be willing to die for. With that said, I find it difficult to recognize any true change in the character of Johnny. Yes, he is wiser in the military trade and can regurgitate what he has been told to be true. But Johnny remains little more than a soldier.
I ended up coming to this text from a general feminist perspective, since the dominant voices in the story are obviously male, and women are only seen in scattered instances, both inside and outside the military system.
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.
Okay, so I'm a bit science and religion obsessed academically, but I think the discussion here could be fruitful. This really goes back to the class discussion about the "scientifically verifiable theory of morals" (p. 118). I think Riceguy20 is totally right to highlight the quote "Man has no moral instinct" (p. 117) as really important -- through the instrument of Mr. Dubois, Heinlein constructs the ultimate 'science trumps religion' universe.
Robert Heinlein is not overly concerned with subtlety. Perhaps fearful of some particularly dense reader missing his unmitigated support of the military, big government and capital punishment, Heinlein places only the thinnest of sci-fi veils over his long-winded political monologues. This does not make it a bad read -- the plot is still compelling -- but when I reach the scenes of History and Moral Philosophy classes, I do want to throw something at him, as roseblack says. This future world in which Johnny Rico operates has indeed been radically altered.
Of the many interesting things that Heinlein addresses in Starship Troopers, the thing that captures my attention the most is his discussion of power, both its origins and the ultimate responsibility which comes along with it. As American voters have, over the last fifty years, become less and less engaged in the political discourse and more dissociated from the violence (or threat thereof) from which their political power is derived, Heinlein's views on this have become even more pertinent, not less.
In our Monday class, we touched on Heinlein's use of the History and Moral Philosophy teachers as voices of political commentary and social criticism. As clumsy or obvious as that may have seemed, his choice to do this very much ties into the idea of Science Fiction as an unappreciated genre for commenting on society and our own culture by using distance, alien cultures and/or the passage of time to reflect from a simulated outside perspective.
(By way of a response)
"The hand he had offered me was the one that wasn't there" (39)