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Starship Troopers: Interpretation and Analysis

jimthegray

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Much before that, I'm really curious what would happen if you interviewed Heinlein in say, the aftermath of the Vietnam War, about how his thoughts had changed in the aftermath of a brutal grinding attrition war. The reason I say that is I think the society he depicts in Starship Troopers would get smashed against a tree, and otherwise crushed, by an attrition war, because its politics would collapse. He would obviously still be in favor of a volunteer force, but, I think Vietnam would give the middle finger to the idea that a powerful conventional force would be enough, and that occupation wars wouldn't be necessary. Which matters because I just don't buy the society he writes there would function in a long, grinding attrition war against an enemy that refused to give it a conventional fight.

The Forever War does deconstruct the book I realize, but we didn't see Heinlein react to the Vietnam War himself, but I suspect it would've made him question his ideological views on quite a few things.

As for tyranny burning itself out, I'd say that's broadly true, even though current times make me hesitate with that. History seems to suggest nothing, good or bad, is permanent.
Heinlein was a fan of the forever war. But I do.not think it would have changed his take on starship troopers.
 

taschoene

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It is certainly true of the novel as published. Jonny Rico is surprised that his old Moral Philosophy teacher is a former MI, but not at all surprised that he was in the military. Merchant Marine sailors are civilians. There is no mention of police or firemen qualifying through their work.
The reverse, in fact. Police is mentioned as a reserved profession -- you can only do it if you have served.
 

jimthegray

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It is certainly true of the novel as published. Jonny Rico is surprised that his old Moral Philosophy teacher is a former MI, but not at all surprised that he was in the military. Merchant Marine sailors are civilians. There is no mention of police or firemen qualifying through their work.

That said, there are non-combat positions. The MI are called out as being different because “everybody fights”. IIRC one of the options that Jonny Rico fails to get into is Logistics. One of his friends ends up on a scientific research station (and dies there).
If I remember correctly firemen and police were 2 of the few jobs that required prior service. But. I'll need to reread to be sure
 

taschoene

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It’s not a franchise itself but is a necessary qualification for other forms of it like government service.
That's not clear from the text. Carl apparently plans to do his service, then go to university. But obviously, you can do your service whenever you want. Rico's dad joins at age 42 or thereabouts and there's a fellow in Rico's class who is an "nice old geezer" at 35.


* Johnny Rich -- Heinlein wasn't going for a subtle subtext here.
 

taschoene

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Tangent: books inspired or influenced by this one.

Obvious candidates: Forever War (which I think I remember decently from one reading) and Old Man's War (all I remember is the "rejuved old people fight and there's an information barrier between Earth and colonies). Ender's Game?
John Steakly's Armor is another one inspired by, with a focus on the psychological impacts of war rather than the political theory.
 

junglefowl26

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Personally, I find these discussions on Starship Troopers focus a little too much on whether it is fascist and the definition of fascism, as if that is the only bad system ever in human history.

Regardless of its status as fascist or not, the more I think about it, the more I think a limited franchise is a bad idea, no matter what criteria is used to determine the franchise. After all, even the best criteria is so inherently self-selecting that it limits the ability of the government to adapt and change. And the fewer people a government has to worry about pleasing or placating to stay in power, the more abusive and corrupt it can be - indeed, there would be incentive to screw over the non-franchised to give more stuff to the franchised.

And, while there was the mention of non-military branches of service to get the vote in the book, it still seemed focused primarily on the military and on this idea that the people most willing to fight and die for a country are the ones most qualified to determine its future reminds me uncomfortably of Japanese politics in the lead up to World War 2, with the constant glorification of the military and how they contrasted themselves with the supposedly cowardly and greedy politicians. How they were politically neutral and above the petty political squabbling of civilian leaders. That these ideas were so strong that when young officers assassinated the prime minister for being too liberal many civilians cut off and mailed in their pinky fingers to show their support of the assassins and to pressure the government into not punishing them. It was all nonsense of course, the Japanese military was every bit as corrupt as civilian government, if not more so, and took infighting to new levels. Frankly, the whole militaristic macho culture they promoted ironically made them a lot less effective at fighting wars due to its inflexibility*

And that is because I have pre-WW2 Japan on the brain because I read about it recently. If you stop and think about it, having society be ruled by a warrior class almost seems to be the default throughout human history, with a lot of the same justifications about the courage and noble selfnessess of those who fight making them most fit to rule. To be honest, I am not impressed with the results of such systems, no matter if they were dictatorships or feudal systems or even the more democratic ones.


*Not that they are by any means unique in this. Frankly, the more I learn, the more this seems to be the default, with militarizes being far more concerned with maintaining a self image of macho-bravery and invincibility than actually finding the most effective weapons and strategies they can.

Why are they using grunts at all? The Earth is portrayed as the heart of a galactic civilization The amount of energy required to build and move starships around would of necessity include the ability to make weapons that could level planets from orbit. Yet the military in both book and film is shown operating with little more than 20th century technology. This could just be chalked up to the limitations of the author's imagination. But what if it was an intentional choice within the narrative by the leaders to ensure that wars are never won by button pushers? That supports the idea that the entire war on bugs has been ginned up to make sure the population remains under threat and therefore remains supportive of the junta and its vets-only power structure.
I hear this a lot in sci-fi discussions and I always find it weird.

By the same logic, we shouldn't use ground troops today, not when we can just bomb cities from the air or launch nukes from the safety of bunkers far away. And indeed, serious military minds predicted that aerial bombing and nukes would make conventional militaries obsolete.

So I imagine orbital destruction would be limited by the same issues - the likelyhood of destroying whatever it is you are fighting over, not wanting to set a precedent where someone could do it to you, the political optics being bad, so on and etc.

Plus in the ST movies at least we can see that there are plenty of effective planet based anti-orbital weapons, so one might need a ground component to take out such weapons to make a space based attack feasible.

In many respects, Heinlein is a Malthusian. Just instead of widespread famine and diseases, there is war.
Well, in all fairness, famine and disease often lead to war, and war in turn frequently results in disease and famine.

When I read about that level of total commitment to total war, I'm torn between amazement that Japan embraced the peace imposed on them with the atomic bomb so enthusiastically, and going, Well, of course they did, who wouldn't take the opportunity to not throw their lives away for the sake of a military dictatorship?
Oh yes, I remember taking a class on it, years ago. I can't remember all the details, but it was fascinating, particularly how quickly the public reversed course on some opinions.

Not that it was completely out of nowhere of course, the Japanese government had really burned through its popular support and goodwill by the end of the war, and once the government was no longer censoring and punishing non-militaristic views, it was like a dam bursting.

In particular, I highly recommend Dower's Embracing Defeat - I dunno if there is a more up to date book on the topic, but I remember this one exploring many different aspects of Japan's postwar experience in a clear and deep manner.

You might be surprised at how many interpret the Vietnam war in very different terms.

"We won every battle," etc.
Something that always amazes me is how different the war looks from the Vietnamese perspective - namely that the Americans lionize the communist side of the conflict a lot more than communist veterans do. Reading interviews with and works by Vietcong and NVA actually portray a story pretty similar to the American side of the experience: largely draftees who weren't entirely clear on who they were fighting or why (apparently a fair number thought they were still fighting the French), were mostly just scared and hungry, and when looking back feel pretty cynical about the government they were fighting for and its motives.

Though it is also fascinating that while in America it is this hugely important conflict that defined at least a generation if not every generation since, in Vietnam it is more a footnote compared to earlier wars against the French and later ones against Cambodia and China.
 

Kurt McMahon

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It is certainly true of the novel as published. Jonny Rico is surprised that his old Moral Philosophy teacher is a former MI, but not at all surprised that he was in the military. Merchant Marine sailors are civilians. There is no mention of police or firemen qualifying through their work.

That said, there are non-combat positions. The MI are called out as being different because “everybody fights”. IIRC one of the options that Jonny Rico fails to get into is Logistics. One of his friends ends up on a scientific research station (and dies there).
Yeah, we just don’t get a lot of info on the non-combat positions in Federal service because Jonny had zero interest in them:

The thing I did most carefully was to list my preferences. Naturally I listed all of the Space Navy jobs (other than pilot) at the top; whether I went as power-room technician or as cook, I knew that I preferred any Navy job to any Army job - I wanted to travel.

Next I listed Intelligence - a spy gets around, too, and I figured that it couldn’t possibly be dull. (I was wrong, but never mind.) After that came a long list; psychological warfare, chemical warfare, biological warfare, combat ecology (I didn’t know what it was, but it sounded interesting), logistics corps (a simple mistake; I had studied logic for the debate team and “logistics” turns out to have two entirely separate meanings), and a dozen others. Clear at the bottom, with some hesitation, I put K-9 Corps, and Infantry.

I didn’t bother to list the various non-combatant auxiliary corps because, if I wasn’t picked for a combat corps, I didn’t care whether they used me as an experimental animal or sent me as a laborer in the Terranizing of Venus - either one was a booby prize.
We do get references to a few non-combat jobs. Jonny’s friend Carl ended up doing electronics R&D for his service term and Jonny mentions going on a date with a chemist who served with Carl on Pluto (before the research station there was destroyed). Jonny also states that if Carmen was unable to qualify as a pilot, she could easily serve out her term as a computer programmer for the sky watch.

When your viewpoint character is a member of the Mobile Infantry, a lean, mean combat arm with a selection process as difficult as DEVGRU or the SAS, it tends to give you a skewed view of the setting. A Navy power-room tech is in a combat arm and certainly has at least a chance of being killed in a shooting war, but theirservice isn’t really comparable to what Jonny goes through in the book. But they still qualify to vote after two years.
 

Killer300

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In Eastern (post-soviet) Europe "the Big Three" doesn't really apply. Asimov is incredibly popular and well known, but Heinlein and Clarke less so. The BIG names of Soviet sci-fi are Stanislav Lem and the Strugatsky brothers. But as an inventor of sci-fi most people sci-fi nerds would probably call Alexey Tolstoy, who wrote an Aelita space odyssey in 1920s.

Overall, USSR had a lot of sci-fi writers and readers.
And I imagine in the process Eastern Europe's sci-fi took very different paths to that of sci-fi in the United States.
 

Kurt McMahon

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It is certainly true of the novel as published. Jonny Rico is surprised that his old Moral Philosophy teacher is a former MI, but not at all surprised that he was in the military. Merchant Marine sailors are civilians. There is no mention of police or firemen qualifying through their work.
Jonny knew Mr. Dubois was a veteran because History and Moral Philosophy must be taught by a citizen. He assumed Dubois had been in some sort of combat arm because he was missing a hand.
 

Killer300

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It strikes me that the society presented in the book would not go down a Vietnam-esque path to begin with. I suspect they would look at the situation and say, "We fighting a full on war of empire against the rival great powers in this region with total commitment and placing our economy on war footing, or we are not doing that and staying home."
EDIT: I don't quite buy that given a variety of human societies, of a variety of government types, ranging from Empires to Democracies, have all fallen into guerrilla warfare style traps. Why would this society be able to do any better, especially if it felt it had commitments of some type?
 
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