Stephen Speicher

Starship Troopers

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42 posts in this topic

I'm hoping this will prompt some comments regarding the political structure of the book.

BTW, for those who have seen the movie but haven't read the book, they have very, very little to do with each others.

SPOILERS FOLLOW!

One of the most interesting ideas of the book is that of a world where citizenship has to be earned, through voluntary military service. Citizens and non-citizens have exactly the same rights, but that of voting, and Heinlein implies that the vast majority of people don't bother with gaining their citizenship. Only those who do care enough to go through a gruesome training to gain their citizenship. Most people who apply for military service actually fail the training, and are discharged, honorably but without citizenship rights.

The underlying idea is to limit citizenship to a moral elite - not based on education, birth place, etc, but on their willingness to fight to protect their rights. Note that in this world, citizens are a moral elite, but have no advantages over non-citizens in nearly all cases (some jobs - such as Ethics Professorates - can only be held by citizens).

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I don't think this post has any spoilers because it deals with something mentioned in the very beginning of Starship Troopers and doesn't have anything to do with how the story turns out.

One of the most interesting ideas of the book is that of a world where citizenship has to be earned, through voluntary military service.  Citizens and non-citizens have exactly the same rights, but that of voting, and Heinlein implies that the vast majority of people don't bother with gaining their citizenship.

I think the right to vote might be earned by supporting the government in some manner.

This could include military service, police service, serving on a jury, insuring your right to litigate your contracts with the government for a fee paid in advance ("contract insurance" as Ayn Rand suggested) -- or paying money (as in a "poll tax").

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I found the society in "Starship Troopers" to be more fascist than anything else. It makes the military and military service central to what it is to be a full member of society. It doesn't make art, philosophy, music or such things what makes one a full participant, but merely the willingness to be part of the military.

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I found the society in "Starship Troopers" to be more fascist than anything else.  It makes the military and military service central to what it is to be a full member of society.

Is having a central role for the military an essential defining characteristic of fascism? I don't think so. I think you are implying a definition by nonessentials.

Fascism is a species of statism, and statism is a political system in which the state's actions are held superior to individual rights (if such are recognized at all). What distinguishes fascism from other forms of statism is the belief that government's role is to force all the major elements of society -- accepted as givens -- to meet the goals set by the state, but supposedly without the state claiming ownership of those elements (such as industry and churches).

In Starship Troopers, in what way did the state try to force the major elements of society to meet the state's goals, whether those goals were proper or improper by Objectivist standards?

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Is having a central role for the military an essential defining characteristic of fascism? I don't think so. I think you are implying a definition by nonessentials.

Fascism is a species of statism, and statism is a political system in which the state's actions are held superior to individual rights (if such are recognized at all). What distinguishes fascism from other forms of statism is the belief that government's role is to force all the major elements of society -- accepted as givens -- to meet the goals set by the state, but supposedly without the state claiming ownership of those elements (such as industry and churches).

In Starship Troopers, in what way did the state try to force the major elements of society to meet the state's goals, whether those goals were proper or improper by Objectivist standards?

A characteristic of historical fascist states is a militarization of the state and the society. The head of state and government (usually the same person) starts wearing some thing like a military uniform. This person usually assumes a title of military character (Fuehrer, Duce, Leader, Commander in Chief).

People in non-military posts start having to undergo military-like discipline (see Haffner's "Defying Hitler", where the author, a lawyer, is sent to a military bootcamp for lawyers). Children are increasingly enrolled in proto-military organizations like the the Hitler Youth or the BDM (that is the organization for girls in Germany that paralleled the Hitler Youth).

The militarization of the state requires that the state extend control over industry (much as happens in non-fascist states during total war, that is the US extended state controls over industry during WWII but not to the extent that fascism does).

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It's not clear to me that the state is militarized. The parents to Juan, the lead character, are not citizens (they are not veterans and as such don't vote), yet are highly succesful: at some point, Juan explains that they have an olympics-sized swimming pool: that's a 50 meter long pool! That is ultimate luxury and demonstrate a multi-million dollar family - and yet the father makes it clear that he's never been involved in the military or even politics. He's just a businessman, and he doesn't need to be involved in politics to be successful precisely because the public life is not militarized.

Similarly, at some point the hero and 2 of his cadet friends are assaulted while visiting Seattle. The interaction makes it very clear that this is not a police-state.

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Punk, human history is defined by war, not by peace, and I think it always will be. You might think that we've overcome that in our Enlightened age, but let's not forget that mot more than 20 years ago America was still having thousands of nukes pointed at all of its major cities. The temporary peaceful lull of the last 10 years is an aberration more than anything else. There is currently a certain country who is highly antithetical to America, which has more potential soldiers for its army than the entire population of America combined, and also has nuclear weapons to boot.

Plato once said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war," and I think there's a lot of truth in that statement. If we begin to look down upon soldiers as second-class citizens, and on war as a brute affair for the simple-minded folk (or a characteristic of only evil states), then we risk happening to us exactly the same thing that happened to the Romans when they began to think it -- utter and complete annihilation.

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There is a bit of a difference between *having a military* and *having a militarized society*.

In the 1930's the US *had a military* whereas Italy and Germany *had militarized societies*.

The issue is the degree to which military culture encroaches into civilian culture (and vice versa to some extent).

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What is the difference between 'having a military' and 'having a militarized society'? I know there is a quantitative difference (i.e. a larger portion of the latter serve in the military than in the former, and more economic resources are reserved for military needs), but what is the qualitative, essential difference? I always have to refer back to ancient history for questions like this, but Ancient Greeks certainly had a 'militarized society'. In fact, Socrates who is sometimes seen as the prototypical detached and aloof philosopher, actually fought in at least two wars, and was wounded (I think). And he wasn't an exception, because all Athenians were, in part, soldiers and expected to regularly (if not perpetually) enlist in military campaigns.

In fact, the moral ideal in antiquity and in early Republican America was a man of three qualities -- a private man who had his own property and minded his own business, a citizen who took very active participation in his government and regulation thereof (the man who is ruled and rules in turn, as Aristotle said), and a soldier who held both his property and his country above all else and was willing to fight to the death to ensure their sanctity.

The father of Greek drama and tragedy, Aeschylus, fought with the Athenian army in the great battle of Marathon against Persia, and when he was old and composing an epitaph for himself, he made no mention of his monumental literary and aesthetic accomplishments. He merely reflected on the crushing defeat he and the rest of the Athenians served upon the Persian army, winning the freedom of his city and Greeks as a whole, simply writing that "the long haired Persian remembered him well." That was the only thing he deemed worthy enough of being recorded on his own epitaph.

After my reading in history, especially ancient, I've come to realize that this distinction between the civilian man and the military man is very recent, and mostly artificial, at least in the history of Western free republics. Autocratic regimes throughout all of history have never had such a close and personal connection between the everyday man and being a soldier, instead maintaining a separate and carefully isolated professional military.

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There is a bit of a difference between *having a military* and *having a militarized society*.

In the 1930's the US *had a military* whereas Italy and Germany *had militarized societies*.

The issue is the degree to which military culture encroaches into civilian culture (and vice versa to some extent).

Isn't the essential whether the military protects individual rights or violates them?

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After my reading in history, especially ancient, I've come to realize that this distinction between the civilian man and the military man is very recent, and mostly artificial, at least in the history of Western free republics.

So is the distinction between the civilian man and a farmer. Up until recently, almost everyone -- and especially landowners -- were involved in agriculture.

It is only with the development of an advanced, industrialized society based on specialization and the division of labor that it was possible for men to survive without making their own food. They can now own land and use it to build houses with swimming pools and flower gardens, shopping centers, and highways.

Likewise with the military. In an industrialized society, not everyone has to be a soldier, but those who choose to be in a modern army are dedicated, well-trained military specialists equipped with high-tech gear. As with farming, specialization and mechanization have replaced quantity of workers with quality of workers.

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What is the difference between 'having a military' and 'having a militarized society'? I know there is a quantitative difference (i.e. a larger portion of the latter serve in the military than in the former, and more economic resources are reserved for military needs), but what is the qualitative, essential difference? I always have to refer back to ancient history for questions like this, but Ancient Greeks certainly had a 'militarized society'. In fact, Socrates who is sometimes seen as the prototypical detached and aloof philosopher, actually fought in at least two wars, and was wounded (I think). And he wasn't an exception, because all Athenians were, in part, soldiers and expected to regularly (if not perpetually) enlist in military campaigns.

In fact, the moral ideal in antiquity and in early Republican America was a man of three qualities -- a private man who had his own property and minded his own business, a citizen who took very active participation in his government and regulation thereof (the man who is ruled and rules in turn, as Aristotle said), and a soldier who held both his property and his country above all else and was willing to fight to the death to ensure their sanctity.

The father of Greek drama and tragedy, Aeschylus, fought with the Athenian army in the great battle of Marathon against Persia, and when he was old and composing an epitaph for himself, he made no mention of his monumental literary and aesthetic accomplishments. He merely reflected on the crushing defeat he and the rest of the Athenians served upon the Persian army, winning the freedom of his city and Greeks as a whole, simply writing that "the long haired Persian remembered him well." That was the only thing he deemed worthy enough of being recorded on his own epitaph.

After my reading in history, especially ancient, I've come to realize that this distinction between the civilian man and the military man is very recent, and mostly artificial, at least in the history of Western free republics. Autocratic regimes throughout all of history have never had such a close and personal connection between the everyday man and being a soldier, instead maintaining a separate and carefully isolated professional military.

If you are advocating getting rid of a standing professional military and having only a citizen's militia where the people are mobilized only in cases of national emergency, that's one thing.

The history of the military in the West is a little different then what you are portraying. From roughly the 14th century wars in Europe were fought predominantly by mercenaries. This persisted until the Napoleonic Wars. Most of what we associate with a modern army is an outgrowth of European mercenary traditions that would have been alien to the ancient Greeks. During this epoch people could live essentially in ignorance of the armies (until the war came to where they were living), war was just another profession and you took as much interest in it as the guy down the street doing a different job from you. The main exception to this was Prussia, which has been described as an "army with a state" rather than a "state with an army".

However once the Napoleonic Wars really showed the strength of the nation in arms you start getting the militarization of civil society. The most immediate effect was the cultivation of patriotism and devotion to the political state, which was really unheard of before the 19th century. Yes there was loyalty to the powers the ruled the area you lived in, and obedience of laws, but not patriotism and nationalism like we see today. This is also when you start seeing the formal dress of monarchs start taking on a distinctly military character even when the monarch isn't serving as a general in the military.

The 20th century contined this ridiculous trend culminating in WWII, with fascism and imperial Japan.

Certainly you can see a difference in German, Italian, and Japanese culture before WWII and now, and can see a difference in the degree to which military culture penetrates civil culture?

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The history of the military in the West is a little different then what you are portraying.  From roughly the 14th century wars in Europe were fought predominantly by mercenaries.  This persisted until the Napoleonic Wars.  Most of what we associate with a modern army is an outgrowth of European mercenary traditions that would have been alien to the ancient Greeks.  During this epoch people could live essentially in ignorance of the armies (until the war came to where they were living), war was just another profession and you took as much interest in it as the guy down the street doing a different job from you.  The main exception to this was Prussia, which has been described as an "army with a state" rather than a "state with an army".

This actually is incorrect. The greatest example I have to offer (though it was present in the Greek City States) was Carthage. From roughly the 6th century bce (before Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, etc. mind you) Carthage employed a mercenary army. Carthage had become such a trading empire and a city full of merchants and sailors that they turned to foreign armies to keep the empire safe. The only presence of a citizen militia was the Sacred Corps of 2500 knights.

In fact-most of the Carthaginian citizens cared little for a militaristic society as it "disrupted their commerce". They also, contrary to what you said, "...regarded the successful generals with almost as little favour as the unsuccessful," (Caven, The Punic Wars 4)-meaning that they gave little attention to military life. Consequently, Carthaginian society degraded into a weak and effeminate society-so much so that Hannibal was seen as an outsider!

So the point is-yes the ancient world had full knowledge of a "professional, trained, paid army”, or military as a career. Some, Rome being an example, chose not to go this route.

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The history of the military in the West is a little different then what you are portraying.
If you notice, I did not say even the history of Western Rennaissance is filled with examples of citizens acting in their capacity as soldiers. What I did say was that in the history of Western free republics, Rome, the Greeks, and the early Republican America, to be a warrior was considered to be one of the important capacities of a citizen. Many wealthy states like Athens certainly could afford to field an entire army full of mercenaries and never have to bother their own men with death and suffering, but they never did this. This brings me to another thing you said:
Most of what we associate with a modern army is an outgrowth of European mercenary traditions that would have been alien to the ancient Greeks.
Not at all! We seriously underestimate efficacy of ancient history, and very little that we consider 'modern' would be alien to the ancients. Mercenaries, for example, abounded back in the day, and anyone who wished to rely on them certainly could. The difference is that free countries considered mercenaries with great contempt. For a state to rely on mercenaries or anything other than its own soldiers was viewed as an admission of effeminacy and inadequacy of its men. Most non-free states employed mercenaries freely, in conjunction with a professional army isolated from the general populace at large. Free states, like Athens and Rome, did not employ mercenaries and relied exclusively on the strength of their own men for defending the liberty of their country.

The capacity of a soldier was not just another job that people had to do when necessity called for; as I just showed, they didn't have to rely on it, and in fact most states did not rely on it. Only free states did. The reason for this is that being a warrior, just like being a citizen, and being a man of property, was a moral faculty, which both exercized and developed a specific aspects of the man's moral character, and subsequently relied on them for the defense of the country. A warrior could not be in accordance with the ancient ideal without his property to fight and defend; nor could he be so without being a citizen of a free country, 'ruling and being ruled' -- such a warrior instead became precisely the antithesis of the moral ideal, a mercenary and worthy of contempt. A man who was a citizen but not a propertied man or a soldier was viewed as an effete pundit who talked the talk but didn't walk the walk (this is what explains why even men like Socrates, certainly not the most trained troops, nevertheless took part in battles that the rest of the citizens took part in). And a man who had property but was neither a citizen of a free country nor a soldier willing to fight for it, was viewed very harshly as something like an anarchist who viewed himself a law unto himself, and was seriously ostracized and shunned by everyone else with extreme contempt. So as I said, being a soldier in a free country, being part of this tripartite moral vision of a proper man, was an important and even crucial aspect of the ancient social fabric, and not something easily discarded using the idea division of labor. Division of labor, in regards to farming, military, and most everything else, existed just as much in antiquity as today; we didn't invent division of labor. The issue is whether this division of labor, in respect to activities which took on moral character, was viewed as proper and accepted and taken advantage of, and that is a completely different story.

Certainly you can see a difference in German, Italian, and Japanese culture before WWII and now, and can see a difference in the degree to which military culture penetrates civil culture?
The problem with the WWII Axis powers was not the degree of their militarism, but their willingness to invade and pillage other countries. Unless you hold that military is inherently defined as evil and characterized by conquest, pillage, and violation of rights.

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Also,

However once the Napoleonic Wars really showed the strength of the nation in arms you start getting the militarization of civil society. The most immediate effect was the cultivation of patriotism and devotion to the political state, which was really unheard of before the 19th century. Yes there was loyalty to the powers the ruled the area you lived in, and obedience of laws, but not patriotism and nationalism like we see today.
I'd like to ask you where you got that. No nation today can come even close to the patriotism and devotion to the political state that the ancients practiced, and they did it without devolving into altruism and totalitarianism. Nazis appeared to be pretty devoted on the surface, yes, but as soon as they got invaded they collapsed real quick. Japanese kamikazes certainly were devoted, but not to the laws of their country but to the emperor! So when he got scared by the nukes and gave up, the Japanese quickly gave up with him. Still, I do agree that these regimes did have moments where they demonstrated impressive devotion -- but imagine achieving that kind of devotion without altruism, without totalitarianism, firmly holding onto the righteousness of property and lawful society. That would be quite a trick, wouldn't it? The ancients knew all about it, and this is something we moderns have been largely unsuccessful in recreating (again, as I said, revolutionary America being the great notable exception).

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I think that the very cojent points that FC makes were mostly or entirely known by Heinlein, which is precisely what makes Starship Troopers such a good book. (along with a few other tales of his)

Remember that, Punk. Are you generally familiar with the works of Heinlein? Having read a half dozen of his books (not enough! I should go read more!), I can tell you that he would NOT write a tribute to fascism. He was a lover of freedom and a student of history; whatever else he was!

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This actually is incorrect.  The greatest example I have to offer (though it was present in the Greek City States) was Carthage.  From roughly the 6th century bce (before Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, etc. mind you) Carthage employed a mercenary army.  Carthage had become such a trading empire and a city full of merchants and sailors that they turned to foreign armies to keep the empire safe.  The only presence of a citizen militia was the Sacred Corps of 2500 knights.

In fact-most of the Carthaginian citizens cared little for a militaristic society as it "disrupted their commerce".  They also, contrary to what you said, "...regarded the successful generals with almost as little favour as the unsuccessful," (Caven, The Punic Wars 4)-meaning that they gave little attention to military life. Consequently, Carthaginian society degraded into a weak and effeminate society-so much so that Hannibal was seen as an outsider!

So the point is-yes the ancient world had full knowledge of a "professional, trained, paid army”, or military as a career.  Some, Rome being an example, chose not to go this route.

You did note that the quote of me you gave deals with the 14th to 20th centuries AD.

You then try to refute it with information about the first couple centuries BC.

A lot happens in 1500 or so years.

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Also,
However once the Napoleonic Wars really showed the strength of the nation in arms you start getting the militarization of civil society. The most immediate effect was the cultivation of patriotism and devotion to the political state, which was really unheard of before the 19th century. Yes there was loyalty to the powers the ruled the area you lived in, and obedience of laws, but not patriotism and nationalism like we see today.
I'd like to ask you where you got that. No nation today can come even close to the patriotism and devotion to the political state that the ancients practiced, and they did it without devolving into altruism and totalitarianism. Nazis appeared to be pretty devoted on the surface, yes, but as soon as they got invaded they collapsed real quick. Japanese kamikazes certainly were devoted, but not to the laws of their country but to the emperor! So when he got scared by the nukes and gave up, the Japanese quickly gave up with him. Still, I do agree that these regimes did have moments where they demonstrated impressive devotion -- but imagine achieving that kind of devotion without altruism, without totalitarianism, firmly holding onto the righteousness of property and lawful society. That would be quite a trick, wouldn't it? The ancients knew all about it, and this is something we moderns have been largely unsuccessful in recreating (again, as I said, revolutionary America being the great notable exception).

I have a wide and eclectic reading selection. I have yet to come across a text prior to the mass armies following on the industrial revolution that shows patriotism or nationalism in the modern sense.

Perhaps you could find one.

I'd be especially interested if you actually found one from between the late classical period and the 19th century (say 500 AD to 1800 AD).

I do not see it in the texts.

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I think that the very cojent points that FC makes were mostly or entirely known by Heinlein, which is precisely what makes Starship Troopers such a good book.  (along with a few other tales of his)

Remember that, Punk. Are you generally familiar with the works of Heinlein? Having read a half dozen of his books (not enough! I should go read more!), I can tell you that he would NOT write a tribute to fascism. He was a lover of freedom and a student of history; whatever else he was!

I've only ever read "Starship Troopers" and I cannot even recollect if I even finished it.

It pursuaded me that Heinlein wasn't worth my time.

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I've only ever read "Starship Troopers" and I cannot even recollect if I even finished it.

It pursuaded me that Heinlein wasn't worth my time.

What was it that you didn't like about it?

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What was it that you didn't like about it?

It's been years, but my vague recollection was that the characters weren't engaging and the plot didn't really seem to be going anywhere. It seemed like an adolescent action story.

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It's been years, but my vague recollection was that the characters weren't engaging and the plot didn't really seem to be going anywhere.  It seemed like an adolescent action story.

What would you offer as a superior alternative -- "engaging characters" and a plot "going anywhere" -- in the same genre, if possible?

P. W. -- The description "adolescent action story" sounds good to me, but I suspect you meant it to be dismissive.

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You did note that the quote of me you gave deals with the 14th to 20th centuries AD. 

You then try to refute it with information about the first couple centuries BC.

A lot happens in 1500 or so years.

I should have put this quote of yours in bold-it was to this that I was specifically replying:

Most of what we associate with a modern army is an outgrowth of European mercenary traditions that would have been alien to the ancient Greeks.

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What would you offer as a superior alternative -- "engaging characters" and a plot "going anywhere" -- in the same genre, if possible?

P. W. -- The description "adolescent action story" sounds good to me, but I suspect you meant it to be dismissive.

I will be the first to admit that science fiction as a genre is notorious for a lack of character development, and that I have enjoyed authors that don't have character development either.

As for more engaging and interesting storylines, I'd have to go with writers such as:

Philip K. Dick

Frank Herbert

Michael Moorcock (not generally sci fi but basically the same genre in a wider sense)

Deviating a bit from sci fi, but again similar genre, for more interesting characters I'd go with:

Fritz Lieber

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