Service Guarantees Citizenship (Part I)1
It would probably come as a big surprise in some circles but soldiers, at least American soldiers, read a great deal – much more, I think, than the civilian population at large. What do they read? They’ll read manuals, of course, if they must. Then, again, they’ll read matchbook covers in a pinch. I can recall, too, precisely seventy-seven of us, stuck for some weeks behind barbed wire at Cairo West Egyptian Air Force Base, in 1985, passing around and reading the one book we had among us – a Matt Bolan, the Executioner, piece, with all that implies – over and over and over again.
Yeah…“The horror…the horror.”
Besides reading the obvious things – Playboy and Penthouse, for example, for certain values of “reading” – they’ll read pretty much anything and everything: History, science, philosophy (yes, seriously), biography, fiction…and science fiction. Indeed, one science fiction novel, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, published in 1959, appears on the official reading lists of three of our military services: Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.2 What, not the Army? Fear not, nearly everyone in the Army seems to have read it. And I can only recall ever running into one soldier who didn’t approve of the political system therein wholeheartedly. Even his objections seemed more along the lines of, “Well, it wouldn’t last forever so why bother?” which isn’t a terribly strong objection, really.
I’ve long been surprised that our political and bureaucratic masters haven’t put their ballet-slippered feet down and demanded that the book be removed from the reading lists, removed from the shelves of the PX and BX book sections, too, for that matter, and removed from the military’s consciousness. It is, after all, suggesting that our system is deeply flawed, hence certainly doomed, and probably fully deserving of that doom. It is, after all, in opposition to unlimited democracy. It is, too, after all, a refutation of the liberal and progressive notion of easy, certain, and reliable malleability and perfectibility in mankind. It’s also a huge sneer at the Mammy Yokumesque (“good is better than evil because it’s nicer”3) in modern politics.
It’s quite revolutionary, really, not only in itself but in who it deeply appeals to, which is to say, those with the training to use force to impose political solutions they’d prefer, the military and veterans.
Why the appeal? The very short version, for those who haven’t read the book, is that Starship Troopers proposes – or proposes by description – a political system not too different in structure from what we have, but with one huge policy change. The change is that nobody votes or is allowed to hold public office by virtue of having a body around 98.6, an age over XY or the absence of a criminal record. Instead, the vote and the right to run for and hold public office comes from demonstrating, through honorable completion of a period of arduous, ill paid and dangerous service, that one cares about society enough that we can be relatively more confident that one will vote the common good, rather than the personal. That, at least, is the theoretical appeal. I suspect the practical appeal is that most military types utterly detest the progressive politicians who are usually their masters, and would prefer to see them hanged, even as they’d prefer serving a population and system that understood and cared for them, because it sprang from them, and vice versa.
Another set of factors in the book that appeals to the military is the logical pairing of dualities. In the society of Starship Troopers, rights are balanced by responsibilities, responsibility and authority go hand in hand, authority is not a given, but must be paid for or wagered for at considerably cost, real or potential.
Of course, the left – liberals, progressives and outright reds – really, truly, thoroughly and completely hate the notion. They hate it so much, and have since publication, that they’ll attack the book, the author, the fans, the theories and their defenders relentlessly, tirelessly and rarely with any obvious integrity or insight. Note, here, that where the criticism has involved insight it has lacked integrity, and where integrity was on display there wasn’t a lot of insight. For an example of the latter, a colleague of mine, really a friend and one of whom I ordinarily think quite highly, once commented to the effect that, “It’s never been tried.” I find this criticism particularly not on point, since my colleague and friend is a devotee of a system, socialism, that, whenever and wherever it has been tried has proven a moral, economic, environmental and humanitarian disaster. We should prefer the known disaster to the unknown but possible redemption? Why?
And why should they hate it so? I suspect it’s because they sense that the system would make evolution or revolution toward their leftist fantasy essentially impossible; that and that, as mentioned, it denies the prospect of much malleability in mankind.
A cynic – which, of course, I am not – might wonder if the progressives understand that their fantasies can only become reality if authority can be freed from responsibility – if irresponsibility can be given free rein, in other words, rights be given gratis, in any case, and duties restricted to the presumed duty to support the progressive fantasy. That would seem to mesh closely with the modern fantasy of natural human rights, at least, and perhaps with some others.
Personally, I am inclined to agree with the left about the system in the book, at least in some particulars. I think it does or would inoculate a society against progressivism. I think it does refute the notion of malleability in man and, once enacted, would prevent them from trying. Indeed, I often wonder, myself, if the system – some form of the system, anyway – mightn’t be our only possible salvation from progressivism, which is to say, decay as we slide into barbarism. It could even hold together a country rapidly fragmenting into mutually hate-filled factions and fractions.
Warning: I’m going to talk about the details some more, in coming columns. I invite discussion. However, if you try to discuss the wretched movie, rather than the book, I shall piss on you. If you demonstrate that you haven’t read the book, and still attempt to pronounce judgment upon it, I shall piss on you. If you demonstrate a lack of integrity in commenting on the book…well, you get the idea.
1 I take the title from a line in Verhoeven’s execrable movie, Starship Troopers. I would not suggest taking anything else from it.
3 http://www.deniskitchen.com/docs/bios/bio_capp_characters.html. Look on the wall.
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Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.
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