The Patrick Henry Project
Give me nuclear testing or give me death?
I threatened you with a post about Starship Troopers, and here it is.
To vote is to wield authority; it is the supreme authority from which all other authority derives—such as mine to make your lives miserable once a day. *Force* if you will!—the franchise is force, naked and raw, the Power of the Rods and the Ax. Whether it is exerted by ten men or by ten billion, political authority is *force*. - Major Reid, Starship Troopers
Robert Anson Heinlein rose to prominence during the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He, with others like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, helped raise the genre from pulp fiction to adult literature.
Heinlein published his first novel in 1947, after he had already established himself as a prominent short story author. He released his last, not counting a few posthumous works, in 1987. Several of his works have never gone out of print.
Heinlein's stories almost always deal with politics. I'll leave the discussion of how his views evolved for later (you've been warned) and get right to the subject at hand: Starship Troopers.
By 1958, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in the nuclear arms race, and had conducted hundreds of nuclear tests. Those tests were unpopular in many quarters, especially after the Castle Bravo incident.
So, The National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy took out a paid advertisement calling for a ban on testing. The ad may have been in response to Nikita Khrushchev calling for a voluntary moratorium, but I can't find any corroboration on that, and I was -6 years old so I don't remember.
Regardless of the reasons, Heinlein was having none of that test ban talk. He paid to publish a response titled Who Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?, urging the government and specifically, President Eisenhower, to continue nuclear testing.
He formed, with his wife, the Patrick Henry League. The league sent a petition to Eisenhower with 500 signatures.
Eisenhower stopped nuclear testing.
Heinlein stopped working on the book that would later become Stranger in a Strange Land, a story about free love and communes that anti-war hippies would embrace. He wrote Starship Troopers; a book about a future where only veterans of the military are full citizens in a matter of weeks. It would end up on ROTC recommended reading lists.
Scribner, Heinlein’s publisher, rejected the manuscript on ideological grounds. Heinlein serialized it in a popular magazine, then found another house to publish it and he severed his relationship with Scribner.
Unlike the 1997 movie, Heinlein's Starship isn't satire. It's narrated in the first person by "Johnny" Rico, who tells you the story of his rise from raw recruit to officer in the Terran Federation military. The Federation is fighting an interstellar war against the alien "Bugs:"
The Bugs are not like us. The Pseudo-Arachnids aren't even like spiders. They are arthropods who happen to look like a madman's conception of a giant, intelligent spider, but their organization, psychological and economic, is more like that of ants or termites; they are communal entities, the ultimate dictatorship of the hive.
"Communal entities", huh? Subtle!
The book flips back and forth in time, between Rico's experiences in the military and his time in the classroom, where the book is obviously and unapologetically idealogical.
Starship Troopers portrays militarism as both inevitable and successful. The Terrans are gaining in their battle against the "Bugs" because of how Terran society reorganized itself after a societal breakdown at the end of the 20th Century:
...something had to fill the vacuum, and in many cases it was returned veterans. They had lost a war, most of them had no jobs, many were sore as could be over the terms of the Treaty of New Delhi, especially the P. O. W. foul-up - and they knew how to fight. But it wasn't revolution; it was more like what happened in Russia in 1917 - the system collapsed; somebody else moved in.
The society that replaces this collapse is utopian. Limiting the "franchise" to veterans makes everything better!
The book even takes a moment to toss out some anti-intellectualism:
Service men are not brighter than civilians. In many cases civilians are much more intelligent. That was the sliver of justification underlying the attempted *coup d'etat* just before the Treaty of New Delhi, the so-called 'Revolt of the Scientists': let the intelligent elite run things and you'll have utopia. It fell flat on its foolish face of course. Because the pursuit of science, despite its social benefits, is itself not a social virtue; its practitioners can be men so self-centered as to be lacking in social responsibility.
As you might imagine, Starship Troopers came under immediate criticism. So much so that Heinlein, in commentary from 1980, wondered how it won a Hugo in 1960 with all the communists and peaceniks in the World Science Fiction Society.
In that same rambling 1980 commentary, he attacks his critics for "failures to understand English" and argues that the book defined "service" as any government service and that most full citizens in the Terran Federation weren't veterans.
Unfortunately, the contents of the book don't support this. As James Gifford, a Heinlein scholar (yes, that's a thing) puts it:
I believe that the evidence in the text of Starship Troopers is overwhelmingly in favor of the “exclusively military and military support” Federal Service. The only contrary evidence is sparse, vague and subject to varying interpretation.
There are other debates over the book, too. My favorite is whether it's "really fascist." There's nothing better that arguments over what the word fascist means, and few things more entertaining than two people violently agreeing that the other thinks it means something they don't like.
But I digress.
Starship Troopers' influence goes well beyond a mildly popular 1997 movie. It's been translated into 11 languages. It created the concept of the "space marine" that dominates video games. The book put military science fiction on the map. It's influenced countless works, including Scalzi's Old Man's War, Haldeman's The Forever War and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.
And yes, it really is recommended reading in military circles.
The Starship Troopers film was originally developed as Bug Hunt at Outpost 7, because the initial developers thought someone already tied up the film rights. That story has somehow morphed into the idea that the Starship Troopers label was slapped on the film late in development in order to cash in on the name. But that's not the case. Once the producers realized the rights were available, they commissioned a script based on the book.
The book spends a lot of time in those classroom scenes telling you how the Terran Federation works, which doesn't make for good cinema. So, the initial draft made a lot of changes, but most were involved with making a better movie from the bones of Heinlein's story.
Then, Paul Verhoeven came on as director, and the script changed even more. Verhoeven was born in the Netherlands in 1938, and his family lived near the German headquarters during the occupation. He wasn’t onboard for a film that served up Heinlein’s ideas with a straight face. He turned it into a deconstruction of fascism and militarism, with uniforms borrowed heavily from the Germans in WWII, architecture from Albert Speer, and Terran propaganda that borrows scenes and dialogue from Triumph of the Will.
Of course, Verhoeven’s message was—and still is—lost on some people. Many dismissed the movie as another mindless action flick, which isn't surprising. Many moviegoers are quick to dismiss a movie as shallow if they have to sift through more than one layer to find the message.
Verhoeven may have given viewers too much credit. He said, "All the way through I wanted the audience to be asking, 'Are these people crazy?'“ They didn’t. Many took it at face value, instead.
Which brings me, some 1200 words later, to how I got here. When I mentioned the movie a couple weeks back, I was hoping to find a gif or a clip of "The mobile infantry made me the man I am today!" I ended up searching on YouTube, which is never a good idea when you're looking for anything remotely political.
I didn't find a clip. I found a video from a Youtuber with more than 500k followers. The video had 5200+ likes and over 1000 cheerleading comments. I won’t link to it.
Here's a quote from the intro:
I will outline how the politics of the book and film Starship Troopers, and this is obviously in theory, but how it could help save the United States from the social and political schisms that it is currently plagued with and help stabilize the nation in the long term.
Science fiction is about real life.
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