Starship Troopers

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Citizens!

Robert
Heinlein was truly gifted, but it doesn't take a genius to see that

Starship Troopers
, first published in 1959, is a handbook
for the present.

We
see it in the constant stream of patriotic, flame-fanning war news
from all of the competing U.S. networks, the visions of "success"
and "achievement" and "progress." We see simple
heroes made of our soldiers, cameras cradling their young faces,
and rolling their comments of "I'm proud of what we are doing
here" and "It's the right thing for America."

Like
little children stomping insects in the movie version, recruiting
for war with, "If you do your part, we'll do our part!"

In
Heinlein's novel, the lesson of boot camp is "Might makes right."
I don't think George W. Bush learned that in the Texas National
Guard, but he clearly picked it up somewhere. Certainly Don Rumsfeld,
with his reputation for verbal as well as sometimes physical intimidation
of compatriots as well as adversaries, understands this.

More
than that, Rumsfeld embraces the second lesson of Heinlein's boot
camp — that morality is the result of training for instant unthinking
obedience, the "unquestioned
hierarchy
of authority." His rage at his commanders and
even retired generals consistently exceeds his rage at Saddam, and
even the evasive bin Laden.

Private
First Class Jessica Lynch of Palestine, West Virginia — is the latest
citizen and hero. Her survival amongst the arachnid horde, and her
gallant rescue by fellow troopers, is a befitting story for the
folks back home. We don't need to know that her rescue was the result
of an Iraqi medical worker expressing humanity and courage. We will
probably never consider that her survival probably had much to do
with the power of God and her home town of Palestine, in a foreign
country that values both concepts.

The
path to citizenship — concretely through military service — is a
key theme in Heinlein's novel. “Citizenship is an attitude, a state
of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than
the part . . . and that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice
itself that the whole may live.”

This,
of course, is precisely how the arachnid enemy in Heinlein's imaginative
universe functions. Centered on a hidden, physically weak and uncourageous
yet ominously powerful giant insect brain (Saddam, maybe bin Laden?
Perle-Cheney-Wolfowitz perhaps?), it remotely directs the actions
of a million machine-like bugs of destruction.

Trooper-style
citizenship — as Heinlein satirizes — is a condition that sounds
free and honorable but is actually impossible to exercise with free
will or honor. A recent article on posthumous citizenship for some
non-American soldiers speaks
volumes
when it notes that the citizenship is not real or practical,
but symbolic. It suggests citizenship may be most meaningful to
the dead, the static, the non-thinking.

Heinlein's
citizenship is granted for soldiers who have made it through boot
camp, where they have learned not to question authority, to follow
all orders from above instantly and exactly, and who have no other
allegiance than to the all-wise central state. It is a Rumsfeldian
vision of citizenship. It is a citizenship where each moral compass
is not individually discovered, tested and mapped, but instead simply
imprinted. It must be because "Man has no moral
instinct
."

If
we are witnessing a Starship Troopers moment, as it seems with our
long buildup and current possibly endless prosecution of Operation
Iraqi Freedom, our soldiers may indeed become "citizens."

Their
experiences ought to be highly informative and educational to the
masterminds of war and conquest and propaganda in Washington and
New York, who incidentally never served in wartime, and in almost
all cases have never worn a uniform, nor are parents of children
who have ever or will ever wear a uniform.

Civil
servants, of course, who are neither civil nor serve.

Heinlein
showed a clear preference that service to state be military service
in uniform, and through this experience, governing is improved.
The soldier who sacrifices everything for his country as the only
truly qualified citizen is also a literary device.

Bush
and Rumsfeld have reacted to criticism and evaluation of their agendas
and strategies from retired military officers with, "They have
no right!" This, unfortunately, is not a literary device —
they actually believe it.

Bush
and Rumsfeld probably haven't had a lot of time to read books, and
perhaps science fiction or societal dystopianism isn't their thing,
what with all the war planning they've been doing.

For
the rest of us citizens, denizens, residents and lovers of liberty,
Heinlein's fascistic fantasy can help explain the present, and possibly
the future.

April
9, 2003

Karen
Kwiatkowski [send her mail]
is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final
four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now
lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.


     

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