"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 51
Blogging, like reading, does not happen in a vacuum. Two months ago, I had dinner with a good friend and she mentioned that one of her favourite people in the world (an elite group which of course includes your cheesy blogger) had said that his favourite novel of all time was Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers. But while her first instinct was to give it a try as well, she admitted that she was having a hard time even wrapping her mind around the idea that something with a title like Starship Troopers could be anyone's favourite novel. (LOL!)
So I told her, "I want to do a space-themed month on my blog. If Starship Troopers wins the readalong poll, then I'll read it with you, so at least you won't be alone." =P
But I'll confess that the first chapter was pretty rough to get through . . .
. . . Presently, [Sergeant] Jelal stepped out in front of us, looked us over, and shook his head sadly. "What a gang of apes," he growled. "Maybe if you'd all buy it this drop, they could start over and build the kind of outfit the Lieutenant expected you to be. But probably not--with the sort of recruits we get these days." He suddenly straightened up, shouted, "I just want to remind you apes that every one of you has cost the gov'ment, counting weapons, armour, ammo, instrumentation, and training, everything, including the way you overeat, has cost, on the hoof, better'n half a million. Add in the thirty cents you are actually worth and that runs to quite a sum." He glared at us. "So bring it back! We can spare you, but we can't spare that fancy suit you're wearing. I don't want any heroes in this outfit; the Lieutenant wouldn't like it. You got a job to do, you go down, you do it, you keep your ears open for recall, you show up for retrieval on the bounce and by the numbers. Get me?"
I've just quoted a passage from Heinlein. With a week to go in April, it finally feels legitimate to remind everyone that In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog.
As I was saying, I actually found the first chapter, as action-packed and fast-paced as it was, kind of boring. And I had a "What did I get myself into this time?" moment. Well, several, actually. Of all the books I have decided to read for leisure, Starship Troopers is probably the furthest out of my comfort zone.
Then I got to Chapter 2 and realised that what I was reading was a novel of ideas. The story is more than the spectacle of futuristic military action scenes; it is about the formation of the infantrymen in those scenes. As Sergeant Jelal tells the men right before a routine drop, each of them cost over half a million dollars to prepare. That's just a shade more than it takes to study Medicine in one of the top schools today--and I'm also counting living expenses.
Based on the first chapter, the most an infantry man has to know is when to open his parachutes, how to get a reading on his squad, when to advance in formation, and how to operate the weapons and equipment he has been given to use. He may have to do some thinking on his feet, of course--and we do get some of that right before the squad is picked up again by their pilot. But in general, it's neither brain surgery nor rocket science.
Or is it? The sergeant at the recruiting station begs to differ with me.
"Most people think that all it takes is two hands and two feet and a stupid mind. Maybe so, for cannon fodder. Possibly that was all that Julius Caesar required. But a private soldier today is a specialist so highly skilled that he would rate 'master' in any other trade; we can't afford stupid ones. So for those who insist on serving their term--but haven't got what we want and must have--we've had to think up a whole list of dirty, nasty, dangerous jobs . . . Take that young lady who was here--wants to be a pilot. I hope she makes it; we always need good pilots--not enough of 'em. Maybe she will. But if she misses, she may wind up in Antarctica, her pretty eyes red from never seeing anything but artificial light and her knuckles calloused from hard, dirty work."
The speaker is a multiple amputee who claims that he was assigned to recruitment so that anyone who isn't quite ready for military service can take one look at him and change their minds, with no hard feelings. Someone like, you know, the narrator. (Note the chain of coincidences and other people's opinions which is the only reason he signs up for the service at all.)
But apparently, that is how you hook the ideal infantryman--whose first choice is never the infantry. As the narrator's father tried to tell him: "Have you ever tried to lead a pig?" LOL!
The chapters on basic training were really fun to read. Camp Arthur Currie is a "school setting" as much as Hogwarts--but one which is designed to graduate only "the best." What it means to be "the best," we will find out in future chapters. In the meantime, I find the following passage worth quoting . . .
I may have given the impression that boot camp was made harder than necessary. This is not correct.
It was made as hard as possible and on purpose.
It was the firm opinion of every recruit that this was sheer meanness, calculated sadism, fiendish delight of witless morons in making other people suffer.
It was not. It was too scheduled, too intellectual, too efficiently and impersonally organised to be cruelty for the sick pleasure of cruelty; it was planned like surgery for purposes as unimpassioned as those of the surgeon.
Which brings us back to Medical school! =D But seriously, the "syllabus" of basic training must have been put together by the military's best psychologists. And if minds like theirs don't come cheaply, then neither do fully capable, fully trained infantrymen.
What do you think of Chapters 1 to 4?
1) Have you ever imagined a "Conspiracy Theory" version of your life, in which you did not choose your current job of your own free will, but were conditioned, manipulated and led into it without your realising it? If so, do share!
2) If you could design the entire "basic training" for someone who had to do your job, would there be anything that would give them the impression of "sheer meanness [and] calculated sadism," but in fact be absolutely necessary?
Image Source: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein