"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 53
What do you get when the seemingly opposed themes of In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog and May I Have Some Music? overlap? If I were a better blogger, you'd get a suggested soundtrack for Starship Troopers--but with nothing embedded, so you still wouldn't be able to hear it. =P
I see that I didn't make any mention of how the Terran Federation moved from "peace" to a "state of emergency" and then onto war. I didn't notice it too closely myself. When I enrolled, it was "peace," the normal condition, at least so people think (who ever expects anything else?). Then, while I was at Currie, it became a "state of emergency" but I still didn't notice it, as what Corporal Bronski thought about my haircut, uniform, combat drill, and kit was much more important--and what Sergeant Zim thought about such matters was overwhelmingly important. In any case, "emergency" is still "peace."
"Peace" is a condition in which no civilian pays any attention to military casualties which do not achieve page-one, lead-story prominence--unless the civilian is a close relative of one of the casualties. But, if there ever was a time in history when "peace" meant that there was no fighting going on, I have been unable to find out about it. When I reported to my first outfit . . . the fighting had already been going on for several years . . .
It's not quite "We have always been at war with Eastasia"--but the blissful ignorance of civilians can be just as important to a war effort as their willing consumption of propaganda. Partly because these are virtually the same things. Not that anyone cares what civilians think . . .
Chapters 9 to 11
If any scene brings home how much Johnnie has changed since he made it through Basic training, it is the dock fight that was over before it began. Everything about the encounter with the merchant sailors, from Johnnie's impressions of them ("the right age to serve a term, only they weren't--long-haired and sloppy and kind of dirty-looking . . . the way I looked, I supposed, before I joined up") to how he and his buddies knock them out cold without even thinking about it, underlines the fact that he has left the civilian world behind forever.
It's akin to a profound religious conversion. Anyone who hasn't been through it will never understand. That includes the many who were called but not numbered among the few who were chosen.
I do have one comment to make to any armchair strategist who has never made a drop. Yes, I agree that the Bugs' planet possibly could've been plastered by H-bombs until it was surfaced with radioactive glass. But would that have won the war? 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 organisation, psychological and economic, is more like that of ants and termites; they are communal entities, the ultimate dictatorship of the hive. Blasting the surface of their planet would have killed soldiers and workers; it would not have killed the brain caste and the queens--I doubt if anybody can be certain that even a direct hit with a burrowing H-rocket would kill a queen; we don't know how far down they are. Nor am I anxious to find out; none of those boys who went down those holes came up again.
Did the H-bomb reference remind you, too, of the unfortunate Hendrick? I think it was meant to! Even he will never understand because he never completed the baptism of Basic. And while this is common sense on one level, it is very cunning design on another. If you can fix it so that there will always be a divide between your troops and the people they are protecting, then you can guarantee that they will be as alien to each other as bugs are to men. And yes, you want that, because you want war.
I started playing around with religious language back there because that's my schitck, but I now see that the parallels are apt. George Orwell got it right: organised religion and organised military force have a freaking lot in common. (Even more than what organised religion and Apple have in common!) Take a quick look at the demographics of your army--and at the demographics of those civilians most supportive of any war effort. That there are no atheists in foxholes is just one part of the reality. You couldn't keep a True Believer out of a foxhole if you tried.
So how about those bugs?! When I read Johnnie's description, I thought it applied to several drawn-out armed conflicts that unfolded decades after Starship Troopers was published. It certainly satirises modern guerilla warfare perfectly--and maybe modern warfare in general. Long gone are the days when you could capture a city and say you won. Today, we go after the soldiers and workers because some damage is better than no damage, take heart that we are "learning to hurt them," and keep hoping we can hit the "brain caste"or the "queens." (Got to love that optimism! Or is the word "morale"?)
But this model of the enemy just begs the question of how the characters are even sure that such castes and queens exist. Is this actual intelligence (from the Skinnies?!?!) or just the best deduction they have? Or perhaps . . . is it projection?
And of course, by "the characters," I mean we.
What are your thoughts on Chapters 9 to 11?
1. Is the divide between soldier and civilian a necessary evil or a root of greater evil?
2. How anti-war do you feel right now?
Image Source: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein