"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 54
It would have been so wonderful to have ended the Starship Troopers readalong yesterday, which was, for me, Election Day. But despite a weekend of reading, rereading and brainstorming, this post refused to be either forced out early or backdated. Besides, I've been so wrapped up in the spirited discussion from Meeting 53 that it was harder than usual to make this one its own separate entity.
Now I'd like to thank Belfry Bat, Bob, Darwin, Dauvit, LTG, and Sheila for helping this readalong be as fantastic as it has been, and for making the theme In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog an irony rather than a self-fulfilling prophecy. My life is less lonely because of you!
So let's get on with it now, aye? =)
"Mr. Salomon, can you give me a reason--not historical nor theoretical but practical--why the franchise is today limited to discharged veterans?"
"Uh, because they are picked men, sir. Smarter."
"Preposterous . . . Service men are not brighter than civilians. In many cases, civilians are much more intelligent . . ."
. . . "Uh, service men are disciplined, sir."
Major Reid was gentle with him. "Sorry. An appealing theory not backed up by facts. You and I are not permitted to vote as long as we remain in the Service, nor is it verifiable that military discipline makes a man self-disciplined once he is out; the crime rate of veterans is much like that of civilians. And you have forgotten that in peacetime most veterans come from non-combatant auxiliary services and have not been subjected to the rigours of full military discipline . . ."
I may have quit reading for several days after getting to Chapter 12, because it was "just" History and Moral Philosophy again . . . but when I got back to the text and finished the chapter, I was flat out impressed at the answer to Major Reid's question. In an ideal world, it really would make sense . . .
Chapters 12 to 14
Believe it or not, before I got to Chapter 13 and the mission on Planet P, I had the impression that Starship Troopers was an anti-war satire in a future dystopia! (Cue canned laughter.) Of course, the opposite is true: the Terran Federation is Heinlein's version of an Utopia, with its military as the most idealised segment of the population.
And of course, the M.I. is the most idealised division of the military.
. . . The M.I. has the lowest percentage of officers in any army of record and this factor is just part of the M.I.'s unique "divisional wedge." "D.W." is military jargon, but the idea is simple: If you have 10,000 soldiers, how many fight? And how many just peel potatoes, drive lorries, count graves, and shuffle papers?
In the M.I., 10,000 men fight.
As Darwin pointed out in the previous meeting's combox, "Heinlein portrays combat soldiers as being the only ones who really fully understand reality." And well, that's only logical if your premise is that "more-or-less constant war is . . . the natural state of things." Basically, the closer you get to actual combat, the more you just get it. (The gnosis is gnarly.)
It's worth saying that this is an opinion that the rest of the military do not share. The Navy, in particular, find the M.I. totally obsolete. But as Johnnie points out, the rank of Sky Marshall requires a man to have commanded both an Army regiment and a Navy ship. (There's little doubt, is there, that if the novel went on a bit longer, Johnnie would have been ordained into this higher position as well?)
At the very end, we learn something unexpected--and maybe a bit odd--about the protagonist we thought we knew so well . . .
Big ships--the new Valley Forge and the new Ypres, Marathon, El Alamein, Iwo, Gallipoli, Leyte, Marne, Tours, Gettysburg, Hastings, Alamo, Waterloo--all places where mud feet had made their names to shine.
Little ships, the ones named for foot sloggers: Horatius, Alvin York, Swamp Fox, the Rog herself, bless her heart, Colonel Bowie, Devereux, Vercingetorix, Sandino, Aubrey Cousens, Kamehameha, Audie Murphy, Xenophon, Aguinaldo--
I said, "There ought to be one named Magsaysay."
Recognise any of the names? I know I felt my face glow when I read "Leyte" . . . but I wished that "Aguinaldo" had been "Del Pilar" instead. And yes, there ought to have been one named Magsaysay. And a big ship named Corregidor.
Just a few hours ago, at the water cooler, I had the chance to chat with a colleague who has read a good bit of Heinlein and other SF writers. I asked him why Johnnie's nationality would have been a significant detail, and he said (as I remember it) . . .
"Remember that Starship Troopers was written in the 1950s. At the time, relations between the US and the Philippines were excellent. It was right after World War II, when Philippine Scouts had fought and died alongside American G.I.s, as part of the USAFFE. We were their Little Brown Brothers, their allies in the new war against Communism--what Heinlein depicted as the 'hive mind.' They loved us and we loved them . . . but at the same time, the idea of a Filipino officer commanding American soldiers was unheard of. Making Johnnie Rico turn out to be Filipino was a very progressive move."
So now you know why Johnnie is my cousin.
A final word . . . What I never expected Starship Troopers to be was emotional and heartwarming. But it is, isn't it? And the really interesting part is where all the warm snugglies get to come from. Heinlein totally skips the battle in which Johnnie earns his commission, jumping ahead to his return to the Rodger Young as a second lieutenant. Then he fills in the details the way dominoes fall, and we see a greater design. For Johnnie's achievement isn't merely a personal milestone, but a transformation that affects his entire platoon, including his relationship with his father, the ripple effect reaching the very ends of the army. It is made possible by no less than communion--and I can see why the Terran Federation's military culture insists that only those who have lived this mystery have any business casting ballots.
Remember Lieutenant Rasczak and how much his men loved him, because he loved them first? That's Johnnie now. And dagnabbit, I think I love him, too.
What are your thoughts on Chapters 12 to 14?
1. What do you think of the argument for making suffrage a privilege of honourably discharged veterans?
2. Given how dystopian our own world is becoming, would you be willing to live in Heinlein's utopia instead?
3. Membership in the Mystical Body aside, have you ever felt a sense of communion from being part of a cohesive group?
Image Source: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein