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Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Before we begin, this is a discussion on the novel Starship Troopers and not the movie by the same name. While the movie is a fantastic one, the book is decidedly different.

starship-troopersWhen the movie came out in 1997, I had just gotten out of a 6 year stint in the Army and was attempting to go back to school. Sitting in an English class, my teacher was trying to tell us the importance of words, a lesson that sadly did not take at the time. He began telling us of this book called Starship Troopers and how there was a movie coming out based on it. I laughed. On the surface, it sounded like the dumbest and most generic name for a book, movie, or anything ever. He conceded that while the name of the book might be dumb, that had no bearing on the ideas in the book.

After seeing the movie, I did not see the ideas that he was talking about. Sure it was good, but there was nothing in it that was life changing for me. So I did not bother to read the book.

That is until recently.

I saw the book on a bargain rack at a local Half-Price Books. I picked it up and thought that this might be a fun and mindless read for the summer. I was wrong. It was more than that. There are some ideas discussed in the book that gives one pause for thought.

1. Being a citizen is not a right but a privilege.

In the book, the only way to become a citizen is to serve in the military in some capacity. In this instance, the rights to vote and govern are not open to anyone but to those that serve. Before I go on, I am not for this in our society. During the book though, in a military class, the instructor asks the class why they have chosen this requirement for citizenship and then provides the answer:

“Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage” – Major Reid, Starship Troopers

Once again, I do not believe that we should have this requirement. The idea behind it though is one that we could profit from. Putting the needs of the many ahead of our own personal advantages.

2. War…

With the recent uprising and unrest in Iraq and our continued presence in Afghanistan, we might never have a moment where there is not a war going on that we are not actively involved in. (I am writing this from the perspective of my being an American.) I have heard many times people ask the question of why we don’t just bomb the entire area and be done with it. I have pondered the question before.

“War is not violence and killing, pure and simple; war is controlled violence, for a purpose. The purpose of a war is to support your government’s decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him…” Sergeant Zim, Starship Troopers

Granted, this book was written in a different time, 1959 to be exact. Then we did not have to worry about the things that we have to worry about now. The basic idea is still the same. War is not about (or at least should not be about) random and wanton killing.

3. …and the Futility of War

Each year we gain a little. – Lt. Rico, Starship Troopers

After finishing the book, that is one thing that really hit home. The war in the book doesn’t end. (It also did not end in the movie, but the movie was sullied by sequels and cartoons. The cartoon was actually not bad.) War is necessary and it will always be with us. A wonderful and peaceful utopia would be best of course. If lives were never lost to violence, if there were no more wounded warriors, if we all just got along with each other regardless of country, creed, religion, or nationality. That will never happen. Even in the book, mankind has learned to get along but as soon as they did, new threats from beyond the galaxy appeared. There might be moments of peace, but there will always be lifetimes of war.

So to my English teacher from many years back, sorry. I should have listened to you. Instead I wrote you off and this book off. I was wrong. My bad.

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein.