I’ve just re-read Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers – a book I originally read when a teenager. What little I remembered of reading the book then, had since been swamped by the lurid images from Paul Verhoeven’s silly but enjoyable film. I probably would not have read it again but for two circumstances: firstly my mother happened to bring home a copy from the charity shop in which she works, and secondly, the strident claims that Heinlein is fascist/right-wing/libertarian from members of the British SF establishment, piqued my interest, for it is often the books recommended by the same critics and self-styled academics that bore me into a coma.
My second reading of this book gave me what I’ll describe as the Dad’s Army effect. When I watched that series as a child, I laughed along with the slapstick and enjoyed it on that level. Watching it later as an adult, I began to appreciate the adult humour. Starship Troopers can appeal to the SF-with-boy’s-toys oriented adolescent just as much as to an adult with the same orientation. But reading ideas of how human rights and privileges should be earned and should be equally balanced by responsibilities, I began to see why Heinlein is disliked by so many, then I hit chapter eight.
There are those who consider his work ironic – satire – when he is describing his future society, but that’s wishful thinking on the part of people who cannot accept that someone who produces such lucid enjoyable work does not buy into their political beliefs. His satire is in fact directed against the society of his time, and of our time, of which he is unstinting in his scorn. Not accepting the cop-out that he didn’t really mean it, it would seem then that Heinlein advocates corporal and capital punishment “…they(wrongly) assumed Man has a moral instinct.” his narrator tells us, this, after detailing how the delinquents of the twentieth century were never really deterred from going on to become full-time criminals. How they never, in the puppy-training analogy he uses, had their noses rubbed in it.
He comments on a death sentence carried out on someone who kidnapped and murdered a little girl: Well, if there was no way to keep it from happening once, there was only one sure way to keep it from happening twice. Which we used. The old liberal platitude has it that the death penalty is no deterrent to murder, which is like saying that hitting a paving slab at 125 miles an hour is no deterrent to jumping off the Eiffel Tower. Well, you’ll only do it once. Of course such arguments are too simplistic for the politically correct and ‘socially aware’, but he has a pop at them as well on the subject of corporal punishment: “…the time-tested method of instilling social virtue and respect for law in the minds of the young did not appeal to a pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who called themselves ‘social workers’ or sometimes ‘child psychologists’. It was too simple for them, apparently, since anyone could do it using the patience and firmness needed in training a puppy. I have sometimes wondered if they cherished a vested interest in disorder…”
Such simplicity is not relished by those who studied psychology, sociology et al at the universities where they also received their political indoctrination. (It’s sad that so many enter the SF world via the same route and consider themselves radical, when really they’re only joining the establishment.) Such people have not so much a vested interest in disorder, but in over-complication, because that way they can wrest control from poor normal plebs. “You must not smack your child, bring him to the child psychologist and if that doesn’t work, we’ll dose him up with Ritalin, then during his ensuing life this severely screwed-up human being can keep any number of counsellors, psychologists, social workers & sociologists in employment.”
Reading about Heinlein’s work I discover that he did not write ‘literature’ and that his later works were weighed down with didactic right-wing/libertarian tracts. Of course, had those tracts been left-wing/liberal, he would have been on a higher pedestal in Britain than the one he presently occupies – his work branded as serious literature containing much important social commentary. You gotta laugh.
Starship Troopers was first published forty-six years ago. Read chapter eight if you cannot be bothered with the whole book. In the political zeitgeist of today’s Britain Heinlein is not accepted as a visionary, but that will come after the lunatics presently in control of our society have finished shovelling their excrement at the fan, in the time when we have to clean up the mess.