Book Reviews, Charles, Fiction, Political Discussion & Analysis, Popular, Post-Liberalism, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Sex Roles, Social Behavior, War
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Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein)

Starship Troopers, sixty years old, is a famous work of science fiction. As with most Robert Heinlein novels, the point is more the ideas than plot or character. Heinlein therefore often swerves dangerously close to message fiction, but it never becomes intolerable. This book is Heinlein’s vehicle to explain who he thinks should rule a society and what principles should inform that ruling class’s actions. His main goal is to attack universal suffrage as stupid, which is true enough, although his proposed alternative is too artificial. While I’m interested in the franchise today, and its relationship to aristocracy and hierarchy, I’m equally interested in secondary aspects of the book, in particular what the role of women should be, if any, in the military.

The plot of Starship Troopers is simple. As in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, another classic science fiction book, the enemy is insectoid aliens. Unlike in that other book, here there is no introspection about the enemy and its motivations and emotions. Simply killing the aliens, the Bugs, is the frame of the book, as seen in flashbacks narrated by the protagonist, the soldier Juan Rico. He fights in the Mobile Infantry, whose task is to defeat enemies in much the same way as any army of the 1950s, but fighting in a tremendously powerful armored exoskeleton. The Navy ships infantrymen to other planets; the men drop from space, emerge in armor from their capsules, and kill Bugs (or, in the opening scene, terrorize a city on a planet allied to the Bugs). The story has an arc, from Rico’s signing up, through training, ending in a climactic battle scene, but all of it is mere backdrop to Heinlein’s political thoughts.

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The book views politics through the lens of war, which often leads to the erroneous claim that Heinlein’s ideal society is a militarized one. In fact, in this future history, until the recently-begun conflict with the Bugs, war was uncommon. Rico’s father lectures his son, when he wants to enlist, that Federal Service (as it is called) is a waste of time, because “we’ve outgrown wars” and with only peace on the horizon, he’ll waste his time on something that merely allows veterans, the only people allowed to vote or govern, to “give themselves airs for the rest of their lives.” The system Heinlein advocates would, in his view, be ideal for any society, but presumably he thought it would be boring to write a book about how such a society builds cities or meets other mundane civilizational challenges. Therefore, it’s all about killing Bugs, even though they’re, in truth, incidental.

Heinlein rejects democracy in favor of aristocracy. Not a traditional aristocracy, of blood and property, or even one of ability, but one where any person can simply choose to become an aristocrat by signing up for a term of two years Federal Service. Such service is not necessarily military, but is always at least potentially highly dangerous—if not a soldier, an enlistee may perform hazardous work or be used as a medical guinea pig. There is no conscription; signing up for Federal Service isn’t even encouraged in any way—it’s discouraged, if anything. Quitting is simple and carries no penalty, other than inability to ever enlist in the future. But only veterans of Federal Service are citizens (contrasted with civilians), only they can vote, and only citizens can work in government. Aside from rule, though, citizens are not an elite class. They are apparently not richer than others, for example—Rico’s family is portrayed as wealthy, from business, despite his father’s distaste for Federal Service, and there is no suggestion citizens profit from their service.

Heinlein gives us a lot of lectures about his system and the philosophy behind it. The book’s stand-in for Heinlein is not Rico, but his high school History & Moral Philosophy teacher, Mr. Dubois. This course, which must be taught by a citizen, is meant to form all young minds. (The topic of education, in particular the introduction to, or indoctrination in, a society’s core beliefs for the young, has been much on my mind lately, but I am going to delay discussion of that to another day.) Mr. Dubois clearly explains the basis of the Terran Federation’s aristocracy. “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.” Rule by the intelligent doesn’t accomplish this, nor does rule by any other selection for supposed merit. “Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than the part . . . and that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice itself that the whole may live.” This is not a search for noble death, a kalos thanatos. Rather, it is service to others, fundamentally utilitarian. Dubois’s key claim is that “the noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved one and the war’s desolation.” This is, in a nutshell, the service implied in Federal Service.

That doesn’t imply that it’s all gravy for citizens (who do not include anyone currently in Federal Service, including career members). Authority and responsibility must be equal; in an “unlimited democracy” there is authority without responsibility. Democracy failed because “the people had been led to believe they could simply vote for whatever they wanted . . . and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears.” “The best things in life are beyond money; their price is agony and sweat and devotion.” Citizens have an ongoing responsibility that balances the authority they exercise; their time in Federal Service is merely the most visible evidence of it. Thus, there is consent of the governed, because those who choose not to pursue Federal Service choose to be governed by those who do. Everyone is satisfied; crime is very low (in part due to corporal and capital punishment), and personal freedom (undefined as to its scope) is high.

True, this is a quasi-aristocracy, an artificial thing bearing limited actual relation to a real aristocracy. A real aristocracy is organic, arising from the superiority in some way of some group of people in a given societal situation, and counterpoised both to the masses and to what, despite the name, is different, Ortega’s “mass men.” Later entry by those not born into the class is possible, but difficult, much more difficult than simply choosing, for reasons portrayed as internal to each person, to serve two years in Federal Service. And in a real aristocracy, the aristocrats not only possess much or all of the direct political power, they possess most of the indirect, social power—wealth accrues to them, and they are also the tastemakers and trendsetters of society. They are those who direct its high culture, and the dreams of such a society are those of aristocrats, who mostly do not choose to be aristocrats—they become aristocrats as a consequence of their actions, and if born to it, face rigid expectations to conform their behavior accordingly. In short, such hierarchies are always natural, not chosen, and some form of them is inevitable. And, of course, all aristocracies decay over time, at which point the society must reset with a new aristocracy, a process we will see ourselves sooner or later. Heinlein, as with most ideologues, seems to see his system as pinnacle of human political systems and the end of history; that’s not likely.

In Heinlein’s future history, however, this system did originate organically, from military veterans imposing order on a local scale after global warfare and subsequent chaos; it exists because it works, not because it was dreamt up in the brain of some egghead. In other words, Heinlein would probably argue it’s not artificial; it’s simply a throwback, if somewhat differently imagined, to broadly similar historical systems of aristocracy, which often worked very well, so long as the ruling class ruled for the benefit of the entire society (the classic example being Venice). What’s actually strange, and unstable, is our modern system of mass democracy. Heinlein has some choice words for John Rawls, long before John Rawls was on the scene. He, or rather Mr. Dubois, attacks the “pre-scientific pseudo-professional class” who exemplified a system of moral theory “half of it fuzzy-headed wishful thinking, half of it rationalized charlatanry.”

Whether too artificial or not, this system is not an ideology and there is no attempt to create a totalitarian society, every person pulling in harness as directed by the state. Dubois is only one voice among many, though one with a bigger megaphone; his students are, in his words, “ignorant and prejudiced by their environment.” That environment includes parents such as Rico’s father and, presumably, other social influences. Thus, there is much room for individualism within the larger political frame and no attempt to weld society into a machine. The political system is neither Left nor Right, although it is probably more in opposition to Left governmental systems, because it has no desire at all for emancipation of the supposedly oppressed, who are not mentioned at all, and has a wholly reality-centered focus, rather than striving for a utopia. Modern preoccupations such as race are completely ignored. It sounds like a decent way to live.

Oh, I don’t think Heinlein’s system would work in practice, even if implemented on a national, rather than global, level. Heinlein underpins his aristocracy with dubious politico-moral theories that the twentieth century proved work poorly in practice, in particular positing that survival is the only morality and that natural rights are a complete fiction. It is not an accident that there are zero references to religion in this book, and that man’s need for transcendence and meaning is ignored in favor of an arid materialism, of the sort that has proven corrosive to all societies that have tried it. Still, aristocracy is undoubtedly a key piece of the natural pattern of government. You can operate a system that has an aristocracy without a monarchy, but not a monarchy without an aristocracy. And even the American Constitution as it existed in 1787 or in 1865 was essentially aristocratic, relative to the extreme democracy imposed on us starting a hundred years ago, the bitter fruits of which we are now eating.

While democracy is stupid and aristocracy inevitable, some form of representation for all segments of society is necessary for a stable society. That doesn’t mean a direct voice in government; the Romans had the tribunes of the plebs, for example, to watch over the interests of the lower classes. It’s unnecessary and foolish to try to set up a detailed structure for a future limited franchise in the abstract; such a system can only grow organically, depending on the circumstances and the society’s needs. (Not just the franchise, either—note, for example, the very different attitude toward citizenship in early Rome and late Rome.) What we need will become obvious after the current system collapses and the shooting stops. My general feeling, which I have outlined elsewhere, is that political power of any sort, voting or otherwise, should be limited to those with a concrete stake in and contribution to society, and more power given to those with more stake and contribution—most of all to those with children. For now, let’s turn to something tangential to Heinlein’s story—the role of women in the military.

Heinlein’s treatment of women in war is somewhat confused. Most pilots of starships, mainly troop transports but also artillery platforms, are women, and half the Navy’s officers, though some ships lack women entirely. No women fight in the Mobile Infantry or any other part of the Army. This seems like a modern, utilitarian approach, and there is some talk along these lines, about women making the best pilots. But the main reason women are made officers is one that would be perceived as wholly retrograde by many (not by me) today: it is done so that the men who fight are kept keenly aware of women and the need to fight to protect women. Heinlein accurately portrays the allure of these women to the young infantrymen, along with the strictures imposed such that they do not unduly bother them. Rico notes that he prefers the ships with women pilots, because “It’s good to know that the ultimate reason you are fighting for actually exists and that they are not just a figment of the imagination.” Mr. Dubois is explicit that “do you know of a surer way to keep a man keyed up to the point where he is willing to [fight] than by keeping him constantly reminded that the only good reason why men fight is a living, breathing reality?” Rico, again, says with heartfelt approval, “In a mixed ship, the last thing a trooper hears before a drop (maybe the last word he ever hears) is a woman’s voice, wishing him luck.”

So while women in this book are in the military, the focus is actually purely on masculinity. Heinlein is clear-eyed that combat is something that only appeals to men, in their nature. Rico’s father, after his mother is killed by a Bug attack on Earth, joins the Mobile Infantry himself, “to prove to myself that I was a man.” This points out a basic truth—women in the military, in any capacity tied to fighting, is unnatural and stupid, and you can’t write a book that shows otherwise unless you are writing stilted message fiction, because if you accurately depict human nature, you will always come back to men as the focus in war, with women in a supporting role, if any. But let’s parse out exactly why women should not be allowed in our military, except as nurses and as clerks or other functionaries thousands of miles from any battlefield.

I have long said women in the military is the supreme triumph of ideology over common sense. This is one of those (rare, but increasingly less so) public policy questions on which there are no good arguments at all for one side, Still, I’ve now spent some time parsing and classifying the collectively overwhelming, or more accurately totally unanswerable, reasons against women in the military. I will break the reasons down into three groups, any reason from any one of the groups being more than adequate to wholly justify my preferred policy. First are physical facts about men and women. The second is the mental and psychological characteristics of men and women. The third is teleological reality about men and women.

It is true, but not to the contrary, that in some circumstances women have to fight. Throughout history, women have fought to directly defend their families, for example against Indian attacks on the American frontier (my children are reading the Little House on the Prairie books, forbidden in schools today, which shows this reality). And when a society’s survival is at stake, as in partisan warfare, rebellion, or invasion, some women have fought in organized modern fashion (although stories about Russian women in World War II, in particular, are greatly exaggerated for modern propaganda purposes). In today’s world, Israel has long required military service of women (wisely, only unmarried ones), knowing that capability may make the difference in the next go-round with the Muslims. This custom originated pre-1948, when the Jews had some women in the Haganah—though the chief lesson taken at the time was that was a bad idea, one of the reasons that until very recently, since Israel is mostly a reality-based society, because it has to be, women soldiers were confined to support positions. Only recently, under order from left-wing civilian courts, a few have been admitted to positions that are combat-trained. But even now they are never deliberately deployed to any place likely to see combat, nor can they join units designated as frontline units in case of war. The Israelis don’t intend to have women fight unless it’s war to the knife. And, for the record, women Viking warriors are a complete myth.

It is sometimes heard, from those not in the military, that those in charge of the military are opposed to women in the military, and would never allow ideology to triumph over common sense, so it must be true that having women in the military makes sense. Nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from that the military is subject to civilian dictates, which have long included shrill ideological demands for women in the military, decades of purging any military officer not ideologically compliant has resulted in a corrupted officer corps. The upper ranks of the military are therefore entirely conforming, and any officer with reality-based views must adopt a Gnostic attitude, keeping his hidden knowledge of the truth concealed. This is to be expected—the social justice warriors have had decades now to winnow the ranks of the military to get rid of any man who dares to point out the truth.

As to the first group of truths, simple physical ability, women have nowhere near the needed physical ability to fight, in strength, stamina, or any other physical characteristic critical to fighting. This is common sense, and even admitted by the proponents of feminizing the military—because they hold women to vastly lower physical standards than men. Given that the physical standards were originally set in order to determine the minimum necessary capability to succeed in the military, such relaxation costs lives, but that’s no problem for the ideologues. Usually, this disparity in standards is treated as normal, like allowing soldiers to choose Special K rather than Cheerios, instead of what it really is, lethal. Nobody is allowed to comment on the double standards (certainly no soldier hoping to rise in the military), except in rare instances of objective study, such as a large-scale 2015 Marine Corps test, which, no surprise, showed that women (in this case, supposedly the best women soldiers) were incapable relative to men on every physical measure.

Mostly this farce only reaches public view in the endless push for women to enter elite military groups. Knowing that the public is intrigued by the Rangers, the Green Berets, and the SEALs, and therefore is paying attention, the ideologues, afraid the average person will see right through the double-standards charade, instead relax all standards. They call this “making standards gender neutral,” and at the same time they give women concealed assistance, in a desperate attempt to get a woman, any woman, to seemingly meet physical standards probably no woman in history could match. This is coupled with endless propaganda—remember the laughable movie G.I. Jane? (Note that movie is nearly twenty-five years old; we have been barraged with well-financed propaganda for decades.) But so far the Navy, alone among the armed forces, has refused to relax the requirements for their elite units. And so, despite enormous political pressure to allow cheating, no woman has ever met the SEAL standards, or ever will. I guarantee you, though, soon after the next Democratic president is elected, we will hear about the triumphant entry of a woman into the SEALs. We will not be permitted to ask what made that possible, but it will not be the ability of the woman, you can be sure.

Other than lack of physical strength and stamina, women also have many outright physical frailties men do not. They become pregnant (often at very high rates upon a call-up). They are gang raped if captured, which is terrible for them and terrible for the morale of both male soldiers and society at large. (Rape is one of the main reasons the Israelis, who unlike the United States face the very real possibility of soldiers being captured, keep women out of combat.) Their rate of injury in training is terrifically high. You often hear that “some women” can meet the physical standards set for male soldiers, though details or examples of such women who want to join the military are never offered, but if there were such a woman, her ability to do push-ups would not remove her total physical unsuitability for combat.

And, of course, the nature of men and women adds yet another layer of physical problems. The idea that a mixed-sex group, in any context, is not radically different from a single-sex group, on a multitude of axes, is plainly false. Welding men into a cohesive unit is a well-understood process; adding women destroys the intangible glue and erodes the power of the group, whether in the military or elsewhere. (This is one reason the Left hates and attacks all-male groups devoted to a common end, in any context, because they tend to be very reality-based and extremely competent at achieving their stated goals, and adding women diffuses their power.) And aside from simple lack of cohesion, competition for sexual favors inevitably encourages corrosive behavior at all levels. The artificial nature of the society Heinlein outlines is made clear by his ignoring these realities, and imagining that women in the military can be decorously walled off. In real life, that doesn’t work.

Sometimes you hear feeble attempts to make counter-arguments to all these facts, though mostly the facts are ignored; you usually only hear screams of “sexism!” and “emancipation!” On those rare occasions the anti-reality crowd offers a concrete response, you usually hear the argument that the modern soldier doesn’t need brute strength, which is true, right up until you have to carry a wounded comrade, lug a hundred-pound pack, run with a fifty-pound machine gun, or throw a grenade a hundred feet. That is to say, it’s false. You also sometimes hear claims that women make better pilots, although the specifics are always vague, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? Again, though, a pilot isn’t always ensconced in the cockpit. No, there are no even half-decent counter-arguments at all, as you will find if you go searching for them. All you will find is emotion and crude attempts at misdirection and obfuscation. I know, because I went looking.

Only one argument holds water, and it is not a counter-argument, but a claimed cost to excluding women. In any society facing significant external threats (e.g., Israel), political power very often follows military prowess or command. As a result, women are effectively excluded from political leadership if they have not led in battle (this appears to be true in the world of Starship Troopers, where women never fight in battle). True enough. So what? The claim assumes that having women in political leadership is a key component of a good society. Sometimes that may be true; a well-run society must have a balance of the masculine and feminine. A society run only by men without feminine balance is a society of slavers and killers; a society run only by women without masculine balance is quite peaceful in their cave dwellings. But it should be clear to all that the type of society that faces challenges that make military leaders civilian leaders is the type of society that should be led by men, because men are best suited by natural temperament to meet such challenges. This is not an absolute requirement for success in meeting such challenges, as one can see from Golda Meier, or even Margaret Thatcher, but it’s true as a general rule. And as we have seen from the Wuhan Plague, leadership by feminized politicians, male and female, blissfully free from manly courage, terribly harms societies faced with challenges, and that is even more true for societies faced with military threats. In any case, I have a solution to this supposed problem, already discussed above—don’t allow most people to vote, in which case political leadership will accrue sensibly, not based on the masses’ perception of what’s needed.

Any one of these physical facts should alone put an end to the fantasy of women in the military, in any position that involves training for, or the possibility of, combat under any circumstances. (Attempting to allow women in the trained military, but limited to non-combat positions, is merely a smokescreen for attempts to force allowing women in combat, does not obviate the relevant physical limitations of women, and offers no benefit to society.) But equally, if not more, determinative is that men and women are utterly distinct in their psychology, their mental attitude toward organized, planned, anticipated violence, in a way that makes women completely unsuited for participation in the organized military. At the most basic and obvious level, normal women have no interest in fighting, while many men, especially young men, positively enjoy fighting. Not just open combat—the possibility of fighting and relative chance of success, as everyone knows, determines much of the hierarchy among men. This is true even in completely peaceful environments such as white-collar office work. (That a few women choose to participate in the safe paid activity of sport “fighting” says nothing to the contrary; there may be a few women who enjoy fighting, because of simple variability in human personalities, but they are so rare as to be completely irrelevant to society as a whole.) Men are aggressive in a way simply not found in women; they view the world entirely differently as it relates to conflict, and that aggression is necessary to, and desirable for, combat.

That’s not the end of it. Beyond simple bloodlust, men are driven by the search for personal glory and honor resulting from conflict, and women aren’t. And for a man honor can be found, and earned, not just in battlefield heroics, but by him challenging himself in masculine pursuits in front of his peers. Certainly, women can be, and often are, brave, even unto death, in defense of their families, most of all their children. But this is a practical choice, or a virtue in reaction to necessity, not something sought as men seek recognition. Much of young male life naturally is men seeking approbation from other men (and admiration from women) for their deeds that distinguish them from others, and those deeds often include violence, in a way alien to a woman’s thought. What is more, men instinctively recoil at taking orders from women in areas that should be exclusively male domains, because it’s so obviously unnatural and demeaning to the man to take orders from someone who has not earned a spot in the hierarchy that would justify giving orders. As a result, women officers will always be ineffective. The idea of a female drill sergeant would have been a contemptible joke in a more reality-based age, because her ineffectiveness is obvious, whatever people have to pretend nowadays.

And, finally and aside from all these points, a point that needs no long explanation. A decent society simply does not allow women in the military because violence is not the telos of women. The core telos of men is provider and defender; the core telos of women is mother and shelterer. Pretending otherwise will always tear at the sinews of a society; the pretense of our ruling class that there is no difference is one of the numerous reasons we are such a clown society. This principle is much broader than who should be in the military. The famous children’s book Mars Needs Moms captures this truth—a society that lacks women fulfilling their natural role, not just a biological one but one much broader, more power, and ultimately spiritual in nature, is defective. The denial of teleological truth is one of the core dooms of our society.

I’m not arguing we should change the current system. Arguing is a waste of time. We’re beyond public policy arguments, since the Left controls all the relevant levers of power and will never permit any change to any policy that smacks of emancipation, no matter how obviously flawed. Someday we will pay the price, but it’s worth knowing ahead of time what a reality-based system would look like, that someday may be imposed, when we rule, and not them.

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  1. MH says

    As someone in training to be an officer in probably the most corrupt branch, the Air Force, I can absolutely confirm that those who have reality based opinions about the ability of women to complete military tasks need to be quiet about it or there will be massive, negative, consequences.

  2. Daedalus says

    1. The Army is attempting to implement a new physical fitness test, the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). It’s the first gender and age neutral test to be implemented across the services and was supposed to be standard starting this year. Minimum standards vary according to three basic categories of military occupational specialties. The stated aim is have a test more representative of the needs of a combat environment.

    2. It is my understanding that the female failure rate for the initial diagnostic tests have been above 80%, mostly due to failing the leg tuck event (from a pull up bar bring knees to elbows). Don’t know how the Army intends to address this, at least nothing has been made public.

    3. In general, the military has been more receptive to recruiting women partly because obesity has drastically reduced the amount of able-bodied men to fill the ranks.

    4. No woman has yet passed the entirety of the Army Special Forces training pipeline to make it to an operational team despite the opening of all combat roles to women in 2016. I’m pretty sure it’s been the same story across as the services and SF communities.

    5. All of this reinforces your point but I think it also shows functioning resistance to purely ideological pressures.

    • Charles says

      Yes, there is resistance (the obesity point is also worth making). But as with the Borg, resistance is futile, at least if it is incremental and tied to current practices and procedures.

  3. Prism says

    /Shrug/ Not my country. That said, Denise Richards, in the movie, has to be one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. If you’re interested in another entertainment medium that explores similar themes, might I suggest the anime: The Legend of the Galactic Heroes (Ginga Eiyuu Dentetsu). It’d also give your kids a break from all that reading. (:

    It’s interesting to note that the best responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (White meat>Red meat) has been in countries led by women. Taiwan in Asia, Germany in Europe and New Zealand in the Antipodes. Of course, part of that perception is due to media focus (Morrison & Erdogan haven’t been bad), but I daresay that the dithering reactions and consequent failures, especially in the Anglo-world, is due to more than just ‘feminized politicians’.

    • Charles says

      I’m not sure at all that the “best responses” have been in those countries. To be fair, I haven’t studied their responses in detail. Regardless, of course, we’ll only know in a year or two, perhaps, what the best responses were. And I don’t think those three countries had much in common in their responses, which seems to undercut the claim.

      My general point, already made, is that hysteria, and consequent lack of cost-benefit analysis, has been the overall reaction (much more so than dithering). Certainly initially there was a prudence element, which imperceptibly morphed into hysteria in large areas of the United States (and apparently elsewhere too), and that is still the predominant driver in all the states that are still locked down. This is a feminine emotion, no doubt. (And certainly both Merkel’s and Ardern’s governing style is highly feminized and, not coincidentally, indicative of end-stage state decay.)

      True, the fly in the ointment for my analysis is that countries that are clearly not feminized, or at least to the same degree (e.g., Hungary) also had lockdowns. Whether they had a hysterical reaction I’m too far removed to tell. But I admit that this potentially undercuts my own claim!

  4. Troilus de Priam says

    Thank you for this review. It allows me the chance to put down some few of my thoughts. By necessity I have long thought about these problems. I recently returned from Afghanistan where my unit was the first “integrated” one to be deployed. No doubt a source of great pride for the careerists therein. Or at least a source of OER bullet points. I give you two types of women I’ve seen in my time, the worst and the best. Others falling somewhere in between.

    The first platoon leader I served under was a former exotic dancer, the proceeds from which, she let soldiers within the platoon know, she used for physical surgical enhancements. No prizes for guessing what parts of her physique she enhanced. She was married with a child, but let me know she believed in polyamory. She was incompetent in almost every way: she called for indirect fire on our own platoon positions in training, led us into friendly-fire engagements with a sister platoon in our Company, deliberately and repeatedly zeroed her radio so that the company commander could not reach her… the list goes on and on.

    Now we should not be too harsh with her, for she was a scared woman who was abused by her father, abandoned by her father, and beaten by her husband. Sex was her way of securing herself. She vaguely understood that her fear limited her and so joined the Army and became a paratrooper somehow believing that the military is where one learns to be brave. Ideology stopped her contemplating the nature of bravery. That striving, though, was at first in some sense compelling, even if foolish.

    Because she was fearful, because she was small, the real blame for the damage she did to our platoon falls at the feet of all those officers who allowed her to lead a front-line combat unit. All those courses and training events which she must have failed, for she knew nothing, and still they waved her through. All those times she must have fraternized during her training, and they let her pass. All those moral cowards who said nothing and did nothing because they were unwilling to risk their careers. The same types who worry about “our diversity” whilst the blood is being mopped up from the halls of Hood. The same types who keep sending men to die in far-off places without any notion of why we’re fighting or how to win. She was eventually replaced for fraternizing, which she did often, and moved to another Battalion, where she continued on in the same way. I was ashamed to salute her when I realized what she was. I was ashamed to wear the uniform.

    My second platoon leader was also a woman. She war far better. Ruthlessly competent and dynamic. And she seemed to genuinely care about the men she led. She would join us in picking up trash around the barracks after PT. I tried to write her up for an award for such behavior, but was told such things were not sufficiently good grounds. And yet when she did these things with us, we we’re not ashamed to do them. The vast majority of tasks a combat unit undertakes in a regular day would have been considered by Athenians and Spartans to be slaves’ work. It is the type of work we are told Americans are unwilling to do, and so we must open the borders to illegals. Yet the Army believes that forcing free-born citizens and combat soldiers to landscape, pick up trash, and clean toilets is a good thing. If soldiers have been beaten sufficiently to do these things, then they will obey without question, whatever is commanded. What you really teach them, however, is to do the bare minimum, in all tasks, so that they can finally get home and stupify themselves with drink and forget. What you really teach them is that they are powerless to change the world around them, and so many take the last free choice they can. 22 a day. And the morons at the top cannot conceive as to why.

    Now I thought this woman would be a better commander than any of the three Captains I served under. But this was because most of the things we did as a unit had little to do with combat. And Iin the kinds of wars we find ourselves fighting, the Captain is far from danger. Most importantly, she made life more bearable. But to prove your point, Charles, I relate an anecdote: At one of our many and useless field exercises my friend and I were the only crew in her vehicle. We received information that the Company HQ might soon come under attack, and we we’re the only vehicle there with any mounted weapons. She said if we should come under attack, she would jump out of the truck, and we were to intercept the enemy alone. Now we only had a .240, and the vehicles OPFOR pretended to use were too heavily armored for our rounds. It was, we all knew, a suicide mission. She told us that despite what she may feel personally, or what psychological suffering she would endure later for sending us to our deaths – were this was a real situation – we were expendable. My friend and I both gave each other a knowing look. When the attack came, she jumped out and ran as fast as her little legs could carry her. We drove towards the enemy. (We didn’t “die,” the MILES being a complete farce, and used solely because the bean-counters that fill the upper ranks don’t wish to acknowledge what a great waste of money it is.) In those moments my friend and I instantly perceived that a man would have been torn in a different way at sending us to die. Yes we would have to spend our lives to buy time for everyone else, for the two of us, that went without saying. But a brave man would have been ashamed to flee in the face of death, especially when other men went forward. He would not only be troubled by the death of his soldiers, but also by his running away, even if the correct tactical decision. This feeling, this instinct, she did not have. He and I never mentioned this story thereafter. If it had been a man in charge and he had said and behaved in the same manner, we would have called him a coward, and the whole Company would know. But the words “She’s a coward” make only grammatical sense. We said nothing because it would be somehow unjust of us to blame her for not meeting a standard her nature cannot fully comprehend.

    There’s more to be said of course, and I could give a natural account of this difference between men and women, but I’ve said enough. I hope this scribbling illuminates something for you, dear reader.

    • Charles says

      That is extremely helpful and interesting; thank you. The point is well taken, too: women can be brave, but they cannot be cowards in the same manner as men.

  5. sgbotsford says

    Re: Women in combat.

    I lean to agreement with you for positions such as infantry where physical strength still counts. Humping a 70 pound pack that is half ammo is harder for a 130 pound woman than it is for a 180 pound man. Still, I’ve met female fire fighters who have demonstrate their stuff. And frankly the last one I met could have tied me in a knot.

    I am less sure in air combat, where a woman’s ability to take more G may make them, as a group better combat pilots. And I see no reason that a woman can’t do most men’s jobs on shipboard.

    One of the stories I’d heard was that women in Russian WWII tank forces were better suited because of height, and also not having dangling bits potentially in the path of the breach block when loading. (The loader had to straddle the breach to load)

    Another story I’d heard was that mixed units in Israel were subject to problems from men trying to protect women in combat situations.

    Positions should be awarded by ability: A man with a race jockey physique is just as unqualified as that hypothetical female combat person.

    It also needs to be addressed with some degree of practicality. Ship board life is already cramped. And I can well believe the over-protective men stories of the Israeli.

    I have also observed that in groups men and women behave differently, and wonder how much of this is genetic, with men forming a group bond that seems stronger than what I’ve observed amoung women.

    • Browncoat Emperor says

      The study which determined that women do not in fact make better pilots, noted that women in fact cannot take as many g’s as men, much less *more.* Of the five criteria studied, the only one in which *any* woman scored higher than the average man was that women are on average smaller than men, and so fit better in the cockpit. However, when a small man of no particular merit was substituted, he outscored every woman in the study. Yes, the study so often cited to “prove” that women make better pilots proved in fact just the opposite. On each of five separate axes studied.

  6. Underscore says

    In Heinlein’s “Expanded Universe,” two volumes containing selections of his work along with the author’s commentary, he explains some of his motivations in writing Starship Troopers. The passage most directly related to the ideas in this review is below:

    I think I know what offends most of my critics the most about Starship Troopers: It is the dismaying idea that a voice in governing the state should be earned instead of being handed to anyone who is 18 years old and has a body temperature near 37°C.
    But there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
    Democracies usually collapse not too long after the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses … for a while. Either read history or watch the daily papers; it is now happening here. Let’s stipulate for discussion that some stabilizing qualification is needed (in addition to the body being warm) for a voter to vote responsibly with proper consideration for the future of his children and grandchildren—and yours. The Founding Fathers never intended to extend the franchise to everyone; their debates and the early laws show it. A man had to be a stable figure in the community through owning land or employing others or engaged in a journeyman trade or something.
    But few pay any attention to the Founding Fathers today—those ignorant, uneducated men—they didn’t even have television (have you looked at Monticello lately?)—so let’s try some other “poll taxes” to insure a responsible electorate:
    a) Mark Twain’s “The Curious Republic of Gondour”—if you have not read it, do so.
    b) A state where anyone can buy for cash (or lay-away installment plan) one or more franchises, and this is the government’s sole source of income other than services sold competitively and non-monopolistically. This would produce a new type of government with several rabbits tucked away in the hat. Rich people would take over the government? Would they, now? Is a wealthy man going to impoverish himself for the privilege of casting a couple of hundred votes? Buying an election today, under the warm-body (and tombstone) system is much cheaper than buying a controlling number of franchises would be. The arithmetic on this one becomes unsolvable … but I suspect that paying a stiff price (call it 20,000 Swiss francs) for a franchise would be even less popular than serving two years.
    c) A state that required a bare minimum of intelligence and education—e.g., step into the polling booth and find that the computer has generated a new quadratic equation just for you. Solve it, the computer unlocks the voting machine, you vote. But get a wrong answer and the voting machine fails to unlock, a loud bell sounds, a red light goes on over that booth—and you slink out, face red, you having just proved yourself too stupid and/or ignorant to take part in the decisions of the grownups. Better luck next election! No lower age limit in this system—smart 12-yr-old girls vote every election while some of their mothers—and fathers—decline to be humiliated twice.
    There are endless variations on this one. Here are two: Improving the Breed—No red light, no bell … but the booth opens automatically—empty. Revenue—You don’t risk your life, just some gelt. It costs you a ¼ oz troy of gold in local currency to enter the booth. Solve your quadratic and vote, and you get your money back. Flunk—and the state keeps it. With this one I guarantee that no one would vote who was not interested and would be most unlikely to vote if unsure of his ability to get that hundred bucks back.
    I concede that I set the standards on both I.Q. and schooling too low in calling only for the solution of a quadratic since (if the programming limits the machine to integer roots) a person who deals with figures at all can solve that one with both hands behind him (her) and her-his eyes closed. But I just recently discovered that a person can graduate from high school in Santa Cruz with a straight-A record, be about to enter the University of California on a scholarship … but be totally unable to do simple arithmetic. Let’s not make things too difficult at the transition.
    d) I don’t insist on any particular method of achieving a responsible electorate; I just think that we need to tighten up the present warm-body criterion before it destroys us. How about this? For almost a century and a half women were not allowed to vote. For the past sixty years they have voted … but we have not seen the enormous improvement in government that the suffragettes promised us.
    Perhaps we did not go far enough. Perhaps men are still corrupting government … so let’s try the next century and a half with males disenfranchised. (Fair is fair. My mother was past forty before she was permitted to vote.) But let’s not stop there; at present men outnumber women in elective offices, on the bench, and in the legal profession by a proportion that is scandalous.
    Make males ineligible to hold elective office, or to serve in the judiciary, elective or appointed, and also reserve the profession of law for women.
    Impossible? That was exactly the situation the year I was born, but male instead of female, even in the few states that had female suffrage before the XIXth Amendment, with so few exceptions as to be unnoticed. As for rooting male lawyers out of their cozy niches, this would give us a pool of unskilled manual laborers—and laborers are very hard to hire these days; I’ve been trying to hire one at any wages he wants for the past three months, with no success.
    The really good ones could stay on as law clerks to our present female lawyers, who will be overworked for a while. But not for long. Can you imagine female judges (with no male judges to reverse them) permitting attorneys to take six weeks to pick a jury? Or allowing a trial to ramble along for months?
    Women are more practical than men. Biology forces it on them.
    Speaking of that, let’s go whole hog. Until a female bears a child her socio-economic function is male no matter how orthodox her sexual preference. But a woman who is mother to a child knows she has a stake in the future. So let’s limit the franchise and eligibility for office and the practice of law to mothers.
    The phasing over should be made gentle. Let males serve out their terms but not succeed themselves. Male lawyers might be given as long as four years to retire or find other jobs while not admitting any more males into law schools. I don’t have a candidate for President but the events of the last fifty years prove that anybody can sit in the Oval Office; it’s just that some are more impressive in appearance than others.
    Brethren and Sistern, have you ever stopped to think that there has not been one rational decision out of the Oval Office for fifty years?
    An all-female government could not possibly be worse than what we have been enduring. Let’s try it!
    Heinlein’s full essay can be found in the afterword to “Who are the heirs of Patrick Henry?” in

  7. Fensedge says

    I loved Starship Troopers – and in many ways it is out of character for Heinlein – nowhere else does he really venture into the merit of service and the virtue of the military. In a sense this is the most Christian of leadership ideals – ‘he who want to be a great among you must be your servant’ Matthew 20:26-27 and that, nor a high sense of sexual morality, isn’t Heinlein at all (except perhaps in a some early ‘teen’ books). I’ve always been curious what possessed him to write such in a different vein?

    The most profound aspect of the ideal encapsulated in the book was a hypothetical question from Dubois – along the lines of ‘if an enemy captured a citizen would the nation go to war to free that one person knowing that many more would die merely to save one. Isn’t that bad maths?’ Then the reply, ‘you don’t weigh people like potatoes where a bag of potatoes is worth more than one potato – people are potatoes!’
    This is truly profound and the true philosophical underpinning of morality itself. Get your head around this and you have the beginning of the realisation of both ethics and morality as divorced from expediency and realpolitik

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