Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Starship Troopers is, in my opinion, one of the three best military sci-fi novels ever written. It shares that distinction with Ender’s Game and Old Man’s war.
It’s also a good primer on, in the books own words, “moral philosophy”. Though it’s main story is about Johny Rico’s time in the Mobile Infantry and their fight against the pseudo-arachnids (the bugs) most of the novel is the musings of Johny on morals, primarily through his remembrances of his “History and Moral Philosophy” teacher in high school.
The basis of morality according to Heinlein (through his characters) is spelled out in the middle of Chapter 12: “Morals – all correct moral rules derive from the instinct to survive; moral behavior is survival behavior above the individual level – as in a father who dies to save his children.”
What Starship Troopers is trying to get across to teens, and really anyone who reads the book, is that morality, and by extension any society that claims to be moral, is based on self sacrifice for the group. At it’s heart is self sacrifice for family, then self sacrifice for clan, then self sacrifice for city, then nation or ethnicity, then humanity. This is what allows society. This is why Survivor “tribes” fail to thrive. Without putting others ahead of self there is no morality or society. There is only a group of people each trying to get ahead, and those groups are always self-destructive.
Starship Troopers has taken a lot of flack over the years for encouraging military enlistment. But Heinlein isn’t trying to get youth to enlist, or at least not only, he is trying to teach people that the drive behind enlistment, self sacrifice for the good of society, is the cornerstone of a moral society.
Each chapter heading has a quote which gives you a clue as to the content of that chapter, however the final chapter instead uses quotes to remind you what the point of the whole novel was, in case you missed it.
From chapter 13:
Am I my brother’s keeper?
— Genesis IV:9
How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
— Matthew XII:12
How much then is a man better than a sheep?
— Matthew XII:12
In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful . . . whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.
— The Koran, Surah V, 32
Leave a Reply