Starship Troopers

I subscribe to the daily article from Wikipedia. And a few days ago an article was listed on, you guessed it, the novel by Robert Heinlein called Starship Troopers.

I first read this novel sometime in 2000. The reason I picked it up was because I had just finished watching the movie and wanted to see if the book (which I had heard was a critically acclaimed book) was as bad as the movie. I was pleasantly surprised. The book was nothing like that god-awful movie. Since then I have read the book 3 times (cover to cover) and I often go through a chapter every now and then.

The most striking (some say controversial) thing about the book is it’s blend of politics and war. The book is littered with argument in favour of going to war where there are international (in the book interspecies) issues. War is preferred to negotiations.

But that’s not what’s controversial about the book. What’s controversial is the fact that (in the book) the populace is divided into a tiered populace. Only those at the top of the tier are permitted to vote and to hold public office. To be able to be permitted to vote or to hold a public office, a person needs to have spent time in the armed forces. That’s what caused a big debate in the 50’s when the book came out (not in the mainstream press as science fiction was read by a small segment of the population in the 50s. Actually it’s still read by a small segment of the population). In the book, all the populace has the right to privacy, right to free speech, right to form unions etc. but only discharged veterans had the right to vote and hold office.

This was, needless to say, a radical idea in the US in the 50’s when the debate of democracy VS communism was at it’s peak. For someone in US to say that democracy as practiced in the US was imperfect was to throw gasoline into a fire. Moreover, at that point the whole debate in science circles was being carried out whether to pursue weapons arming program to deter communism or to pursue peaceful method of intervention. Heinlein, as I found later, was a fierce anti-communist and an ardent support of Nuclear weapons, wrote this book to expound on his theories. His theory that not only should democracies be ready to use violence when required but also that the democracy needs to be "controlled". And that’s basically what caused a huge row.

So, why is it that half century later this book is still being discussed. Because it’s even more relevant now than ever before. What kind of governance is the best governance? Democracy? Communism? Dictatorship? Fascism? Or a mixture of all of them?  I think the true answer is "no one knows". But what I do know is that if any type of government infringes on the right of the individual it is on the right way to the bottom of the hole. The right of the individual is paramount to all. Yes, there have been numerous studies about how we should work for the whole rather than self but that theory has been discredited. And the last 75 years have numerous examples on why the focus on the whole rather than the individual does not work. That rules out communism, fascism and dictatorship.

Democracy has huge problems as well but it’s the best known method to let an individual be within certain limits and those limits are known as laws. Democracy cannot function if the individual ignores the laws and the authorities, within the confines of the laws, punish the offending individual. Who are these authorities? They are elected by the general population. The population decides who amongst them will enforce the law of the land. But that’s where the rub is. Is the general population of the land intelligent enough to elect true leaders? Heinlein says, the answer is no. The population today is allowed to vote the moment they achieve the age of 18. But Heinlein said "prove that you are a true citizen by undergoing these tests (ed: which he, unfortunately, limited to military service only) and then you will be eligible to not only vote but also hold public office." Why is it relevant today? Because we have seen that our leaders today are just the most shinning apples from a box of rotting apples. They misuse their power to the point of being labelled dictators and they continue doing so. And there is no end to it.

I know that the theory that Heinlein expounds is just a theory (it has huge holes in it like would genuine leaders like Mahatma Ghandi who are against all forms of violence be elect able?) but it is an attempt to try and understand how to come up with the best way to govern.

I urge you to read this novel.

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