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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

One Tall Voice: Starship Troopers!

A new look at society

Published: October 17, 2008
Section: Opinions

I recently watched the movie Starship Troopers 3: Marauder and I really liked it! The movie was a little tacky, and you could tell that it didn’t have a big budget. Still, the film reminded me of the book that Robert Heinlein wrote so long ago and the wonderful philosophical messages found within its text. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein is nothing like the movie and contains deep ideological underpinnings. To give you some background, the book is the only science fiction novel that is required reading at all four military academies. And the novel does contain interesting statements about militarism, service, and a variety of other topics. I’d like to relate some of these stances and convey my support of the beliefs expressed by Heinlein. There’s much more to his book than can be seen in the film, though the movie did capture the arachnids pretty well.

One of the underlying ideological issues discussed in the book is the idea of service. In the novel, society has been taken over by military veterans and people have formed a global government. Earth is engaged in a deadly war with an alien species, but military service is not compulsory. In fact, only by volunteering can one become a member of Earth’s armed forces. In addition, in Heinlein’s world, people are not guaranteed the right to citizenship, which he states includes the right to vote. In this society, however, veterans automatically become citizens and national service is the only way to attain this status.

I think that this is a great ideological position. It is never good to compel people to defend their country. Some have philosophical objections against military service. Others may say that forcing people to serve constitutes a huge breach in freedom, and that this is hypocritical since soldiers are fighting for our liberties in the first place. I do not believe that volunteerism is preferable in all instances (as I think Heinlein alludes to) as I think rare occasions may warrant mandatory service. Nevertheless, keeping the military, in most cases a voluntary employment, is the best policy for any government.

In addition, I agree with Heinlein’s assessment of citizenship. Seriously, why is it that where you were born determines your rights within a country? People should have to earn their right to become citizens, and attain the ability to vote. Then, individuals may be enlightened along the way, enriching society, or at least demonstrating their love for our nation. It is foolish to grant citizenship based on place of birth. Content of character and measure of patriotism should be the determining factors.

There is another policy in the world of Starship Troopers that I think is good for our society as well. In that world, if I remember correctly, the only system of justice is one of corporal punishment. For every crime committed, people are not given fines or waste the taxpayers’ money in jail. They are rather put on public display and given lashes. In the book, as I recall, drunk driving was a crime punishable by five lashes, and murder was punishable by lashes and execution. This system is probably an extension of the militarist world that Heinlein creates in the novel, but is a wise policy indeed.

I think that our society should seriously consider adopting a system of corporal punishment. Placing people in jails only burdens the taxpayers and also does the person a disservice by lost time and freedoms. Furthermore, the deterrent factor of punishment would be strengthened through a system of corporal punishment. If people were told that they were to be given public lashes if they broke the law, I believe that less people would commit illegal actions. Also, people watching these happenings in the public sphere would be less likely to commit crime as well. Finally, this would provide a strong message that our society does not tolerate breaking the law. It would also give victims a sense of satisfaction as they can see others pained from doing actions that negatively affected them.

In conclusion, I was truly moved by the book Starship Troopers and believe that our society can benefit from some of the topics discussed by Robert Heinlein. I would not, however, want the human race to encounter the arachnids. They are probably the “bad assest” alien species ever contrived in science fiction.