This summary of the politics in Starship Troopers doesn’t do it justice, but it should refresh your memory of the key points if you’ve already read it. And if you haven’t read it…well, it’s got tons of action and insight porn, and it’s not very long.
Starship Troopers seems to have been meant as a political essay as well as a novel. Large portions of the book take place in classrooms, with Rico and other characters engaged in debates with their History and Moral Philosophy teacher, who is often thought to represent Heinlein’s opinion.
The overall theme of the book is that social responsibility requires individual sacrifice. Heinlein’s Terran Federation is a limited democracy, with aspects of a meritocracy in regard to full citizenship. Suffrage can only be earned by at least two years of volunteer Federal Service [“the franchise is today limited to discharged veterans”, (ch. XII)], instead of, as Heinlein would later note, anyone “…who is 18 years old and has a body temperature near 37 °C” The Federation is required to find a place for anyone who desires to serve, regardless of skill or aptitude (this also includes service ranging from teaching to dangerous non-military work such as serving as experimental medical test subjects to military service).
There is an explicit contrast to the “democracies of the 20th century”, which according to the novel, collapsed because “people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted… and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears.” Indeed, Colonel Dubois criticizes the famous U.S. Declaration of Independence line concerning “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as unrealistic.
Wiki [Ed: Paragraphs added for readability]
Overall, I think this is not a bad system for the population scale we’re working at these days, which something like loose confederations of nation states. The military folks seem pretty well taken with it. The problem is that it provides strong incentives for a specific parasitical behavior to which humans are already well-disposed.
Naturally, I’m speaking of the dissonance between the sentiment that “the noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and war’s desolation,” and the fact that no one who actually does this survives to vote. Sure, we want to give political power to the guy whose virtuous character would lead him to jump on a grenade to save his buddies and protect his nations. But the fact remains that if he actually does jump on a grenade, his vote ceases to matter. It’s the ones who didn’t jump on the grenade who call the shots later.
For example, see the story of Pat Tillman. From what I can tell, he was the third-best person to have ever lived, after Jesus and John the Baptist. I would happily elect him dictator for life and strap him down to the throne so he couldn’t get out of it. But he wouldn’t get the vote, because he put himself in harm’s way one time too many. The guys sitting behind desks in Colorado, clicking in drone strikes and cross-referencing citizen profiles in NSA Access still get to vote.
You might think I’m being too cynical…child, remember we’re talking about politics here. What we’re looking at is a systemic mismatch between intentions and incentives.
A leader says “follow me”
That is the slogan of 2MARDIV, the 2nd Marine Division. One of my prize possessions is the division history my grandfather gave me. One thing it mentions in explaining the slogan is that there is an inverse relationship between high casualty rates for commissioned officers and low casualty rates for enlisted men.
Comment: Well done, Dread Ilk
Ah, now you’re starting to understand where I’m going with this.
As I mentioned above, the fact of the matter is that there are always going to be people joining up who are not made of the right stuff. Such people tend to be pretty shy about real, actual danger, although they turn are very interested in uniforms, medals, and bullet points. (This turns out to be such a great rule of thumb that it scales up: The side with the fanciest uniforms loses..) Combine this with the tradition of aristocratic classes buying commissions as a last-ditch prestige play for sons who are overexcitable or unpromising or both. (Sure, there are aristocrats and there are aristocrats, and every military needs some of the latter, but we’re talking about a known predisposition here.)
Now, add this political incentive and we’re looking at a very predictable, very nasty feedback loop. The political elite will use their power to secure safe commissions for the sons of their class, while severely raising the risks of death for the enlisted. Thus the politically powerful will survive at higher rates, and accrue more political power, which they will use to make military life even cushier for their sons. (The names and justifications may change, but it will always be true that the officer-enlisted divide is fundamentally a class distinction.)
This tendency to prefer cowardly soldiers is not necessarily going to produce the reasonable national attitude toward war that Heinlein was going for- although perhaps not exactly the opposite. Do you believe that the average military person who has never seen combat is going to have a less idealistic disposition to it than a civilian? I figure it comes out about the same, all things considered.
Not saying the problem couldn’t be fixed. Probably could be with a small modification or two. Ah well, it’s unlikely this is going to matter. Could pull a decent short story out of it though, I’ll warrant.