Memorial Day, Starship Troopers, and the Value of Service

The Tuesday after Memorial Day there was still a field of flags along the west bank of the Willamette river. As I mentally paused to give thanks to those who have served and are still serving, the book Starship Troopers popped into my head. That was unexpected. I spent the rest of my drive to work sorting out why my brain had made that connection.

People often categorize the philosophy of Starship Troopers as fascism or militarism. But I think it is fundamentally about service. It is about putting others before yourself and recognizing there are things more important than your own life. Some of those things are people, some are ideas.

Heinlein’s works are full of heroes who sacrificed themselves for some greater good. In Space Cadet the Corps’ heroes, posthumous medal recipients all, are memorialized by being included in every role call. In “The Long Watch” the hero sacrifices himself to stop a military coup – the final unforgettable scene is of him blowing radioactive cigarette smoke into a Geiger counter, awaiting his inevitable death from radiation poisoning. In Starship Troopers Johnnie Rico’s* ship is named after a real WWII soldier who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valour. Heinlein was making a point.

While it focuses on the military, the Federal Service required for citizenship is broader than that. Not all who serve in Troopers are killing things, some are doing dangerous research or dangerous labor. All have volunteered to sacrifice their time and perhaps their health or lives.

It is a profound statement about the importance and nobility of service. It is one of the core values of Christianity. It is Daniel in the den of lions and David facing Goliath. It is believing in the power of an idea or caring for your people so strongly that you put your one and only body at risk. This is not unique to Christianity or Judaism by any means. It is an aspiration in many religions and philosophies.

I’m not trying to say there is nothing else going on philosophically in Troopers or advocating its system of government. (Though that would be a fun debate sometime, if you feel like it.) I am saying that this message, the nobility of service, is what has buried itself in me during my many readings of the book.** In my belief system, which is also based on Christianity, Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle and Che Guevara, it is an anchor point. It is why a bank of Memorial Day flags makes me think of Johnnie Rico.


*Of all the many things that pissed me off about the movie version, the one I shall never forgive is that Johnnie wasn’t Fillipino.

** That and the value of a good flogging. Kidding! Kidding. Che wouldn’t approve. Unless they were Imperialists.