Liveblogging World War II: June 13, 1940
Costs of Fiscal Austerity

DeLong Smackdown Watch for June 13, 2010: Tax Lawyer on Robert A. Heinlein

Hoisted from Comments: Tax Lawyer writes:

Tax Lawyer: Brad, I am a big fan of yours, and read your blog every couple of days. But you have got my goat in your Starship Troopers post. First, the movie and the book are very different. Second, Heinlein wasn't a war-mongering conservative. Spider Robinson, my second favorite author behind Nancy Kress, posted this defense of Heinlein criticism, and I can't agree with him more BTW, Spider Robinson makes you look like Ron Paul as far as the conservative/liberal spectrum is concerned. He is really, really left, but he defends Heinlein with a passion.

Remember: Heinlein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers at the same time. The authorial persona of Heinlein is not the authorial persona of Verhoeven in Starship Troopers. And the authorial persona of Heinlein in Starship Troopers is not Heinlein. What was Heinlein doing in Starship Troopers?

Let's turn the mike over to Robert A. Heinlein in 1958:



This polemic was first published on Saturday 12 April 1958. Thereafter it was printed many other places and reprints of it were widely circulated inside and outside the science fiction community, inside and outside this country. It brought down on me the strongest and most emotional adverse criticism I have ever experienced—not to my surprise....

"Supreme excellence in war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." —Sun Tzu, ca. 350 B.C.

The Soviet Union is highly skilled at this—and so are the Chinese leaders. During the last twenty-odd years we have been outmaneuvered endlessly.... Last Saturday in this city appeared a full-page ad intended to scare us into demanding that the President stop our testing of nuclear weapons. This manifesto was a curious mixture of truth, half-truth, distortion, exaggeration, untruth, and Communist-line goals concealed in idealistic-sounding nonsense. The instigators were seventy-odd local people and sixty-odd national names styling themselves "The National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy." It may well be that none of the persons whose names are used as the "National" committee are Communists... possibly all of them are loyal and merely misguided. But this manifesto is the rankest sort of Communist propaganda.... The purpose of their manifesto is to entice or frighten you into signing a letter to President Eisenhower... that he... [accept] the old, old Communist-line gimmick that nuclear weapons and their vehicles should be "considered apart" in disarmament talks....This proposal sounds reasonable but is booby-trapped with outright surrender of the free world to the Communist dictators... if nuclear weapons and their vehicles are outlawed while conventional weapons (tanks and planes and bayonets and rifles) are not, then—but you figure it out. 170,000,000 of us against 900,000,000 of them. Who wins?... Oh yes! Khrushchev would like very much to have nuclear weapons "considered apart" from infantry divisions. And he is delighted when soft-headed Americans agree with him.

"The Mice Voted to Bell the Cat." —Aesop

Their second proposal has been part of the Communist line for twelve long years. It reads: "That all nuclear test explosions be stopped immediately.... This is the straight Communist gospel direct from the Kremlin.... It would leave us at the "mercy" of the butchers of Budapest, our lives staked on the "honor" of men to whom honesty is a bourgeois weakness, our freedom resting on the promises of a gangster government that has broken every promise it ever made.... The third proposal... has the same sort of booby-trap buried in it. It reads: "That missiles and outer-space satellites be brought under United Nations-monitored control, and that there be a pooling of world science for space exploration under the United Nations." The harmless part could be done if the U.S.S.R. were willing; the booby-trap is the word "missiles." We Americans live in a goldfish bowl; we could not conceal rocket tests even if we tried. But in the vast spaces of Russia, Siberia, and China missiles of every sort—even the long-range ICBMs—can be tested in secret, manufactured and stockpiled and installed ready to go, despite all "monitoring." Anything less than on-the-spot inspection of the entire vast spaces of the Communist axis would leave us at the mercy of the bland promises of the Butchers of Budapest.

The last paragraph of this letter that they want you to send to the President is... simply another attempt to strike terror into the hearts of free men by reminding us of the horrors of nuclear war....

It is no accident that this manifesto follows the Communist line, no coincidence that it "happens" to appear all over the United States the very week that Khrushchev has announced smugly that the U.S.S.R. has ended their tests.... They used this method to gut our army after the Japanese surrender with the slogan of "Bring the Boys Home." They used it to make us feel guilty about the A-bomb—while their spies were stealing it.... They have used this tactic many times to soften up the free world and will use it whenever they can find dupes. They are using it now.... These proposals are... abject surrender to tyranny. If we fall for them, then in weeks or months or a few years at most, Old Glory will be hauled down for the last time.... For more than a hundred years, ever since the original Communist Manifesto, it has been the unswerving aim of the Communist Party to take over all of this planet. The only thing blocking their conquest is the fact that the tragically-shrunken free world still possesses nuclear weapons.... So they want us to throw away the equalizer....

We the undersigned are not a committee but simply two free citizens of these United States.... We say to the commissars: "You will never enslave us. The worst you can do is kill us. But we are resolved to die free!"... No scare talk of leukemia, mutation, or atomic holocaust will sway us. Is "fall-out" dangerous? Of course it is! The risk to life and posterity has been willfully distorted by these Communist-line propagandists—but if it were a hundred times as great we still would choose it to the dead certainty of Communist enslavement. If atomic war comes, will it kill off the entire human race? Possibly—almost certainly so if the Masters of the Kremlin choose to use cobalt bombs on us.... These are the risks. The alternative is surrender. We accept the risks.

"The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards." —Samuel Adams

We have no easy solution to offer. The risks cannot be avoided other than by surrender; they can be reduced only by making the free world so strong that the evil pragmatists of Communism cannot afford to murder us. The price to us will be year after weary year of higher taxes, harder work, grim devotion . . . and perhaps, despite all this—death. But we shall die free! To this we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

We the undersigned believe that almost all Americans agree with us. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you sons of Patrick Henry—let us know your name! Sign the letter herewith and mail it to us—we will see that it gets to Congressman Chenoweth, to both our Senators, and to the President.

Robert and Virginia Heinlein 1776 Mesa Avenue Colorado Springs, Colorado...

And in 1980 Heinlein wrote, attacking That Communist Eisenhower:

When the soi-disant "SANE" committee published its page ad in Colorado Springs (and many other cities) on 5 April 1958, I was working on The Heretic (later to be published as Stranger in a Strange Land). I stopped at once and for several weeks Mrs. Heinlein and I did nothing but work on this "Patrick Henry" drive. We published our ad in three newspapers, encouraged its publication elsewhere, mailed thousands of reprints, spoke before countless meetings, collected and mailed to the White House thousands of copies of the letter above—always by registered mail—no acknowledgement of any sort was ever received, not even in response to "Return Receipt Requested." Then the rug was jerked out from under us; by executive order Mr. Eisenhower canceled all testing without requiring mutual inspection.... I was stunned by the President's action. I should not have been as I knew that he was a political general long before he entered politics—stupid, all front, and dependent on his staff....

Presently I resumed writing—not Stranger but Starship Troopers.

The "Patrick Henry" ad shocked 'em; Starship Troopers outraged 'em. I still can't see how that book got a Hugo. It continues to get lots of nasty "fan" mail and not much favorable fan mail... but it sells and sells and sells and sells, in eleven languages. It doesn't slow down—four new contracts just this year. And yet I almost never hear of it save when someone wants to chew me out over it. I don't understand it.

The criticisms are usually based on a failure to understand simple indicative English sentences, couched in simple words—especially when the critics are professors of English, as they often are....

I think I know what offends most of my critics the most about Starship Troopers: It is the dismaying idea that a voice in governing the state should be earned instead of being handed to anyone who is 18 years old and has a body temperature near 37°C. But there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Democracies usually collapse not too long after the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses... for a while. Either read history or watch the daily papers; it is now happening here. Let's stipulate for discussion that some stabilizing qualification is needed (in addition to the body being warm) for a voter to vote responsibly with proper consideration for the future of his children and grandchildren—and yours. The Founding Fathers never intended to extend the franchise to everyone; their debates and the early laws show it. A man had to be a stable figure in the community through owning land or employing others or engaged in a journeyman trade or something. But few pay any attention to the Founding Fathers today—those ignorant, uneducated men—they didn't even have television (have you looked at Monticello lately?)—so let's try some other "poll taxes" to insure a responsible electorate...

My view is that, in Starship Troopers, Heinlein was outraged at THAT COMMUNIST EISENHOWER and how he had banned nuclear testing and so set us on the road to surrender to the Russkies. And so in Starship Troopers he decided that the authorial persona would tiptoe as close up to the line of fascism as he could without clearly going over, and so get some of his anger at Eisenhower out by taunting his liberal fans.

He did not, of course, show good judgment in thinking that Eisenhower was a communist--"a political general... stupid, all front, and dependent on his staff." That was Reagan (except for the general part). Eisenhower was very different.