The Robert Heinlein Wars, Part MDCCLXIV: Hoisted from 2006

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The Robert Heinlein Wars, Part MDCCLXIV John Scalzi watches as Dave Itzkoff begins another round of the Heinlein Wars:

Whatever: NYT Review Fallout: There's been some interesting commentary and discussion following Dave Itzkoff's NYT Book Review piece on me and my books, so I thought I'd post links to some of them I've found, for the edification of Whatever readers. In no particular order: Instapundit notes the piece, and has some thoughts on the idea of [Robert Heinlein's novel] Starship Troopers being fascist, roping in Spider Robinson to rebut that claim...

I would dispute Scalzi's claim that either Glenn Reynolds or Spider Robinson has "thoughts" on this issue. I would characterize them as having "reflexes."

I think I had some "thoughts" on this issue some 10^8 seconds ago:

The Starship Troopers novel I originally read in the early 1970s had four layers:

  1. Johnny Rico's story: How a young, naive upper-class twit gets transformed into the human equivalent of a Bug warrior--someone who will fight bravely and fiercely without regard for his own probability of survival in the interest not of liberty, utopia, or justice, but of the biological expansion of the human race.

  2. The historians and moral philosophers: the military of Sergeant Zim and Colonel DuBois, who seem to me to be, well, fascist in the technical sense of the term. The German philosopher Ernst Nolte's classic Fascism in Its Epoch (and he should know: he's a somewhat creepy character himself) set out four key characteristics of fascism. The sympathetically-drawn teachers in the military preach the first three of these at great length in the novel, and otherwise remind me of dear little Ellen May Ngwethu:

    1. strong belief that--through social darwinism--morality is ultimately tied to blood and race, understood as descent and genetic relationship;
    2. strong rejection of the classical "liberal" belief that individuals have rights that any legitimate state is bound to respect;
    3. an assertion, in its place, that what individuals have are duties to the state, seen as the decision-making organ of the race; and
    4. a strong fear of Marxist communism, and a willingness to use communism's weapons--suspension of parliamentary democracy, mass propaganda, rallies, street violence, and so forth--to combat it.
  3. The authorial persona, the narrative voice, who adopts the same point of view as do the historians and moral philosophers, and adds on the fourth of Nolte's key characteristics of fascism--the strong fear of Marxist communism, and an eagerness to use its very own weapons (suspension of parliamentary democracy, mass propaganda, rallies, street violence, and so forth) to combat communism.
    Consider the fear of the Bugs as a mighty adversary ("we were learning, expensively, just how efficient a total communism can be when used by a people actually adapted to it by evolution" (p. 152)). Consider the invented historical background of the novel, in which the twentieth-century United States collapsed because of its excessive solicitude for individual rights and its worship of the words of Thomas Jefferson and was replaced by the "veterans' government" that made no claim to derive its powers from the consent of the governed. Thus the authorial persona is "fascist"--where "fascism" is not just an insult, but is a descriptive label for a certain viewpoint that has been tragically common in twentieth-century politics.

  4. Robert Heinlein, who wrote Starship Troopers at the same stage in his career where he also wrote The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and A Stranger in a Strange Land.

I would, today, add that by now more people remember the Starship Troopers movie than remember the Starship Troopers book. And Paul Verhoeven explicitly uses the visual tropes of World War II movies to make the movie "fascist". As Moe Lane once wrote:

Obsidian Wings: Movies That Must Not Be: Not movies that should not be, nor movies that we wish never were: movies that simply cannot be actually real, because otherwise the fabric of reality would begin to unravel and then we'd have nowhere to put our stuff. All entries to this - well, not contest - must thus be of 'films' that appear to have some evidence of existing for some inexplicable reason. Please note the title, why it Must Not Be and a plausible reason that explains away the aforementioned evidence for existence. For example....

Starship Troopers: While the idea of a Gestapo Doogie Howser does admittedly have a special appeal, if Verhoeven had dared make a movie anything remotely like the rumors he would have been messily assassinated by now by an angry mob of Heinlein fans. He's still alive, right? So therefore he didn't do it and the 'script' that's circulating around is merely a (well-deserved) smear campaign against the director...

UPDATE: Epeus's Epigone wins a decisive victory by deploying YouTube videos banned under the Geneva Convention...

And I might as well assemble other musings I have had about the Heinlein Wars over time...

Brad DeLong: Robert Heinlein writes letters to editors and librarians: 09.12.17 at 3:44 pm: IMHO, Sputnik unmanned Heinlein in a deep and profoundly destructive way...

For example, Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers winds up becoming the kind of idiot Marine that the kindly wise naval officer superior Lieutenant Wong steers the protagonist Matt Doddson away from becoming in Space Cadet:

At last he took it up with Lieutenant Wong. “You want to transfer to the marines?”

”Yes. I think so.”


Matt explained his increasing feeling of frustration in dealing with both atomic physics and astrogation.

Wong nodded. “I thought so. But we knew that you would have tough sledding since you came here insufficently prepared. I don’t like the sloppy work you’ve been doing since you came back from Luna.”

”I’ve done the best I could, sir.”

”No, you haven’t. But you can master these two subjects and I will see to it that you do.”

Matt explained, almost inaudibly, that he was not sure he wanted to.

Wong, for the first time, looked vexed. “Still on that? If you turn in a request for transfer, I won’t okay it and I can tell you ahead of time that the Commandant will turn it down.”

Matt’s jaw muscles twitched. “That’s your privilege, sir.”

”Damn it, Dodson, it’s not my privilege; it’s my duty. You would never make a marine and I say so because I know you, your record, and your capabilities. You have a good chance of making a Patrol officer.”

Matt looked startled. “Why couldn’t I become a marine?”

”Because it’s too easy for you-so easy that you would fail.”


”Don’t say `huh.’ The spread in I.Q. between leader and follower should not be more than thirty points. You are considerably more than thirty points ahead of those old sergeants-don’t get me wrong; they are fine men. But your mind doesn’t work like theirs.” Wong went on, “Have you ever wondered why the Patrol consists of nothing but officers-and student officers, cadets?”

”Mmm, no, sir.”

”Naturally you wouldn’t. We never wonder at what we grow up with. Strictly speaking, the Patrol is not a military organization at all.”


”I know, I know-you are trained to use weapons, you are under orders, ders, you wear a uniform. But your purpose is not to fight, but to prevent vent fighting, by every possible means. The Patrol is not a fighting organization; it is the repository of weapons too dangerous to entrust to military men.

”With the development last century of mass-destruction weapons, warfare became all offense and no defense, speaking broadly. A nation could launch a horrific attack but it could not even protect its own rocket bases. Then space travel came along.

”The spaceship is the perfect answer in a military sense to the atom bomb, and to germ warfare and weather warfare. It can deliver an attack that can’t be stopped-and it is utterly impossible to attack that spaceship ship from the surface of a planet.”

Matt nodded. “The gravity gauge.”

”Yes, the gravity gauge. Men on the surface of a planet are as helpless against men in spaceships as a man would be trying to conduct a rock-throwing throwing fight from the bottom of a well. The man at the top of the well has gravity working for him.

”We might have ended up with the tightest, most nearly unbreakable tyranny the world has ever seen. But the human race got a couple of lucky breaks and it didn’t work out that way. It’s the business of the Patrol to see that it stays lucky.

”But the Patrol can’t drop an atom bomb simply because some pipsqueak squeak Hitler has made a power grab and might some day, when he has time enough, build spaceships and mass-destruction weapons. The power is too great, too awkward-it’s like trying to keep order in a nursery ery with a loaded gun instead of a switch.

”The space marines are the Patrol’s switch. They are the finest-”

”Excuse me, sir-”


”I know how the marines work. They do the active policing in the System-but that’s why I want to transfer. They’re a more active outfit. They are-”

”-more daring, more adventurous, more colorful, more glamorous-and and they don’t have to study things that Matthew Dodson is tired of studying. Now shut up and listen; there is a lot you don’t know about the setup, or you wouldn’t be trying to transfer.”

Matt shut up.

”People tend to fall into three psychological types, all differently motivated. There is the type, motivated by economic factors, money … and there is the type motivated by `face,’ or pride. This type is a spender, fighter, boaster, lover, sportsman, gambler; he has a will to power and an itch for glory. And there is the professional type, which claims to follow a code of ethics rather than simply seeking money or glory-priests and ministers, teachers, scientists, medical men, some artists and writers. The idea is that such a man believes that he is devoting his life to some purpose pose more important than his individual self. You follow me?”

”I … think so.”

”Mind you this is terrifically oversimplified. And don’t try to apply these rules to non-terrestrials; they won’t fit. The Martian is another sort of a cat, and so is the Venerian.” Wong continued, “Now we get to the point: The Patrol is meant to be made up exclusively of the professional type. In the space marines, every single man jack, from the generals to the privates, is or should be the sort who lives by pride and glory.”


Wong waited for it to sink in. “You can see it in the very uniforms; the Patrol wears the plainest of uniforms, the marines wear the gaudiest possible. In the Patrol all the emphasis is on the oath, the responsibility to humanity. In the space marines the emphasis is on pride in their corps and its glorious history, loyalty to comrades, the ancient virtues of the soldier. I am not disparaging the marine when I say that he does not care a tinker’s damn for the political institutions of the Solar System; he cares only for his organization.

”But it’s not your style, Matt. I know more about you than you do yourself, because I have studied the results of your psychological tests. You will never make a marine.”

Wong paused so long that Matt said diffidently, “Is that all, sir?”

”Almost. You’ve got to learn astrogation. If deep-sea diving were the key to the Patrol’s responsibility, it would be that that you would have to learn. But the key happens to be space travel. So-I’ll lay out a course of sprouts for you. For a few weeks you’ll do nothing but astrogate. Does that appeal to you?”

”No, sir.”

”I didn’t think it would. But when I get through with you, you’ll be able to find your way around the System blindfolded. Now let me see-”

The next few weeks were deadly monotony, but Matt made progress. He had plenty of time to think-when he was not bending over a calculator. Oscar and Tex went to the Moon together; Pete was on night shift in the power room. Matt kept sullenly and stubbornly at work-and brooded. He promised himself to stick it out until Wong let up on him. After that-well, he would have a leave coming up one of these days. If he decided to chuck it, why, lots of cadets never came back from their first leave. In the meantime his work began to get the grudging approval of Lieutenant Wong.

At last Wong let up on him and he went back to a normal routine. He was settling into it when he found himself posted for an extra duty. Pursuant thereto, he reported one morning to the officer of the watch, received ceived a briefing, memorized a list of names, and was issued a black armband. Then he went to the main airlock and waited. Presently a group of scared and greenish boys began erupting from the lock. When his turn came, he moved forward and called out, “Squad seven! Where is the squad leader of squad seven?”

No, I do not know whether Lieutenant Wong is relating the Myth of the Metals in Your Soul from Plato’s Πολιτεια here or not. But it is clear that Heinlein regards the career of a Marine—of a Johnny Rico—as unworthy of the kind of boy who would be reading a Robert Heinlein novel.

Or, at least, so he did before Sputnik. After Sputnik… well, Johnny Rico becomes the equivalent of a Warrior Caste Bug: fighting not for Truth, Justice, and the American Way but rather only for the biological expansion of genus Homo.

Brad DeLong: Robert Heinlein writes letters to editors and librarians: 09.13.17 at 4:23 pm: Re: ‘Heinlein believed that “speculative fiction,” a term he preferred to “science fiction,” “is also concerned with sociology, psychology, esoteric aspects of biology, impact of terrestrial culture on the others [sic] cultures we may encounter when we conquer space, etc., without end”...’

I had always thought (to the extent I thought about it all) that the “conquest of space” was simply a victory over nature.

For Heinlein, at least, when we get out into space humans encounter (a) mysterious and wise but usually enervated and somewhat decadent sophonts from whom we can and should learn, and whom we should treat gingerly, and (b) “primitive” sophonts who (often) turn out not to be primitive at all with whom we either treat or flee.

Until Starship Troopers, of course. Then the genocidal impulse comes to the forefront. (But cf. also, earlier, The Puppet Masters and Sixth Column)…

And also cf. Orson Scott Card, the Enders’ Game series, in which, IMHO, Card starts out writing about a successful and (barely) justifiable human genocidal war against aliens, and then has many, many second thoughts...

Brad DeLong: Robert Heinlein: 09.16.17 at 2:51 am: IMHO, the post-Sputnik Heinlein (and, in many respects, the pre-Sputnik one too) is best characterized as not as right-wing but as, rather, asshole. Right wingers, for example, were in favor of giving obsolete U.S. military hardware to independent communist Josip Tito in Yugoslavia. Heinlein wasn’t. Right-wingers realized that they had—starting with the 1964 election—made the Devil’s Bargain of raising the freedom to discriminate against African-Americans the most important individual freedom in America. Heinlein didn’t.

In fact…

Let me quote a section from the 2nd volume of Patterson’s (who was also an asshole) biography—a book the 2nd volume of which I sometimes think only I have read:

Heinlein wrote to his brother Larry [in 1964]:

I don’t know whether Goldwater can be elected or not—or whether he can change things if elected. But I would like to see the United States make a radical change away from its present course.

I’m sick of bailing out Kremlin murderers with wheat sold to them on credit and at tax-subsidized prices, I’m sick of giving F-86’s and Sherman tanks and money to communists, I’m sick of undeclared wars rigged out not to be won—I’m sick of conscripting American boys to die in such wars—I’m sick of having American service men rotting in communist prisons for eleven long years and of presidents (including that slimy faker Eisenhower!) who smilingly ignore the fact and do nothing,

I’m sick of confiscatory taxes for the benefit of socialist countries and of inflation that makes saving a mockery, I’m sick of signing treaties with scoundrels who boast of their own dishonesty and who have never been known to keep a treaty, I’m sick of laws that make loafing more attractive than honest work. But most of all I am sick of going abroad and finding that any citizen of any two-bit, county-sized country in the world doesn’t hesitate to insult the United States loudly and publicly while demanding still more “aid” and of course “with no strings attached” from the pockets of you and me.

I don’t give a hoot whether the United States is “loved” and I care nothing for “World Opinion” as represented by the yaps of “uncommitted nations” made up of illiterate savages—but I would like to see the United States respected once again (or even feared!)… [sic] and I think and hope that the Senator from Arizona is the sort of tough hombre who can bring it about. I hope—But it’s a forlorn hope at best! I’m much afraid that this country has gone too far down the road of bread and circuses to change its domestic course (who ‘shoots Santa Claus’?) and is too far committed to peace-at-any-price to reverse its foreign policy….

Heinlein’s political experience had been gained in a Democratic Party that had recently tripled its size and was wide open, young, and vigorous. Moreover, his basic training was in an impoverished organization, not at first supported by the party establishment…. His sudden emergence into the staid, long-established Republican organization in El Paseo County was not so much a fresh breeze as a hurricane…. He was effective, no doubt, but his style was an affront to the party hierarchy….

Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 had come to a vote just before the nominating conventions, and Goldwater had voted against it. Heinlein understood Goldwater was not voting against civil rights: He was voting against federal enforcement of civil rights. In Senator Goldwater’s opinion, it was a matter for each state to do, individually, for itself, and, even more importantly, it was, at heart, a matter of the attitude of individuals, which could not be legislated by state or federal government.

Goldwater’s opinion was Constitutionally “correct.” The U.S. Constitution had not specifically delegated this kind of power to Congress or the Executive, and it did reserve to the states any powers not specifically delegated. Lyndon Johnson, following the Kennedy brothers’ lead, used federal forces for the pragmatic reason that some states—George Wallace’s Alabama, for example—would not cede the rights of U.S. citizens unless coerced. “States rights” is a conservative issue in American politics, going all the way back to the Federalist Papers. Goldwater was where he belonged, after all—and perhaps also where he could do the most good on net.

Heinlein’s notions on this issue probably remained more typical of a Democrat…. Enforcement of a citizen’s civil rights under the Constitution most assuredly was the business of the federal government. But it was an honorable disagreement over tactics, not over basic goals, and it meant that racism would become an issue in the campaign. The Republican National Convention nominated Barry Goldwater on July 15, 1964. His acceptance speech articulated a position that was to become iconic:

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

But it was another campaign liability: The extremism charge had been raised earlier in the campaign by fellow Republican Nelson Rockefeller, who was standing up for the reactionaries in the party—but it allowed Lyndon Johnson, as activist a president as existed in American politics since Lincoln (and “the phoniest individual that ever came around,” according to Goldwater, since Johnson had been lukewarm to civil rights prior to this), to position himself as a moderate and Goldwater as a lunatic extremist….

At another meeting at Bob Laura’s house on August 1, he finally had more than he could take. Laura was temporizing over an offer of help Ginny had taken by telephone from a woman who identified herself as a Negro. He would take the matter up with his State Central Committee contact, Laura said, but his own reaction was: “Oh, they are free to go ahead and form their own committee.”

Heinlein lost his temper for the first time in many years. He told Laura:

They offered to stick their necks out; we should have shown instant gratitude and warmest welcome.… I can’t see anything in this behavior but Jim-Crowism.… you were suggesting a Jim-Crow section in the Goldwater organization.

Mr. Goldwater would not like that. His record proves it.

Negroes are citizens, Bob.… It is particularly offensive, this year and this campaign, to suggest that Negro Goldwater supporters form their own committee.…

He then ticked down a list of Laura’s administrative foul-ups, concluding:

—these faults can easily lose the county … [sic] and with it the state … [sic] and, conceivably, if the race is close, the Presidency itself.…

So I’ll try to refrain hereafter from offering you advice. But I think it’s time for you either to behave like a manager, or resign.

Laura apologized for his part in the altercation.

Ginny went into field work full time, and Heinlein agreed to handle an expansion of the county office now that the nominating convention was over and the campaign was ramping up in earnest. As Laura temporized on the Jim-Crow question, he gave Heinlein a personal criticism, not the first time he had heard it: “I know you don’t believe that anyone could consider you a ‘yes’ man. I wonder, however, if you can conceive of another’s opinion, differing though it may be, possessing any merit.”

On this issue, no: The opinion that a Negro volunteer should be treated differently from a white volunteer possessed no merit whatsoever— and if that was “intolerant” in Bob Laura’s book, so be it. “I’m one of the most intolerant men I’ve ever met,” Heinlein noted to himself. “I had thought that, simply because I had uncustomary responses as to what I liked and what I hated that I was ‘tolerant.’ I’m not. I’m not even mildly tolerant of what I despise.”

There were things more important than party unity in the Republican Party of Colorado….


[For] Senator Goldwater’s television appearances… Robert wrote three thirty-second spots:


“Communist opinion” 30-sec spot. Heinlein 6 Oct. 1964 THEME SOUNDER

When Goldwater was nominated, Radio Moscow said, “The Republican Party has been taken over by some pirates led by a sworn enemy of the Communist camp.” But after the Democrat Convention, PRAVDA, official Soviet newspaper, praised the Democrat platform. Why?

THE WORKER, official organ of the American Communist Party, says: “STOP BARRY!”


Why does every socialist, every Communist, every person intent on overthrowing our free government, scream for us to “Stop Goldwater!” Think it over.

In your heart you know he’s right.



“Shooting from the hip” 30-sec spot. Heinlein 6 Oct 64 THEME SOUNDER

SOUND EFFECT— three rapid gun shots.

1ST VOICE (male or female, surprised and frightened): He shoots from the hip!

2nd VOICE (male, confident, hearty approval): And he hits the mark— every time!

3RD VOICE (female, confident): In this supersonic age, fast, accurate decisions are a must! Goldwater knows where he stands and doesn’t have to waste precious minutes looking it up. He flies supersonic fighter planes where a man must have split-second correct judgment to stay alive. He has more than four thousand hours as a military pilot. Toda … [sic] for us all to stay alive… [sic] the man on that hot-line telephone must have fast and accurate judgment.

Vote for Goldwater!

In your heart you know he’s right!



“Civil rights” 30-second spot. Heinlein – 6 Oct 64 SOUNDER

MALE VOICE: (Rising intonation, indignant unbelief) Goldwater against Civil Rights? NONSENSE! Here’s the truth: as a Phoenix City Councilman, Goldwater voted to desegregate the city airport restaurant. As chief of staff of the Arizona Air National Guard, Goldwater ordered desegregation. GOLDWATER’s department store was the first major employer in Arizona to hire Negroes on a regular basis. Goldwater says: “The key to racial intolerance lies not in laws alone but in the hearts of men.” In your heart you know he’s right! Vote for Goldwater!



There is no evidence these spots were ever used…

Patterson Jr., William H.. Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better 1948-1988 (pp. 251 ff.). Tom Doherty Associates.

John Derbyshire (2010): Passage of Moderate RomneyCare Drives Republicans Insane: "I am of course neither shaken nor stirred at the passing of the health-care bills...

It was to be expected.... Western civilization, over my lifetime, has been a slow-sinking ship. The few who have known what is happening have worked desperately.... It's been a losing fight, though. The tilt of the decks is harder and harder to ignore. Last night, a major bulkhead gave way. Soon a funnel will topple over with a great crash and a shower of sparks. Yet still the band is playing, the people are dancing, the food coming up from the galley.... It'll be over soon. We'll be down in the cold, lightless depths of imperial despotism — in which, after all, the great majority of human beings, throughout history, have always lived.... I once tried to compute the sheer quantity, in man-years, of lives lived under the despotic order — Egyptians and Assyrians, Persians and Chinese, Romans and post-Alexander Greeks, Incas and Aztecs, Umayyads and Abbasids, Ottomans and Zulus, Tsars and General Secretaries . . . as against humans in liberty, ruled by common consent. It came out at around a hundred to one.

Here are some interstellar travelers chatting at a cocktail party:

"But tell me: How were things when you left? Especially, how is the United States getting along with its Noble Experiment?" ""Noble Experiment'?" I had to think; Prohibition was gone before I was born. "Oh, that was repealed." "Really? I must go back for a field trip. What have you now? A king? I could see that your country was headed that way but I did not expect it so soon." "Oh, no," I said. "I was talking about Prohibition." "Oh, that. Symptomatic but not basic. I was speaking of the amusing notion of chatter rule. 'Democracy.' A curious delusion — as if adding zeros could produce a sum..." -- Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road...