The D'Ammassa Discussion
In 1998, Science Fiction Chronicle published a review by Don D'Ammassa of the Blacstone Audiobook edition of Heinlein's Starship Troopers. It was clear from the review that Mr. D'Ammassa had an axe to grind and/or had not actually listened tothe audiobook that he was reviewing. I sent a letter to the editor of Science Fiction Chronicle, which led to a response from Mr. D'Ammassa, et cetera. I present the discussion here.
Original Letter to the Editor of Science Fiction Chronicle, 6/1/98The following was sent as an electronic Letter to the Editor of Science Fiction Chronicle on June 1, 1998, in response to Don D'Ammassa's review in the April 1998 issue of that magazine.
Hello,I receieved a reply from the editor of Science Fiction Chronicle, indicating they would print a brief excerpt from my letter. (I also received a reply from Mr. D'Ammassa, to whom the editor had forwarded my letter. More on that below.) Sure enough, in the June 1998 issue, on page 29, there is a letter consisting of the first and last two sentences of my letter, and an admonishment that the letter I had written him was too long.
I thoroughly enjoyed the April 1998 issue of _Science Fiction Chronicles_ -- until, that is, I came upon Don D'Ammassa's amatuerish review of Robert Heinlein's _Starship Troopers_. I use the word "amatuerish" quite deliberately, for while Mr. D'Ammassa's review brings up several interesting points, it is rife with errors of fact and interpretation that simply do not stand up to even cursory examination.
Error #1: "Women can volunteer as well, although not for the Infantry or most other jobs described, so the voting public is necessarily overwhelmingly male."
This is, frankly, just plain incorrect, for two reasons. First, Federal Service is quite explicitly stated as a constitutionally guaranteed right, and as such, anyone who can understand the oath -- and isn't a convicted felon -- *must* be accepted. [p.29-30, movie edition] There is therefore no reason to assume that the voting public is "overwhelmingly male," and no evidence in the book to support the claim.
Second, Mr. D'Ammassa appears to be assuming that what applies to the Mobile Infantry (a service with such a harsh basic training that it has a 99% attrition rate) applies to the entire military as well. For this failure in logic, he might be forgiven, as the book does focus on the Mobile Infantry. The book is clear, though, that the MI is only a small percentage of the total force in uniform, and that there are plenty of non-combat jobs available.
Note also that Heinlein, in 1980's _Expanded Universe_, states that only one out of every twenty members of the "Federal Service" are in the military; the rest are civil servants. While he may have intended this to be the case, it isn't clear in the novel.
Error #2: "Since no one can become an officer unless he is combat veteran, and since no women can be members of combat units, there are no women officers outside of the Navy."
Once again, Mr. D'Ammassa is assuming that what is true of the Mobile Infantry, which is itself a small branch of the Army, can be extrapolated to the military as a whole. To begin with, no where in the book does it say that "no one can become an officer unless he is combat veteran." This is the standard in the MI, yes (as explained by Colonel Nielssen on p. 192), but the MI is specifically a combat branch. It is plausible that all combat arms might require that officer candidates be combat vets, if possible, but this is by no means demonstrated for other branches of the Army, let alone the Navy, which might view a pilot rating as a more important. In any event, there is no reason to assume that combat vet status is required for officers in non- combat services such as logistics, medical, etc..
Second, there is no indication anywhere that women are not allowed to be members of combat units. We only see two examples of combat units in any detail, the Mobile Infantry and the Navy. The MI appears to be exclusively male, which is not hard to believe regarding a service which has a 99% attrition rate before graduation from basic training. The Navy, on the other hand not only has female officers but is *dominated* by female officers -- almost all pilots are female, and as a result, the senior officer on most starships (including *every* starship that we see in any detail in the book, all of which are combattants) is female.
In short, it is VERY clear that the Terran Federation is a meritocracy, pure and simple; the only requirements for a job are the physical and mental ability to do that job.
Error #3: The Terran Federation is a "military dictatorship," (i.e., militaristic) and "the establishment has a vested interest in starting wars."
This claim is flawed on three levels: it assumes that the military is in charge of the government, it assumes that government is a dictatorship, and it assumes the government and people act in a warlike manner. Neither assumption is supported by the evidence in the book.
The first assumption -- that the military is in charge of the government -- was addressed by Heinlein himself in _Expanded Universe_: "No military or civil servant can vote or hold office until after he is discharged and is again a civilian. The military tend to be despised by most civilians and this is made explicit. A career military man is most unlikely ever to vote or hold office; he is more likely to be dead -- and if he does live through it, he'll vote for the first time at 40 or older." [p. 398]
In short, there is no evidence within the book which indicates the government is run by the military, and a lot of evidence which contradicts this view, including an explicit statement by Sergeant Zim on the civil-military relationship. [p. 63, movie edition]
Second, the government of the Terran Federation is hardly a dictatorship, even a civilian one. I have heard the dictatorship claim made on several occasions, yet seems to be totally without any support whatsoever. It seems to be based on the assumption that ANY limitation on the franchise is undemocratic, which is clearly without historical context. EVERY democracy, past or present, has put limits on the franchise. Ancient Athens, the Roman Republic, and Revolutionary America (to name but a few) limited the franchise to male free landowners of majority age -- distinctly less than half the population. Today, there are still limitations regarding birth, age, and civic status (i.e., criminal record) in every democracy on the planet, yet no one has made the argument that the United States, for example, is a dictatorship because 17-year-old convicted felons aren't allowed to vote. Heinlein's Federation is unique not in that it places restrictions on the franchise, but that full citizenship is determined by a conscious act (open to all), rather than an accident of birth. It is no different in theory than the process by which a foreign national becomes a naturalized American citizen, and in practice is much less restricted.
The Terran Federation is consistently described as a representative democracy, where the only difference between those with full citizenship and those without is the right to vote and hold public office. One can certainly argue that, as a practical matter, such a state couldn't exist -- that it is portrayed as a democracy, though, is incontrovertible. For what it's worth, Poul Anderson -- a self-described libertarian -- reached the same conclusion:
"I never joined in the idiot cries of "fascist!" It was plain that the society of _Starship Troopers_ is, on balance, more free than ours today. I did wonder how stable its order of things would be, and expressed my doubts in public print as well as in the occasional letters we exchanged. Heinlein took no offense. After a little argument back and forth, we both fell into reminiscences of Switzerland, where he got the notion in the first place." [_Requiem_ 1992, p.319]
Finally, it assumes that the populace behind the government is militaristic and the Terran Federation is warlike, a claim which is difficult if not impossible to support. It is clear from several statements in chapter 2, for example, that the Terran Federation is hard-pressed to find work for all the Federal Service enrollees. Emilio Rico, Johnny's father, refers to Federal Service as "parasitism, pure and simple. A functionless organ, utterly obsolete, living on the taxpayers." Why? "If there were a war, I'd be the first to cheer you on -- and put the business on a war footing. But there isn't, and praise God there never will be again. We've outgrown wars. This planet is now peaceful and happy and we enjoy good enough relations with other planets." [p. 24] It is clear that Emilio's attitude is not unique; the military is, in general, looked down upon, an attitude hardly consistent with a militaristic society. Note also that the war, when it did come, took a long time to break into open hostilities -- hardly characteristic of an "establishment [that] has a vested interest in starting wars."
It is certainly the case that making some form of military service mandatory to become a public official will mean that all public officials will be experienced military men. This isn't an argument -- it's a tautology. There is no reason to think, though, that the situation presented to the vast majority of the citizens in the book -- two years of peacetime service -- is any more likely to make them militarists than it did to the World War II generation in America. Anyone who thinks the military can successfully brainwash thinking people into mindless supporters hasn't talked to enough people with military experience.
Personally, I would suggest that military experience should be a requirement in civilian leaders; experience is the best way to understand both the abilities and limitations of the military, and any civilian who is going to take a roll in deciding where and when and why to commit combat forces better damn well understand those limitations. I also find it ironic that some people who don't trust the military suggest that the best way to prevent the military from running rampant is by ignorance on the part of civilian leaders. If only military leaders have military experience, how are the civilians expected to know when to believe them?
Error #4: "If you don't pass certain psychological tests along the way, you can be cashiered at any time, without explanation or appeal."
This is patently incorrect, for two reasons. First, the only psychological testing in the entire book was the *aptitude* test administered at the very beginning, which was used to determine the duties for which a recruit might be suitable.
Second, it is stated flatly and more than once that the only way you can be permanently prevented from getting full citizenship is for one of the following reasons:
If you can't physically hack MI boot camp, for example, and decline a medical discharge (which you can do), you are sent somewhere else -- in the case of one character, to the Navy, to be a cook on a troop transport. You don't always have a choice where you are sent, but you don't have to accept a medical. Most of the people in the book who left didn't flunk out, they quit.
- you aren't allowed to sign up because you are incapable of understanding the oath;
- you aren't allowed to sign up because you have a criminal record;
- you commit an offense sufficient to get you booted out;
- you quit;
- you die.
Error #5: "Students are systematically brainwashed to accept the status quo."
This is an interesting claim, for several reasons. First, it uses a highly charge word -- "brainwashed" -- to refer to a class which you are required to attend but in which you are not graded. This is hardly the way to go about brainwashing. I grew up in Iowa, and attended a parochial high school in the early 1980s. The level of brainwashing there -- not only in Government class (which was required and *was* graded), but also the various religion classes - - far, far surpassed anything witnessed in _Starship Troopers_.
Second, for a "military dictatorship" which engages in "brainwashing," the Terran Federation seems remarkably loose in how it approaches training. Questions of superior officers -- both in training and out -- are encouraged, provided it is in the proper time and place, i.e., not in the middle of a firefight. In History and Moral Philosophy (especially the OCS version), glib generalizations by the students are generally answered with a request for a reasoned answer with supporting proof -- hardly a catechism, let alone "brainwashing."
I have heard this brainwashing claim made before; in most cases, what the person really objected to was the idea that claims should be supported with evidence or reason rather than simply accepted because they are politically correct.
Error #6: "Sergeant Zim and his superior allow a young recruit to be flogged even though they admit that he doesn't deserve it."
This is, at best, a highly distorted reading of the event described in chapter 6. The recruit, Ted Hendrick (a) refused a direct order; (b) struck a superior officer, a capital offense; (c) refused administrative discipline assigned by Zim for disobeying orders and insisted on seeing the battalion commander, Captain Frankel; (d) objected the disciplinary action ordered by Frankel; (e) stated in a room full of witnesses that he had struck his superior; and (f) when given an opportunity to recant, failed to do so.
Zim and Frankel, in their post-court martial conversation, conclude that Hendricks didn't deserve the punishment -- but NOT because he didn't do the crime. Hendricks didn't deserve it because it was Zim's job to make sure that a recruit was never given an opportunity to strike a superior officer. Zim goofed in that he failed to prevent Hendrick from committing a crime. Hendrick, on the other hand, not only committed the crime in question, but was too stupid to understand that you cannot strike a superior officer, despite the fact that the regulation was read to him every Sunday morning.
As presented, D'Ammassa's claim that Hendrick "didn't deserve" his punishment implies that it was assigned unfairly, when that is anything but the case. Overall, I found Mr. D'Ammassa's review of _Starship Troopers_ to be highly flawed; while he understands that _Starship Troopers_ might best be described as utopian in terms of its practicality, his review is full of distortions which suggest that he really wasn't paying attention when he read the book. This is a shame, for _Starship Troopers_ is a delightfully controversial book in and of itself, without being subject to such treatment.
I have two comments about this. First, I would like to thank the editor of Science Fiction Chronicle for highlighting the fact that I misspelled a word in my letter; far better to take the cheap shot at my expense than to simply correct the typographical mistake.
Second, I would like to clarify the quotation as printed. In the letter I described Mr. D'Ammassa's review as "amatuerish," which is not the word I wanted. The word I meant to use was "amateurish," which of course comes from the word "amateur," meaning "a person who does something without professional skill." [Coles Concise English Dictionary, 1979] Neither the actions of Mr. D'Ammassa nor his editor have given me any reason to modify this opinion.
As I mentioned above, the editor forwarded my letter to Mr. D'Ammassa himself, who sent a reply consisting of two pages of "you're wrong," in support of which he merely repeated his original claims. He also suggested I reread the book. He did not specifically address any of the points I made or references I cited, nor did he cite anything from the novel to support his own position. I sent back a somewhat lengthy reply, which contains specific citations from the text wherever possible, and which challenged him to do the same. He replied that he had no interest in continuing the debate -- imagine my surprise.
Originally, I did not intend to make either either Mr. D'Ammassa's original reply nor my response public, as Mr. D'Ammassa's communication was a private response, and my reply quotes it extensively. Since then, however, it has come to my attention that Mr. D'Ammassa's attention to accuracy in describing our correspondence to third parties is about equal to the accuracy of his reviews. I therefore consider any obligation that I might have to keep our conversation confidential to be annulled.
This is the complete text of the conversation, with three changes: two typos were corrected, and the word "which," which had been inadvertently left out of a sentence, was inserted in brackets. In addition, two editorial comments were inserted in brackets. None of these changes affects the meaning of any of the passages.
Response to me from Mr. D'Ammassa, 6/10/98
Andy Porter forwarded to me your remarks about my review of Starship Troopers. Ignoring your opening insult, I'll respond directly as your letter is too lengthy to appear in SFC.
Point #1. The army is described as much more numerous than the navy. Women do not serve in the army. Although you theorize that they serve in greater numbers in other branches than the MI, there is no evidence to that effect in the novel. This argument is therefore irrelevant. The math is pretty simple. And while it is true that everyone who wishes to serve must be accepted, they can be dismissed at any time. There is a very brief passage where it is stated that those considered mentally unfit by the officers can be dismissed for no other reason. This is a very simple and obvious device for preservation of the status quo. And humans being what we are, it would inevitably be used for that purpose.
Point #2. Whatever Heinlein may have explained in other writings is irrelevant. The novel must stand on its own.
Point #3. It is very clear that Heinlein did not believe women should be officers in the army, and that the army is more numerous than the navy. There are no female army officers in the novel. Again, there is nothing to indicate that there are women officers in any of the other branches. Remember, we are judging the novel as a work of fiction, not as a philosophy. If the novel leaves the question unresolved, it is a flaw. The same holds true for your next point, in which you seem to demonstrate you share his philosophy. "The MI appears to be exclusively male, which is not hard to believe regarding a service which has a 99% attrition rate?" The army is dangerous, ergo women are less likely to serve in it, ergo fewer women become voters.
Point #4. It is not clear that this is a meritocracy. It is a meritocracy for those within the club, who share the values of the ruling cabal. That's a perfectly human way of running things, and that part at least is realistic. A brilliant scientist who extended human life for twenty years, cured all diseases, cleaned up pollution, and invented matter transmission, but who was a conscientious objector, would not be allowed to vote. That's not a meritocracy. It's an autocratic dictatorship.
Point #5. Only the military can vote or hold office, hence the government is by definition a dictatorship (remember, the military can exclude anyone for psychological reasons, like disagreeing with the status quo). You're playing with words here. The government is in fact run by the military, active or retired, by definition, and by intention. That was how Heinlein set it up, that's how he wanted it to be perceived. One could argument about whether or not that's a valid criterion for joining the elite, but there is no question that it's an elite, however large.
Point #6. When any group has the absolute power to deny the vote to anyone who disagrees with their rule, that's a dictatorship. You keep saying that the vote is available to all, but that's not true. Among other things, no Quaker could ever vote without abandoning his or her religion. No one who thought the vote should be extended to non-military personnel can have the vote unless those people with a vested interest in the status quo let him. For the government to work the way Heinlein says it does, we would have to have an entirely new species of creature that acts rationally and reasonably at all times and THAT is the biggest problem with the novel. It reflects the way Heinlein thinks people should act, and rejects the fact that they just don't do that. This is the greatest flaw in all Utopian literature, and it applies to STARSHIP TROOPERS just as much as it does to THE NEWS FROM NOWHERE, EREWHON, and UTOPIA.
Point #7. The society of the novel is hardly more free than is ours today. Our brainwashing is at least more inept than Heinlein's.
Point #8. You seem to ignore the point about constant warfare. Only combat veterans can become officers. To have officers, you thus need combat on a regular basis. Heinlein sets it up that the periodic wars are all good ones, but my point was that lacking one, the establishment would either have to provoke a new conflict or end up without any officers. This is a logical fallacy in the way he set up the situation.
Point #9. It isn't exclusively the formal military as such that conducts the brainwashing. It's the history classes which ridicule all disagreement, present no alternative viewpoints, and insist that there's a mathematical proof that their way of life is best. Classes are mandatory, remember; there is no escape. The mathematical proofs are a lazy way for Heinlein to eliminate the need to deal with dissidents. If the status quo can be proven mathematically, then obviously no other viewpoint can be worth considering.
Point #10. I have served in the military. The narrowmindedness of the professional military mindset should require no explanation here. Heinlein portrays his military in entirely benevolent terms. Tactically that works fine, but as a piece of literature, it sucks because real people don't act that way. It appears to me that since you agree with Heinlein's philosophy, you're defending his views, not his literary talents. That's an entirely different argument.
Point #11. You may need to reread the book. You've forgotten the reference to later psychological tests to weed out undesirables (undefined). It is, if I remember correctly, during the sequence about the rapist. Remember, Heinlein believes that certain character flaws are incurable. He defends executing sex criminals, for example, even if they are clearly mentally ill and treatable. Heinlein does contradict himself on this point, admittedly, but again, that's a flaw in the novel.
Point #12. The history classes are classic brainwashing. Grading is absolutely irrelevant. As I said earlier, there is a degree of (usually inept) indoctrination conducted today. But today in the majority of schools, one can at least hear alternate viewpoints from different instructors. That isn't true in Heinlein's Utopia, because they have all been mathematically disproved. The requests for proof to which you refer are for proof of the instructor's opinion, not the student's. This is a standard technique in brainwashing. (And as an aside, Heinlein has said publicly that a certain degree of indoctrination is necessary for an orderly society. Completely true, of course, but the degree is the issue.)
Point #13. The flogging. The fact remains that Hendricks was punished because of Zim's failure. The expectations for Zim were unreasonably high, however, which is in itself a criticism of the situation.
For what it's worth, I enjoy most of Heinlein's fiction. I think STARSHIP TROOPERS is, however, a badly flawed novel because (1) the characters do not act the way real human beings would act in given situations, (2) there are various contradictions in the society that are not resolved, (3) the propaganda content overwhelms the literary content, and (4) the author inadvertently (presumably) leaves out elements that would explain some of the apparent contradictions. There are other valid criticisms as well, including too many coincidences, which I didn't mention because of length restrictions.
Your arguments seem to me efforts to fill in the gaps that Heinlein left. Some of them are plausible, some not, but all are irrelevant to the point at issue, which is that Heinlein was not at his literary best, probably because he felt too strongly about the issues to recognize the flaws. Obviously we disagree.
Response from me to Mr. D'Ammassa, 6/10/98
On Fri, Jun 19, 1998 at 12:01:21 AM, "Don D'Ammassa" [email address deleted] wrote:[I must admit -- I mispoke above. I said "no male Naval officers," when I meant "no male pilots."]
> Andy Porter forwarded to me your remarks about my review of Starship
> Troopers. Ignoring your opening insult, I'll respond directly as your
> letter is too lengthy to appear in SFC.
When I read a professional book review in a professional magazine, at a minimum I expect that statements of a factual nature regarding the contents of the book be true. Few (if any) of such statements in your original review met that standard.
Your email was no better. Your response to my arguments about your unsupported assertions is, by and large, to simply repeat the assertions with different phrasing. Fine -- please cite specific passages that support these assertions.
For what it's worth, I frankly don't care whether SFC prints any of my letter or not. Many periodicals handle such situations by quoting a couple of lines (picked by the editor) from a letter and then giving the original author two or three paragraphs to respond. I hope that _Science Fiction Chronicle_ has higher standards than that, but if not, that's fine. I simply thought that SFC might want to have some feedback from someone that HAS read the book in question regarding the quality of the reviews they are getting. If you find it insulting that someone points out that your work is not professional quality, I suggest you improve your work.
> Point #1. The army is described as much more numerous than the navy.
> Women do not serve in the army. Although you theorize that they serve in
> greater numbers in other branches than the MI, there is no evidence to
> that effect in the novel. This argument is therefore irrelevant.
No, the Army is NOT described as much more numerous than the Navy -- this is untrue, pure and simple. I've read the book cover-to-cover more than a dozen times, including four times within the past year. I have specifically scoured the book for ANY evidence supporting this claim or the others, and I have yet to find a single supporting reference. When I have challenged others who have made similar claims to find support in the book for similar claims, they have been unable to find any supporting references, either.
There is absolutely no passage that gives any indication of the relative sizes of the various branches, nor any passages that indicate that women are excluded from any branches of the Army or Navy except for the Mobile Infantry.
I am not "theorizing" anything, I am pointing out that you have made claims of fact for [which] there is not a single shred of support. You can end the debate on this point (and many of the others) by simply pointing to a passage that, in context, supports the argument you have made.
What is clear, crystal clear, is the statement on page 29 that everyone, male or female, has a constitutional right to serve, and that they "have to take you" if you want to volunteer. This, if nothing else, makes all your extrapolations about the size of the forces and number of female officers irrelevant; it is clear that the authorities must find slots for whomever applies. [p.29-30]
> The math is pretty simple. And while it is true that everyone who wishes
> to serve must be accepted, they can be dismissed at any time.
> There is a very brief passage where it is stated that those considered
> mentally unfit by the officers can be dismissed for no other reason.
Once again, please cite a specific passage that supports this claim. The only passage I can find says that IF you volunteer for OCS and IF you are accepted and IF you fail the OCS version of History and Moral Philosophy, then a board determines what to do with you -- one of the options being to separate you from Federal Service. [p. 176] Hardly a situation where you can "be dismissed at any time."
> This is a very simple and obvious device for preservation of the status
> quo. And humans being what we are, it would inevitably be used for that
Yes, you are correct -- a society usually does attempt to preserve itself; Major Reid's H&MP class goes into this in great detail. However, the society that you describe is NOT the society as described by Heinlein, so this point is largely irrelevant.
> Point #2. Whatever Heinlein may have explained in other writings is
> irrelevant. The novel must stand on its own.
I agree wholeheartedly. This is a good standard -- I suggest you attempt to meet it by citing specific references to the work in question that support your assertions.
> Point #3. It is very clear that Heinlein did not believe women should be
> officers in the army, and that the army is more numerous than the navy.
No, it is not very clear. We see only two branches in any detail, the Mobile Infantry and the Navy. (Actually, we only see a subset of the Navy, but we have a much less clear picture of how the Navy is organized than we do the Army, as muddled as the Army's picture is.) We do not see the rest of the Army in any detail, so we do not know anything about the gender of its officers overall, nor do we see any evidence that the Army is bigger than the Navy. The closest thing to specific information we have is that 40% of the Federal Service personnel assigned to Sanctuary are female, and that it is a major base intended to be a combat operations center in the event Luna Base and Earth itself are taken out of the fight. [p.155-157] We don't know how many of the women there are officers, of course, nor what the split is between Army and Navy personnel, nor whether the population is representative of the military as a whole.
You have made the claims that "Heinlein did not believe women should be officers in the army" and "the army is more numerous than the navy." Please cite specific references to the work which support these claims.
> There are no female army officers in the novel.
There are also no male Naval officers -- are you suggesting that there are no male Navy officers? There are no non-MI Army enlisted men in the novel -- are you suggesting that the other branches of the Army don't have enlisted men? The only non-MI Army officer is Major Weiss [p. 38] -- are you suggesting that only the MI and the placement branch (or the K-9 Corps, Major Weiss's former branch) have officers? (Actually, there *may* have been a comment which I can't find to the effect that Special Talents are also officers, but my point still stands.) The standard you are using -- unless they are specifically mentioned in the novel they don't exist -- would suggest that the Army has no personnel staff, no medics, no ordnance staff (except in the MI), no mechanics (except in the MI), no administrators (except in the MI), etc. You are taking what is described as a small branch of the Army and extrapolating its characteristics to the Army as a whole, yet you have given no justification for why that small branch should be considered typical of the organization as a whole. By your standard, I should be able to examine the gender of the 82nd Airborne and conclude that, because there are no women in that unit, that the US Army has no female soldiers.
> Again, there is nothing to indicate that there are women officers in any of
> the other branches.
And there is nothing to indicate that there are not. You have not given a single reason to believe that the characteristics of the Mobile Infantry can be extrapolated to the Army as a whole, yet you have stated specifically and authoritatively that "there are no non-Navy female officers and thus as a result there are few female voters."
We don't SEE any of the other branches in any detail. We do know, however, that the MI is especially demanding, and that it is only a part of the Army. We also know that the Navy seems to have no problem putting women in command of combat vessels (both large and small) engaged in combat operations. Given that the Federation military as a whole seems to have no problems with women in combat, and that we have only seen a small part of the Army, I would argue that the burden of proof is upon you to come up with a specific reference supporting your position regarding women in combat units and female officers.
> Remember, we are judging the novel as a work of fiction, not as a
> philosophy. If the novel leaves the question unresolved, it is a flaw.
No, it means that it's a novel written as a first person narrative that fits into 263 pages and doesn't attempt to detail anything except the Mobile Infantry. Your inability to find evidence which supports the assertions you are making indicates many flaws, but they are in your work, not Heinlein's.
> The same holds true for your next point, in which you seem to demonstrate
> you share his philosophy. "The MI appears to be exclusively male, which
> is not hard to believe regarding a service which has a 99% attrition
> rate?" The army is dangerous, ergo women are less likely to serve in it,
> ergo fewer women become voters.
I am honestly not sure exact what you mean by this -- are you saying that I share Heinlein's belief (as you claim) that women should not be Army officers?
If so, you are as incorrect about my belief as you are about what Heinlein has written. I certainly don't believe that Federation Army has significantly more male officers than female officers, nor should it. If you are saying that I share Heinlein's belief that standards of merit and physical ability (rather than prejudice and gender bias) should determine fitness for performing a task -- be it Mobile Infantry trooper, which is male-dominated, or pilot, which is female-dominated -- then I would have to agree with you.
As for fewer women becoming voters -- we know that there are non-combat jobs [p.29-30, 36] and that there are alternatives for females. [p.30] Even if your assertions about women in combat were supported by the novel, there is no reason to believe that women would be any less willing to follow the normal course of events -- sign up for a single term of a couple of years to get the franchise, and spend it doing whatever "hard, dirty work" may be required -- than the men described in the book.
By the way, we do know that the percentage of citizens (i.e., those who have completed their Federal Service) varies from less than 3 percent on Earth to over 80% on Iskander. [p.182] Perhaps you are arguing that the population of Iskander is 80% male?
> Point #4. It is not clear that this is a meritocracy. It is a meritocracy
> for those within the club, who share the values of the ruling cabal.
First, you are taking my meritocracy comment out of context -- my statement specifically concerned your argument that "no women can be members of combat units," and followed a paragraph where I argued that the evidence indicates that there are no female MIs not because women aren't given combat positions but because it is combat job that women are not physically well suited for -- just as men are not physically suited for the combat job of space pilot. In other words, the ONLY restrictions we see placed on any position within Federal Service are restrictions based on physical and mental ability to do the job. This is why we don't see any female MI -- the job is so physically demanding that 99% of the men flunk out, and is simply too physically demanding for women. Likewise, most men don't have the ability to meet the pilot qualification levels, hence we see very few male pilots. (We actually don't see ANY male pilots, but there are references to a few.)
But, since you have decided to apply my meritocracy comment to the method of earning the franchise, I'm just as happy to debate it there. The "values of the ruling cabal" you so casually dismiss are the values of placing the good of society above individual selfishness. Those who believe in that system -- or simply want to have the right to vote, hold public office, or be a policeman -- can opt into that system simply by deciding that they want to. It's a club which anyone can join, and every single discussion of the nature of society supports that conclusion. If you have found a specific citation that you feel disproves that conclusion, then please provide it.
> That's a perfectly human way of running things, and that part at least is
It's realistic because that is the way that every human society ever created has been run. And, if you take exception to that argument, please cite a specific example where the "ruling cabal," as you put it, gave the sovereign franchise to anyone who wanted it, without either restrictions or any attempt to instill them with the values of the society.
> A brilliant scientist who extended human life for twenty years, cured all
> diseases, cleaned up pollution, and invented matter transmission, but who
> was a conscientious objector, would not be allowed to vote. That's not a
> meritocracy. It's an autocratic dictatorship.
Please explain exactly what the achievements listed above have to do with civic virtue and responsibility. The answer is, of course, that they don't. The person you describe might be a true humanitarian, a good member of society, and may have other characteristics that mark a citizen. The qualities you have listed, though, give no indication as to whether the person is committed to the good of society as a whole, or simply is a genius that likes inventing things and gets paid well for his work. The decision to say "I will place myself at personal risk" is a test, an example of someone putting not just their "money where their mouth is," but potentially their life as well. Everything else being equal, a person who meets this requirement is more likely to have the characteristics that define a good citizen than someone who was not willing to serve.
We don't know what Heinlein's society would have done with a Thoreau, for example, as we don't know if there were any activities which would have met his Federal Service requirement. I suspect there would be accomodation in there somewhere; many of the combat medics in World War II were conscientious objectors who refused to carry a gun, but who were nonetheless able to serve without compromising their ideals. We don't see these in the book, but we don't see any conscientious objectors, either; by the "if we don't see them then they don't exist" standard you adopted above, then this is a moot question.
> Point #5. Only the military can vote or hold office, hence the
> government is by definition a dictatorship (remember, the military can
> exclude anyone for psychological reasons, like disagreeing with the
> status quo). You're playing with words here. The government is in fact
> run by the military, active or retired, by definition, and by intention.
No, I am not playing with words here -- I am pointing out what the BOOK says does not agree with what you are CLAIMING it says. You claim its a military dictatorship -- the books says that the military answers to a civilian government. [p. 63] You assert that the military can exclude anyone for disagreeing with the status quo, yet you do not cite a specific indication that this happens. You assert that "only the miltary can vote or hold office," when it very specifically states that the military CANNOT vote.
You assert that if the government is run by retired military officers that makes it a military dictatorship -- well, then I guess that would make the administrations of Presidents Bush, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman, etc., military dictatorships, as every one of them spent time in uniform, and a large (if not majority) percentage of their staffs and the members of the House and Senate at the time had military experience as well.
> That was how Heinlein set it up, that's how he wanted it to be perceived.
And do you have notes of this conversation you had with Mr. Heinlein?
> One could argument about whether or not that's a valid criterion for joining
> the elite, but there is no question that it's an elite, however large.
"We have democracy unlimited by race, color, creed, birth, wealth, sex, or conviction, and anyone may win win sovereign power by a usually short and not too arduous term of service -- nothing more than a light workout to our cave- man ancestors." [p.183] Yup, sounds elitist to me.
> Point #6. When any group has the absolute power to deny the vote to anyone
> who disagrees with their rule, that's a dictatorship.
Please cite the passage where it is explained that "anyone who disagrees with their rule" is denied the right to vote. I can't find any statement that says you have to agree with the government to get the right to vote, only that you have to perform Federal Service, the right to do so being constitutionally guaranteed.
You might also consider taking an intro-level political science course; you throw the word "dictatorship" around a lot, as if the issue of human freedom within a government system is black or white. Or, if you prefer, please cite a single government from any time period in human history which would not qualify as a dictatorship under the definition that you are employing.
> You keep saying that the vote is available to all, but that's not true.
> Among other things, no Quaker could ever vote without abandoning his or her
Please cite the specific reference in the book where a Quaker is required to abandon his religion, or when any similar situation arises. You might also explain how conscientious objectors during WW2 (many of them Quakers, if memory serves, although I must admit that it's not my area of specialty) were compromising their ideals by functioning as combat medics while refusing to carry weapons. Please also explain why the jobs listed on pages 29-30 would require a Quaker to violate his or her religious beliefs. For extra credit, please explain how a society that would deny the right to vote to Quakers or those with a religious objection to Federal Service (but no others) is automatically a dictatorship, whereas a society which limits voting rights based on age, place of birth, and in some historical cases race, is not.
> No one who thought the vote should be extended to non-military personnel
> can have the vote unless those people with a vested interest in the status
> quo let him.
No, no one who thought that way could get the vote unless he first performed Federal Service, which is a constitutionally guaranteed right. Ted Hendrick, if you recall, made a big deal of stating that he intended to run for public office and change the status quo, but he was kicked out for striking a superior officer, not for his political views.
> For the government to work the way Heinlein says it does, we would have
> to have an entirely new species of creature that acts rationally and
> reasonably at all times and THAT is the biggest problem with the novel.
> It reflects the way Heinlein thinks people should act, and rejects the
> fact that they just don't do that. This is the greatest flaw in all
> Utopian literature, and it applies to STARSHIP TROOPERS just as much as
> it does to THE NEWS FROM NOWHERE, EREWHON, and UTOPIA.
I agree. It does not follow, though, that because the novel is utopian in approach and hence you don't like it that the book is about a "male dominated military dictatorship" when it is very cleary stated otherwise.
> Point #7. The society of the novel is hardly more free than is ours
> today. Our brainwashing is at least more inept than Heinlein's.
"...personal freedom for all is greatest in history, laws are few, taxes are low, living standards are as high as productivity permits, crime is at its lowest ebb." [p.182] Yup, sounds like a society of brainwashed zombies to me.
> Point #8. You seem to ignore the point about constant warfare. Only
> combat veterans can become officers.
WRONG. As I stated in my original letter, the ONLY statement we have regarding the issue of "combat experience as an OCS prerequisite" is on page 192, when Colonel Niellsen, the Commandant of the MI Officer Candidate School, is discussing the practice as followed in the Mobile Infantry. He begins by discussing what might happen if an MI platoon commander is killed and one of the candidates has to take over, he then states that they have to be a "trained trooper", and then specifically refers to other *armies* throughout history. In context, he is clearly talking about the requirements necessary to lead ARMY men in COMBAT -- not Army logistics units, not Naval personnel. The passage is a little vague due to his use of pronouns, but there is nothing in it that points to other branches of the Army (let alone other services), and a lot that only makes sense in the context of the Mobile Infantry.
> To have officers, you thus need combat on a regular basis. Heinlein
> sets it up that the periodic wars are all good ones, but my point was
> that lacking one, the establishment would either have to provoke a new
> conflict or end up without any officers. This is a logical fallacy in
> the way he set up the situation.
The passage only refers to the Mobile Infantry. Within that context, it does beg the question as to how they could have such a requirement during peacetime. The fact that there is peacetime, though, is fairly explicitly stated [page 24], and it is clear from the context that wars were extraordinary events.
> Point #9. It isn't exclusively the formal military as such that conducts
> the brainwashing. It's the history classes which ridicule all
> disagreement, present no alternative viewpoints, and insist that there's
> a mathematical proof that their way of life is best.
The only thing ridiculed in the classes are sophomoric platitudes offered up without any supporting logic or evidence. In virtually every example in the book, someone makes statement which they are then unable to support.
As for the mathemaical proof part, while I have an engineering bent, I'm a historian by training (with a second major in poli sci), and I am highly skeptical of the comments made in the book about the power of mathematics in the social sciences. I am not more skeptical of this than I am of, for example, Hari Seldon's ability to predict the behavior of the masses in the _Foundation_ books. The math statements in _Starship Troopers_ were trivial by comparison, and largely irrelevant to the story as a whole.
> Classes are mandatory, remember; there is no escape. The mathematical
> proofs are a lazy way for Heinlein to eliminate the need to deal with
> dissidents. If the status quo can be proven mathematically, then
> obviously no other viewpoint can be worth considering.
I'll certainly agree that Heinlein didn't put a whole lot of effort into examining the role of dissent in this society. My subjective opinion is that this book is more about the rights and duties of citizenship than any particular system of government, and that Federal Service was a convenient tool for him to examine such rights and duties in a way that the intended audience -- adolescent males -- could understand.
> Point #10. I have served in the military. The narrowmindedness of the
> professional military mindset should require no explanation here.
In my experience in the Pentagon and elsewhere, the members of the professional military are no more narrowminded than the population at large; they are simply narrowminded in a different way. And, incidently, not all of them -- I have run into some officers of great depth and broadness of mind.
> Heinlein portrays his military in entirely benevolent terms. Tactically
> that works fine, but as a piece of literature, it sucks because real
> people don't act that way.
Really? Please cite specific examples.
> It appears to me that since you agree with Heinlein's philosophy, you're
> defending his views, not his literary talents. That's an entirely
> different argument.
I have said very little about what my own personal philosophy is and how it relates to Heinlein. I have not indicated one way or another what I think of the system of government he described, his views on corporal or capital punishment, his views on the military, or anything else discussed in the book.
Those points are irrelevant to my objections to your review, which are based on the specifics of the factual claims that you make, not on their philosophical relevance vis-a-vis my own or Heinlein's views. (As if I knew Heinlein's views from reading the book; he did state that his characters don't always speak for him and was known to have changed his mind over five decades of his writing career). I could care less if you argued, for example, that Heinlein's society had too much of a fondness for corporal punishment, that in the real world the governmental system would inherently unstable, or any of a host of other comments that fall into the realm of "opinions." I think your description of _Starship Troopers_ as a book in the utopian tradition is fairly accurate, although I think you missed the point and I have a higher opinion of the form than you do. Your presentation of unsupported assertions as facts, though, that are not only not supported by but in most instances directly contradicted by the text I STRONGLY disagree with.
> Point #11. You may need to reread the book. You've forgotten the reference
> to later psychological tests to weed out undesirables (undefined). It is,
> if I remember correctly, during the sequence about the rapist.
Nope -- I reread most of the book while responding to your review, and reread that particular chapter right now. Aside from the minor fact that you can't even get the crime right (there is no mention of a rapist anywhere in the book), the closest thing we have is the following two statements:
1) "...the placement officer who accepted this boy for MI should turn in his suit." [p.109]
Note specifically that he didn't mention any sort of tests. Note also that he said "MI", not "Federal Service." Dillinger had a constitutional right to serve, provided he met the requirements (not a felon, could understand the oath, etc.); Johnny specifically states that he shouldn't have been in the MI.
2) "I suppose he was one of those pathological personalities you read about -- no way to spot them." [p.112] Once again, no mention of any psych testing.
The only other reference to psych testing I have found is at the very beginning [p.35-36], and are specifically described as *aptitude* tests for deciding for what you are qualified. The test are taken after enlistment takes place, and the oath is sworn.
Please feel free to specifically cite any other passages that you think are applicable.
> Remember, Heinlein believes that certain character flaws are incurable.
> He defends executing sex criminals, for example, even if they are clearly
> mentally ill and treatable. Heinlein does contradict himself on this point,
> admittedly, but again, that's a flaw in the novel.
Where exactly is the passage where he says that certain character flaws are incurable? Aside from the fact that he never mentions "sex crimes," even in passing, the only example of an execution he discusses involves Dillinger, who committed three capital crimes and who was not shown to be mentally incompetent in any way. Johnny is unable to reconcile Dillinger's actions with any other possibility (and comments that shooting mad dogs makes sense to *him*), but we only see the execution, not the trial, nor any of the legal processes behind it.
[Note: Aside from the disorted description, it is also presumptuous on Mr. D'Amassa's part to claim that he knows what Heinlein believes. I, for one, would hardly look upon the introspection of a young man still in his teens trying to cope with witnessing an execution as a policy statement from the government in question. I'm curious as to whether Mr. D'Ammassa thinks that all characters in all novels are to be considered spokesmen for whatever government they support?]
> Point #12. The history classes are classic brainwashing. Grading is
> absolutely irrelevant. As I said earlier, there is a degree of (usually
> inept) indoctrination conducted today. But today in the majority of
> schools, one can at least hear alternate viewpoints from different
> instructors. That isn't true in Heinlein's Utopia, because they have all
> been mathematically disproved. The requests for proof to which you refer
> are for proof of the instructor's opinion, not the student's. This is a
> standard technique in brainwashing. (And as an aside, Heinlein has said
> publicly that a certain degree of indoctrination is necessary for an orderly
> society. Completely true, of course, but the degree is the issue.)
As someone who attended Catholic School and who worked in the Pentagon's Psychological Operations Directorate, I have at least a little idea what brainwashing looks like. The level of indoctrination is no more than one sees in an average Catholic school religion course -- where you ARE graded and where deviation from the accepted norm IS punished. The flaw here, in my mind at least, is that Heinlein uses straw men. In all the examples of the high school H&MP course, we see people mouthing such idiocies as "violence never solved anything" -- which, of course, the student was unable to support.
> Point #13. The flogging. The fact remains that Hendricks was punished
> because of Zim's failure. The expectations for Zim were unreasonably
> high, however, which is in itself a criticism of the situation.
The fact remains that Hendrick disobeyed a lawful order, struck his superior officer (which he had been warned every week was a capital offense) and then publically stated that he had done so in a room full of witnesses. Zim failed in his task of preventing such an incident from occurring, but you would have Hendrick accept NO responsibility for his action. Zim's failure was analogous to a high school counselor who, in the end, is unable to prevent one of his at-risk students from commiting a felony.
You said you were in the military -- how many times did you see an officer or enlisted person of any rank strike a superior? If it had happened, do you think the offending person would have been held responsible for it?
> For what it's worth, I enjoy most of Heinlein's fiction. I think STARSHIP
> TROOPERS is, however, a badly flawed novel because (1) the characters do not
> act the way real human beings would act in given situations, (2) there are
> various contradictions in the society that are not resolved, (3) the
> propaganda content overwhelms the literary content, and (4) the author
> inadvertently (presumably) leaves out elements that would explain some of
> the apparent contradictions. There are other valid criticisms as well,
> including too many coincidences, which I didn't mention because of length
I won't argue any of these statements, because they are matters of opinion. I can see how someone can reach those conclusions, and it's your opinion, and you have a right to it, even (perhaps even especially) in the pages of a review column. I think these would have made excellent points to bring up in the review.
What I do not think you have the right to do -- or, viewed another way, what I have the right to respond to -- is to perpetrate blatant distortions and falsehoods regarding issues of fact. Whether you like or not (and it appears that you don't), it is a FACT that the government is consistently described as a representative democracy, it is a FACT that the book says the right to Federal Service is constitutionally guaranteed and hence *anyone* can earn the franchise, it is a FACT that the military is said to be under civilian control. It is also a FACT that there is not one word in the novel which states that women can't be Army officers, that there are few female voters, or that women are barred from combat duty. The book is clearly not a complete picture of the society, but what it does show does not support your claims.
> Your arguments seem to me efforts to fill in the gaps that Heinlein
> left. Some of them are plausible, some not, but all are irrelevant to
> the point at issue, which is that Heinlein was not at his literary best,
> probably because he felt too strongly about the issues to recognize the
> flaws. Obviously we disagree.
Actually, I would argue that I have made a minimal effort to fill the gaps -- I've merely pointed out that some things you have said are directly contradicted by what is said in the book, that other criteria you have used to "prove" that the government/society described is a dictatorship apply to every single government/society in the history of the human race, and that there is no evidence anywhere to support your contention that the characteristics of one branch of one service are in any way, shape, or form extrapolatable to the military as a whole.
You, on the other hand, have made a concerted effort to claim the book is the larger society in a microcosm with regard to extrapolating the overall "look" of the military (e.g., women in the military and female citizenship rates) while simultaneously arguing that the book is NOT representative of the whole regarding issues of government structure (such as the statements of characters as to whether the government is a democracy or not). I would argue that any given statement is only representative of the particular component of society being discussed at the time; e.g., when it is stated that the government of the Terran Confederation is a representative democracy with high levels of personal freedom, it means exactly that, and when the structure of the Mobile Infantry is being discussed, that only applies to the Mobile Infantry.
I'm sure at this point you will make some comment to the effect of "I don't have time for this nonsense" or "I won't continue this conversation with this asshole" or whatever, if you bother to respond at all. Fine with me -- if that is the excuse you would like to use, then I certainly can't stop you, and wouldn't if I could. Personally, I have better things to do myself than conducting a remedial reading comprehension course with an uncooperative student. If you are really so sure of your statements, though, you will get out a copy of the book and cite specific passages supporting the claims you have made. Heck, I'll even mail you a copy myself, so we can be sure we are quoting from the same edition.
Needless to say, I will be VERY surprised if you choose this course of action.
Response to me from Mr. D'Ammassa, 6/10/98
I tried to be nice, but this is so puerile I won't even bother to read it.
Response from me to Mr. D'Ammassa, 6/10/98
> I'm sure at this point you will make some comment to the effect of "I
> don't have time for this nonsense" or "I won't continue this
> conversation with this asshole" or whatever, if you bother to respond
> at all. Fine with me -- if that is the excuse you would like to use,
> then I certainly can't stop you, and wouldn't if I could. Personally,
> I have better things to do myself than conducting a remedial reading
> comprehension course with an uncooperative student. If you are really
> so sure of your statements, though, you will get out a copy of the book
> and cite specific passages supporting the claims you have made. Heck,
> I'll even mail you a copy myself, so we can be sure we are quoting from
> the same edition.
> Needless to say, I will be VERY surprised if you choose this course of
> I tried to be nice, but this is so puerile I won't even bother to read
Which, if past experience is any guide, will not stop you from publishing a review of it.
I'm not surprised that you have decided to not defend your review. I stand by all of my comments.
Christopher Weuve [firstname.lastname@example.org]
"The author regrets that he is unable to reconcile himself to the thoughtful point of view you have expressed. However, it must be kept in mind that being raised in different cultures and different places can result in such differences of viewpoint between individuals. The author is from planet Earth." [author unknown]
ConclusionI'll be the first to admit that I could have handled it better. I plead guilty to letting my passions get the better of me -- I've never been one to suffer fools gladly, and that character flaw (if it is one) extends to condescending book reviewers who can't get the facts right, either. For what it's worth, I have reason to believe from my contacts within the industry that my opinion of the quality of Mr. D'Ammassa's work is shared by many of the industry pros.
Don, my offer still stands -- I will gladly send you a copy of the book if you wish to discuss this further. If you have the courage of your convictions, you can prove me wrong by responding to my arguments, not with assertions, but with specific references to the text of the book. Since you appear to be either unable or unwilling to state the facts of the book without distortion, however, I don't expect that you will take me up on it.