Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Shines, shines the Name of Rodger Young"

My 6 ½ year old Ridgeback, Ginger is spending the day at the vets (some minor surgery & teeth cleaning),so I needed something distracting read. My other Ridgeback, 4 ½ year-old Sage is very upset over Ginger’s absence – the first time it’s happened in her life time. I’m upset as well, mainly because I can’t explain to them why this is happening. I am not someone who goes off every day and leaves them in crates. I am retired and almost never leave them. I couldn’t explain to Ginger why I was leaving her at the vets and I couldn’t explain to Sage why I wasn’t taking Ginger home with us.

So I read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers again. Forget the terrible movie. It bears little resemblance to the book; which is excellent. It traces the career of Rico from before enlistment (in the Mobile Infantry) up through his being established with his own Cap Ranger team, “Rico’s Roughnecks,” on the Rodger Young. This all takes place in the distant future, long after the Russo-Anglo-Americans fought the Chinese in 1989. (Heinlein wrote his book in 1959. He apparently wouldn’t have agreed with Samuel P. Huntington that the Russians and Anglo-Americans have irreconcilable differences.)

Some critics have called this novel fascistic, but I have read it several times and would be happy to argue that point. The (awful) movie, yes, but not the novel. I wonder if these critics have actually read the novel.

Heinlein graduated from in 1929 and served in the Navy until 1934 when he received a medical discharge due to pulmonary tuberculosis. It is interesting that in the distant future imagined in by Heinlein, his heroes are not in the Navy but in the infantry, and this future infantry is strikingly like the Marine Corps with which he would have been intimately familiar. The future navy delivers Cap Trooper (Troopers launched from a space ship in individual capsules) onto a hostile planet, much as the navy in the Second World War and in the Korean War launched Marines by LSTs onto hostile shores.

Heinlein writes in his novel what I heard in Boot Camp, Civilians can’t understand what it means to be a Marine (or the Army Infantry). Civilian thinking is different from Military thinking and perhaps because of that the Civilian thinkers have erected “strawmen” of what they think this means. The Marine knows he has enlisted to give his live for his country if necessary. The Civilian demeans that and believes something preposterous, something on the order of suggesting that Marine loves carnage and killing.

I finished Starship Troopers and wondered again whether I should have stayed in the Marine Corps. I think I understand perfectly what Heinlein intended when he writes of the Cap Troopers. He is writing of the other world, the world that Civilians can only wonder about, and he does it well.

He concludes his novel with the following historical note:

“Young, Rodger W., Private, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division (the Ohio Buckeyes); born Tiflin, Ohio, 28 April 1918; died 31 July 1943, on the island of New Georgia, Solomons, South Pacific, while singlehandedly attacking and destroying and enemy machine-gun pillbox. His platoon had been pinned down by intense fire from this pillbox; Private Young was wounded in the first burst. He crawled toward the pillbox, was wounded a second time but, continued to advance, firing his rifle as he did so. He closed on the pillbox, attacked and destroyed it with hand grenades, but in so doing he was wounded a third time and killed.

“His bold and gallant action in the face of overwhelming odds enabled his teammates to escape without loss; he was awarded posthumously the Medal of Honor.”

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