By David L. Brown
I have been re-reading some of the novels and essays by Robert A. Heinlein, once known as the Dean of Science Fiction Writers. He is perhaps best remembered today for his novel Starship Troopers, although at the peak of his career his Stranger in a Strange Land was no doubt far more successful. Sadly, even Starship Troopers is known today mainly for the recent movie version.
Born in 1907 Heinlein was a graduate of the Naval Academy who served in active duty until poor health forced him to leave the service in 1934 and eventually take up writing. He was a patriot who never passed up the chance to comment on the importance of defending America, or to point to the decline of our culture and the threats he saw to the future. On this Memorial Day, it seems appropriate to write about his work and his ideas.
Heinlein was seen by many as “militaristic” due in part to negative reactions to Starship Troopers, which seemed to glorify war. In the novel he describes a world of the future in which infantrymen clash with insectoid aliens called “Bugs”. With its focus on boots-on-the-ground warfare, it can easily be seen as a thinly veiled reflection of 20th Century conflicts, especially WWI, WWII and the Korean War. (The novel was published in 1959, too early to have reflected the events in Vietnam.)
Heinlein was always opposed to conscription, but in his later years he lamented the poor state of the U.S. military. In the world of Starship Troopers, voluntary military service was required for full citizenship including the right to vote. In other writings he wrote with deep concern about a nation which requires voters only to be 18 years old and have a body temperature of 37 degrees Centigrade, pointing out that such an electorate was all too likely to vote itself “bread and circuses”. Today, 19 years after his death, we might remember his warning as we look at the landscape that surrounds us.
Just as he predicted, we appear to be a nation that has lost its way. The love of money and power seem to have trumped all other motivations. Submerged in a warm, fuzzy haze of national self indulgence, neither we nor our leaders seem able to even seriously address, much less act upon the quite dangerous threats that hang over our civilization and humanity as a whole. Here are only a few of those:
- Continued population growth that has seen human numbers in the world climb past 6.5 billion. Writing more than half a century ago in one of his novels, Heinlein described a world of 5 billion in 2050 — a number he obviously considered dangerously high. Now, even more than 40 years before that time we are already 30 percent higher than his prediction, and with projections for several billion more to come before the peak is reached. (Personally, I take those forecasts with a grain of salt because they are based on straight line extrapolation and fail to take into account the effects of resource depletion that are already being felt. The population problem will soon be corrected by Mother Nature Herself, with no thanks to Mankind.)
- The resurgence of radical Islamic conquest, a direct continuation of the program of planned world domination that was launched by Mohammed and his successors and which proceeded for centuries with the goal of overrunning Europe before being brought to a temporary halt. In the West, the turning point was marked by the defeat of Muslim armies in France at the hands of Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours (732) and after centuries of conflict the final expulsion of Islam from Spain (“Andalusia”) in 1492. In the East, the Islamic thrust was halted in the bloody battle at the famed Gates of Vienna (1683).
Meanwhile, other vast territories fell under Muslim rule, including all of the Mideast, North Africa, much of southern Asia, and Indonesia — regions that remain fully under Muslim control to this day. The defeat and breakup of the Ottoman Empire that ruled those lands up until WWI has left many such as Osama bin Laden with the goal of reinstating a “Caliphate” or empire under Koranic law and renewing the war (and such it must be called) against all Infidels.
Sadly, America and most of the Judeo-Christian civilized world seems incapable of rising to the defense of everything they stand for. Our poorly defined “war on terror” is in shambles due to ill-defined goals and incompetent management; too many of our “leaders” in Congress are shamelessly milking the situation for personal political gain; and the Western media often seem to act as if they were part of the enemy propaganda machine.
- Uncontrolled illegal immigration is another issue that can hardly have been imagined just a few years ago. I will say no more about this other than to remark that as many as 85 percent of Americans polled are in favor of a strengthened border and strict control of immigration, while in Washington our leaders delay action on border security and consider plans for widespread amnesty as the incoming tide of economic and climate refugees (and the inevitable trickle of terrorists) continues to pour into our nation and spread out to every town and city from sea to shining sea. This is a tragic and dangerous mistake that America shall live to rue.
- Climate change, the major subject addressed by Star Phoenix Base, is perhaps the greatest threat of all. When it comes to this issue it is beyond discouraging to witness the delay, denial and delusion with which it is being met. Politicians waffle while creating phony issues to distract the attention of self-absorbed members of the public. Corporations fail to see the advantages of embracing bold new initiatives and continue to remain entrenched in the status quo. The press acts as a tool for spreading confusion about the issue, giving a platform to all manner of ill-qualified anti climate change spokespersons, many or most of whom are in the pay of the likes of ExxonMobil, the family Saud, or others whose interests appear to be “profit now and to hell with the future”.
Heinlein did not terribly well foresee the world as it has turned out. In 1950 he wrote an article predicting what the world would be like in 2000. Fifteen years later his essay was republished with updated remarks. Then in 1980 for a collection of stories and essays titled Expanded Universe, he once again added updated commentary. His conclusion in 1980 was that with only 60 percent of the 50-year timeline passed, he had already been wrong in two-thirds of his predictions made in 1950.
If Heinlein were alive today, I suspect he would revise his batting average even farther downward, although he was off target more in detail than in broad outlines. For example he would not be surprised that America has squandered its national capital through ineffectively using its political, economic and military power. He would perhaps not be surprised to see the rise of China as a new world power (in one of his essays he remarks that future visitors to the Moon or Mars might need to obtain visas from China or Japan). He probably could not imagine that at this late date the West has retained its reliance on petroleum, and thus placed itself at the mercy of the Oil Sheiks. And of course almost all of the realizations about climate change that are now coming into clear focus were only vague ideas during his later years.
Memorial Day, 2007 carries little of its former meaning. Early in the last century it was known as Decoration Day because it was a time to visit the graveyards beneath which slept brave American soldiers, sailors and marines to decorate their tombs with wreaths and flowers. Later it was given broader significance, but retained its importance as a day to remember the sacrifices of the military men and women who had served our nation with speeches, parades, and celebrations.
Today, for most Americans this is just another vacation day, a time to welcome in the summer, drink beer, play on the beach, or attend some sporting event. The Indianapolis 500 auto race has come to symbolize this national holiday more than the memory of those who have served their country. And, most discouraging of all, it has been usurped by “anti-war” demonstrators who take the occasion to slur and slander our military men and women. That is a disgrace.
In many of his writings Heinlein predicted the fall of America before foreign invaders. He would be astounded to see his beloved nation sinking into a morass of failure through inaction, misguided thinking, greed, and lack of will. Let us on this Memorial Day offer the hope that there will come an end to this long downward slide on which our nation has embarked, and that in the near future (and we cannot wait long!) we will turn to a more courageous, farsighted, and promising upward path. Unless we do a new Dark Age may soon await humanity, perhaps one without end.