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Friday, November 10, 2017

Veteran’s Day 2017

The […] novel sucked. Even when I liked Heinlein I saw right through that Rah Rah Military is Awesome bullshit.
  - Facebook Comment

I met a man who despised me.

He called me fascist, murderer, and a dumb blunt tool.

I didn’t take it personally – though a younger me might have.

I didn’t meet him in the flesh, like most of my social interactions these days I encountered him online. He surfaced on a well known author’s Facebook page during a conversation regarding a certain well known classic science fiction novel.

The novel was, of course, Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

But really it doesn’t matter which author or what novel or exactly where the conversation took place. The conversation and the novel which inspired it aren’t relevant to this essay, other than as a starting point. Suffice it to say the novel and the reputation of its author is such that fully six decades after it was written it still has the unerring ability to generate violent conflict and powerful emotions. Mention it in any conversation about government and/or military service and the sparks will fly.

It’s one of those books you either love or hate.

Very few who are familiar with the work find middle ground between those poles – including those who haven’t actually read it and are familiar with the writer and the novel only by second-hand heresy (yes, heresy, the book is nearly an article of faith to many) and a terrible Hollywood adaption.

It’s one of those stories where your opinion depends very much on your age and experience, and as such your opinion with regards to the story tends to change and temper over time.

To me, well, that’s what makes it a truly great work.

Love it, hate it, it is a coming of age story and it endures as a lightning rod, as a jumping off point for exploration of the human condition, of government, of service, of duty, of war and conflict, of why we fight and why we should – or should not.

I have read this novel many, many times.

I read it as a teenaged boy before I joined the military.

I read it again at various points throughout my military career, as an enlisted man and as an officer – and in fact it is required reading for students at a number of military academies.

I read it the day the author himself died, and raised a glass to yet another lost shipmate while stationed at a far distant outpost.

I’ve read it a number of times since I hung up my sword. I may, in fact, read it again today.

I don’t know that it influenced my decision to join up. I don’t know that it didn’t. The author, in this work and many others, certainly had some impact on my worldview. I do know that this novel did influence what kind of military man I ultimately became and that there were times, very difficult times, black days, moments when I didn’t know what to do next and lives depended on my decision, when I heard the words of Robert Heinlein whispering in my head, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

The ideals of that book, and the veteran who wrote it, those ideals spoke to me in a very personal way.

And they still do.

As a writer of politics and military subjects, I encounter this book and discussions of its author often and I watch the resulting battles with some amusement. I’ve read hundreds of treatises on this book and its long dead author, detailed analyses from bloggers, columnists, best selling writers, noted scientists of various specialties, politicians, academics, and of course, military professionals.

All, every one, miss one fundamental thing.

And that is this: The reason six decades later this novel still generates love and hate and violent emotion is because the protagonist, Johnny Rico, a man very much like me, finds a home in the military.

War is his profession and he embraces it willingly and without regret.


And that, that right there, is the novel’s great sin.


That’s the criticism most often leveled at both the book and its author, they are pro war, pro military, and therefore somehow fascist and un-American.

To me this is like saying a fireman, one who runs towards the inferno, who is willing to brave the flames to save others, is somehow pro-arson.

There is no one who knows the terrible cost of war more than a veteran. There are few more anti-war than a combat veteran. Just as there is no one who knows the terrible toll of fire more than those who fight it. And yet, both still serve, because that is who they are. 

It’s okay in our society, at the moment, to love the soldier, to tell the story of war.

It wasn’t always so. When I was growing up, society openly despised the soldier.

But somewhere in the intervening 50 years, the circle has come full around and now again it is not only okay to love those who do violence in our names, it is nearly mandatory.

But it must be done in a certain way, you see.

It’s okay to write about war, to set novels among the conflagration and tell tales of glory and honor and sacrifice, so long as those who are caught up in its horror resent their own service. So long as they despise the conflict and the government and the utter ridiculous stupidity which sent them into the meat grinder. It’s okay to tell stories of war and conflict so long as the hero is serving only out of duty and will return to civilian life once the war ends – or die heroically, or tragically, or foolishly, depending on what kind of story you’re telling.

But to tell a story of those who serve when they don’t have to?

To write of those who find a home in the military?

That is a sin.

Those people, you see, they’re the losers. Honor, courage, duty, ethics, the morality of war, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in trace to your country, well, these things are for suckers, wannabe fascists, murderers, dumb blunt tools with nothing better to do.

This is the difference between Full Metal Jacket and The Green Berets.

This, this right here, is the difference between The Forever War and Starship Troopers.


This is the difference between the man I met up above … and me.


Today we honor those who served in peace and in war.

We honor those who came of their own free will and those who came only because they were called.

We honor those who came of age in bloody conflict, those who like me, like the protagonist of that novel, found a life, who found ourselves, in the military.

And we honor those who resented every goddamned miserable senseless minute of it.

Today wreaths will be laid. Flags will be raised to the truck and lowered to half-mast and there they’ll fly, cracking in the cold breeze, the symbol we fought and bled and died for, while below words of patriotism, duty, honor, courage, service, and sacrifice will be spoken.

The trumpets will sound their terrible call and the tears will flow – as they are down my face even as I write this.

Because, you see, I remember.

I remember those who trained and led me. I remember those I served alongside. I remember those I trained and led myself. I remember those men and women, every one of them, the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, the leaders and the followers, the admirable and the shitheads, those who came before me and those who came after, those who still live and serve and fight out there every day in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, those who have hung up their swords, and most of all I remember those who have given the last full measure – I remember them, each and every single one, each and every single day.

They are always with me, because they are the people who made me what I am.


Perhaps we are nothing more than blunt instruments. Perhaps we are fools. Today I am disinclined to argue the point.


Perhaps we are.

Because after the wreaths are laid, and the flags are lowered, and the trumpets sound their final mournful call, then the politicians will return to the same old divisions, the tax bill, the latest pork barrel project, or how the other party is a bunch of unpatriotic un-American bastards.

Tomorrow they’ll remember us not at all – or at best, only as a way to further their own selfish agendas.

The talk show hosts will cry their crocodile tears, and wax self-righteous and angrily demand that their listeners honor veterans. They'll take people to task for not wearing an American Flag pin, or for not having a yellow ribbon on their cars, or for not serving in uniform, all the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none.

And tomorrow, as always, they’ll forget all about us and go back to telling Americans to hate each other.

The Great Patriots, those Americans who think love of country is a contest and who wave the flag as if it were the cheap symbol of their favorite football team, are going to drink a lot of beer and discount liquor and pontificate drunkenly at great length about how the country is going to hell in a hand-basket because of that son of a bitch in [insert: Congress, the White House, Wall Street, et cetera here] and how we should be doing better by our “Heroes.” All the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none.

And tomorrow, they’ll nurse their sullen hung-over resentment and go back to fearing that the men and women they honor today will knock on their door to take away their freedoms and liberties and guns.

Meanwhile today a lot of folks who don't think much about patriotism are going to go to parades and wave little flags and quietly give thanks for those who bought their freedom at such terrible cost. Some will stand ramrod straight even though many can barely stand at all, like me they limp, or they roll, bent but unbroken, they’ll place their hands over their hearts as the American flag passes, and in their eyes you can see horrible memories of Saipan and Iwo Jima, Normandy, the Rhine, the black Ardennes forest, The Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Tet, Al Basrah, Anbar, and Bagram.

They won't talk about honoring veterans, they are veterans.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives in the service will raise a flag in their front yard, just as they do every day - and pray that those same loved ones get home alive and whole, just as they do every day.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers who have fallen in the service will visit graveyards, they'll bring fresh flowers, and fresh flags, and fresh tears.

Today, some just won’t give a good goddamn. They'll get a day off from work. They'll picnic, or party, or go boating, or hiking, or to the track. They'll paint the house, or do chores around the yard, they’ll haul trash to the dump if it's open or take the dog for a walk. Or maybe they won't, maybe today will be just like any other day. Kids still go to school, here in Florida. Teachers still teach. Stores, restaurants, car lots are all open with blowout sales. And it may be that these people most honor veterans, by simply going on with their lives, by living without having to remember the dead on some far distant battlefield, without having to worry about their security.

Without having to thank anybody.

And today, some will protest. Protest war, the military, the government. They'll use this day to burn the flag, they’ll take to Facebook and Twitter to call us fascists and murderers and dumb blunt tools. They’ll use this day to march and to demonstrate and it may be that these people are paying the highest compliment to veterans – even though that is the least of their intentions. Because, you see, it was veterans who bought them their right to despise us.

We are not heroes.

We are not heroes. Most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance. We came when called and did our duty, each for our own reasons. You don’t have to understand why, just as you may not understand why a fireman would run into a burning building instead in the other direction. Just as you may never understand why Heinlein wrote what he wrote.

In our country, in a free society, the soldier should be no more revered than any other citizen.

We should respect the warrior, but we should never worship him.

There is no glory in war.

It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it.

We can wish it otherwise. We can rail against the utter stupidity and the phenomenal waste and the bloody obscenity of it all. We can declare and decry war’s terrible necessity and its terrible cost. Be that as it may, given human nature, for now war must often be done and our nation, our world, needs those who would fight, who would stand rough and ready to do violence in their name. It is a duty, a profession, a job, and a calling that must be done.

Perhaps in some distant future we will have put it behind us, perhaps we will have made war and the warrior long obsolete.  We can certainly hope that it shall be so. We can and should and must strive to make it so.

Perhaps some day we will set aside a day to honor the peacemakers and study war no more.

Perhaps.

But I wouldn’t count on it.


I don’t know. I don’t particularly care. I won’t live long enough to see such a day if it ever comes.


You see, I didn’t do it for you.

I didn’t do it for you and you owe me nothing. Neither thanks nor pity.

I’ve said it before, I’ll likely say it again: If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens. And me? I joined the military for myself. To prove something to myself. To be that better citizen in my own way.

I joined for myself, but I stayed for them.

I stayed for my comrades in arms, for those I served beside. I did it for them. I did it for all the things I found in that novel, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

I did it because like the protagonist of that book, that is my sin, I found a life there among friends.

I met a man who despised me.

He despised me for who I am, a veteran.

And you know what? That, that right there, is the highest compliment I could be paid.

That, that right there, is what we were doing out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, defending his right to hold us in utter contempt.

I met a man who despised me.

He called me and those like me fascist, murderer, dumb blunt tools.

I can live with that.

And I wear his contempt as a badge of honor.

141 comments:

  1. Semper Fi.

    For many similar reasons I joined the Corps. I didn't have to. I just...did. Partly to prove something to myself, partly out of sense of duty, a number of complex reasons. I too read Starhip Troopers when I was in High School...it did not affect my choice of service since I was already determined to be a Marine. I have read it so many times I had to secure a new copy. Yes, perception has changed over time.

    Thank you.

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    1. Semper Fi, brother, and Happy 242nd birthday! OOH-RAH!

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  2. I wish my Dad, a WWII vet, were still with us to read this piece. He said much the same to us growing up, although he talked little about his actual service. He despised the "Thank you for your service" comments when people he didn't know found out he'd served, he thought it was a throw away. It was like what happened was a sacred, and somehow secret, trust between him and those he served with.
    My late husband was the same way, he served, not for glory or some idealistic goal, but to be a better person to himself.
    Both of them were anti war, anti conscription and thought that in the case of war, those who started it should have to serve on the front lines, like kings in the old days, riding in the front of the charge.
    I used to read your essays to my husband before he died, he usually agreed with you, not on all points, and was grateful for your "voice in the wilderness"
    They both would have liked this essay. Oh, they like Heinlein also
    Thank you.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I also don't much care for the thank-you-for-your-service parrots who seem to think that somehow gets them off the hook for giving a shit about those who served. I always ask them to volunteer a couple of hours a week doing something *concrete* for disabled and/or homeless veterans. Maybe they will. I hope so.

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    2. "he thought it was a throw away." I don't say it for that very reason. I worry that I will get called out for it. "Thank you for your service" seems trite to me and falls far short of the respect and esteem that I feel for veterans. Nice to know that at least some veterans feel the same way.

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    3. My dad was also a WW2 vet, in the Pacific all the war years, who taught us that war is something that sometimes you have to do. But. When you have stopped something terrible from happening, you come home, you put the uniform away, and you get on with what life is all about: family, friends, work within a community, life not death. He had told me he was just a mess sgt; I was in college before I men a man who had served with Dad and who told me about the beaches.

      Dad taught us that in war you end up doing things that you would never do otherwise...and you would live with what you had done the rest of your life. But. That is what happens to people as they grow up, war or not. No one is a saint; no one gets to be an adult without doing something they weep over the memory of having done.

      We didn't watch war movies or TV programs when Dad was around. He didn't go to parades. Once Dad saw me watching an Army movie and getting upset and I heard, Aw, honey, that's not the way it is.

      My wife is a vet. My friends are mostly vets or service kids. My folks' tavern was filled with vets in the 50s and 60s. Some of the men bragged about what they did in The War -- including about the babies they were sure they left behind -- but most of the men did not. I do wish they had been able to talk more about it. The boys I knew at school with had only TV shows and movies to tell them what fighting a war was like. I have long thought that some of the anger over the Vietnam War came out of the shock my generation felt when it went to its own The War.

      I'm not a pacifist. Sometimes you have to get in people's faces to stop them from acting badly. Sometimes you have to be armed and willing to kill to stop what and whoever is acting badly. But. I think that we have spent the last 40 years teaching our kids that war is a good solution to problems; that violence is a proper way, not the last way, to solve problems; that people should want to fight.

      My Dad didn't want to fight, but he did when there was no other choice but to fight. I never heard him say anything negative about the Vietnam protesters. My mom (who was a WAC) was more conflicted, caught by resentment that her generation had had to fight a war, so why not other generations, by the fact that she did follow politics and knew the questions that surrounded that war. In 2003, my aunt, her sister, asked me about the urge to go into Iraq: "What's wrong with these people? They WANT a war? Don't they realize...?"

      I do think that we need a draft again. Having "professional" soldiers seems to mean not having to be involved any deeper than flags, empty words, and I'm IN, you're NOT arguments. The people who do have family members in the service are given lip-service and a shrug (S/he knew what the job was, eh?). Everyone should have to do some service to their country, no exceptions because there's always something a person can do if only answering the phone for an organization that helps people. Those who fight should get special perks once they are citizens again.

      And our politicians, our schools, our entertainment ought to be more honest about what war is -- that is, something to be avoided, to be horrified by, to do when you must but never glorify.

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  3. Excellent commentary, as usual, Jim. I've read many Heinlein books but not this one. I am ordering today.

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  4. I'm the daughter (WWII, medical retirement), and niece (WWI killed in action), and mother (Iraq, and he's okay, so far) of veterans. I read Starship Troopers in the 60's and it fit with what I heard and read at home. Hang in there, veteran.

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  5. Thank you Jim, for your service but especially for your words.

    I think I'm going to pull out my dusty, dog-eared copy of Starship Troopers and read it again.

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  6. I hate that whole "thank yew fer yore service" schtick; it always seems to come from those who are willing to spend the lives of those in uniform without ever having served- or ever having a family member who served.

    But I do say this-- *Good on you, Chief Warrant Officer.* Good on you . I'm grateful that we have people like you, I'm damned glad you're home safe, and I know you brought as many of your people home safe as you possibly could.

    Happy Veteran's Day, Chief, and *good on you.*

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    1. What Ivan said. I first read Starship Troopers in eighth or ninth grade, have read it three or four times since always thought of it as an sntiwar novel, along the lines of Anton Myerers “Once an Eagle”.
      Wonderful essay, saving it to tead again. Thanks, Jim

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  7. Jim,

    I should hope that one day that we all live to see a world at peace. I'm highly skeptical, but still hopeful.

    To that end please consider adding your story to the Veterans Project, https://www.loc.gov/vets/

    I firmly believe that by saving these experiences we may one day learn enough from them that there will no longer be a need for war.

    I shall do as I always do on this day and drink a toast to you and all those like you who found your home standing in harm's way for folks like myself.

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  8. Thank you. I'm going to send this to my favorite veteran, my father, because I think this will absolutely resonate with him.

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  9. I read "Starship Troopers" and "Glory Road" (along with all the other Heinlein I could get my hands on, along with Asimov, Clarke, etc.) as a teenage girl. They were formative for me because ST was the first time I had encountered the ideas of "honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater". I never served but, looking back at age 63, I internalized those ideals and hope that I have lived my life by them as best I can. I would add "loyalty" to the list.
    As far as "Glory Road", the line that has always stuck with me is "Progress is made by lazy men looking for an easier way to do things". True that.
    interestingly, I never noticed or attached any particular meaning to the fact that science fiction was almost totally male-centric back then. I just loved the stories. And Heinlein did, I guess, throw girls like me a bone with "Podkayne of Mars", which I loved too.

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    1. We were all so used to reading male-centric fiction of all kinds that it didn't even register on us until we read something with a female protagonist.

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    2. Glad to find a fellow female fan of the writers I discovered in my childhood (and still read) who made my life better. Heinlein was the first of many.

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    3. Heinlein ("Stranger in a Strange Land") was the first, and still my favorite, SF author. I read that book till it fell apart, and every other Heinlein and SF book I could get my hands on. Why was it so unusual -- at least back in the day -- for girls to be SF fans?

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    4. I also read Heinlein and Asimov as a kid. Loved them then, still love them now. I identified with Hazel and Edith Stone. Kickass women who didn't take any crap.

      I never read Starship Troopers, though. I will have to add it to my list.

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  10. Stranger in a strange land, was the Heinlein book that sealed my love of the author, and there is nothing facist about him or his work. Like anyone who writes, and this can be applied to many things...We are only responsible for what we say, not for what others understand... And definitely not responsible for what others infer.
    I have enjoyed your blogs and follow you on Facebook, thank you for your honest, intelligent perspective. And for your continuing effort in shining a light and raising awareness to lies of the current administration.

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  11. Hi!
    I think I’m somewhat taking issue with this sentence in your essay: “It was veterans who bought them their right to despise us”. I would agree with this quote up until WW2. Or even up to the Korean war. But in what way do you justify it concerning Vietnam vets or people who served in Afghanistan or in Iraq? Mind you, I do not disrespect these veterans, I think they are OWED respect. But in what way did their sacrifices bring anything to civilians except the fact that they are citizens of a country which is an imperialistic superpower (I suppose it has some advantages)? Are all these wars fought for the American people or for American power and the greedy military-industrial complex Eisenhower worried about? Once again, I want to reiterate that I respect the men and women fighting, but in what way are these fights related to American freedom? I hope that you will not take this message badly, I am just curious as to how you see this. (PS: Sorry for my mistakes in English, it is not my primary language. And BTW, I love reading your essays!)

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    1. "But in what way did their sacrifices bring anything to civilians..."

      It's as he said in his article. I didn't join (68-70) for glory, or for my fellow Americans. I joined for my own reasons. I felt a duty to America itself, I was 18, I didn't know the cause, I didn't care. I knew I lived in a free country, a place where I could do things kids my age around the world could not, and I felt a sense of obligation because of that. I never considered Canada or any alternative but enlisting after high school. I'm not rah rah, I didn't stay in past my first term, but I don't regret a moment of it. It was a matter of personal honor to me, duty. Friends did die, and we all bitched about the senselessness of it, and I came to despise that particular cause as I grew up, but I did not, nor will I ever, regret for a moment my choice to serve. Duty, honor, country isn't an empty phrase to me. It wasn't about the military-industrial complex or geopolitics, it was personal. It always is.

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    2. Jim has oft repeated, as he did in this essay, "If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens".
      I have often shared your exact thoughts and I know a couple of Vets that absolutely crave the attention and the "Thank You For Your Service" lip service they receive, one of them a 20 yr. Navy Seal. He's a good man, a good father a good husband and a hell of a guy to have in your corner if the chips are down but his politics are as far Right and fucked up as any I've ever seen. I'm at a loss as to what he fought for. As he puts it, his America.
      I was unable to serve. Born with a congenital heart defect I was ineligible for duty but I would have if I could have. Not for some glorified position of status but to, well, be the best I could be. To test myself. Instead I went into LE. Maybe for some of us there is just a strong need to serve others. The question should be how did we allow our politicians and media to bastardize the meaning of patriotism?
      When Bush decided to start an illegal war based on lies and the patriotism was so thick you could cut it with a dull butter knife I kept asking, how are they protecting our freedoms? I didn't hate the Troops or despise them for signing up, I hated the politicians and media that allowed them to push a false narrative.
      Like most of us I will always support and love our Troops, there may very well come a time when they do have to protect our freedoms and we need them there if that time comes. I do not however support any politician or media outlet that glorifies war or crusades for a preemptive attack especially if we are not being directly threatened.

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  12. Wonderfully said. A very moving piece. Thank you.

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  13. Thank you. Your words made me cry but mostly think a little deeper about service, veterans and human kindness.

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  14. I just read this aloud to my Army veteran husband. He punctuated the reading with nods, and agreement noises, and the wiping away of tears.
    Thank you for this, and for your service.
    (Btw, I voted. :) )

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  15. Excellent essay. It gave me goosebumps.

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  16. Once again, mate, you've reduced this former Cold-Warrior submariner to a blubbering mess; your words ring truer than many who never served will know. Thanks for saying what just be said...

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  17. Hello, I would like permission to share this on Facebook, with all credit due of course.

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  18. Thank you sir. Sincerely, thank you.

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  19. Wow! That's some powerful stuff right there!

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  20. You changed my thinking, and that's the highest compliment I can pay anyone. Thank you for who you are, how you write what you write about, and the differences you've made in who I am as a result.

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  21. Thank you for your post. Thank you for your service. And thank you for reminding us that some things are worth fighting for. And if it comes down to it. Dying for.

    If I were a drinking gal I'd raise a glass to all those who are willing to go into fires, battles, natural disasters that most of us are getting away from. And staying away from because we don't want to get in the way of the men and women are are fighting the battle, the fire, the floods.

    Good luck and God speed.

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  22. I'm sobbing.

    Heinlein was a huge influence on me. He actually made me understand the military a bit better, the things that drive people, the reasons they serve. I had been fairly anti-military before I read him, though I don't think I ever was as extreme as the man you met today. (Also, I was very, VERY young.) Then I read Heinlein in my late teens, and he made my two dimensional view fully 3-D, he made me think and made me feel and made me think some more. I grew to respect the soldier and disdain the non-serving war mongers who throw away those soldiers lives for their own profit and power. Whether you think I do not owe you anything, I believe I do, and I thoughtfully thank you and your family for your service. It's important that we remember that it's not just the soldier who sacrifices, it's their entire families, their coworkers, their friends, who feel the absence of that person in myriad ways. Thank you for your service, and for your words, and mostly for your activism, that keeps me going when I falter.

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  23. I once asked a veteran how she felt about "Thank you for your service," whether it was meant or just another "Have a nice day." She said that didn't matter to her which, and she always replied, "It was my honor."

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  24. Thank you, Jim, for this lovely essay. It really is hard to quantify why we serve and why some of us serve for so long.

    I am really humble when someone thanks me for my service and I usually mumble something like, "It's ok, someone has to do it." And like you I really don't consider myself a hero. I was just another schmo doing their job.

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  25. Thanks again Jim. Brought tears to my eyes... I miss those I served with, it was intense and real and in the moment all the time. I'm old now but can still feel the rush of jumping out of a C-130....C-Rations for breakfast and the First Sergeant yelling at all of us. Miss them all... Thanks again...

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  26. Thank you for another well written and thought out essay. Remembrance Day (Canadian equivalent to Veteran’s Day) is a pretty big thing here and my kids are starting to learn about Canadian military history in school. My son asked me why do some people want to be soldiers and I gave a pat answer about duty and sacrifice, but having read your essay, I can show him your words and thoughts togive him a better explanation.

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  27. People tend to forget, or plainly do not know, that the man who wrote Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress [the second being the better, IMHO] is also the man who wrote Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love. Reading these four books will confound the less bright, but comfort the others. The brilliance of Heinlein was that he took a known narrative, changed a premise and went "what if". He did not pontificate in absolutes, which he abhorred.

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    1. Ze, I agree wholeheartedly.

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  28. In my little Florida County, Veteran's Day is a school holiday. Instead of using today to make up for one of the storm days from Irma, the board decided to shave a day off Thanksgiving Break.

    Anyway, while I don't despise any veterans, I don't worship them, either. I definitely appreciate, am grateful for, perhaps even admire folks who, for whatever their reasons, decided to serve our country.

    I would like to thank you, though, for something different, and that is for writing this piece. Many of the essays you've written have touched me, but this one especially has me ruining kleenex like they grow on trees.

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  29. Awesome again. The cool wash of sanity and perspective. Thanks.

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  30. Ok, geez, I don't know what I'm doing, this might be a duplicate comment. Can't seem to become Un-anonymous so; It's Leah here, I sometimes private message you on the book of faces.
    This is beautifully and thoughtfully written, thank you.

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  31. "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porceline."

    -- John Adams (in a letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780)

    If only it were that straightforward.

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  32. I've got issues w/dim-minded, willfully unaware individuals who don't understand this one basic concept: Humans are a physically violent species. We are not, as a group of sentient beings, capable of being otherwise. War is evil, yes. I am so glad that there are women & men of honor and intelligence who are willing to risk everything so that the evil of war is somehow contained, lessened, not spread around as much. My dad, brother & my ex-husband - all veterans. They all brought their wars home with them, in various ways. Families of warriors pay a price, too, beyond the worry that they might never see that loved one again. The 'thank you for your service' phrase? Empty. The veteran's wonderful response, that it was her honor, moves me deeply. I will always remember that.

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  33. Thanks Jim did my service USA late 70s only one bad experience in Texas got called a baby killer (Not been back to Texas since) was unsettling to a 17 YO those who thank me I politely answer YW

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  34. Holding my glass of whiskey high, to you and all of those you mentioned in your essay.
    Drying my tears. .....

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  35. Very good article. I remember the time I got out of the US Air Force(some call it US Chair Force) in December 1971. I remember how a genie in the back of my head kept on telling me to re-up. The security, the warm blanket, the cocoon was so tempting. I never talked about it. I had no lofty ambitions, just the desire for a warm cocoon. I told everyone how much I disliked being in the military and wanted to get out, (and refused my re-up incentive which was $5,000 at the time), but the internal struggle was much different. I disagree with you at one point however. I thought Verhoeven's movie was great. It wasn't the book, but taken its own terms it was great.

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  36. Just finishing Dan Carlins podcast Blueprint for Armageddon. His take on WWI.
    All wars are hell, but there are hells, and then there are Hells.
    With time, the true horrors of that conflict that annihilated a generation have faded, and have lead us to a President that is seemingly considering a nuclear exchange.
    Lest We Forget.
    Thank you for saying what needs to be said.

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  37. I am the wife of a Vietnam Veteran, he enlisted at 18, who never publicly mentions his service. He cannot abide the "thank you for your service" comments and would likely ask the thanker where they were when he came home. I am also a long time lover of Heinlein. Your article was spot on and I thank you for writing it as does my husband.

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  38. I'm not a vet, I have no relatives or friends that have served. War has never touched me.
    I loved this essay. How the military in general is being viewed nowadays is so weird. We can't protest racial problems by kneeling because it disrespects the military but yet today they announce the end of the service dogs program. You guys and gals must hate being used as chess pieces, it must suck. I'm sorry for that. Happy Veteran's Day. I'm going to search out this book, thanks.

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  39. This. This right here. Is everything.

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  40. This. This right here. Is everything.

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  41. Thank you for your service, for owning your life and respecting all who served with you and for recognizing those who did not have their own reasons and are entitled to them. I did not serve in the military, but I did serve nearly 40 years in Law Enforcement and my "stint" as a cross designated Customs Officer in the "great drug war". I have many in my family who were military. My cousin, who retired as a Colonel from the Green Berets, whose last tour was at Dover Receiving. I think that assignment affected me more than any of the conflicts he served in since he was activated for Viet Nam. That assignment made it surreal for me, seeing all f the flag draped coffins being brought off of the planes and into the building to be prepared for their families to receive them. It brought back every friend I had lost and all of the friends of friends who had fallen. So for all of that, I thank you for being you, for all you have done, and for every friend, comrade and kid soldier you lost in all of the conflicts in which you served. Military, Police, firefighters, we are all a different breed, and many will never understand our souls. There are certain things that have to be done and that demands those of us willing to stand in the gap, to stand, for all who will not. And that is OK, we do not do it for them, as you said, we do it for us, because we know that duty, service to others and have a willingness to protect those who can not protect themselves. So I salute you sir, for being you and I am happy, that on the highway of life that we chose, you found an appropriate exit ramp to return to all of us who needed to know you. ~ Sandi

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  42. Exactly! Starship Troopers - One of the best. You couldn't have written this essay any better. It speaks to my heart!

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  43. I think I know what you mean by finding a home in the army. My dad was a step or two above grunt in his day job, but he'd been in the militia since he was in high school and at that job he was saluted and called Major, respected for his ability to strategize, to think outside the box, to take care of his men and to get things done. He was also an award-winning sniper. If things had turned out a little differently he might have joined the regular forces; as it was, he had an opportunity to serve as a peacekeeper in Cyprus in the early 70s but by then was deemed too old -- with too many kids. But he'd have done it gladly. I know a lot of people who joined the army with no desire to go to war, many of them for economic reasons -- it was the best way to get paid to learn a trade -- and who stayed for the same reasons you did. War is hell and shouldn't be glorified and I'm glad to hear you say the soldiers shouldn't be glorified either. Canada is far less ready to throw the word "hero" around than the U.S., but I was disappointed when the decision was made to call the highway that the caskets bearing our dead from Afghanistan were driven down the "Highway of Heroes." Dying in war no more makes you a hero than living through it. There are soldiers who are heroes, just as there are firemen and police and people from every walk of life who step up and step farther than anyone else is willing to do. But it cheapens the word when you're called a hero just for showing up. Soldiers do a job I'll probably never have to do and I respect and thank them for it -- hell, I'm in awe of them too, for getting out of bed and doing what needs to be done -- and maybe that's easier in Canada. We had no Vietnam War to skew our senses, to cause the negative reaction then the positive over-correction to that reaction. And I think I need to read Starship Trooper. See if I can't grok its meaning.

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    1. As a Canadian Veteran, thanks for your thoughts.

      While there is something to be said about the complaint that Kippling wrote of in Tommy Aitkins, worshiping the soldiers makes me uncomfortable. There are too many nasty echoes of that in history...

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  44. When I talk to coworkers or my son about their time in the military, one of the recurring themes is the brother/sisterhood that develops. As a former firefighter, I can empathize. You spend so much time on training, when it comes time to "run into the fire", you have someone you can trust with your life as you do something to help others.

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  45. Those that rail against Heinline's supposed "love" of the millitary, have either missed the point or not read any of his other books or have no consent of irony and sarcasm.
    As for despising you, my good sir, it's his constitutional right, that you and yours fought, bled and died for, to do so.
    I understand this midst of doing because you want to serve for the good of all. Not that I've done so, girls with thick glasses are verboten from entering. I have been the wife of, now 2 men who did so, not for the supposed glory but to figure themselves out. One went on to serve more in the fire department, where he found his people. The other to a civilian tech job he loves, where his grey matter is challenged and his heart is full. Neither for the glory of war or whatever but for the testing of themselves. Their metal, their endurance, their personality. They both grew to become better men for having done so. I can say this wit the full confidence of having known both, before and after their service. And while one is no longer in my life, he is still remembered fondly for the good man he was, even though he ended up being a lousy husband for me. "The Heinlein test" is something I came across by mistake. His works are polarizing and you have to read several of his books to understand where he is coming from. The test is wether you have the patience to do so.

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  46. I agree with every thing you said, Jim, except. Veterans Day is tomorrow. 11-11 as always.

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  47. Thank you, Chief.

    One nitpick, though...the Hollywood version has its own charms, principle of which is that yes, as Verhooven himself says, war makes all of us a little fascist. This isn't a criticism, I don't think, but a keen observation.

    It's up to the individual to keep that impulse in check.

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  48. My best friend is a vet (a Navy Seal, though not in the US military). I am a radical pacifist, not through inclination (I am rather naturally violent) but through conviction. We get along fine.

    The thing is, he is a born warrior, and he, too, found his home in the military. To me, he, and lots of other soldiers, do a difficult and often badly paid job which they find important. I can respect that without agreeing on the subject of violence.

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  49. Well, another essay that has brought me to tears. Damn.

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  50. I read this and am lost in thought as I think about my own son, who is just coming to the close of his phase 1 training in the UK army. He plans to become a combat medic, a military non-combatant but with the realisation that the Taliban etc won’t care. He’ll be a target, while helping others.

    Thank you for your words.

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  51. Excellent essay, Jim.

    I have never encountered the phrase "in trace to" as written in "willingness to give one’s life in trace to your country". Was this an error?

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    1. Traces are also harnesses when speaking of draft horses. So read it as willingness to give one's life in harness to one's country.

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  52. Once again, thoughtful words, Mr. Wright. We had such a day. Armistice Day. Or so I thought.

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  53. Jim, as always you say what many of us vets are feeling in a way most of us can't.

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  54. Just wanted to say that What's written here hits many points of my own experiences (except I was a zoomie NCO, nothing so scary as a squid CWO). Sir, you've a damn fine hand at expressing yourself succinctly, and that's sadly a rare thing these days.

    Got a dog-eared copy of 'Troopers I'm digging out when I get home. Also need to work out how to get a bottle of Michter's to FL.

    Blessed Be.

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  55. Wonderful essay. I think the word "hero" has been cheapened to the point where it has no real meaning, but I know there are heroes among us. All you wrote about war fighters is true about police; they should be respected, but not worshiped. And they shouldn't go unquestioned. You're right, that's part of what makes this a great country. But it's very sobering on Veterans Day to realize that the United States has been fighting wars somewhere on the globe nearly every day of my life. I'm 69. Maybe a year here and there without war, but that's it. We must be better citizens and better representatives of the human species, whose days may well be numbered. Thanks for your service -- as a writer/essayist. You say so much that must be said.

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  56. My brother's life has been shaped in ways both wonderful and terrible by his time in the US Navy.

    I'm happy for the things it's helped him discover about himself, the tools- physical, mental, and emotional- he's acquired from his service. He's become (usually) calm, logical, empathetic, quick to come up with a damn fine plan, and he teaches me the *best* profanity.
    I weep for the things he's seen because of it. I would never have wished PTSD on him, or almost being killed in a riot, or having to dig bodies out of rubble...
    If it is my brother's sin to have ascended to E6, to have centered himself and cast off his rash, downright idiot youth to become one of the most stable, trustworthy, cuttingly intelligent people I know, then please consign me to Hell with him.

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  57. I turned 18 in 1975. My lottery number was pretty high, so I may have avoided the draft, but just to be sure, I never registered for selective service either!I was not moving to Canada, but I also was not about to cooperate with what I saw as bad government and an illegal war.Most all my neighbors will consider me a coward, fair enough as I consider them stupid.

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  58. Heinlein has always been a favorite of mine, since I was a teenager. I have heard said he was a sexist, but I never saw his work that way. He explored ideas that at the time were way out of the mainstream, making a person think about things in a different way. Sure, he had his faults, who doesn't? (shrugs)

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  59. Another Great essay. Thank you so much. Most of the "Thank You For Your Service" sound more like " You dumb S.O.B. better you then me" and tend to rub me the wrong way. When I joined the Army back in the mid-seventies it was not a popular choice. I served 3 years and left with a honorable discharge. The thank you for your service felt more heartfelt back then. But now days my super sensitive B.S. detector goes off way to often for my comfort. All I need is for many more people to be the citizens they need to be. That would be of more meaning to me. Thanks again for being a light in the wilderness for many.

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  60. I did not serve. It was not my calling. My father did as did his father and his father before him. They served in the Durham light infantry except for my father who was Household cavalry.

    I respect the willingness of soldiers lay down their life for their friends; this has always been the soldier's burden, I think. The comment is from a book nearly 2000 years old. I accept that there are good men and bad men in the military and that the uniform does not make a cruel man into a saint or a good man into a despot. It can bring out the best or worst in a man (or woman) and often does. I respect soldiers as I try to respect everyone and they do a job that I could not do.

    I have read Starship Troopers many times. I can quote large sections from memory. Johnny Rico was a decent man defending the society that he knew. It was a deeply flawed society by my values but Rico did the job that he found before him and he fought for the mobile infantry rather than for some politician or political ideal.

    I suspect many that serve in the military are doing the same thing. They fight for their buddies and their unit. The fight even when, like you, they do not see the sense in the war that they are in.

    This may be a necessary thing. It can be a terrible thing. I do not think that the Mỹ Lai Massacre would have happened if soldiers were fighting for an ideal rather than loyalty and lost comrades. They might have been able to step back and ask themselves if the people that they were killing were truly the enemy.

    Of course, warfare changes and the enemy is ever less likely to be wearing a uniform. The lines between combatants and non-combatants can be blurred as I am sure that you know better than I ever will. The US military kills more non-combatants than most and I think that this is in large part because deaths on the enemy side are less important to upper levels of command. Well, I can see why - a commander has a duty to preserve the lives of his or her troops when possible and spend them parsimoniously when there is no other way. If killing enemy non-combatants saves the lives of your own troops, well, I can see why carpet bombing and cluster bombs seem like a good idea even though they are a terrible and brutal blunt tool.

    In a way, Juan Rico has a very different war to fight. He fought for survival of the human race. If it was a bug, it was an enemy. His war was wholly black and white. I respect the soldier and his craft but I am always concerned that there are many, warhawks or commanders preserving the lives of their troops at all costs, who see a conflict that is made of many shades as black and white - All of the yellow guys or the brown guys or whoever is the enemy this week are bad and killing them is a good thing.

    So, I respect those that will put their bodies between the desolation of war and their families but I fear greatly that they are used poorly and for bad reasons. The current Commander in Chief seems to see the military as the first and best way to enact his will over other nations. In Juan Rico's world, the leader of the military would himself have been a veteran.

    George W Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard and would have been considered to be a veteran in the Starship Troopers world. I wonder if he would have ordered the second Iranian war if he had himself served in a war. We will never know but I think that he would have made different decisions if he had been one of the boots on the ground.

    It seems that there are many types of veteran and perhaps we should respect the person for who they and what they did and why - which is very much part of who they are as a person. Bowe Bergdahl and Audie Murphy deserve very different levels of respect.

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  61. My father was a combat veteran of the 10th Mountain Division and I married into a multi-generation Navy family.

    Like many men who made it home from WWII alive, my dad didn't talk about his years in the Army. The closest he got was to sneer "That Nazi!" every time he saw Wernher Von Braun on TV.

    My dad despised the authoritarian world view. He came from a long line of Republican free thinkers (such a thing was possible in his lifetime). I don't think he would have liked Heinlein's writing.

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  62. "This, this right here, is the difference between The Forever War and Starship Troopers."
    I've read and love both. What I see in common is that neither glorifies war. I respect and thank those fought when necessary. However, I have nothing but contempt for "leaders" who are incapable of understanding that war or violence should be the last resort.

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  63. I admire the discipline of the professional warrior, the commitment to follow orders, even the stupid ones by stupid people, the honor of those who hold themselves to a higher standard. I'm not one, and the man I am today could never be one, but I admire them and believe they deserve better.

    But they don't deserve worship. They are not gods, but men, and Heinlein wrote about that too. Patriotism is a tool, used to deflect criticism, honest questions that should be asked - and must be answered.

    WMDs. That's why. Its not the only why, just the most recent why. Or maybe not, if you an count a petty orange wannabe tyrant trying to goad an unstable dictator into a nuclear war - a chickenhawk with bone spurs and no honor. (the orange wannabe tyrant, not the dictator)

    This Veteran's day I wonder if the military will save our republic.

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  64. One point about SST that you missed that is worth mentioning: given the conventions of the day Heinlein wrote it, the central character is *black*, but this fact is not revealed until the last 2 -- 3 pages when he pauses for a moment to consider his appearance in a mirror. Samuel R. Delany -- famous author and essayist -- identifies this as one of the stand out moments in his life, to imagine a world that is all "John Way, RKO General Films" etc., yet in which racial issues are so irrelevant they don't even bear mentioning except by accident. Heinlein did that on purpose.

    Great essay, as always.

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  65. I found Robert A. in my teens, with his YA novels, I followed him then as he wrote them right up until his passing. He got a bit far out for me in the last one, The Number of the Beast, but I grew up with him, a lot of what he believed, I believed, believe. I'm as much Lazarus Long as anyone.

    This particular book, well, I've read it dozens of times. The movie was an abomination, it was disgusting. The book, well, that's an entirely different thing. For me, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is his masterpiece, a treatise on oppression and revolution unlike any other and as true today as when written. Stranger is what he seems to be best known for and I share his dim view of religion, I'd have no more compunction than Mike did removing from the planet that which I consider evil - I don't believe that is anything more than resetting a clock, we don't end when this ends. But today, Starship Troopers still shines as a beacon to service, to a call to something greater than self, the protection of the whole. He's right, only veterans in that book can vote, because only they have demonstrated a commitment to the good of the whole above the good of the one. I think that a requirement for any politician and seen in far too few in my lifetime. I could ramble, and sometimes do, but I just wanted to say thanks, great article - and I appreciate your service. We served the same idea. All of us, in our own way.

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  66. Great essay, and it reminds me of the late Charles Durning's moving five-minute story about his experience landing on Omaha Beach.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0GVUXh4tQQ

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  67. I read Starship Troopers along with many other Heinlein books, and although I found it entertaining I didn't really "love" or "hate" it. I know a lot of people didn't like it because they thought it was pro-military propaganda and was inspiration for many young people to join and serve. I just thought it discussed some interesting concepts regarding having to serve in the military in order to "earn" the right to be a citizen and vote.

    I never served although I was Navy dependent and have parents, siblings, and friends who did. They all joined for different reasons.

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  68. Thanks, I really dig this piece. I feel a deep respect for people in the service, but always found it awkward to tell them, "Thanks for your service". Not because I'm not thankful, it just seems so odd and awkward. It also feels a little contrived and parroted these days. Regardless, I do wish to express my deepest respect for the unbelievably daunting job of warrior(s) for this country; good, bad and ugly.

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  69. I just read/watched this ... at least for me, it reinforced your powerful essay. Thank you for your service.

    https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/11/11/500674719/a-daughter-explores-her-fathers-ptsd-from-vietnam-until-today?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=2038

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  70. Jim: Since the start of my own blog in 2006 I have always written a piece for Remembrance Day. My own enlistment was only a short 4+ years, in the Canadian Reserves. I was young (lied about my age), and it was 1972 (obviously a much different service).
    I'm hard pressed after reading this excellent piece to even conceive of anything I could say myself that might contribute beyond what you have written. I hope you don't mind that I will just be sending my (few) readers over to read your piece tomorrow.

    I was deeply influenced by all Heinlein's work - I've read all of it. Troopers framed my concepts of military service, at a time when (even in Canada) wearing a uniform meant getting spat on (more than once).

    I guess I'm rambling a bit - but thanks for your eloquence.
    Tomorrow I will once again raise a glass 'for absent friends'.

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  71. My husband served during Vietnam - and he was drafted. He did not go willingly. He did not stay after his time was up, but he chose to go instead of leaving the country. When he was in uniform in this country - at airports, restaurants, any public place, he was threatened, spit upon and called names. He never said anything in retort or return. He had an obligation to fulfill and he did so. It was harder to be a soldier in 1970. It was hard to love a country full of people who hated him for no reason than he was forced to join an organization he wanted no part of, but because he was grateful for the privilege of living in this country that his father fought for in the Pacific to save, he answered the call. He harbors no ill will against anyone for those two years, but he doesn't talk about it much either. However, when people thank him for his service today, he is amazingly grateful. We were at a restaurant several years back for Thanksgiving in a small town that has a military college. A young man dressed in fatigues who was with his family because he could not leave for the holiday spoke to my husband and they chatted for a few minutes. When the young man learned he had served during Vietnam, he stood up, almost at attention and said, "sir, thank you for your service." My husband was touched. It was the first time anyone had ever recognized him as a veteran without spitting on him or hurling epithets at him. It surprised me that he even told the young man he had served, since he so rarely talks about it at all. Since then, if anyone asks, he will say that he served and he accepts thanks from other Americans even if he feels it may be perfunctory because there was so little gratitude when he wore the uniform.

    I think the experience is different for everyone who serves, whether by choice or by draft. Your article was insightful, Jim, and I learned something today (yet again). I am sharing it with my husband so he can read it too. Thank you for making your story public.

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  72. Great post. Great novel.

    But don't forget: there are firemen who are arsonists. Probably more than in the general population. And there are lots of chicken hawks in Congress (and dare I say the White House?).

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  73. I am going to thank you, Jim, not only for your past service as a military veteran, but also for your continuing ongoing service as a writer and citizen. Thank you for your repeated insistence, if you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens. It is a crucial truth that we all need to take to heart – if we want a better nation and world, anyway.

    Thank you also for pointing out that military veterans are not the only ones who serve their country, not the only patriots, not the only heroes (and that all are imperfect human beings.)

    I am a woman old enough to remember male peers who were subject to the lottery draft in the Viet Nam era. I remember working on a military base as a young woman during that time, and the men were were so recently back from that arena of war and horror. I remember the guy who asked me to keep safe his wallet and pictures he had taken of his shot up buddy's body, killed in Viet Nam, in the drawer of my desk while he took a swim in the base pool where I was a lifeguard. I remember that man and many others.

    My father, brother, a current and a past brother-in-law, and my husband are all veterans, and I know how very human those men were and are. I also know that things might have been very different had one of those sniper bullets ended my father's life, and so prevented my own. I remember his quiet, unassuming, simple statement regarding the American involvement in World War II and all those men and women who served in that war: Hitler was a madman – someone had to stop him. I also remember his appalled dismay when our country entered into wars that he saw as unwise and unnecessary since then.

    If this year has taught me anything, it is how very much I love my country, its land and inhabitants, and the world – and how much we stand to lose. I find myself driven to do my part to serve and protect – to shape as desirable a future as possible in this time of danger and opportunity. I see increasing numbers of others doing the same, through voting, protesting, taking a knee, helping others vote, talking with friends and neighbors, searching their own souls to find and change darkness within that we see endangering our country all around us, writing, exercising greater discernment with regard to what we read and share with others, and exercising such influence as we can. I see many people making their own personal contributions to the good of the whole community and country, through action and word, silence and thought.

    To you, Jim, and to all who serve now and in the past, thank you. We need you. We need us.


    P.S. With regard to Starship Troopers, I saw the movie, but have not yet read the book. Perhaps it is time I do so.

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  74. I'm a veteran, but no thanks required here, either, as I definitely got more than I gave.

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  75. Jim, have you ever read Tanya Huff's Valour series of books (Space Marines)? Her protagonist, a Marine Gunnery Sergeant, has a very defined attitude toward her fallen, one that is a pillar of who she is and how she does her duty. I'd be interested in your take. I think it's very well written. MarshaMc from Facebook.

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  76. I read the book before I joined and it likely had a role in my decision to do so. It turned out I was one of those who "resented every bloody minute," and when I came home and read the novel again in college I hated it. I never did hate the people in it, or the people I knew in the military, I did - and do - know that unfortunately,the job is necessary and isn't going to disappear.

    I do however, hate the people like Lyndon B. Johnson, who knew in January 1965 that the war was unwinnable and went into it anyway, killing 58,000 of my fellow Americans and uncounted millions of Asians and doing by that decision a far better job of screwing up the country than he ever did to help it with the civil rights legislation he signed. I hate Richard Nixon for telling people he had a "secret plan" to end the war that involved more casualties and death than happened under Johnson.

    I have no love for any of the wars we have fought since 1945 (I don't that one either, but it stands the test of being the last one that was actually *necessary*). They're stupid and useless and not fighting them would not have harmed our country. Fighting them has harmed our country.

    That said, when I think of those caught up in them as the result of the goddamned scumbags who sent them, I have only love and respect for them, for whatever personal reason they're there.

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  77. "We are not heroes. Most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance."
    Thank you, Jim, for saying something that I've been thinking for some time now. The phrase "our heroes in uniform" is so common these days, but I remember a time when they were referred to as servicemen (they were largely male in that era). That, to me, pretty much said it all--they were in service to their country, had sworn an oath to defend its constitution, and that was a powerful thing. Some might became heroes, but that wasn't necessary to their being respected. They were in service to their country. It confuses me now that many among us who profess the most admiration for these "heroes in uniform" don't fight harder for better treatment of veterans through the VA. Private charities may have a place, but veterans need and deserve support at the governmental level--they were in service to their country.

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  78. I have a brother who chose the Navy as his home. He served 24 years and was happy to do his job. He saw action in Vietnam and fished refugees fleeing Vietnam out of the Pacific afterward. He's just now talked with me a bit about his experience, which left him cynical and embittered toward the politicians regardless of party affiliation.

    Thank you for your words. I wish our politicians would honor our veterans more with better health services and post-service assistance than platitudes. I'd rather have my tax money go to that than the latest fancy hardware.

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  79. Thank you for another well written and thought out essay with much to ponder.

    My cousin just posted a picture of our grandmother with three of her sons in uniform during WWII. So, I say to your mother and to your wife, "Thank you for your service" for supporting your son and husband as he served his country.

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  80. I love that book. The movie was bad. Maybe it's because I come from a long line of people who have served, some made it their life choice - my dad would have been much happier, but had a medical discharge, some resented their service, and some never served. My ancestors have served from the beginning of our country, and as I say to everyone, my family served to defend the rights of others to dissent, burn the flag, take a knee and protest war. This is not to say that we haven't had knock down drag out fights in our family about what being a citizen meant/required.

    I protest war and know that sometimes it's the only choice. I protest war and am a member of the American Legion (Daughter of, not a veteran myself). Some people in the military have honor. Some people in the military have none. Rank doesn't say a blessed thing about who has honor. Our veterans are us, the good, the bad, the ugly, the heroic, the mediocre and the sublime.

    May today remind each of us that our service men and women are our families, the ones we like and the ones we don't like, too. Honor and service.

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  81. I have many family in the military-they also serve with quiet dignity and for themselves-not for greater glory. Thank you for this piece-I'm going to share it with them

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  82. Hi Jim - I've known military people my entire 57+ life. I was a navy brat in the UK and Australia. And, I've seen the older people in the forces take a very considered approach to potential conflict.Including sometimes considering their political masters to be relatively incompetent. They would have still gone, but making military decisions for political gain at home didn't get much respect.

    However, the younger guys I've known did tend to be more gung-ho. Much more thoughtless, aggressive and pro-conflict. Perhaps age gives perspective. Perhaps potentially being on the front-line makes difference.

    Having met both it didn't give me a problem with the military. However, if I'd only me the young guys, who I generally got on with, I'd possibly think differently.

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  83. Starship Troopers is without a doubt the most influential book on me and my decision to be a paratrooper, as close as I could get to being a 'Starship Trooper'. There is something about being a 'Jumping Junkie' and the sense of commitment it infers, you aint getting home the same way you got there, you either 'Skate or Die'. I even almost got a 'Gold Star' on my jump wings and still to this day wonder what I would have done if the light went green, but really I would have gone out the door without a second thought, I dont think I would be brave enough to 'unhook'.

    That being said, reading 'Starship Troopers' and liking/loving being changed by it doesnt mean you are a fascist. I served because someone has to and I would rather it be me, a heads up moral killer willing to blow the whistle than someone unwilling to serve, or someone wanting to be 'gung ho hardcore' and losing their humanity in the process.

    I call myself a 'combat hippy', I believe in peace, love and all that communist lesbian crap and will gladly risk or even give my life to protect the weak and defenseless. From each according to his gifts and at a very young age I developed a gift for violence that was borne of self defense. Later, it grew into a zone of peace and detesting amateur violence, the death of Kitty Genovese could never happen in my earshot without me lying dead beside her. We owe it to each other as humans to never let violence to go unanswered.

    Maybe I am an adrenaline junky or have an over developed sense of my own heroism, but whatever it is I am, you summed up much better than I ever have or will.

    As for the lessron who hated you for whatever reason, the only appropriate answer to him and his type is laughter.

    2/505 PIR, H-Minus
    Have a great veteran's day!

    Bill Diaz, Vermont

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    1. Bill,

      Once upon a time, I was an FO for C 1/319 AFAR - direct support for Two Panther.

      Cobra Strike!, H-Minus!

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  84. Well said, my friend.

    Be well and may the Force be with you.

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  85. I read that novel every year as a reminder, I went from enjoyment to resenting every minute of it, to wanting to come back. Being back, and resenting the fact due to place and time never getting above E-4 and being asked "Up or out?" In May of 1990 it was 'out' as an E-2 and one month away from being deployed to Kuwait. With active service of 4 years and another 6.5, my 10.5 year stint was not what I had planned, I wanted a career, to retire from the Army, at 18 I wanted to be a lifer, to be done and retired by 48. The irony was, my Nephew enlists in USMC at 19 and has full E-5 medical retirement by 22. He tread where few went. He saw the worse of it. When he got out, he met a girl, went road tripping the world for a year. Now he is the young man I always knew.

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  86. Jim, your analysis and explanations are, as always, spot on.

    I’ve never liked the “Thank you” either, but I could never put it like you have. I served in positions that were far from the proverbial “sharp end of the spear”, so my experience was very different from those who served in combat. Nevertheless, the contract was the same, I pledged myself to the same end as everyone else, and the chances of combat depended on the whims of the assignment system.

    I raise a toast to you, and to all the men and women who have served with honor in defense of their nation, their comrades, and their ideals!

    Jim Cornwall, Capt, USAF, 1983-1995

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  87. I, too, have read (and re-read) Starship Troopers, and most of the canon. Heinlein's best comment on the service - other than when Rico re-ups on a far planet, because he realises that this is where he belongs - is to be found in a Heinlein short story 'Starman Jones'. Our hero causes a tombstone to be raised over the grave of a former Imperial Marine, who gave his life fighting against impossible odds. The inscription? 'He Ate What Was Set Before Him'. The unofficial motto of the USCG is also stunning, 'You have to go out - you don't have to come back'. Thank YOU - and everyone else out there - for what you did, and what you still do. By the way, do have a look at a major charitable project I'm involved in, the U.K. http://www.peoplesmosquito.org.uk

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  88. The sad truth i, we seem to have lost utterly the idea of service to others as a waybtoward serving ourselves. Thank you sir, for your service, and proving that there are still some who understand what citizenship is all about.

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  89. a veteran who stands for honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

    He despised me for who I am, a veteran.

    He called me and those like me fascist, murderer, dumb blunt tools.

    I can live with that.

    And I wear his contempt as a badge of honor.

    Thank you Jim not for your service, but for your personal leadership.
    Using your gift of writing to expound on the principals and ideals that formed this great country. I detest slogans, usually because they show our ignorance of the subject at hand. If you want a better nation, you have to be a better citizen. honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

    If individuals were to take on these ideals and principles no matter the cost. America could be great again, because we would have actual leaders who could lead. Instead of the our current examples, the Roy Moore's and the principles that they exemplify.

    So Thank you for your service as a writer. Sharing your commentary through your filter's of principals and hard learned experiences please continue.

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  90. I joined up because I wanted to jump out of planes and blow shit up. I got to do both in a time when you came home, burned your uniform and kept your mouth shut. Today I get pissed with all this "thank you for your service stuff" as if I was a hero or something. I got my rewards first hand, I got to jump out of planes and blow shit up.

    Do we need warriors? Of course we do. Do we need leaders who are willing to send them off to war? Of course we do. But we fail miserably on all fronts when we use our kids to force a foreign country into submission just to please the bottom line of corporate greed.

    Today's a day of remembrance for me of the 1700 volunteers in the 173rd airborne brigade who lost their lives in a crazy war very few wanted to give their life for. War makes great bar talk, but in the real world war, after all the chest thumping and enemy dehumanizing, war should be viewed as the major enemy of humanity.. . and should be treated as such.

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  91. I enjoyed Starship Trooper, but the part I didn't like and didn't support was that only veterans were able to vote. In the U.S., the right to vote comes with citizenship. Citizenship (in the form of active participation) does not result from military service.

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  92. Sir

    Well said, and well done. Thank you for your past service, and thank you for your continuing service (such as this wonderful piece of writing).

    I don't hold Heinlein quite as important as some, but he still is found in a significant portion of my own attitudes. I would like to another bit of American writing on the scale with "Star Ship Troopers" - "The War Prayer" by Mark Twain/Samuel Clemmens (I hope I spelled that correctly)

    May the peace of a job well done be yours

    Charlotte, NC

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    1. I liked War Prayer also. I learned well after reading it that the piece was rejected when it was first submitted. (The war against Spain (Spanish-American War) had morphed into the war against the Filipinos.) Twain opposed that category of imperialism and the editors decided against publishing in the heat of the war fever.

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  93. First off, I did fifty months in the Navy, mostly during the Carter Administration. I never had so much as a wet dish rag thrown at me. I don't have a National Defense Medal. But I served. I'm considered a veteran.
    I read 'Starship Troopers' for the first time after I enlisted so it did not influence my decision to sign up. My first Heinlein novel was 'Citizen of the Galaxy' which I read in eight grade. My personal favorite of his is 'Time Enough for Love'.
    The thing that is most missed about 'Starship Troopers' is that it's about being *willing to fight*, not *wanting to fight*. There's a world of difference. During my time in service I only met a few people who professed to want to fight - and I suspect they were trying to fool themselves. But everyone of us had made the commitment to fight if we have to. The services don't get to make the go/no go decision. The politicians pick the fight. Service members understand that some things are worth fighting for. If the politicians make a bad choice, they're stuck. That's why it's so important to elect ration people to public office.
    I could go about a dozen different ways from here but composing my thoughts is difficult for me. That's what I like about Jim. He puts what I'm thinking into writing.
    Thanks, Jim.

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  94. It has never been about freedom. It has always been about money. The revolution was about money. England was exploiting our natural resources just as we have been doing to the world. My 9 years in the military were not wasted years. I had to be doing something. I committed and did my best to make the most of it. It trained me in electronics, and has served me well. I always knew it was not about freedom. So what? I have lived in the wealthiest country on earth and would feel it is only right to do my share. Right or wrong, it is reality. It does not mean that we are good. If it was not us exploiting the world it would be others. It all comes down to luck. I was lucky to have been born here.

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  95. Service members such as yourself are why I spent twelve years writing Singing in Silence. During that period, I thought more than a few times I was dying (and almost did), but I wasn't going to die without finishing the book. My family has served in the military since we landed in 1620, so I know all the aspects of a military life and the various reasons why we serve. I know there is another way to resolve our disputes as humans. Your writing is a continuum of your service and I thank you.

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  96. Terrific post, Jim. I read Starship Troopers as a very young teenager, along with all the other Heinlein YA novels. Some might disagree, but I believe Heinlein was a great writer. His books always engaged me and made me think. What more could a writer do? I don't even remember Starship Troopers, but I just checked, and I still have it. I will sit down later today and start re-reading it. In honor of all my friends who have served, and of my father, who risked his life as a very young man in the Pacific Air War in WWII.

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  97. I joined, right out of high school (1980), because it was what you did (at least some of us). Our fathers (probably most of them) did their time, either drafted or volunteer. You joined to serve our country, because we Americans can go to Hawaii for vacation (I know, there's better places now)!! As funny as that sounds, it speaks to the greatness of our nation. I joined out of the sense of obligation I felt. I finally hung it up after 23 years.
    Hopefully we all serve in some respect: Doctors heal, Teachers teach, service members defend - we're doing it for someone else.
    I still serve (in a different agency these days)because I still feel that sense of obligation.
    And yeah, I've been witness to the ultimate sacrifice - how about 6 memorial services in 100 days? Or closer to home, a relative who was KIA's by a homicide bomber, Northern Iraq, in the early days of OIF. You're humbled and privileged to witness their ultimate service to our country.
    I am: a Former Carrier sailor (got tired of going to sea), former Airborne Ranger (Jump out of perfectly good airplanes??? WHAT??), current intelligence professional. Wouldn't change a thing.
    And dare I state the obvious, but Starship Troopers, the book, far outshines Starship Troopers, the movie.
    Peace/out

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  98. Can't say much in addition to what was written already but "me too". Did what I did, for my own reasons. Igt worked out, no regrets, no need for thanks. I miss my guys, though.

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  99. My husband participated in the Naval Sea Cadets from the time he was 13 years old, and then he served in the army. He deeply wanted to make it his career, but was retired because of service-related illness. He found another way to serve, and worked for the army in recruiting command until his early death from recurrent severe illness. His service brought him illness and early death, but he didn't complain and stayed buoyant and cheerful. Service, duty, and honor were the unquestioned essentials of his life.

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  100. Very thoughtful piece. I loved Heinlein as a kid and young adult. He was definitely a right-winger but evolved almost to a hippie in Stranger in a Strange Land. Filling young minds with fictional ideas about glory in battle cannot be a good thing. If a young person asked me what I recommended I would advise him to read both Starship Troopers and Karl Marlantes "Matterhorn" That way if he/she decided to go into the military it would be with a more realistic perspective. Fred Grannis MD Long Beach CA

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  101. I read Starship Troops at age 7 in 1958. Daughter and granddaughter of combat veterans and niece and grandniece of women who served it had a huge impact on me and my perception of the responsibilities of citizenship.
    I consider it one of the most seditious books ever written and introduce it to every teenager I can get to read it. I tell them to skip most of the middle bug part but to read and think about the beginning and the end and what it says about the rights and responsibilities of membership and citizenship.
    I have had kids come back and thank me for making sure they understand that they need to contribute and participate to "pay" for the gift of this country, warts and all.
    It does not have to be military service. It can be anything where you serve to make this a better place at the end of the day than it was when you started your day.
    I happen to be a proud veteran; 3rd of four generations of men and women who serve, and wife of a veteran. When my husband and I met we discovered almost immediately that this one book was something we had in common for the impact it had on our lives.
    Serving is what we do to earn the right to live here.
    And thank you for writing what we all know and want to tell others.

    PS: My husband and I have also struggled with the "thank you for your service" thing. The most recent thing we have come up with, in addition to asking where they help, is to say back, "it is worth defending." Still not sure that is a good response but agree with an earlier poster who commented that it lets the sayer off the hook of service.

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  102. Heinlein is still my favorite author.
    Starship Troopers bothered me in several ways and inspired me in other ways.

    THIS is one inspiration that came from another novel he wrote, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".

    Did you know that I volunteered for military service in 1973?
    Did you know that when I was 18, I barely questioned the process we use to elect people to make decisions that could have killed me in war?

    Did you know that I have matured since that time, and have decided that the system sucks?

    Did you know that I am now fighting to educate you about proper representation?

    Do you FEEL represented by our government?

    If you voted for a candidate that promised to support your view on issue "X", and that candidate LOST the election, why would you feel represented by the winner, that promised to oppose your view on issue "X".

    If you are not being represented, then why do you agree that we use a system of representation??
    That makes NO sense, whatsoever.

    Let's be fair as well, if your candidate WON, then that means that all of the people who oppose your view on issue "X", are not being represented. They don't get a say in congress, only YOU do. They have every right to be angry and frustrated, as you would, when your view is not represented.

    Yeah, I get it, you feel like a winner when your side wins, but you didn't win fairly. You got your say, but the other side did NOT get a say.

    Yeah, whatever, that's the way it works.

    Yeah? WHAT IF IT WORKED SO THAT EVERYONE got a say???

    Then if there were more of us that did not want to send people to kill other people we would not have to do that.

    If there were more of us that wanted to spend our money, labor and resources on taking care of grandma and the kids, and less on padding offshore accounts of corporations making war machines, we could do that.

    ARE YOU AFRAID of each other?
    DO YOU REALLY think there are more assholes in this nation than good kind hearted people?

    DO YOU THINK that the people who run, as candidates in elections that leave half of the people in this country unrepresented are GOOD KIND HEARTED PEOPLE WHO ONLY CARE ABOUT YOU???

    Show me the evidence of those people running that system care about you or me in the damn slightest.

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/mike-anderson/need-a-new-government/10155645258522278/

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  103. I joined the Air Force in 1983 precisely because it would have been too easy to NOT do so. I had just earned a degree in computer science and lived 90 miles from Silicon Valley. If I had gone there my views would have stayed the same without ever being challenged. I would have no understanding of the attitude of half (or more) of the country. I would hold many of them in contempt, arrogantly thinking them stupid.
    Now, as it happens, my views are probably almost the same--but I understand where others are coming from much better than I would have. I have much more sympathy for those I disagree with, and much more pity than contempt. Oh, the contempt is still there, and some people have still earned it, but it's not the default judgement against whole blocks of people.
    So I did 9 years, got out when it suited me, and now 25 years later I work with military folks again as a contractor. They haven't changed. Mostly still dedicated, competent, honorable people, but all people none the less. Not military thugs or shining supermen. (OK, I can think of a few thugs.) I wish that everyone had a chance to see that from the inside instead of the illusions they get from the outside.

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  104. Although an avid reader, I didn't find Heinlein until my fifth year in the military.

    ST gave me the feeling that: "My gawd, he read my mind". The product of a Jesuit prep school, Charles Kanne, S.J was my "Dubois". So, I had a head start in outlook.

    No longer a "believer", I still foster a Socratic approach, and humanist morality -- fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

    Nine years enlisted and 13 commissioned pretty much gave me the same outlook Jim has.....I even miss Wyoming, but I'm too frikin old to be happy there in the cold.

    Good article.....thanx

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  105. Eisenhower suspended nuclear testing in 1958. Heinlein was infuriated [ ... ] and wrote Starship Troopers in a few weeks (like most of his novels).

    The view from Europe was the complete opposite one: "Mutually Assured Destruction" would first and foremost end *our* continent - so we agreed with Eisenhower.

    This was the drive behind pacifism in Europe: War had become useless, and therefore, the military.

    This only (slowly) changed when nuclear treaties were drawn up (and the EU made - non nuclear - war among European nations self defeating).

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    1. Toon Moene said: "and the EU made - non nuclear - war among European nations self defeating^

      I'm sorry but that is UTTER and TOTAL drivel.

      You might not have noticed, but it was NATO that stopped war in Europe (I was there, part of it, I stood on THAT 'Wall', I witnessed the IGB [and what was on the other side of it], I WENT to East Berlin pre 1989. I was THERE in Berlin in '89, when the Berlin Wall came down) and NATO included the USA. In fact, without the USA in NATO it is far more likely that the Soviets would have come crashing across the IGB.

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    2. I meant "European nations" as the warring factions *before* 1939. Surely, the EU did not prevent the possibility of the Soviet Union to overrun Western Europe - that's why I mentioned "nuclear treaties".

      The point I was making here was that Europe was mired in internal war every few decades (i.e., France, Germany, sometimes Great Britain). That was stopped by the (precursors of) the EU.

      The EU by itself could never have stopped the Soviet Union - it needed NATO for that.

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  106. Over thirty years ago I joined the RCN, voluntarily, partly to see if I could do the job, partly to honour my grandfather's military service. I had hoped to serve in a peacetime force, and I did. I did not stay in, I did what I needed to and goddamnit I wanted to sleep more. :)

    Grandfather served in the Canadian Army during WWI, what he called the 'Great War for Civilization', at first in one way, then later another.

    May those who serve in years to come be fortunate enough to serve in peace, but if not it's their torch to hold high against the foe. I cannot hold it now.

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  107. Thank you for the nice article. I trust this won't sound trite.
    Thank you also for your service.

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  108. Thanks for your service brother.

    I served, not as long, and got out when I realized it was not my calling. Even though the people I worked with meant a lot to me. Still looking for my calling. Ended up spending 14 years serving my last home town in voluntary positions. Trying to make things better at teh ground level.

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  109. I would never risk or give up my life for my country. And I'm damn well proud of it. No thank-you's are necessary.

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  110. I am a veteran (USMC, Vietnam) too, and I believe that Starship Troopers is a dreadful novel.

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