Why Starship Troopers Is the New Art of War

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, published in 1959, is aging remarkably well, because it offers practical lessons for modern warfare:

What Is War Good For?
“Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than any other factor, and contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.”

— Mr. Dubois, Johnnie’s history and moral philosophy teacher.

Mobility Is Essential
“An infantryman can fight only if someone else delivers him to his zone; in a way I suppose pilots are just as essential as we are.”
— Johnnie Rico

Focus And Automation
“If you load a mudfoot down with a lot of gadgets that he has to watch, someone a lot more simply equipped — say with a stone ax — will sneak up and bash his head in while he is trying to read a vernier”
— Johnnie Rico

There Are No Dangerous Weapons, Just Dangerous People
“Maybe they’ll do without us someday. Maybe some mad genius with myopia, a bulging forehead and a cybernetic mind will devise a weapon that can go down a hole, pick out the opposition and force it to surrender or die — without killing the gang of your own people they have imprisoned inside. In the meantime, until they do, my mates can handle the job.”
— Johnnie Rico

A War By Any Other Name Can Still Kill You
“Everything up to then and still later were ‘incidents,’ ‘patrols’ or ‘police actions.’ However, you are just as dead if you buy the farm in an ‘incident’ as if you buy it in a declared war.”
— Johnnie Rico

True Professionals Control Violence
“The purpose of war is to support your government’s decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him but to make him do what you want him to do. Not killing… but controlled and purposeful violence.”
— Johnnie Rico


  1. I see that edition continues the proud SF publishing tradition of the cover illustration looking nothing like anything in the book.

  2. Isegoria says:

    The paperback edition I got many, many years ago featured a reasonable cover.

  3. J.S. says:

    The new edition cover reminds me of those Vox Day books where they plaster a random sci-fi image of a ship.

  4. A Boy and His Dog says:

    This was the first fiction book I read for pleasure back in fifth grade. (Before that I’d been obsessed with nonfiction about knights and medieval warfare.) Last year I picked it up again to see if I’d love it as much as I did in grade school but found the long chunks of exposition to be intolerable, no matter how true. Also some ideas in the book were ridiculous, like women making better starship pilots because of improved spatial awareness.

    Slightly off-topic, but I found this quote the other day and feel it’s appropriate:

    “Men are clearly wired for [war],” he continues. “The male response to war is an evolutionary adaptation that clearly works for our species.”

  5. Adar says:

    Heinlein was a grad of Annapolis and early in his life a career military man.

    He also worked at the Philadelphia Naval Yard during WW2 with Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague De Camp. Some sort of experimentation they describe as appropriate for naval aircraft. The Philadelphia Experiment more likely!

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