Violence Never Solves Anything

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Starship Troopers by Robert HeinleinHeinlein’s Starship Troopers presents many ideas through Mr. Dubois:

I thought about it during the last session of our class in History and Moral Philosophy. H. & M. P. was different from other courses in that everybody had to take it but nobody had to pass it — and Mr. Dubois never seemed to care whether he got through to us or not. He would just point at you with the stump of his left arm (he never bothered with names) and snap a question. Then the argument would start.

But on the last day he seemed to be trying to find out what we had learned. One girl told him bluntly: “My mother says that violence never settles anything.”

“So?” Mr. Dubois looked at her bleakly. “I’m sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that. Why doesn’t your mother tell them so? Or why don’t you?”

They had tangled before — since you couldn’t flunk the course, it wasn’t necessary to keep Mr. Dubois buttered up. She said shrilly, “You’re making fun of me! Everybody knows that Carthage was destroyed!”

“You seemed to be unaware of it,” he said grimly. “Since you do know it, wouldn’t you say that violence had settled their destinies rather thoroughly? However, I was not making fun of you personally; I was heaping scorn on an inexcusably silly idea — a practice I shall always follow. Anyone who clings to the historically untrue — and thoroughly immoral — doctrine that `violence never settles anything’ I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms.”

He sighed. “Another year, another class — and, for me, another failure. One can lead a child to knowledge but one cannot make him think.”

(From Chapter II — page 24 in my old paperback edition.)


  1. Buckethead says:

    Starship Troopers is one of my all-time favorite books. And after I read it a few times, I found myself lingering over these scenes — with Dubois, rather than over the action.

    Excerpting just those parts would make an interesting political pamphlet.

  2. Isegoria says:

    There’s one more passage of moral philosophy from Mr. Dubois, which I’ll excerpt shortly. The later moral philosophy passage from Officer Candidate School, where Mr. Dubois is not the teacher, seems overly concerned with ethics as a branch of logic and thus of mathematics.

  3. Making a pamphlet out of Dubois quotes is not exactly a new idea. I think I remember seeing one, back in 1964.

  4. Also interesting reading is Christopher Weuve’s favorable analysis of Starship Troopers.

    Mr. Weuve is a civilian contractor for the US Navy.

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