A second look at Starship Troopers

Another look at Starship Troopers.

There is a very popular movie playing in theaters today. It is called Starship Troopers. It is a dangerous movie, but we can learn from the danger. At face value, it looks to be a good guys verses bad guys, rough, tough war movie in which the good guys finally triumph. The good guys are human beings and the bad guys are "bugs", insects. The insects inflict great harm on the earth's population and the "troopers" respond with vicious reprisal. The human race is saved by the heroic, self-sacrificing troopers who make Rambo look like Gandhi. Everyone leaves the theater smiling. Young kids comment that they would like to be a trooper, to defend the human race against harm --to protect, attack and win.

That's the movie at face value. However, a closer look is important, for the movie is a glorification of fascism. What!? How could a movie which glorifies fascism be released without the media and conservative populous raising a stink, in fact, seeking its prohibition from being shown? After all, there was much concern about the episode of Ellen concerning just homosexuality. It did not air in Birmingham on the scheduled night due to concerns that our youth would be harmed by contact with improper themes. I would think that a movie which glorifies fascism would "raise the roof," foster column after column in newspapers and have pickets at theater doors. But, to my knowledge, nothing has been said or done. It is a gross inconsistency for society to suppress expressions of intimacy on the one hand, and promote on the other rampant violence.

What fascist ideas does the movie portray? It delivers the fundamentals of fascism. First, there is the thesis that democracy is an incompetent form of government. In the movie, a democratic government has failed, and it is only through fascism that the human race has survived and recovered its economic/technological livelihood. Fascism is antithetical to democracy and is considered to be a superior form of government. Second, the individual person is subordinated to the state. When needed, any person is to sacrifice everything without question for the sake of the fascist community. Third, the troopers are elite. The movie makes it quite clear that the "citizens of the state" are the military; it is only citizens who control the destiny of the human race, not the masses at large through any kind of democratic procedure. The military constitute the government; only citizens can vote or make societal decisions. Citizenship is earned through meritorious military valor; it is not a property with which a person is born, as in our country. The destiny of the many is controlled by the hierarchy of military "leaders" in virtue of their superior intellectual and military leadership. Fourth, there is the elaboration of the theme that human life is a struggle of the fittest species able to adapt to an adverse situation, that if the human species is to survive, it must be at continual war with its environment. Only through military valor in combat can citizens, and ultimately society, achieve excellence and survive as a species.

Again, oddly enough, not a word has been said in the popular press or news media about the political contents of the film. Not even from Rush himself. Why is this?

Perhaps, the reason is that the film is a "good guys verses insects (bad guys) science-fiction film." No one pays attention to science-fiction because it is precisely that -- fiction. Or it may be that the movie (and film industry) is so saturated with violence that underlying political themes are lost in the carnage. But, whatever the reasons, Starship Troopers should be looked at as a very persuasive art form, not too different from Hitler's Triumph of the Will. Both films are persuasive portrayals of fascist principles, especially to young persons. Whereas Triumph of the Will involves an "idealist" view of fascism (troops goose-stepping, flags waving, machines of war on parade), Starship Troopers exhibits the raw products of fascist principles (military planning, attack, valor in brutal combat, victorious triumph). Such films are dangerous because they mislead persons theoretically and realistically. Theoretically, uneducated persons may come to think that "might does make right." Realistically, those same persons may die horrible deaths for the sake of a mistaken political principle.

On the other hand, cinematic freedom of expression is important for democracy. Starship Troopers calls attention to the forces that threaten our value of freedom of thought. The idea that democracy can fail and be replaced by a totalitarian form of government is not a trivial point made by the film. Democracy will fail if those who constitute its political body are ignorant and do not participate in the government. Freedom of thought, the expression and criticism of any principle are necessary conditions for a viable democracy. A review of how few Alabamians think about issues and then vote and how few of us even know or write to our representatives concerning important matters is frightening. Democracy is a way of life; if it is not lived and practiced, it will perish. That few persons have come forth to respond to the themes of the film causes me to shudder.

The film's thesis that the military is elite should force us to review the treatment of our military personnel. To a great extent, we treat them in a schizophrenic way; they are conceived as expendable (we need only to look at the facts surrounding D-Day), yet we also consider them as morally and technically elite; we ask them to sacrifice their lives for us in the most horrible of circumstances and yet demand that they be morally superior to us. We ask them to risk grave danger of exposure to virulent toxins, yet deny them considerable treatment when numbers of them develop symptoms congruent with such exposure. We ask them to use weapons of mass destruction on demand, yet extol them for failure to stay chaste. The demands on our armed services are great, while the associated rewards little. Yet, they have remained loyal servants willing to undergo unimaginable hardships. I can only hope that they retain those virtues of courage and commitment. Fascism is only a short step away should the military wish to change the order of command.

The fascist glorification of vicious combat as a way of life and emphasis that man's environment is perpetually hostile should be of great concern to us. Imagine being brought up in a society in which persons are perpetually paranoid and that resolution of disagreements can only be gained through combat? Our democracy insists that it is through mutual trust and legislation that problems are resolved. However, the danger of the persuasive nature of the film is that the seeds of fascism planted could spring to violent life should young persons take them up uncritically. If our democracy cannot solve the ills imbedded in our education and economic systems which foster ignorance, bias and hopelessness so that persons are not denied livable futures, they may turn to fascism. Think things are bad now with respect to youth violence? Wait until the new "troopers" bloom to life and seek their destinies through fascism. We will be the insects or bugs to be eliminated. Our democracy simply cannot afford to underestimate the importance of education and participation in the social contract by all persons.

My concerns are not that we should censor the movie (far from that), but that we should take advantage of the notice which it is giving us. We are failing to practice our democracy to make it a viable form of government. There should be articles in our newspapers, programs on the TV news media, and classroom discussions in our institutions of learning contrasting democracy and fascism. That Starship Troopers is enjoyed by our youth without critical commentary should be a flashing red light on the dashboard of our society.

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