Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Learning to Despise the Military Mind

Learning is lifelong. The latest lesson was prompted by a quarter copy of Robert Heinlein's Expanded Universe, which I don't think I have actually read. It must have been one of the first Heinlein works to come out after I'd matured some. I'd started noticing things terrribly wrong with I Will Fear No Evil. Then, Time Enough for Love proved there was not time enough in my lifetime to continue loving the Heinlein oeuvre. I was grateful that Friday and Job were at least readable, if not read too closely.

But a quarter at the Goodwill is quite enough to justify enough someone as disreputable as Heinlein. Of course, he isn't disreputable. That right there says altogether too much about the fans of science fiction. Somehow, Andre Norton, the other dead giant of YA SF, is absently mindedly dismissed. But Heinlein, Heinlein is somehow still respected.

The thing about this collection is that it contains some of Heinlein's overtly political fiction and nonfiction. Two essays in particular, about a tourist trip to the Soviet Union, are also revealing about Heinlein the man. In those essays, Heinlein announces his conviction that Moscow's population was falsified. The railroad yards, the shipping on the Moscow river, and the testitmony of other brave and forthright military officers expert in logistics are cited to confirm the astounding inability of the West to see through Communist lies. Since the famous Moscow Metro was also famous for carrying freight at night, Heinlein's survey of railroad yards proves him either a halfwit or a liar.

I tend to favor the latter. Also in these essays, Heinlein gives tips for dealing with Intourist. His prescriptions are really quite simple. They merely elaborate on the sociopath's only wisdom, that most people are fundamentally decent, thus disarmed against an aggressive foe unencumbered by empathy. He recommends refusing to move, leaning into personal space, open insults (with helpful hints on what is particularly vile by Russian standards,) screaming. In Heinlein's other fiction, such tourists come in for authorial abuse. This was no doubt very amusing for him, in effect bragging about what he got away with. The notorious incident with his vicious attack on Arthur C. Clarke at Greg Benford's place shows how Heinlein was a practicing socioopath in his US domestic life as well. (If it pleases you to substitute mean, lying dirtbag for "sociopath," feel free.)

Which puts his other fiction in a different light. Jubal Harshaw's asides about manipulating sentimentality in his audience, the political dirty tricks and spying also seem to be autobiographical. It is interesting to speculate about Heinlein's real motives and role in Upton Sinclair's EPIC campaign. A naval officer retired young for TB, with some contacts via free love (Heinlein's first wife) with the left, is ideal for a second career as a political operative. Like those "disilliusioned" Vietnam vets were ideal for infiltrating antiwar movements. We'll never know, most likely.

One of the pieces repeats some of his favorite subterfuges re Starship Troopers. Since everyone with the slightest education knows that the franchise in ancient democracies, as in the well known example of Athens, depended upon service in the military, Heinlein's basic thesis, that the responsibility of service stabilizes, is false, and known to be false, throughout the entire book. The occasional sentence thrown in about Federal Service not being military service were deliberately inserted for polemical purposes. If ninety five percent of the Federal Service were nonmilitary, there was no need for the scene in which examiners talk about forcing a cripple to withdraw by deliberate harassment. Counting the hairs on a caterpillar was the example, I believe.

The anthology also contains his Patrick Henry appeal. Apparently he tried to ride this political hobby horse somewhere. Then it turned out not to be Republican party policy. I don't think Heinlein ever forgave Eisenhower. But as a general, Eisenhower was exempt from real criticism. The appeal itself was the most ludicrous, vicious Red Scare mania imaginable. Vicious personal slanders, equation of disagreement about facts equated with treason, non sequiturs and double standards abound. Heinlein knew very well what the US military was up to, in the past and in the present. He just didn't care. In Glory Road, though, he really only cared to explain how his Hero didn't screw outside his race. The man knew how to duck. He threw in miscegenation in Farnham's Freehold to sweeten the pill of black on white cannibalism. People still tend to sort of glide over Farnham's Freehold, like it didn't even exist. Ah, but it did. What does it say to pretend it didn't?

The funniest thing of all, is that with a little maturity, reading Mark Twain, and a little Jack London and H.L. Menchken, reveals how unoriginal Heinlein's style really was. His play with scientific ideas was nowhere nears as imaginative as Arthur C. Clarke's. So he used his grasp of basic science in juveniles, where excessive creativity would have been a handicap. Of his adult work, the influence of John W. Campbell on the Future History stories gave them an interior strength. His later "adult" work is notoriously bad, with even trash like Spider Robinson unable to make a coherent case. (The defenders picked up one thing from the poisonous toad they worship: The best defense is a good offense. They trash the motives and politics of Heinlein critics.)

His true strength was a certain kind of fantasy characterization, straight from the pulps, to the reader's vicarious daydreams. For the mature reader, Isaac Asimov far excelled in his portrayal of real human beings. Since no one makes a brief for the Good Doctor's literary talents, that really shows how truly awful Heinlein is.

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