Army Transformation Forum

By Mike Sparks


"Starship Troopers" versus the Tofflers

To understand the direction the U.S. Army is headed in, you need to read two books, Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Alvin and Heidi Toffler's War and anti-War. If this alarms you, that reading sound wisdom like Sun Tzu's The Art of War is not required to understand the current U.S. Army's technotactical course charted should alarm you. Since you may not have read the above books, I will summarize.

Aside for the neo-fascist bitterness of Heinlein wanting a society where only military veterans can vote and hold elected office, Starship Troopers written in 1959 (!) is about Super-Infantry dropped from space like Paratroopers in capsules, that have power suits enabling situational awareness through shared communications and increased firepower and mobility by armor and a "jump" capability to fly short distances for 3D positional advantage maneuver.

The force structure is all teeth, no tail "everybody fights, everybody works" egalitareanism where subordinates are powered down with the ability to take the initiative. This action and sense of shared adventure is what attracts our best young men to join the U.S. Army, and is why Starship Troopers has been one of the most, if not THE most beloved book at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where idealism is still a virtue. The Army is well underway towards a primitive "Starship Trooper" with its digitized 21st Century Land Warrior program for the dismounted Soldiers of our Army.

In contrast, Alvin and Heidi Toffler's War and Anti-War (WAAW) is a very popular book with senior U.S. military leaders who ride around in staff cars. WAAW offers us an illusion of painless war because we are in an alleged enlightened "third wave" of civilization where computers (mentalism) replaces the physical (2d Wave) as industrial age and passe'. Even though we still live in a world that has to grow food to eat (1st wave) and live in physical bodies using the physical resources of our earth, the Tofflers offer us a feast full of stand-off firepower poisons that ironically are condemned as unsound, unworkable tactics and strategy in Starship Troopers even as far back as 1959! The Toffler's "snake oil" is just what risk-averse politicians and power hungry generals would want: a force that doesn't employ maneuver which requires trusting young men on the scene masking decisions, but a top-down bombardment of the enemy using digital mental means fired from VEHICLES like the fragile rubber-tired LAV-III armored car and the proposed Future Combat System (FCS) for the mounted Soldiers of our Army. Whereas Heinlein's Starship Troopers have stand-off firepower means on their power suits (but no ground vehicles to more efficiently do this--a flaw in the book) they never assume that these things replace physical ground maneuver which the "Mobile Infantry" does to root out dug-in enemies impervious to even precision, nuclear firepower.

That firepower-bombardment is an old failed bromide, does not seem to faze those leaders in the Army who want to "unmanned vehicle" the human Soldier out of combat entirely. While I could name some names of those who prescribe to the Tofflerian hubris, it will do no good to entrench them any further than even their own firepower could root them out. The Tofflerian bombard & occupy scheme is the mentality of the Air Force strategic bombers in "Army green".

As you can well, when you take away the constant hue and cry for better pay/benefits, the real crisis in the U.S. Army is over its basic identity and future driven by two different schools of thought in a vacuum of classical military understanding. Clearly this author thinks we need "Starship Troopers" with some robust tracked armored fighting vehicles to carry both direct and indirect firepower (since we are a long way off from Heinlein's power suits carrying such firepower), that can deploy by both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft (we are a long way from boot rockets) to support the troopers when they drop in on the enemy to take the ground away from him. Manifestations of these ideas can be found in retired General David Grange's Air-Mech-Strike, Colonel Douglas MacGregor's Long Range Strike Group and some RAND futurists who pay attention to the operational art and not buy into technohubris "hook, line and sinker". Its not clear where the Rumsfield/Marshall DoD "vision" stands but indications are that the Tofflers and not the troops would be pleased. We should trashcan the Toffler's, who never served a day in uniform---whose ideas would have us surrender maneuver and men out of fear of political consequenses over casualties. A GOOD mobile infantry like Heinlein proposes in air-transportable armored vehicles optimized for either heavy 2D maneuver or lighter 3D "leaps" will be able to attain decisive results of enemy collapse not possible by just firepower-bombardment, regardless of how well executed; when applied to sound military concepts like Sun Tzu's extraordinary/ordinary force and Liddell-Hart's "Indirect Approach" and past 2D/3D warfare combinations employed by Generals Patton (both of them), MacArthur and the Israeli Defense Force.

If our Army would expand its future identity and vision to include books written by the likes of Sun Tzu, Liddell-Hart, Bolger, Leonhard, Antal, Vandegriff, Grange, MacGregor, Jarnot, Johnson in a required reading programn with promotion points as incentives [] it would not be at risk of becoming an "Army of One" controlling an Army of 'bots" in a bad replay of a Star Wars movie where the droid army collapses by a more cunning, clever foe.


Mike Sparks is a former marine and Army enlistedman/officer who leads a non-profit think tank to better the Army, called the 1st Tactical Studies Group (Airborne); He edited the Air-Mech-Strike Study Group "Air-Mech-Strike: Asymmetric Maneuver Warfare for the 21st Century" which outlines how the Army can better transform itself by using armored vehicles capable of both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft transport;


A senior Army officer writes:

"Some of you may have seen a movie that came out recently entitled "STARSHIP TROOPERS!"

That movie was based on a science fiction book written by a man named Robert Anson Heinlein.

I read my first book by Bob Heinlein when I was in Junior High -- more than 40 years ago. Over the years, I've read everything he's written that I could get my hands on. I have most of his books and several collections of his magazine articles and newspaper columns.

As a kid, I decided to "ELECT" Bob Heinlein as my unofficial favorite "uncle!"

Later on, I grew to consider him my favorite "Team Daddy!"

I tried my best to understand and live by the values that he stood for in his books and in his life.

The book "STARSHIP TROOPERS" (that I referred to) was the most controversial book that Heinlein ever wrote. It generated more mail -- running to both extremes -- than anything else he ever wrote. It was written primarily for young people. But it was full of Heinlein's values - values like DUTY, HONOR, and PRIDE IN MILITARY SERVICE.

In the first part of this book, the young hero, Johnny Rico, is in a required high school class on History and Moral Philosophy --- this course is REQUIRED of ALL students for graduation. This course, by law, HAS to be taught by a military combat veteran.

The teacher has just made the statement, "The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual." He goes on to say, "a human being has no natural rights of any nature."

. . . . Somebody took the bait. "Sir? How about 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?"

"Ah, yes, the 'unalienable rights.' Each year {in class} someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What 'right to life' has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What 'right' to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of 'right'? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man's right is 'unalienable'? And is it 'right'? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost."

"The third 'right'? --- the 'pursuit of happiness'? It is indeed unalienable, but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can 'pursue happiness' as long as my brain lives --- but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it."

{The teacher} then turned to {Johnny Rico}. "I told you that 'juvenile delinquent' is a contradiction in terms. 'Delinquent' means 'failing in duty.' But duty is an adult virtue - indeed, a juvenile becomes an adult when, and only when, he acquires a knowledge of duty and embraces it as dearer than the self-love he was born with. There never was, there cannot be, a 'juvenile delinquent.' But for every juvenile criminal, there are always one or more adult delinquents - people of mature years who either do not know their duty, or who, knowing it, fail."

"And that was the soft spot which destroyed what was in many ways an admirable culture. The junior hoodlums who roamed their streets were symptoms of a greater sickness; their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of 'rights' . . . and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure."

Later, when Johnny was going through Officer Candidate School, he was surprised to discover that 'History and Moral Philosophy' was again a required course. In this class, the teacher discussed the fact that - in that society, at that time - ONLY retired military veterans were allowed to vote. The teacher explained this to the class in these words ----- "Under our system EVERY VOTER AND OFFICEHOLDER {my emphasis} is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage. . . . . Since sovereign franchise is the ultimate in human authority, we insure that all who wield it accept the ultimate in social responsibility - we require that each person who wishes to exert control over the state to wager his own life - and lose it, if need be - to save the life of the state. The maximum responsibility a human can accept is thus equated to the ultimate authority a human can exert."

See the movie for kicks ---- Read the book! You'll be glad you did."

Former marine tanker Mark Ash explains why Heinlein was anti-ground vehicle:

"His idea of the future military (that is to say future from 1958) was that tactical nukes would become almost the only weapon. That's why is views on tanks and such are they would be useless. The 'Davey Crockett' was to make them thus as it was meant to be the 'five kiloton RPG from hell.' Him and his wife formed the pro-nuclear weapons Patrick Henry Society to support it and other such weapons."