So I am working on my presentation for the MSU philosophy club's next installment of Filmosophy, where we take a movie and discuss its philosophical implications. The film I choose, with boggled looks to whomever I tell, is "Starship Trooper," directed by Paul Verhoeven. Yes, the movie about killing bugs. Really big ugly bugs. Lots of them. Certainly, no one expects much from Verhoeven. (Upon hearing of my talk, my little sister declared "I thought that it was truth universally acknowledged that Paul Verhoeven has the depth of a metaphysical and proverbial puddle." But, my dear sister, as Locke knew, there are no universally acknowledged truths, and he pointed to children and idiots as counterexamples. Be that as it may, and it may be...)
I will write a bit more about my talk next week and the week after (talk is Dec. 5th, called Starship Troopers: The New Republic), but there are side issues in the film that I wanted to address. I did not know, until I did a little research, that the movie was based on a book written in 1959. The book is quite different from the movie, and one of the key differences is its approach to war. The book was written by
Heinlein, a former graduate of the Naval Academy, and officer in the US Navy until forced out by health reasons. He left the Navy in the mid '30s. The book is also a clear reaction to the anti-militancy of the Left in the 30's and beyond. Three features to which I will point: 1) Heinlein seems to belive in the character building of boot camp. This is an extensive part of the movie, as selfish person gets transformed into citizen, where "a citizen accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic, of which he is a member, defending it, if need be, with his life." The citizen puts the safety of the whole above her own. Combat and boot campe are the vehicles for this transformation. 2) War is a solution to problems, argues Heinlein. "Naked force has settled more issues in history than any other factor. The contrary opinion 'violence never solves anything' is wishful thinking at its worst." The radicals of the '60's were criticized for much the same view. No social advance, they argued ever came without violence. 40 hour work week, abolision of slavery, woman's sufferage, etc., etc. and 3) War is inherent in human society. The war with the bugs has no real beginning, and it is a constant struggle in the book.
Here the movie is quite different. On Verhoeven's interpretation, the humans start the war by moving into bug territory with the purpose of expansion. The bugs respond to human aggression by unleashing meteors that slam into the earth, and by wiping out the colonies.
Plato argued in the Republic that a state can either be healthy, and keep its needs to necessities, or it can give into its desires for more, limitless desires which are symbolized in the Republic as the love of money. This requires, eventually, seizing of the land of neighbors to feed our insatiable appetites. Our neighbors will want to seize our land, too, "if they too have surrendered themselves to the endless acquisition of money and have overstepped the limit of their necessities."(Rep. 373d) This in turn requires the formation of an army, both to defend the society and to agressively take from others. This, Plato writes, is the origin of war. "It comes from those same desires that are most of all responsible for the bad things that happen to cities and the individuals in them."(Rep. 373e)
War is not an essential feature of man, but an essential feature of man that has given into the insatiable desires of the luxourious life. War is not a good thing, but the creation of the worst elements in human nature. Human expansion into bug territory is thus a classic example of how Plato sees the origins of war.