For those who have been following this project since it’s inception, you are probably thinking, “doesn’t this guy read anything that isn’t non-fiction?” Well, for you doubters, here it is: a purely fictional book that the hit 1997 movie was based on.
The book, like most book-to-movie movie’s, is quite different than the movie. On the Acknowledgement’s page, it reads:
“TO “SARGE” ARTHUR GEORGE SMITH – SOLIDER, CITIZEN, SCIENTIST – AND TO ALL SERGEANTS ANYWHEN WHO HAVE LABORED TO MAKE MEN OUT OF BOYS.”
So this book is about sergeants. The book begins with Cpl Juan “Johnnie” Rico on a “drop,” a term that means the M.I. (Mobile Infantry) shoot down to a planet from a starship. After this introduction, he takes us back to his reasons for joining the military life. In this society, one gains citizenship and thus a vote only by completing service time (a theme we will explore later). After he joins, he goes to boot camp, where he meets Sergeant Zim.
As a Marine, I can relate a lot to this person. At the time, I can remember being frustrated at my drill instructors, and even loathed and perhaps hated them. They made us do these ridiculous things, yelled at us, and became a figurehead of fear to be resented. But in retrospect, I can see how these men molded me into the man I am today and I am forever grateful to them. Moreover, I can see how they actually took care of me and prepared me for the future fleet life: if they failed a recruit, it could mean that a fellow Marine would someday lose his life for that recruits (future Marine’s) mistakes. Their job is to make men out of boys, warriors out of civilians. It is said that every Marine has at least 1 confirmed kill: the civilian that was inside of you when you made that transformation into a Marine. And you know what they say: once a Marine, always a Marine.
Anyways, one of my favorite lines of the book is in one boot camp scene:
“[Recruit Jenkins speaking] I can’t help wondering what kind of a mother produced that [Sergeant Zim]. I’d just like to have a look at her, that’s all. Did he ever have a mother?” It was a rhetorical question but it got answered. At the head of the table, several stools away, was one of the instructor-corporals. He had finished eating and was smoking and picking his teeth, simultaneously; he had evidently been listening. “Jenkins-” “Uh-Sir?” “Don’t you know about sergeants?” “Well, I’m learning.” “They don’t have mothers. Just ask any trained private…. They reproduce by fission… like all bacteria.”
Further, the book illustrates how Sergeants take care of those who are under them. Recruits in the M.I. are taught something Marines are taught: freeze. It’s a command that tells you to immediately stop, don’t even take the next step. Evidently, one recruit landed on an ant pile when he was given the command freeze and when he didn’t, Sergeant Zim put him in his place. The recruit gave him some lip and was taken to the Company Commander. He didn’t like the meager punishment and revealed that he had landed a strike on Sergeant Zim, a violation of Military Law. After this was found out, he was kicked out of the M.I. and given 8 lashes (just what it sounds like). The Sergeant purposely did not tell the Company Commander about the strike in the first place to protect his recruit, but once he had ratted himself out the Company Commander had no choice but to enforce the law upon him.
There are some critiques of this book that claim that the Terran Federation (the ruling government) is a symbol of fascism. Robert Paxton defined fascism as: “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” Perhaps not all of those are applicable, but it is an interesting question and one that has been floating around for some time. I remember being out of boot camp for just days and telling some folks that I thought it was something that everyone should experience, to the chagrin of some; one lady told me that her son was never in the military and turned out fine.
Regardless, this book is enlightening about certain aspects of military life. I encourage all Sergeants to read it.