Robert A. Heinlein - Startship Troopers - CHAPTER 8
''Train up a child in the way he''
''should go; and when he is old he''
''will not depart from it.''
There were other floggings but darn few. Hendrick was the only man in
our regiment to be flogged by sentence of court-martial; the others were
administrative punishment, like mine, and for lashes it was necessary to go
all the way up to the Regimental Commander -- which a subordinate commander
finds distasteful, to put it faintly. Even then, Major Malloy was much more
likely to kick the man out, "Undesirable Discharge," than to have the
whipping post erected. In a way, an administrative flogging is the mildest
sort of a compliment; it means that your superiors think that there is a
faint possibility that you just might have the character eventually to make
a soldier and a citizen, unlikely as it seems at the moment.
I was the only one to get the maximum administrative punishment; none
of the others got more than three lashes. Nobody else came as close as I did
to putting on civilian clothes but still squeaked by. This is a social
distinction of sorts. I don't recommend it.
But we had another case, much worse than mine or Ted Hendrick's -- a
really sick-making one. Once they erected gallows.
Now, look, get this straight. This case didn't really have anything to
do with the Army. The crime didn't take place at Camp Currie and the
placement officer who accepted this boy for M. I. should turn in his suit.
He deserted, only two days after we arrived at Currie. Ridiculous, of
course, but nothing about the case made sense -- why didn't he resign?
Desertion, naturally, is one of the "thirty-one crash landings" but the Army
doesn't invoke the death penalty for it unless there are special
circumstances, such as "in the face of the enemy" or something else that
turns it from a highly informal way of resigning into something that can't
The Army makes no effort to find deserters and bring them back. This
makes the hardest kind of sense. We're all volunteers; we're M. I. because
we want to be, we're proud to be M. I. and the M. I. is proud of us. If a
man doesn't feel that way about it, from his callused feet to his hairy
ears, I don't want him on my flank when trouble starts. If I buy a piece of
it, I want men around me who will pick me up because they're M. I. and I'm
M. I. and my skin means as much to them as their own. I don't want any
ersatz soldiers, dragging their tails and ducking out when the party gets
rough. It's a whole lot safer to have a blank file on your flank than to
have an alleged soldier who is nursing the "conscript" syndrome. So if they
run, let `em run; it's a waste of time and money to fetch them back.
Of course most of them do come back, though it may take them years --
in which case the Army tiredly lets them have their fifty lashes instead of
hanging them, and turns them loose. I suppose it must wear on a man's nerves
to be a fugitive when everybody else is either a citizen or a legal
resident, even when the police aren't trying to find him. "The wicked flee
when no man pursueth." The temptation to turn yourself in, take your lumps,
and breathe easily again must get to be overpowering.
But this boy didn't turn himself in. He was gone four months and I
doubt if his own company remembered him, since he had been with them only a
couple of days; he was probably just a name without a face, the "Dillinger,
N. L." who had to be reported, day after day, as absent without leave on the
Then he killed a baby girl.
He was tried and convicted by a local tribunal but identity check
showed that he was an undischarged soldier; the Department had to be
notified and our commanding general at once intervened. He was returned to
us, since military law and jurisdiction take precedence over civil code.
Why did the general bother? Why didn't he let the local sheriff do the
In order to "teach us a lesson"?
Not at all. I'm quite sure that our general did not think that any of
his boys needed to be nauseated in order not to kill any baby girls. By now
I believe that he would have spared us the sight -- had it been possible.
We did learn a lesson, though nobody mentioned it at the time and it is
one that takes a long time to sink in until it becomes second nature:
The M. I. take care of their own -- no matter what.
Dillinger belonged to us, he was still on our rolls. Even though we
didn't want him, even though we should never have had him, even though we
would have been happy to disclaim him, he was a member of our regiment. We
couldn't brush him off and let a sheriff a thousand miles away handle it. If
it has to be done, a man -- a real man -- shoots his own dog himself; he
doesn't hire a proxy who may bungle it.
The regimental records said that Dillinger was ours, so taking care of
him was our duty.
That evening we marched to the parade grounds at slow march, sixty
beats to the minute (hard to keep step, when you're used to a hundred and
forty), while the band played "Dirge for the Unmourned." Then Dillinger was
marched out, dressed in M. I. full dress just as we were, and the band
played "Danny Deever" while they stripped off every trace of insignia, even
buttons and cap, leaving him in a maroon and light blue suit that was no
longer a uniform. The drums held a sustained roll and it was all over.
We passed in review and on home at a fast trot I don't think anybody
fainted and I don't think anybody quite got sick, even though most of us
didn't eat much dinner that night and I've never heard the mess tent so
quiet. But, grisly as it was (it was the first time I had seen death, first
time for most of us), it was not the shock that Ted Hendrick's flogging was
-- I mean, you couldn't put yourself in Dillinger's place; you didn't have
any feeling of: "It could have been me." Not counting the technical matter
of desertion, Dillinger had committed at least four capital crimes; if his
victim had lived, he still would have danced Danny Deever for any one of the
other three -- kidnapping, demand of ransom, criminal neglect, etc.
I had no sympathy for him and still haven't. That old saw about "To
understand all is to forgive all" is a lot of tripe. Some things, the more
you understand the more you loathe them. My sympathy is reserved for Barbara
Anne Enthwaite whom I had never seen, and for her parents, who would never
again see their little girl.
As the band put away their instruments that night we started thirty
days of mourning for Barbara and of disgrace for us, with our colors draped
in black, no music at parade, no singing on route march. Only once did I
hear anybody complain and another boot promptly asked him how he would like
a full set of lumps? Certainly, it hadn't been our fault -- but our business
was to guard little girls, not kill them. Our regiment had been dishonored;
we had to clean it. We were disgraced and we felt disgraced.
That night I tried to figure out how such things could be kept from
happening. Of course, they hardly ever do nowadays -- but even once is `way
too many. I never did reach an answer that satisfied me. This Dillinger --
he looked like anybody else, and his behavior and record couldn't have been
too odd or he would never have reached Camp Currie in the first place. I
suppose he was one of those pathological personalities you read about -- no
way to spot them.
Well, if there was no way to keep it from happening once, there was
only one sure way to keep it from happening twice. Which we had used.
If Dillinger had understood what he was doing (which seemed incredible)
then he got what was coming to him . . . except that it seemed a shame that
he hadn't suffered as much as had little Barbara Anne -- he practically
hadn't suffered at all.
But suppose, as seemed more likely, that he was so crazy that he had
never been aware that he was doing anything wrong? What then?
Well, we shoot mad dogs, don't we?
Yes, but being crazy that way is a sickness --
I couldn't see but two possibilities. Either he couldn't be made well
-- in which case he was better dead for his own sake and for the safety of
others -- or he could be treated and made sane. In which case (it seemed to
me) if he ever became sane enough for civilized society . . . and thought
over what he had done while he was "sick" -- what could be left for him but
suicide? How could he live with himself?
And suppose he escaped before he was cured and did the same thing
again? And maybe again? How do you explain that to bereaved parents? In view
of his record?
I couldn't see but one answer.
I found myself mulling over a discussion in our class in History and
Moral Philosophy. Mr. Dubois was talking about the disorders that preceded
the breakup of the North American republic, back in the XXth century.
According to him, there was a time just before they went down the drain when
such crimes as Dillinger's were as common as dogfights. The Terror had not
been just in North America -- Russia and the British Isles had it, too, as
well as other places. But it reached its peak in North America shortly
before things went to pieces.
"Law-abiding people," Dubois had told us, "hardly dared go into a
public park at night. To do so was to risk attack by wolf packs of children,
armed with chains, knives, homemade guns, bludgeons . . . to be hurt at
least, robbed most certainly, injured for life probably -- or even killed.
This went on for years, right up to the war between the Russo-Anglo-American
Alliance and the Chinese Hegemony. Murder, drug addiction, larceny, assault,
and vandalism were commonplace. Nor were parks the only places -- these
things happened also on the streets in daylight, on school grounds, even
inside school buildings. But parks were so notoriously unsafe that honest
people stayed clear of them after dark."
I had tried to imagine such things happening in our schools. I simply
couldn't. Nor in our parks. A park was a place for fun, not for getting
hurt. As for getting killed in one -- "Mr. Dubois, didn't they have police?
"They had many more police than we have. And more courts. All
"I guess I don't get it." If a boy in our city had done anything half
that bad . . . well, he and his father would have been flogged side by side.
But such things just didn't happen.
Mr. Dubois then demanded of me, "Define a `juvenile delinquent.' "
"Uh, one of those kids -- the ones who used to beat up people."
"Huh? But the book said -- "
"My apologies. Your textbook does so state. But calling a tail a leg
does not make the name fit `Juvenile delinquent' is a contradiction in
terms, one which gives a clue to their problem and their failure to solve
it. Have you ever raised a puppy?"
"Did you housebreak him?"
"Err . . . yes, sir. Eventually." It was my slowness in this that
caused my mother to rule that dogs must stay out of the house.
"Ah, yes. When your puppy made mistakes, were you angry?"
"What? Why, he didn't know any better; he was just a puppy.
"What did you do?"
"Why, I scolded him and rubbed his nose in it and paddled him."
"Surely he could not understand your words?"
"No, but he could tell I was sore at him!"
"But you just said that you were not angry."
Mr. Dubois had an infuriating way of getting a person mixed up. "No,
but I had to make him think I was. He had to learn, didn't he?"
"Conceded. But, having made it clear to him that you disapproved, how
could you be so cruel as to spank him as well? You said the poor beastie
didn't know that he was doing wrong. Yet you indicted pain. Justify
yourself! Or are you a sadist?"
I didn't then know what a sadist was -- but I knew pups. "Mr. Dubois,
you have to! You scold him so that he knows he's in trouble, you rub his
nose in it so that he will know what trouble you mean, you paddle him so
that he darn well won't do it again -- and you have to do it right away! It
doesn't do a bit of good to punish him later; you'll just confuse him. Even
so, he won't learn from one lesson, so you watch and catch him again and
paddle him still harder. Pretty soon he learns. But it's a waste of breath
just to scold him." Then I added, "I guess you've never raised pups."
"Many. I'm raising a dachshund now -- by your methods. Let's get back
to those juvenile criminals. The most vicious averaged somewhat younger than
you here in this class . . . and they often started their lawless careers
much younger. Let us never forget that puppy. These children were often
caught; police arrested batches each day. Were they scolded? Yes, often
scathingly. Were their noses rubbed in it? Rarely. News organs and officials
usually kept their names secret -- in many places the law so required for
criminals under eighteen. Were they spanked? Indeed not! Many had never been
spanked even as small children; there was a widespread belief that spanking,
or any punishment involving pain, did a child permanent psychic damage."
(I had reflected that my father must never have heard of that theory.)
"Corporal punishment in schools was forbidden by law," he had gone on.
"Flogging was lawful as sentence of court only in one small province,
Delaware, and there only for a few crimes and was rarely invoked; it was
regarded as `cruel and unusual punishment.' " Dubois had mused aloud, "I do
not understand objections to `cruel and unusual' punishment. While a judge
should be benevolent in purpose, his awards should cause the criminal to
suffer, else there is no punishment -- and pain is the basic mechanism built
into us by millions of years of evolution which safeguards us by warning
when something threatens our survival. Why should society refuse to use such
a highly perfected survival mechanism? However, that period was loaded with
pre-scientific pseudo-psychological nonsense.
"As for `unusual,' punishment must be unusual or it serves no purpose."
He then pointed his stump at another boy. "What would happen if a puppy were
spanked every hour?"
"Uh . . . probably drive him crazy!"
"Probably. It certainly will not teach him anything. How long has it
been since the principal of this school last had to switch a pupil?"
"Uh, I'm not sure. About two years. The kid that swiped -- "
"Never mind. Long enough. It means that such punishment is so unusual
as to be significant, to deter, to instruct. Back to these young criminals
-- They probably were not spanked as babies; they certainly were not flogged
for their crimes. The usual sequence was: for a first offense, a warning --
a scolding, often without trial. After several offenses a sentence of
confinement but with sentence suspended and the youngster placed on
probation. A boy might be arrested many times and convicted several times
before he was punished -- and then it would be merely confinement, with
others like him from whom he learned still more criminal habits. If he kept
out of major trouble while confined, he could usually evade most of even
that mild punishment, be given probation -- `paroled' in the jargon of the
"This incredible sequence could go on for years while his crimes
increased in frequency and viciousness, with no punishment whatever save
rare dull-but-comfortable confinements. Then suddenly, usually by law on his
eighteenth birthday, this so-called `juvenile delinquent' becomes an adult
criminal -- and sometimes wound up in only weeks or months in a death cell
awaiting execution for murder. You -- "
He had singled me out again. "Suppose you merely scolded your puppy,
never punished him, let him go on making messes in the house . . . and
occasionally locked him up in an outbuilding but soon let him back into the
house with a warning not to do it again. Then one day you notice that he is
now a grown dog and still not housebroken -- whereupon you whip out a gun
and shoot him dead. Comment, please?"
"Why . . . that's the craziest way to raise a dog I ever heard of!"
"I agree. Or a child. Whose fault would it be?"
"Uh . . . why, mine, I guess."
"Again I agree. But I'm not guessing."
"Mr. Dubois," a girl blurted out, "but why? Why didn't they spank
little kids when they needed it and use a good dose of the strap on any
older ones who deserved it -- the sort of lesson they wouldn't forget! I
mean ones who did things really bad. Why not?"
"I don't know," he had answered grimly, "except that the time-tested
method of instilling social virtue and respect for law in the minds of the
young did not appeal to a pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who
called themselves `social workers' or sometimes `child psychologists.' It
was too simple for them, apparently, since anybody could do it, using only
the patience and firmness needed in training a puppy. I have sometimes
wondered if they cherished a vested interest in disorder -- but that is
unlikely; adults almost always act from conscious `highest motives' no
matter what their behavior."
"But -- good heavens!" the girl answered. "I didn't like being spanked
any more than any kid does, but when I needed it, my mama delivered. The
only time I ever got a switching in school I got another one when I got home
and that was years and years ago. I don't ever expect to be hauled up in
front of a judge and sentenced to a flogging; you behave yourself and such
things don't happen. I don't see anything wrong with our system; it's a lot
better than not being able to walk outdoors for fear of your life -- why,
"I agree. Young lady, the tragic wrongness of what those well-meaning
people did, contrasted with what they thought they were doing, goes very
deep. They had no scientific theory of morals. They did have a theory of
morals and they tried to live by it (I should not have sneered at their
motives) but their theory was wrong -- half of it fuzzy-headed wishful
thinking, half of it rationalized charlatanry. The more earnest they were,
the farther it led them astray. You see, they assumed that Man has a moral
"Sir? But I thought -- But he does! I have."
"No, my dear, you have a cultivated conscience, a most carefully
trained one. Man has no moral instinct. He is not born with moral sense. You
were not born with it, I was not -- and a puppy has none. We acquire moral
sense, when we do, through training, experience, and hard sweat of the mind.
These unfortunate juvenile criminals were born with none, even as you and I,
and they had no chance to acquire any; their experiences did not permit it.
What is `moral sense'? It is an elaboration of the instinct to survive. The
instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our
personalities derives from it. Anything that conflicts with the survival
instinct acts sooner or later to eliminate the individual and thereby fails
to show up in future generations. This truth is mathematically demonstrable,
everywhere verifiable; it is the single eternal imperative controlling
everything we do."
"But the instinct to survive," he had gone on, "can be cultivated into
motivations more subtle and much more complex than the blind, brute urge of
the individual to stay alive. Young lady, what you miscalled your `moral
instinct' was the instilling in you by your elders of the truth that
survival can have stronger imperatives than that of your own personal
survival. Survival of your family, for example. Of your children, when you
have them. Of your nation, if you struggle that high up the scale. And so on
up. A scientifically verifiable theory of morals must be rooted in the
individual's instinct to survive -- and nowhere else! -- and must correctly
describe the hierarchy of survival, note the motivations at each level, and
resolve all conflicts."
"We have such a theory now; we can solve any moral problem, on any
level. Self-interest, love of family, duty to country, responsibility toward
the human race -- we are even developing an exact ethic for extra-human
relations. But all moral problems can be illustrated by one misquotation:
`Greater love hath no man than a mother cat dying to defend her kittens.'
Once you understand the problem facing that cat and how she solved it, you
will then be ready to examine yourself and learn how high up the moral
ladder you are capable of climbing.
"These juvenile criminals hit a low level. Born with only the instinct
for survival, the highest morality they achieved was a shaky loyalty to a
peer group, a street gang. But the do-gooders attempted to `appeal to their
better natures,' to `reach them,' to `spark their moral sense.' Tosh! They
had no `better natures'; experience taught them that what they were doing
was the way to survive. The puppy never got his spanking; therefore what he
did with pleasure and success must be `moral.'
"The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to
group that self-interest has to individual. Nobody preached duty to these
kids in a way they could understand -- that is, with a spanking. But the
society they were in told them endlessly about their `rights.' "
"The results should have been predictable, since a human being has no
natural rights of any nature."
Mr. Dubois had paused. Somebody took the bait. "Sir? How about `life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'?"
"Ah, yes, the `unalienable rights.' Each year 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 that
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."
Mr. Dubois then turned to me. "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."
I wondered how Colonel Dubois would have classed Dillinger. Was he a
juvenile criminal who merited pity even though you had to get rid of him? Or
was he an adult delinquent who deserved nothing but contempt?
I didn't know, I would never know. The one thing I was sure of was that
he would never again kill any little girls.
That suited me. I went to sleep.