Nutshell: scion of self-obsessed capitalists assimilates to military ethos and thereby joins civilized society.
The transformative process of the narrator is not as important as the result of the transformation, which is presented obliquely by this-is-john-galt style speeches from various instructors & officers, who hand down the quasi-fascistic ideology that dominates the setting.
Some have critiqued the 1997 film for being too overtly fascistic in the presentation, but the novel provides an ambiguous but reasonable basis for the interpretation. (Because I saw the film first, it dominates my reading of the novel; I also saw the film for the first time immediately after viewing Tombstone
for the first time, so they have permanently conflated in my mind, such as "Look, darling, Johnny Rico
. The deadliest pistoleer since Wild Bill, they say. What do you think, darling? Should I hate him?" and "Why Johnny Rico, you look like somebody just walked over your grave.")
The quasi-fascist hints arise in bits such as accusing 20th century democracy of "decadence" (76), anti-intellectualism (93), neo-spenserian eugenicism (but with an underlying erroneous understanding of evolutionary theory--see 123-24--where evolution represents absolute progress rather than relative progress), neo-spenglerianism regarding how humanity appears to have reached its "ultimate peak"(126), a mysticism that falsely distinguishes "a producing-consuming economic animal" from "a man
" (136), a general militarism (which, following Mr. Vagts, is distinct from military doctrine & ethos), positive presentation of Bavarian Freikorps/Beer Hall Putschism (142-43), belligerence as both genetic & moral (147), and of course the virulent anti-communism.
As to that last, we are treated to some perfectly predictable mccarthyist claptrap: "Mr. Dubois had said, 'Of course the Marxian definition of value is ridiculous. All the work one cares to add will not turn a mud pie into an apple tart'" (75). (The sentiment represents both a misstatement of the origin of the labor theory of value as well as a misunderstanding of what the theory asserts--but what more might be expected from an arriere garde philistine?)
On the other hand, however, the novel presents the arachnid enemies as a positive example of some sort of communism: "We were learning, expensively, just how efficient a total communism can be when used by a people actually adapted to it by evolution; the Bug commissars didn't care any more about expending soldiers than we cared about expending ammo" (121). Passing over the evopsych bullshit about evolutionary adaption to an economics, the sentiment is also casually racist, insofar as it expresses the normal cold war psychopathy regarding Asian communist military doctrine. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that the Koreans and Vietnamese and Chinese and Laotians and Cambodians and Indonesians and other Asian states whose millions were killed by the United States did in fact care about their soldiers quite a bit, but realized, following the same military ethos rightly admired by Heinlein, that some sacrifices are necessary in order to achieve the political ends decided by the state, such as maintenance of some sort of independence or beating back an invader that might reasonably, if wrongly, be expected to annihilate the resisting population. The hypocrisy and myopia are astounding, even if the presentation is sufficiently artful and ambiguous to make it worth discussing.
All that said, and as much as it pains me to admit it, this one just cooks along, despite all of the johngaltism and embedded rightwing propaganda.
Recommended for orphans from dead outfits, swivel chair hussars, and hydrocephalic gorillas.