17 Quotes and Leadership Lessons from the book Starship Troopers

I’m not a big science fiction fan.  But I am a big fan of the book “Starship Troopers.”  While I was a Company Commander my Battalion Commander (LTC Baker) assigned his subordinate officers to read this book for an OPD.  At first, I wasn’t very excited about the idea.  I had seen the movie and enjoyed it, but didn’t think I would like the book.

starship troopers bookFrom the time I first picked this book up and started reading it, I was in complete awe.  Not only is the book entertaining, but it is absolutely loaded with great quotes about life and military leadership.  I’ve picked 17 quotes from the book that really inspired me and shared them below.  Over the next 17 days I am going to write a daily post about each quote and share my insights to it.  I guess you could call it a mini-series, the first of its kind on my website.

If you haven’t read Starship Troopers yet I hope you will order a copy and follow along with me.  You can learn a lot about leadership and about life from this book.  My goal is not to reveal what’s in the book.  I don’t want to review the plot and spoil it for you.  Instead, I simply want to share some of the golden nuggets that really helped me become a better military leader and citizen, just from reading the book.

This is the first post in the mini-series and there will be 17 additional posts in the next two and half weeks.  Please check back to my website each day to follow along in this series.    As you follow along, I’d love if you left a comment with each post to tell me what you think.

Here are my favorite 17 quotes and lessons I found in the book Starship Troopers:

Lesson # 1: “But Jelly didn’t have to maintain discipline among privates because he maintained discipline among his non-coms and expected them to do likewise.”

Lesson # 2: “A man ought to fill each spot on his way up.”

Lesson # 3: “There mustn’t be any shadow of doubt when you give an order, not in combat.”

Lesson # 4:“Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage.”

Lesson # 5: “You would find it much easier than to instill moral virtue – social responsibility – into a person who doesn’t have it, doesn’t want it, and resents having the burden thrust on him.  This is why we make it so hard to enroll, so easy to resign.  Social responsibility above the level of family, or at most of tribe, requires imagination – devotion, loyalty, all the higher virtues, – which a man must develop himself; if he has them forced down him, he will vomit them out.”

Lesson # 6: “They wait for the sure voice of command – while seconds trick away –  and it’s up to you to be that voice, make decisions, give the right orders … and not only the right ones, but in a calm, unworried tone.” … a strange voice with panic in it can turn the best combat team in the Galaxy into leaderless, lawless, fear-crazed mob.”

Lesson # 7: “It’s a lot easier to die than it is to use your head.”

Lesson # 8: “…Your life belongs to your men and is not yours to throw away in a suicidal reach for glory… and that your life isn’t yours to save, either, if the situation requires that you expend it.”

Lesson # 9: “There never have has been an outfit in which officers and men were more dependent on each other than they are in the M.I., and sergeants are the glue that holds us together.  Never forget it.”

Lesson # 10: “To direct a war, or even to plan a single battle and mount the operation, you have to have a theory of games, operational analysis, symbolic logic, pessimistic synthesis, and a dozen other skull subjects.”

Lesson # 11: “In the mass wars of the XXth century it sometimes took 70,000 men (fact!) to enable 10,000 to fight.”

Lesson # 12: “But you can’t buy fighting spirit.  It’s scarce.”

Lesson # 13: “What kind of an army has more “officers” than corporals? (And more noncoms than privates!) An army organized to lose wars – if history means anything.  An army that is mostly organization, red tape, and overhead, most of whose “soldiers” never fight.”

Lesson # 14: “The M.I. never commissions a man simply to fill a vacancy.”

Lesson # 15: “Officers are supposed to look relaxed son.  An officer can’t look scared or tense; it’s contagious.”

Lesson # 16: “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.”

Lesson # 17: “Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than the part…and that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice itself that the whole may live.”

Final Thoughts

Once again, in the next 17 days I will write a blog post to elaborate on each lesson, sharing my own thoughts and insights.  I hope you will follow along and share your thoughts by leaving a comment to each post.

6 thoughts on “17 Quotes and Leadership Lessons from the book Starship Troopers”

  1. I must admit, when I first saw the idea of a science fiction piece being used as lesson learning in the real world, I was flabbergasted. After reading these quotes though, I truly understand what you are saying.

    My wife and I watched a science fiction movie last night called After Earth with Will Smith. Lessons on family relationships were taught through it.

    There are lessons that can be learned through Science Fiction. Thank you for this post.

  2. The movies rarely follow the books, or even do them justice. I have heard of the book, but didn’t realize it had so much depth (I guess you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover). I’m tempted to read it myself now. I really like Lesson #5, for it distinctly illustrates the importance of buy-in and cooperation of not only soldiers, but of anyone endeavoring to accomplish a common goal. Forcing someone to accept something or to do something will result in resistance–remember, “for every action there is a reaction.” The difficult application process the writer refers to ensures that only those who really want to be there are accepted. Commitment will be high, important to the overall success of the group.

  3. Daniel Slone

    Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is a classic of hard science fiction, and while the movie is entertaining, it bears little resemblance to the book. The portrayal of a future military culture is outstanding, and some of the concepts–earning full citizenship through military service, for example–are thought-provoking. Good science fiction is meant to be thought-provoking, of course, so it’s well worth a read.

    1. This book is such a great read for military leaders. First time I was ever suggested the book I kind of looked at it as silly. I had also seen the movie so automatically had some assumptions about the material… Glad I looked past that and read it. So many valuable lessons I took from it and this miniseries is a great way to provide leaders good insight to the lessons of the book.

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