Posts Tagged ‘Naval Academy’

Robert A. Heinlein on patriotism

November 11, 2011

The following is a shortened version of “The Pragmatics of Patriotism,” a lecture given by the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein to midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy on April 5, 1973.  The complete lecture is given in Expanded Universe, an anthology of Heinlein’s works edited by Heinlein himself as an overview of his career and thoughts.

Heinlein himself graduated from the Naval Academy in 1929, but he was discharged from the Navy in 1934 for medical reasons; he had pulmonary tuberculosis.  After unsuccessful ventures in real estate sales and silver mining, he sold his first science fiction story in 1939, and soon became one of the most popular and influential science fiction writers.  During World War Two, he worked in research and development at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Robert A. Heinlein

… … Why are you here? … You are here to become a naval officer. That’s why this Academy was founded. That is why all of you are here: to become naval officers. If that is NOT why YOU are here, you’ve made a bad mistake. But I speak to the overwhelming majority who understood the oath they took on becoming midshipmen and look forward to the day when they will renew that oath as commissioned officers.

But why would anyone want to become a naval officer?

In the present dismal state of our culture there is little prestige attached to serving your country; recent public opinion polls place military service far down the list.  … … Why would anyone elect a career which is unappreciated, overworked, and underpaid? It can’t be just to wear a pretty uniform. There has to be a better reason. … …

As one drives through the bushveldt of East Africa, it is easy to spot herds of baboons grazing upon the ground.  But not by looking at the ground.  Instead you look up and spot the lookout, an adult male posted on the limb of a tree where he has a clear view of all around him – which is why you can spot him; he has to be where he can see a leopard in time to give the alarm.  On the ground, a leopard can catch a baboon – but if a baboon is warned in time to reach the trees, he can out-climb a leopard.

The lookout is a young man assigned to that duty and there he will stay, until the bull of the herd sends another male to relive him. … …

Patriotism is the most practical of all human characteristics.

But in the present decadent atmosphere patriots are often too shy to talk about it − as if it were something shameful or an irrational weakness.

But patriotism is NOT sentimental nonsense. Nor something dreamed up by demagogues. Patriotism is as necessary a part of man’s evolutionary equipment as are his eyes, as useful to the race as eyes are to the individual.

A man who is NOT patriotic is an evolutionary dead end. This is not sentiment but the hardest of logic.