If I was I asked to name my favorite Heinlein story I would be hard pressed to answer. There were so many great ones. However I shall start with one of my favorite favorites entitled The Long Watch from the collection the Past through Tomorrow.
Johnny Dahlquist is a junior bomb officer at the UN’s moon base where the earth’s nuclear weapons are housed. After lunch one day he is ordered to see the executive officer colenel Towers. Towers proceeds to tell him of his plans for a military coup thereby seizing control of and displacing elected governments. Johnny decides to stop towers by making the bombs unusable. Locking himself in the bomb room he sets about destroying the weapons. Having finished the job he intends to surrender until he discovers that he has received a lethal dose of radiation. The story ends with a fellow patrol officer telling him that the coup attempt has failed, but Johnny has already died.
This is more than just another boy and his bomb story. It raises the question, what would I do. What choice would I make in such a situation? Life is based on choices, large and small. Shall I buy that new I T gadget or save the money towards buying a house. Is it better to stay in school or enter the work force now? These are financial choices. Then there are decisions on your health, extra dessert or extra laps. It can even be something as trivial what movie to go see or to see no movie at all. Who do I marry, what shall I eat, when is the best time to approach the boss about that raise, who do I vote for, public, private or home schooling for the kids, where should I live, what breed of dog will make the best pet or is a cat the better choice, who to choose for friends. All choices!
Johnny made his choice! He had not intended to die, far from it, his only conscious thought was to save his family from a dictatorship. His values had been challenged and knowing those values his choice was clear. One characteristic unique to Heinlein stories is that whereas he has heroes they are always unintentional. In my opinion the word hero is one of the most over used in the English language. In the book The High King, last in the Chronicles of Prydain, Taran has realized that a hero is one who works more for others than for himself. Our world is full of heroes but you won’t find them in action movies or in comic books. In most cases they won’t be seen at all. They are the parent working long hours to give their child a better future. A son or daughter caring for an ailing parent. An older sibling who becomes mama or papa because the birth parents either cannot or will not fulfill their obligation. And thus Johnny was a hero, not for his intent but rather for his actions without any heroic intent at all.
I have never been tested thus. And until the opportunity or obligation arrives I do not know if I will make the proper choice. It is through Heinlein that I have come to know the true meaning of heroism.
The rational anarchist