What If We Sent Old Men To War?

That’s the premise of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s Warold mans warwhich I’ve just started reading. Scalzi envisions a time in the future when people from earth have colonized distant world, and presumably have encroached on the space of others, precipitating wars in space. The colonists, whose technology is far in advance of those living here on earth have a unique recruiting strategy. You cannot enlist until you are 75, and if you do, you can never return to earth. You have died and gone to the heavens. Why then do people do it? It is because the colonists have figured out how to rejuvenate the old bodies who have nothing and maybe no one left on earth to live for and are tired of living in old bodies.

I’m really liking the book so far, and not just because of the author’s Ohio roots and references. It raises all kinds of questions for me. Will old people, who become more their own people as the years go by, be able to live under military discipline? Will the reprieve from aging make them more or less courageous in the face of death? Will they have more or less to lose? Can we have the potential for endless life without entering into some form of Faustian bargain?

Why would a government want old people in young bodies to fight it wars–all kinds of people, not just the intelligent ones? I could see that this might be a great alternative to Social Security and Medicare.

What is more interesting yet is that this explores the fear so many of us have in growing old. Sooner or later, we face the losing battle of failing bodies or minds. Better to risk a battle one might win than battles that we always in the end lose, and often in great pain, or in utter embarrassment to our sense of dignity.

The question this book raises above all is whether there might be good reasons to warrant the choice not to pursue a rejuvenated body–to accept the indignities of physical or mental decline with grace. Grace indeed, I wonder, the grace that in John Newton’s words “has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”

I’m looking forward to seeing how Scalzi works this out. At any rate it is a fascinating alternative to old men and women deciding to send young men and women to fight and to die. Should not the old die for the young?

I’ll keep you posted.

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